Saturday, June 23, 2007


On both Thursday and Friday I got a chance to watch one of the most provocative and productive social change-agents in the last quarter of the last century and the first quarter of this century. Who am I talking about? Oprah.

Oprah's subtlety and endearing staying power has given her a platform amongst both white and black Americas that is unparalleled. I do not know the demographics but suspect that women still form the vast majority of her viewership. However, Oprah is a phenonemon to be contended with. When she talks we all listen.

I don't know if it was a set of reruns or not, but Oprah hosted a twod-day "town hall" forum to discuss the whole Imus scandal. She amassed a number of movers and shakers in the black community including Stanley Crouch, Russell Simmons, India Arie, Common, Al Sharpton, Diane Weathers and Ben Chavis.

Everyone agreed that there is "a problem" but none of the representatives from hip hop were willing to admit that they themselves are in some way responsible for the mysogeny we hear in rap lyrics. Instead, Russell Simmons kept pointing a fingure at poverty as the real culprit. I agree to some extent that economic oppression fosters environments where exploitation takes root.

But as Stanley Crouch said, on the whole "I'm not buying it."

For too long black scholars and public intellectuals have been relunctant to speak out because they have been afraid of being accused of not understanding/supporting young black culture. In essence they have accepted a culturally/morally relativistic argument ("I'm poor and black and couldn't help but sing about what I know") because they have not wanted to be seen as further diving an already fractured community. This is what Cornell West calls "racialism" which basically means giving a pass to people because they belong to your race community.

No more passes. True black culture is not pimps and hoes and should not be represented as such. It is too bad it took a white man to show us that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Preaching Ourselves

I just gave Irie Parker Palmer's book The Courage to Teach. In the inscription I wrote, "In honor of your courage to teach and to love."

I've enjoyed sneaking a peek at the book here and there. Palmer's thesis - that teachers must not only teach subject material but in some way teach their own lives also - is causing me to reflect some on the meaning, not only of teaching, but of preaching also.

Palmer says that good teaching takes a variety of forms, but invariably bad teaching can be pretty well summarized by the picture of a lecturer with a big bubble coming out of his mouth: Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.

Bad teaching is essentially words abstracted from personhood. The heresy undergirding this is gnostic dualism. The false hope that ideas can save us.

I am realizing that as a preacher I cannot simply preach the text. "The Bible says. . ." Ultimately that leads to a flattened conception of both the text and of God. Instead as a preacher I must learn to stand in the gap between ideas (Scripture/text) and people. I have nothing but my own story and the witnessing story of the Church to stand there with me.

Palmer's book has many convergences with what John Claypool called "confessional preaching". The basic assumption of both these individuals is that words alone have no power to save. Words must instead be embodied. Words must be told through the character and story of the proclaimer. This is why Palmer says it takes "courage" to teach, because it is inherently risky business to offer one's body to the world.

It is inherently risky business when the word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Nifong's Excuses

On his blog today one of my former professors Mike Broadway has an interesting quote from a Duke law professor who says that what Mike Nifong, the former district attorney of Durham, NC, did in the Duke Lacrosse case was really not that unusual for a district attorney.

Here is the quote from Duke U. law professor James Coleman:

Everybody wants to say that Mike Nifong is some kind of rogue prosecutor, but in
fact, what he did is not that different from what other prosecutors do on a
regular basis in cases out of the spotlight.

One of the things Nifong did that people are upset about is the way he came out and publically called the accused students a bunch of "hooligans." The thing is that these kinds of public statements are made all the time by district attorneys. And certainly those public comments do much to shape public opinion long before the facts are in.
But I'm not as concerned about what Nifong said as what he did not say. He was not forthcoming with DNA evidence that favored the defendants. NPR reported this weekend that Nifong blamed an overburdensome caseload. Of course, that excuse didn't hold water because this was THE Duke Lacrosse Case. But if it wasn't THE Duke Lacrosse case then the public may very well have accepted that kind of excuse without much question.
Which brings up another point. . .
If Nifong was not prevaricating when he said he didn't have adequate time or staff to give sufficient attention to THE Duke Lacrosse Case, then what does that tell us about the kind of attention being given to less high profile cases?