Monthly Archives: March 2008

Madder ‘n hell, back to the state building

Once more into the breach, my boys and girls, once more!  It’s gather-the-troops time for a workday protest rally in the Loop about guns because of shooting deaths on the South Side.  Father Pfleger and Saint Sabina (pray for us) to the rescue!

We are asking people to join us once again at the State of Illinois
Building on Tuesday, April 1st, from 11:00 am to noon. We will gather every time a child is killed in this city at the door of our state
government to demand common sense gun laws. If you can join us, or need to ride the bus from Saint Sabina, call the church at
773-483-4300. Please help us stop this madness!

That’s from an emailed announcement.  But look what’s happening: a pro forma (once again) protest (yawn) in front of the state building but nothing at the building across the street, where the mayor works.  Nothing at cop headquarters at 35th & Michigan (much closer to the St. Sabina neighborhood), where the people work who are primarily responsible for keeping people from getting shot.

By such meaningless photo-op demonstrations, the anger of the community is siphoned off.  Father Pfleger leads his flock astray, by 35 blocks in this case, to the Loop and not Cop HQ, where the new commissioner has bright, headline-grabbing ideas about weight control for policemen and SUVs instead of beefed-up Ford Victorias

We have just received word that another of our school students was shot and killed at Simeon High School [officially, Career Academy, former Chicago Vocational School, CVS]

says the emailed announcement.  Was shot and killed by whom?  By some bad, twisted people whom it is whose business to prevent from shooting people?  Or to catch after the fact?  Compstat helped in NYC under Guiliani.  Won’t work in Chicago? 

Look: Madame deFarge knitted while the tumbrels rolled on their way to the guillotine,  Maybe if gang-bangers were submitted to some such humiliation (short of decapitation), there would be less shooting.  Crackdown on gangs, anyone?

But would that fly with the families of gang-bangers, some of whom could well be joining the St. Sabina protest in favor of stricter gun laws? 

How about a crackdown on street crime, Mr. Weis?  Would he dare to use such language, diverting attention from impersonal laws and focusing on perpetrators?  Would the mayor join in, or would he rather rage also in favor of gun control or scold nameless parents?  He’s not their uncle, he’s their elected official.

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Hot time for cool dude

Rev. Jeremiah Wright came to poet Maya Angelou’s birthday party at Chicago’s black Catholic cathedral and made a big hit:

“When he came out, people literally went wild,” said St. Sabina’s pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger.

Did they have far to go?

That said, how wild did they get literally?  Lost all control?  Began to thrash about and chew on things?  Did Father Pfleger go literally wild with them, and if so, doing what?

Chicago is a toddlin’ town, we know that.  But just how literally wild can you get and get away with it?

Understanding Jeremiah Wright

Chi Trib’s Manya Brachear is at pains to have her readers think kindly of Obama’s preacher’s sermonizing:

On the Sunday in 2003 when Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. shouted “God damn America” from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ, he defined damnation as God’s way of holding humanity accountable for its actions.

Rattling off a litany of injustices imposed on minorities throughout the nation’s history, Wright argued that God cannot be expected to bless America as the anthem requests unless it changes for the better. Until that day, he said, God will hold the nation accountable.

And that’s when Wright uttered the three infamous words that have rocked Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign.

She provides context, as if it’s unfair to read the three words as rude, crude, and hateful. 

The preacher’s

long-winded oratory found itself at odds with the sound-bite culture that feeds the 24-hour news cycle and YouTube. Thirty-second snippets of 30-minute sermons led pundits to question how Obama could remain a member of Wright’s flock.

It’s “far more complex” than that, says Brachear.  Wright actually “walked churchgoers along a winding road from rage to reconciliation, employing a style that validated both.”

“He’s voicing a reality that those people experience six days a week,” said Rev. Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and Trinity member. “In that sense, he’s saying they’re not insane. That helps them to function the other six days of the week.”

By validating their rage, apparently.  Does he question it?  Help them get over it?  Going to church can be therapeutic.  But it’s a strange Christian worship experience that puts your hostility in a sacred place, to be nourished and cherished.

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 Wright’s “God damn” is not the language of the prophets, who in any case are too hard an act to follow, but the language of the street, the bar room, anywhere people lose their tempers and lash out.

Wright is or was a speaker of the word from a Christian pulpit.  He has a duty to the spirit of the place, unless he has redefined it for his own purposes, we might say in his own image.  He uses his position to baptize his listener’s lesser impulses.

Martin Marty is quoted and immediately rebutted:

Wright “goes beyond the bounds. That’s why it’s so hard to translate and why excerpts don’t do well,” said Rev. Martin Marty, a retired professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “In today’s world, where you can debate these things instead of blast away like the prophets did, it’s sort of an alien language for most people.”

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.”

It works that way, does it?  “Cuts to make you whole”?  What’s that all about?  “Bruises to heal you”?  What is this guy talking about?  I’d say anger corrodes, if I were going the metaphorical route.  It sears, it destroys.  It’s very dangerous for the angry one and others.

Brachear explicates Wright in his “chickens coming home to roost” on the Sunday after 9/11.  He used it

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.

Please.  Are we to believe that his audience took this as a summary of what a diplomat said on television?  That it was not one of those verbal hand grenades that delights his listeners, validating their resentment?

The preaching experience is not a discussion group, but a one-man show.  The preacher rules when he is in the pulpit.  He creates the emotion or mines what’s already there.  To analyze the argument coolly and inventively months later is to pass over the global effect of a sermon — in Wright’s case including the electricity he generates that sends listeners to their feet, gesticulating.

The Monica Lewinsky crudity was a “racy dig,” says Brachear, to be passed over to get to the point Wright wanted to make — “to admonish members who may vote for Hillary Clinton because they think a black candidate can’t win.”

Wright likened their doubt to the doubt of Jesus’ disciples who did not believe he could feed a crowd with five loaves and two fishes.

Which is going a bit far, most churchgoers would say.

And on Brachear goes, modifying and ameliorating, explaining, justifying.  Wright threw out “the N-word” and “touched nerves” in the process.  It’s a word that cannot be used in a daily newspaper, but your daily newspaper will explain its use for you.

“People need to understand how profoundly painful that word is,” [said a preacher “protege” of Wright]. “It speaks to an experience. He came from a different time. Because of the time he came from, he’s not going to just flippantly go along to get along in terms of how that word has hurt him in the past.”

What does that mean?  Does Brachear intend to embarrass the man by quoting him verbatim?  Or does she not consider it canned and illogical?  Not flippantly?  Those who refrain from using the forbidden word are flippant?

Another critic is quoted, almost at the end of the story.  Wright’s jeremiads “were born of his own personal anger” rather than “heartbroken pain over [God’s] being dishonored by what is going on in society and culture,” says a Moody Bible Institute professor.  The personal anger part deserves consideration, I say.

And Marty again, cited and again rebutted, who

said he thinks Wright crosses a line when he equates American power with white power. He also believes that both Wright’s praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Wright’s stated belief that HIV and AIDS were created to destroy the black community damage his credibility.

The last seven paragraphs are given to a Princeton professor who excused Wright on grounds of age and his recalling “experiments in which black men with syphilis went untreated in the name of science.”

From that it’s “not as far-reaching an idea as we’ve been led to believe” “that a government would inflict a virus on black people,” says the Princeton man.  For most of us, it’s beside the point that something is not far-fetched, the point being, did something happen or didn’t it?

Wright’s problem is that his church’s little secret got out.  ABC-TV bought those DVDs for sale from the church, and the whole world learned what had been known almost exclusively by the folks at Trinity Church, including those who may be seen in the video, leaping to their feet when he scored a blow to the awful, terrible world outside, the world of white people.

Puffing Bishop Braxton

For some background on the Bishop-Braxton-in-Belleville follies, the careful reader might want to refer to items I gathered in my now-dormant “The Churches” blog, going back to June of ‘05.

This I offer in view of the rash of pro-Braxton sentiment expressed in comments — 121 in all of these — on a long (3,350 words) Chicago Daily Observer column, “Resentment in Search of a Grievance,” itself a sock-‘em-bust-‘em condemnation of the 45 complaining priests.

That’s “about 60 percent of [priests] regularly assigned to the diocese,” said the Belleville News-Democrat in March, “nearly half” the total, says the Observer writer.

Therefore, at issue here, apart from the case’s merits, is the administrative (say “pastoral”) ability of the CEO (say “bishop”).  Should Ed Braxton go back to theological consultation and authoring and leave administration-cum-pastoring to someone who’s better at it?

The great author and television preacher Fulton Sheen made the move, resigning in 1969 from Rochester NY after only two years and 10 months as bishop. 

He had brought “a newcomer’s fresh and sometimes bold perspective to the local Church and to the local community,” says the diocesan web site. “Some of his initiatives were gladly welcomed. Others were questioned or resisted.”

Moreover:

His was a complex personality caught in the complex shift of Church and culture that was taking place in the Diocese of Rochester at that time. All in all, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen provided a new direction for the diocese in those critical times.

I like that.  Edward K. Braxton’s was “a complex personality.”  He “provided a new direction.”  Not to say he’s another Fulton Sheen, but he was sorely missed around Belleville.  Why not?

Then maybe another guy could come in and knock heads or pour oil on troubled waters, someone (from Chicago?) in the tradition of the late bishop of Madison, Cletus O’Donnell, one of whose priests incautiously let a nun join him in celebrating mass.  After a heart-to-heart discussion of the matter with Bishop O’D, however, he decided it had been a bad idea and as far as most of us know never did it again.

O’Donnell was an auxiliary under John Cody, who said at a farewell dinner that Madison — a lesser diocese carved out from Milwaukee and LaCrosse —would not be the end of the line for O’D.  For Cody that was a wholly benevolent wish for his auxiliary, we may assume.

O’Donnell stood when his turn came and announced that, contrary to his archbishop’s best wishes, he expected to die in Madison — which he did, in 1992 after 25 years.  This is the kind of bishop Belleville could use at this juncture.  There must be some of them around.

Chances of O. in Pa.

About Obama in Pennsylvania, where he’s expected to lose:

There simply aren’t enough blacks, young voters, and latte liberals to build a successful coalition for a Democratic candidate in a general election.

He’s of each group and speaks to their condition.

Thus spoke Emerson

Before there was Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School on Boul Wash, there was Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High, and before that, Emerson grade school. There still is the Emerson Library at Brooks. Old names fade away. This Emerson fellow bears looking into.

He was America’s chief public intellectual, to use a hot phrase of a few years ago, in the first half of the 19th century-“America’s greatest idealist thinker, America’s most peculiar thinker,” said the late James Tuttleton of New York University. He gave speeches and wrote essays, and people paid attention to him. So should we, especially Emerson students, teachers, alumni, parents, and anyone else who lives or ever lived or will live in Oak Park.

There’s more more more of this by me at the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest.

Greeley (belly)aches

I’d like to be able to feel Andrew Greeley’s pain, but he hurts in so many places, I wouldn’t know where to start. 

It’s a darn shame Obama had to “defend his outspoken pastor,” says G. in his Sun-Times column.  I would have said he had to defend himself for picking the guy, and not in a month of Sundays at Trinity UCC on 95th St. or in any other church would I let him off the hook with “outspoken.” 

“There is no evidence at all that the senator identifies with his clergyman, and overwhelming evidence to the contrary.”  Other than he picked him as a veritable soul mate and guide and stayed with him 20 years.

If O. loses Pa., “[t]he United States will reveal itself to the world as a country in which a candidate can be destroyed by a single explosion on YouTube — at least if he’s black.”  Oh boy.

“The media will celebrate that they have dragged down another celebrity like Gov. Eliot Spitzer.”  Oh my.  Where do we start with that comparison?  Or “the media” as undifferentiated beast.  Where is this Andrew Greeley coming from, to use a semi-current expression meaning, what makes him tick or what in tarnation is he thinking?

The teacher [whom G. creates for the moment] will have to tell [students wondering years hence why a good speaker like O. didn’t make president] that there were enough closet racists in the United States (especially in Pennsylvania) in those days who seized on the outburst of his cleric as an excuse to destroy Obama. It’s not fair, they will cry out. Whoever said fair? The teacher will reply, quoting John F. Kennedy.

Or he will tell them what he says about William Jennings Bryan or Adlai Stevenson — excellent speakers, I believe — using the reason offered frequently by Mayordaley I when one of his candidates lost, they didn’t get enough votes.

Hillary C. and her staff

did everything they could to keep the race issue alive during the campaign [the teacher will say]. They attacked Obama on every possible occasion, just as if they were Republicans. She even hinted by lack of strong support that Obama might not be a Christian.

I am working on that “lack of strong support” part and hoping it comes to me in the wee hours when I sit up in bed and say “Eureka,” which is a once-current expression meaning, “Yippee, I got it!”

Hillary, G’s teacher will tell these terminally disillusioned kids, one of them “a boy with clenched fists,”

was the only one to gain by it. Of course, it proved that [Rev. Jeremiah] Wright was correct in his judgments about the American people. Many of them hated blacks so much they would do anything to keep one of them out of the White House. At least they didn’t shoot him.

I’ll say.  G’s teacher, his hyper-melodramatic back-to-the-future alter ego, concluded:

He almost won the primary anyway. If he had, they probably would have shot him.

Spattering brains all over the motorcade.

Back to 2008, when “many of the gloating members of the commentariat” — the dirty stinking bastards! sob! —

have appointed themselves to be the jury to determine whether Obama was guilty or not guilty of a major “gaffe” that cost him the election.

The majority seems to have found him guilty. In fact, the only thing of which he is guilty is that he is black. Worse still, he is a pushy black. My teacher in the future used the wrong word. Obama was lynched.

And Clinton was ultimately responsible for playing the race card.

She set loose the whirlwind.

Beat that for purple prose if you can.  Does this guy get excited or not?

Save jobs for SEIU?

 Will Chi’s S. Side Chatham neighborhood — “Pill Hill” for its many physician residents — get a Wal-Mart or won’t it?  Where do consumers come into the labor-union-solidarity picture anyhow?

Arnita Mock Harris, [a] resident, said she and her mother travel to Evergreen Park and Lansing to shop at Wal-Mart and would rather shop in the city if they could.

“We don’t shop in our neighborhood,” said Harris. “The prices are too high. We go to the suburbs.”

It wouldn’t be the first time black shoppers had to go suburban to find prices, not to mention goods.  But in this case, it’s unions that would be sending them there.

Tell it, brother

What better sign do we have that Obama Central is running scared in the wake of Rev. Jeremiah’s sermons than this plaintive plea by Sun-Times columnist and O. enthusiast Mary Mitchell:

We get it. A lot of white people were offended by snippets of sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.  [She doesn’t get it.]

But frankly, critics and those who are supporting a candidate other than Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination have gotten all of the mileage they can out of this debate.  [No.]

All right, fellas, you had your fun.  However:

The aftermath of this racially polarizing incident is predictable. Instead of rising to the challenge to move away from the racial rhetoric that Obama talked about in his historic speech, we the media will continue to fan its flames.

Next, you’ll be bombarded with polling data that purport to show that Obama is losing ground with the white vote.  [Purport all you want, you creeps.]

But wait.  The holy man’s words are plastered over Internet and YouTube, his flock stands and waves approval, he’s the most famous preacher in the America, and it’s racially polarizing.  Would Mary M. rather he be a little secret?

Nope.  How can any of his people object when his light is taken out from under the bushel of 400 W. 95th Street? 

Look.  Candidate O., a person of interest in the matter, gives a speech that NYT’s David Brooks calls “the perfect statement of dignity” and “a glimmer of hope” in a world otherwise gone terribly wrong. “You just can’t buy that kind of analysis,” said A Waco Farmer, one of the Bosque Boys.

But all Mary M. can do is sigh:

At this point, Obama has done all he can do to put this matter to rest.

He has condemned Wright’s controversial sermons as “wrong” and “divisive,” even though he knows as well as I do that after 9/11, you could have walked into several activist churches in Chicago and heard a similar sermon delivered from the pulpit.  [How many?]

And he has given many black people reason to pause by distancing himself from a man he once introduced to the world as his spiritual leader.

She defends Wright as a man unjustly criticized, in view of his non-preaching achievements, blaming us who have not praised them, herself included.

She pictures him as shattered by the publicity:

I have not spoken to Wright, who will retire in June as the church’s senior pastor, but I imagine his heart is broken.

She should talk to him.  If Jeremiah Wright’s heart is broken by this outpouring of attention for him and his preaching and his black liberation theology, I am a proud graduate of Moody Bible Institute. 

It’s to die for, what’s happened to him.  He’s living a preacher’s dream.

The grandmother issue

Count me among those who wondered if the grandmother who worried about black men she passed on the street were still living.  Answer: yes. 

Here’s John Fund:

Mr. Obama’s campaign has made clear that his 84-year old grandmother, who has asked to be left alone, should be considered off-limits to political reporters. But yesterday, it was Mr. Obama who didn’t leave her alone when he used her for one of the central themes of his speech.

O. said he can’t disown Rev. Wright, who spoke from a pulpit to a crowded church that sold CD’s with his sermons recorded, any more than his grandmother, who raised him and along the way made “stereotypical” remarks in private that made him “cringe.”

Don’t they teach logic at Harvard?  Or gratitude in church?  Did Wright make him cringe?

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