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Monday, April 28, 2008

That Man Can Preach

April 28, 2008

I just thought it only fair to watch the whole Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose decidedly incendiary remarks had lighted a flame of outrage for those who had their doubts about the validity of the candidacy of Barack Obama.

On Moyers' interview, Wright came across as thoughtful and intelligent, even soft-spoken and personable. Quite the opposite of the ranting fury on the brief sound bite upon which the Clintons and the Republicans were hanging their political hopes. Wright said that he hadn't been speaking in behalf of a political candidate when he gave the fiery sermons from which the two clips were extracted. Moyers played the surrounding paragraphs which gave a clearer context of his remarks.

My Alabama friend, also an Obama supporter, and I have been exchanging fast and furious emails about this latest political dust-up and the television talking heads' misinterpretation of Wright and his effect on Obama. "Haven't they ever been to a black church?" I wrote. Indeed, even many white churches in the South have screaming preachers and passionate congregations. Screaming back what the preacher says is part of the black church experience. (I remember attending a play at the prestigious Alabama Shakespeare Festival [I believe it was A Raisin in the Sun] with a mostly black audience. Well-dressed and affluent, the members of the audience thought nothing of talking out loud to the actors as they went through their roles, and making a certain amount of ambient noise throughout the play. I was huffy until I realized, "They're different. They aren't quiet in church either.")

Which was one of the points Rev. Wright made in his speech to the NAACP last night. Different does not mean deficient. Shall I say I was probably less shocked than so many of my Northern Liberal friends at the tone and content of Wright's words? I found the speech exhilarating -- at last the doors are open and people can talk to each other, just as Obama has suggested in his speech about race. That means black leaders can tell us what they say to their following, and we can listen. We've been telling them our thoughts long enough.

I went to a hardshell Baptist white gospel church in the Florida panhandle when I was in my late teens. There was to be dinner on the grounds after a day of preaching and singing by a gospel quartet. It sounded like a pleasant Sunday diversion. I had never been to such an event before; church to me was the dignified, reserved Presbyterian chapel, at which elegant hymns such as "Be Thou Our Guide" were sung almost inaudibly by the restrained gathering. Here, in the little wooden church, a red-faced, ungrammatical preacher screamed at the top of his lungs, fire and brimstone stuff that scared me almost to death. Then they opened their hymnals and let loose "Amazing Grace" like I had never heard it -- the rafters reverberated with the volume and harmony emanating from that crowd. Even the food was heartfelt and meant to be consumed with gusto and washed down with sweet tea and brotherly love.

"That man can preach," a country lady attending the service remarked, shaking her head in admiration. I think she and many other would say the same -- as many have for years -- about Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

This morning I heard Tucker Carlson say that Wright's speech portends tragedy for Barack Obama's campaign. I don't see it that way. I think the Tucker Carlsons are the tragedy of our nation, missing the point of its very salvation, tight-lipped and flat of affect while the excitement around them goes on, making snide comments when passion and action are called for to fix the crumbling foundation of democracy.

It will take a certain readjustment of our perspective, to be sure, to begin to effect the kind of change the NAACP, Rev. Wright, and Barack Obama are talking about. This is a very painful first step, in which we admit that our respected pundits don't know what they are talking about. That's a good place to start.

9 comments:

Coach said...

As chance would have it, I was at that same country church the lady blogster here was talking about. I don't recall it being indoors, but then I'm a bit more than a shade older than the lady reporter, so maybe she was right. I do recall -- and I think she must also but chose not to report it -- the preacher's theme sentence (this must have been a Mother's day celebration): "A vurchus woman is more precious than rubies and pearls." As true as that statement may seem to those who think Jeremiah Wright's audience didn't understand him, I have to tell you the thought I had when the preacher ran that line by us: A virtuous woman may be precious, but she ain't nearly as much fun as the other kind. (I was then -- and remain -- "a good little boy" so I didn't use a more definitive word for the "other kind.") But considering the company I was keeping in those days, I had every reason to appreciate the ideal woman who could embrace the virtues more valued than rubies while still being "fun."

Jeremiah is a "Jeremiah" and that's about the way I see him. No big deal.

mellow drama said...

I've been working on this race/racist thing for a couple of weeks now. I convinced myself, after asking some tough questions regarding my own biases and unexamined prejudices, that Obama has done all his life what I've been doing for the last couple of weeks: examining race and its place in dealing with different human beings. That he would be a racist seemed counterintuitive once I explored the closed mindset that precedes racism. And Moyers' interview with Wright was indeed a gem, making Wright out to be the Mr. Rogers of racial tensions. What a nice guy, what a believable character. Why not, given this huge talent, use it to poke at the large cancers rather than simply popping a few blisters in American society? I see him as very brave. And I see that Obama stands to gain votes (mine, for example) by standing by his man even if he loses a few for the same reason.

Coach said...

The message Rev. Wright is preaching was invented back in the early '50s by a flock of militant Catholic priests down in Brazil (I think). They had their eyes opened to the abominations of their church, and thus to the world as it was at that time. The heretical priests were of the opinion that the church, with malice aforethought, had sided with the plutocracy to maintain the status quo of ignorance and poverty that was imprisoning the under classes. They imagined a world in which the great power of modern science and rational economics could work to actuate the message their founder -- fellow by the name of Jesus -- had intended. Their movement appealed to the liberal minority (the three or four) who still held to the idea that redemption was possible. Those liberals gave the movement a name; they called it "Liberation Theology," and because the poor have always been in the majority, the movement spread throughout the region, eventually attracting the attention of the American underclass.

But up above the Rio Grande the plutocracy was not nearly so stupid as were its counterparts in South and Central America. Taking advantage of a loophole in the new theology -- that economic power was an end in itself -- they scraped up a few well-gnawed bones and threw them out to the hungry dogs. This strategy -- variously named "equal opportunity," "affirmative action," or "nondiscrimination" -- managed to convince a growing number of the under privileged that the system was "on their side." And of course, from their point of view, it was. Some were actually rising above the starvation level. The strategy was working. A small minority of American Negroes actually thought racism was a dead issue.

Laying aside the conspiratorial overtones of this assessment, and seeing America for what it remains, the vast majority of the so-called blue-collar white working class (one of Ms Hilary's strong bases) still finds itself unable to look in any direction but down on African-Americans. Rev. Wright's congregation knows this fact, not simply intellectually (as an idea subject to reasonable persuasion to the contrary) but in their bones. So when their minister cries "Goddamn America" he's not merely trying to get a shout from the Amen corner; he's speaking words clearly audible in his people's guts.

Now the question remains: is Obama -- one of the blacks who has managed to rise -- is he addressing a possibility when he speaks of fundamental change, meaning -- in this instance-- a change in the way human beings regard minorities? Or is he simply mistaken -- has he fooled himself into believing that what was possible for him is possible for all people of color?

I honestly don't know, but taking one of the phrases from one of America's most accomplished racists, I'm willing to "roll the dice," hoping against hope that Obama is right. The stakes are just too high for an old gambler to resist.

Mary Lois said...

I'm not sure I can connect Rev. Wright to those South and Central American radicals, since he has lived his own race-bound life and has his own landscape of wrongs he wishes to right.

However, today it seems the pundits are in line that he must go away now, get out of the picture and stop making Obama look like a wuss for not beating him up in public. They are not going to "get" this in their lifetimes, unless by some miracle Obama wins the general and actually opens up an effective dialogue on race as he put forth in his groundbreaking speech. They don't seem to believe we still have a long way to go to achieve harmony on the issue of race. How do you think black pundits get to be pundits? They play the game as well as their white brethren, and they don't want that boat rocked either.

The conventional wisdom is that Wright will be Obama's Swift Boat and that Obama is not coming out of it well, that is, not condemning and denouncing Wright from every rooftop. They are saying because he doesn't means he doesn't have the fire in the belly to be President, like Hillary does.

I don't see it that way, and I think Wright will have effectively gone away by a week from today when they hold the next primaries. Obama looked great in the basketball footage. He'll have to do a lot of that.

In the meantime, there will be a lot of whining on tv about weak Obama and strong Hillary, but all that counts is if it's making a dent in the numbers, which it's too soon to tell about. I can't see how this holds a candle to the Bosnia tall tales plus all the other obfuscating Hillary has done from day one. If that's strong, I'll take weak, brilliant and cool.

As Mike Huckabee said, Jesus was too smart to go into politics.

mellow drama said...

Coach,

Nice synopsis. You've not only been around, you've paid attention. You've not only paid attention, but you've invested it wisely.

I share your inclination to roll 'em. Especially in this election year when our alternatives are to turn this long flu season into a pandemic, or to string another pearl onto the necklace of one of America's Royal Families. (yes, a shout out to ZZ Top). In other words, no one else is capturing my imagination. No one else has in several election years. At the very least BO has that ability. What he does with it once he has it penned up will be interesting indeed.

Regarding the Reverend Preacher:
Is he the real deal as portrayed on Moyers' show? The right doesn't think so. Here's some excerpts from another dialogue I had on the man:

Me:
Public opinion is a funny thing, and a force so powerful that those of us who haven't known it can't imagine it. We can however see its effects on everyone from Brittney Spears to Howard Dean. If the public begins to see the Reverend in a clean light, in a role as an eloquent spokesperson for the anguish of the African race while at the same time calling upon them to pick themselves up, lo and behold who am I to get in the way? That's who he may indeed turn out to be. I'm not about to limit the ways of this world or of God. We can all be reinvented, right? The spin he gave himself on Moyers, if that's what it is, is certainly a start. He has plenty of attention and credibility, and we all know the job is open.

Them:

You are taking Bill Moyers fawning softball interview with Wright as the definitive explanation of where he is coming from? He sounds like someones benevolent grandfather in that one. Try viewing the plethora of videos, some being peddled by his church, which speak otherwise. The actual videos gives more information than the transcripts. I would love it if it were as you speak but it's not. The man is nothing if not a race hustler.

and more:

I have neither the time nor the inclination to point out the obvious to you, but I will say this:
Wright is cut from the same cloth as Jackson and Sharpton, and the only difference is that Wright is far worse than those two racist hucksters.

Wright is a racist, anti-American, terrorist-lovin', anti-Christian malignant narcissist.


It's important to remember that Wright and Obama are one and the same, just as Saddam and Osama were in reality the same evil person, just with two names. History proves me correct. Ask any Bush-supporter and he'll tell you that we finally caught, tried, and hanged him, even if he's still alive. That's just a detail, but the death has the ring of truthiness.

I excerpt actual right wing affrontery to illustrate that it is very difficult to get someone to change their mind about most things, but about politics especially. And as I write that I can't help but realize that this is exactly what I'm hoping Obama can do for the country: help some of the bigots and racists change. In my heart, I know that he won't be able to do that. One question we're left with is, how to effect a change in the upbringing of a new generation of potential racists?

Well, how about giving them a black president as a role model? This may be the single thing Obama accomplishes as president – simply being black while doing it. And that may be enough. As FairBoken has pointed out here before, we aren't really expecting any of these people to do what they promise, are we? We're just voting for someone electable, then letting politics kick in, as usual.

It is what it is.

Mary Lois said...

Whoa, there, ye posters of Right-Wing weird stuff!

Wright and Obama are the same person, just as Saddam and Osama are the same person? What kind of deranged mentality came up with that one?

I don't have to tell anybody that I also disagree with the comment about "racist, anti-American, malignant" etc. This is the kind of mindless blather you can expect from a hardened bigot who will never understand anything about life, love or, most certainly, religion. Keep away from this person.

Coach said...

Thanks Mellow for the kind words. We've beat this around in our minds a bit, haven't we, and it does seem that we've seen some of the same realities.

If I may add a bit to the assessment of Rev. Wright's credibility . . . does it really matter? It is virtually impossible to read the contents of a person's mind, so we can't with any sort of assurance outrightly deny that he is -- what did "they" call him? -- a race hustler. That's where the power of logic and reason can be of assistance. If a man says (to Pharaoh), "Let my people go!" the idea is implanted that Pharaoh has been mistreating the people. If that implication turns out to be the truth, would it matter that Moses might have been a self-serving liberator? And, to look at the reverse, if the implied accusations were false, would it actually matter that Moses and God had in fact had a heart-to-heart talk? Some may disagree, but I think not.

We finally must judge the Reverend by the reality of his stated beliefs whether he actually believes them or not. Are we a racist nation? Well, that's hard to say if all we have to go on are the reported "facts" dug out of a random sample by sociologists. But if we pay careful attention to our own thoughts and emotions, the truth of the matter becomes patently clear.

Example, last night I was idly flipping through the channels and came to a stop on a flick name of "U. S. Marshals." I saw Tommy Lee Jones on the screen and figured the movie can't be all bad. So I watched for 10 minutes, and perhaps would have continued watching . . . but the same screen showed the heavyweight black man, Wesley Snipes, taking a beautiful white woman in his arms and kissing her passionately. My guts reacted. I saw that scene as something bad . . . and I saw myself as a man -- though a professed liberal -- as a man still governed, at least partly, by racist wiring.

I trust that feeling to be telling me the truth. If I am still a racist, wouldn't it be reasonable for me to assume that others are also, perhaps many others? I answer "yes," acknowledging that I may be wrong about "them," but basing my actions and beliefs in this world on what I have decided is the truth. This nation remains racist.

So, bottom line, it doesn't matter one way or the other to me whether Rev. Wright is a huckster or a saint. The thoughts behind his preachings ring true to me.

And, ML, yes, the punditry seems to have missed the point. Politics as usual would have Obama rearing up on his hind legs belching fire and hate in Hilary's direction. If he did, the media's fondest wishes would all be fulfilled: this good man is no better than all the other "good men" who have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

In a better world than this one the punditry would be about the business of transforming the nation's attitudes toward race. But that would require them to be as wise as the Junior Senator from Illinois, and God forgive us, they are not.

Elmer Gantry said...

Couple of points...
I believe Jesus was involved in politics. Thing is, they held an election and a populist cat by the name of Barabbas was declared the victor.

Also, I'm reminded of an old Curtis Mayfield song entitled "Don't Worry (if there's a hell below, we're all gonna go)"

Coach said...

Elmer, your comment reminded me of a line from Bernard Shaw. (From his Introduction to "Androcles and the Lion.)

"Pilate offered the people a choice between this man and Barabbas. They chose Barabbas and have been worshiping him ever since beneath the other man's symbol."

And while writing this, I was reminded of Nietzsche's line, "The last Christian died on the cross;" and of Will Durant's followup: "Nietzsche forgot Spinoza."