Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Ontologically Speaking

Yesterday I was sitting with a group of pastors I gather with weekly to study and reflect upon our upcoming Sunday sermons. At the end of our discussion about Jesus and Thomas and the meaning of bodily resurrection things turned to politics. Everyone began bantering about the 2008 presidential election. Being that my tummy was beginning to growl I saw the drift into presidential politics as my curtain call. I stood up and said something like, "Well, all I know is none of these three candidates is our savior."

It was a pious statement that no respectable Christian could disagree with. But I have to confess there was more than just pretty talk about Jesus in my words. What I was really saying is that all three of these candidates, Clinton, McCain, and Obama, share something that our savior never had - a will to presidential power.

Then this morning I moused over to and read Miguel De La Torre's scathing critique of these three. In his article "What Do Obama, Clinton and McCain All Have In Common?" De La Torre says that there is no substantive difference between any of the three respective candidates because they each are each operating under a philosophical framework which is in the end classist.

But the really interesting, and I think fundamentally incorrect, thing De La Torre says about the candidates is that they are each "ontologically white males."

Excuse me?

Two things.

First, if in 2008 we can now speak of ontologies of gender and race in such a way as they are completely severed from both sex, race, color, and ethnicity, then I want to suggest that we should not speak about them at all because they have essentially lost all natural meaning.

Secondly, if we can now play so fast and lose with gender and race, then why is the white male exceptional? Why is the white male reserved as the cipher for "pro-empire" "global neoliberalism"?

Apparently the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

earth as it is in heaven

My friend and former teacher Mike Broadway has just responded to my post about Rev. Jeremiah Wright on his own blog earth as it is in heaven.

The truest thing I can say about Mike is that he is a real Christian. He has been a living witness to what Christ has done to destroy the barrier between the races for several decades now. He and Chris Rice have taught me how to speak about race as white men.

So here's the quote I want to share with you. It says everything I feel and describes what I am coming to realize is one of my most important callings in this Gospel life:

[Ryon] and I find ourselves in an unusual situation for white baptist ministers. We get called on to be mediators of black life for whites who wonder, marvel, and puzzle about race. We know we are not up to the task.

Mike goes on to desribe the impossibility of the task.

Here also is Mike's full reflection.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Funny Stuff

As the pastor of a small church I felt in on the joke.

As a pastor who loves coffee I felt like the butt of the joke.

As a pastor in the 21st century I felt like whatever is being said here ought to be discussed.

Thanks to reallivepreacher and Caffeinated Thoughts for the spot.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

What's Up with Barack's Pastor?: An Easter Meditation

I was up talking on the phone with my dad until 12:15 am on Wednesday morning. We talked about father son things — cars, the weather, and our predictions for the NCAAs. Then, about half way through, the conversation turned serious. Dad asked, “So what’s up with Barack’s pastor?”

Dad was asking me because I am a minister and married to a black woman. He thought maybe I might have some special insight into why Sen. Obama would consider a polarizing preacher like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright a sound spiritual mentor. I could hear the earnestness in Dad’s voice. He is in a new place. Since he now has a black daughter-in-law and a biracial grandchild he knows that he now has something at stake when race moves from the periphery into the center of public dialogue, as it now has in the 2008 presidential campaign. For Dad the questions being raised are more important and more personal than ever.

He isn’t alone. For the first time in our nation’s history we may very well see a black person elected to the Oval Office. That has white people all across America asking the same thing my dad is asking. What’s up with Barack’s pastor?
The religious left (including Rev. Wright himself) has defended Rev. Wright’s preaching by locating it within the prophetic black rhetorical tradition. They argue that whites standing outside the culture and ethos of the black community — and especially the black church — simply cannot understand the sociology at work in the black pulpit and should, therefore, refrain from criticizing it. Certainly Rev. Wright’s jeremiadic voice does belong inside a long and venerable tradition of black preachers speaking from and for people on the margins. But the idea that words coming out of this prophetic place are somehow beyond critique is flat wrong and ought to be exposed for what it really is — nothing more than a sociologically dressed up version of, “It’s a black thing . . . you wouldn’t understand.”

On the other side is the response not being offered in any of America’s newspapers but certainly present at many of its dinner tables. This response is only one word, but that one word says a lot about where we are with race in 2008. “Figures.” A lot of whites hear the charged rhetoric coming from Rev. Wright’s pulpit and they receive it as confirmation of all their suspicions about black people, Barack Obama included. In other words, “I totally understand . . . it’s a black thing.”

Well, it is most certainly a black thing. And it is a white thing also. Out of their very divergent historical experiences blacks and whites tend to read and interpret history differently. A case in point: Thomas Jefferson. Whites see Jefferson as a great hero and champion of democracy. Blacks, on the other hand, often see Jefferson as a man who never could quite shake the mindset of a master in order to live up to his ideals. Jefferson is an excellent case study, but I want to suggest that at the heart of this whole thing are divergent and in some ways mutually exclusive interpretations of another historical figure: Jesus. That’s right, I’m suggesting this whole thing is a Christological problem. In other words, it’s a black thing and it’s a white thing, but it is also most definitely a Jesus thing.

Blacks and whites read Jesus differently. Rev. Wright is black and his congregation is largely (and unashamedly) black. So when he reads about Jesus he reads about a man of color born into and killed by the cruel forces of a racist empire. That’s true and ought to be preached.

When most white Americans, like my dad, think of Jesus they think of the man who died an atoning death for their individual sins. Jesus was a great Jewish leader whose teachings show us how to live morally exemplary lives. That’s true and ought to be preached also.

It is difficult, however, to see why a religious teacher concerned primarily with making nice guys out of meanies would have raised the eyebrows of the powers that be. I just can’t buy that. On the other hand, it is equally difficult to believe that a radical revolutionary bent liberating his people from oppression by any means necessary would have gone to the cross without putting up a fight.

Perhaps it is more than just ironic that this whole debate would surface just before Easter. Two-thousand years after his death we are still asking what the early witnesses of Jesus’ ministry asked. “Who is this man?”

Who this man is to us still matters.

And, in 2008, who this man is to others matters more than ever also.