Sunday, March 30, 2008

"I can't go to work with hate in my heart."

Wright's preaching, which mixes theology with the often-troubled history of race relations in America, is in the "prophetic" tradition, one of many that have evolved in black pulpits.

Shocking words like "God damn America" lie at the core of prophetic preaching, said Rev. Bernard Richardson, dean of the chapel at Howard University. "The prophets in Scripture . . . their language wasn't pleasing to hear, and sometimes we need to be reminded of that," he said.


But while the rhetoric may come across as harsh, experts say its goal is to convince bitter skeptics that reconciliation is indeed possible.

"The anger comes from compassion," Richardson said. "It can feel hard. It can sound hard. It's cutting. It cuts to make you whole and bruises to heal you."


But the most provocative passages often don't convey the entire point.

For example, on the Sunday after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Wright preached for the first time in three decades on the "brutally honest" last verses of Psalm 137, which he said "spotlight the insanity of the cycle of violence."

The sound bite taken from the sermon is something Wright on that day termed a "faith footnote," in which he used the phrase "chickens are coming home to roost" to sum up what U.S. diplomat Edward Peck had said in a TV interview. Malcolm X expressed the same sentiment after the John F. Kennedy assassination. But critique of foreign policy was not Wright's central topic.

Nerdified link
"Love is fundamental to art. I can't go to work with hate in my heart. I go to work with love in my heart. But love can express itself in bitterness and rage. That's only an aspect of love."

Archie Shepp, from the liner notes to Live in San Francisco
As the faux controversy (at least as I see it) regarding Rev. Wright flared up over the last few weeks, that particular quote by Archie Shepp has made itself much more salient to me than ever. Archie Shepp is a jazzer whom I would, within the context of his music, place in a prophetic tradition. Shepp's collaborations with poet LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka), musical tributes to Malcom X, and musical portrayals of lynchings (see the tune, "Rufus" for example) certainly would have turned off many who expected the music to provide pleasant background ambiance. The title of one of his albums, Fire Music, aptly captures the essence of Shepp's 1960s and 1970s output. And yet the music spoke and still speaks great truths still relevant to this day. I'd say the same of Bob Marley, among others. So it goes.

I grow weary of the equating of strident anger with hate (which I have seen all too many pundits and bloggers do, including, nay, especially the avowed "progressives"). I can well imagine that had these same detractors been alive in Jerusalem around the time that Jesus was preaching his radical message and engaging in his famous direct action in the temple, they would have accused him as well of being full of hate, and of going "beyond the pale." I suspect that pronouncements attributed to him in Luke 12:49 ("I came to set fire to the earth, and I wish it were already on fire. ") and Luke 12:51 ("Do you think I came to bring peace to earth? No, indeed! I came to make people choose sides.") would merely confirm their biases. Then again, if you read through the four gospels (as well as accounts appearing in the Gnostic gospels unearthed a few decades ago), it should be pretty clear that his was hardly a mere feel-good message. I could easily imagine Jesus saying in the wake of 9-11 that the "chickens had come home to roost." It would not have been the PC thing to say, nor would it have made most recipients of the message "feel good"; and yet when considered in the light of the organizational and structural violence that the US and corporate conglomerates have wrought, so right on the damned money. The cycle of violence we witness to day is truly insanity. What I see Wright doing is speaking truth as he sees it as well as he can, realizing that it will "set fire to the earth." Sure enough, Wright's most famous parishioner has chosen sides as of late, saying in effect "I don't know him, I don't know him, I don't know him" on whatever talk shows he happens to appear. Where's the hate? Hint: The source isn't Wright.

Just some food for thought this morning.

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