A Year of Morning Thanks
When I listened to the Reverend Jeremiah Wright hold forth before the National Press Club on Monday, I thought that much of what he said made sense. I thought that his defense of what he called the tradition of Black Prophetic Preaching was helpful in understanding the nature of his rhetoric, especially that which got played endlessly when video clips first showed up on You-Tube. Furthermore, I thought the defense of his church itself was strong; he outlined numerous programs--for the elderly, the homeless, the poor--that Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago has not only started but run successfully, often for decades. In short, Wright garnered no small part of my sympathy.
And then he got sarcastic.
My wife tells me that in my own verbal rants, I lose listeners when I start rubbing my words on flint of my anger, when comedy is really mockery. She tells me people hear nothing when there's a sharp stick in their eyes. She's right, of course, but sarcasm comes rather too easily to me--as it does, obviously, to the not-so-good Reverend.
Jeremiah Wright wasn't wrong, of course: white marching bands often do their thing in a wholly different way than the band at Grambling or Florida A & M. Lots of black folks are lots better dancers than lots of white folks. Lots of black men run lots faster than lots of white men, jump lots higher. But he's an inch away from having to concede to a host of stereotypes that work the other way, of having to concede, for instance, that most white people would put money on a white chess team in a tournament of Blacks. His thick sarcasm brought him dangerously close to outright racism. The best we can say of that whole performance is that he was good enough to provide the media with a whole new catalog of Jeremiah Wright soundbites.
It would be interesting to know how successful he would have been if he'd simply have cut the sarcasm, if he'd proceeded with grace and dignity and reason to work through the issues that have arisen since his preaching became a political issue. My guess is he could have done that. My guess is that something evil got in the good Reverend's craw and turned good stuff into invective.
I'm not particularly thankful for him. I like Obama, and it seemed at times as if this pastor of his carried some kind of vindetta to end his own parishoner's campaign and career. The fact is, he could have done us all a world a good--he could have been a pastor. Instead, he fell to sarcasm and his sermon became just another hellfire and brimstone rant. He gained no converts, and, in my estimation, lost his own soul. By reputation, he's a man who knows about forgiveness. Now he'd better ask for it.
I saw, in the flesh, those warnings my wife has given me over the years. I saw, in the flesh, the harm sarcasm can create, even to the long tradition of Black Prophetic Preaching. The man's sound bites are firebrand machetes.
This morning I'm thankful to have seen what not to be.