Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Rev. Wright

Did you catch the Bill Moyers interview? I did not. While it may be ancient history for some, I just finished the full text online. Much better than a singular clip. I am glad I went back a few times until I could finish it.

Here it is. The video is in two parts. Look up at the top of the page to click on "part II" when the first ends. However, there is the transcript at the bottom of the same screen, with the whole interview in its entirety. The interview was completed in an hour-long segment:

Some random thoughts on first reflection:

1. I wish Bill Moyers had not limited his conversation in the interview to the term "black liberation theology." Unfortunately, due perhaps to "miseducation," white folks-- and maybe even other folks of color-- who are unfamiliar with liberation theology may be inclined to put this off as something that has nothing to do with them. Ahem. "Liberation theology." I am so glad this term is coming, if slowly, into the national conversation. I come from a religious tradition with a history closely intertwined with liberation theology. Whether or not this is your own theology, developing an understanding of liberation theology is of value. We are all developing, learning human beings, and if we are people of faith seeking to develop ourselves spiritually and religiously, we will be interested in developing into the wholeness of our humanity. Liberation theology can help inform us along the journey.

2. There is a powerfully beautiful (slightly off topic) sermon here from the Rev. James Ford: There is a piece in that sermon, that reminds me of one of my favorite sermons from one of my all-time favorite preachers, the Rev. Thomas Anastasi from Shoreline Unitarian Universalist Church in Shoreline, WA. His sermon was titled something like "What You Think You Heard Me Say Was Not What I Thought I Said." There are few more painful and fragile lessons for those of us new in our ministries, and perhaps those long-timers as well-- and really for all people-- than what that title sums up. This whole "Rev. Wright controversy" has been so interesting for me to just stand back and observe. I feel such tenderness, such empathy for the Rev. Wright, even as I do not agree with everything I think I hear him saying.

3. Many folks are questioning Wright's judgement in terms of the timing of his very public commentary on the media-frenzy over statements he has made. I do fear this will be detrimental to Obama's campaign, and at the same time, I am thankful this is coming out now. I want all the mud-slinging to begin at this time, rather than when the general election is upon us. If there is "dirt" to be dug up on Obama, let it not take us by surprise.

4. I think it is worthy of pause to think of the many preachers of one type or another who have been involved with our various presidents and other politicians. Some heinous things have been said by a-many of them. What makes the Rev. Wright's comments (whether or not you consider them heinous) particularly controversial seems to me to be (1) that the Rev. Wright is black, and unapologetic. Yes, though Obama has since "divorced" himself from the Reverend, as he originally said, it does come back to the old phrase that Sunday is the most segregated day of the week...the Reverend has made himself clear that he is not going to speak in ways more palatable to whites if it changes his message to do so. And that to me seems to be the clincher in this conversation. I do have a feeling that many of the doubts that this raises for folks about Obama have as much to do with the "miseducation" that you can't be patriotic and question your own country. And being black just seems to feed into that sense of suspicion. But what is more patriotic than questioning one's own country in an effort to call it into its better self? And anybody who has ever been to therapy knows that honest dialogue about the self-destructive things we do and the way to get out of those patterns does not automatically mean self-hatred. Finally, as many ministers have commented since "Jeremiah Wright" became a household name across America, let no one ever hold a congregant accountable to every belief and statement of that congregant's minister. As a religious professional myself, I'd like to acknowledge that I am also a living, growing, changing, learning, fallible human being.

5. Unitarian Universalists have been attempting to engage in honest racial conversation and anti-racist work (starting from within our own hearts) for a long time. When I heard the Rev. Wright frame his "next step" recommendation for the work of the United Church of Christ as needing to have such a conversation, I got hung up for a moment. It is easy to feel discouraged right now as a Unitarian Universalist in the midst of such a conversation, with so many fits and starts. Then I heard the Rev. Wright say this in his next breath about that conversation: "To start using Bill Jones' paradigm, about how one sees God...your theology determines one's anthropology. And how you see humans determines your sociology." We are on an interesting course right now in Unitarian Universalism, engaging theological language and having an honest conversation about our theological diversity too. Perhaps these two conversations, our conversation on race and our conversation on theology, for the first time should begin to find places to be in ongoing relationship with one another. I wonder how this would change the depth to which we can take both these conversations.

That's it, for now. I'm sure I'll periodically have more to say on this.

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