Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wright After 9/11

On this Easter Sunday, a reflection:

Consequentialism refers to those moral theories which hold that the consequences of a particular action form the basis for any valid moral judgment about that action. Thus, from a consequentialist standpoint, a morally right action is one that produces a good outcome, or consequence.

Some folks (I shall not call them "typical" for fear of getting into trouble, though the "typical" comes in many colors) are upset with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright in regards to the sermons he gave at his Trinity Church in Chicago. This church is the home church of one Senator Barack Obama, candidate for president. Snippets of Wright's sermons have been cut up and put on the teevee in an endless loop, highlighting some of his more... uh... colorful... statements and indicting him, and by association, Obama, for his continued participation in the church. This kerfuffle over the past few weeks is really no more than an attempt to morph Obama from a "radical Muslim" to a "radical Christian." Everything, that is, except for a middle-of-the-road, middle-class American. He's got to reach up to a patriotism bar that not even Captain America could reach.

Of course, no one is paying much attention to the actual sermons; folks in the public sphere (or at least on the teevee and the Internet) are more concerned with painting a broad and tarred brush regarding Obama. Hey, you all knew something was strange about that dude, eh?

Several people have lately delved a bit more into the sermons themselves instead of the soundbytes. Andrew Sullivan posted the text of the two sermons of concern on his site and Roland Martin has the audio of the two sermons in question on his news blog at Essence.

Here's the complete 9/11 sermon audio clip. I double dog dare you to listen to the entire sermon.

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I'd like to talk about this 9/11 sermon in particular. Chalk it up to me not going to church after 9/11. Is six years too late to attend a 9/11 sermon? Probably, but some 9/11 sermons we should be reminded of again and again, but not in the way this one is now being portrayed.

I want to make clear that I left the Christian church a while ago. I believe in an ecumenical and universal spirit, but I'm more of an agnostic leaning toward Buddhist beliefs of self-reliance, self-awareness and compassion. In regards to the Christian church, I think in 65% of sermons these days, Christian ministers go over the top in their rhetoric and the message: hellfire, brimstone, America is full of sin because of abortion, gays and your little dog, too. Others walk a thin line between the feel-good and salvation, and still others, it's all feel good or quiet contemplation. There are no scientific studies to back up what I've said above. I made it up. Just as a lot of folks these days do.

If you are looking for a champion of religion from this blog, you're not going to find it. In fact, I have a link in my sidebar to Theocracy Watch, which keeps an eye on the Religious Right and the Republican Party. I don't like religion, though I love worship. I believe that religion itself, as led by imperfect men, leads to more harm than good. If you take offense at my belief, I would have to say, like Dick Cheney would, "So?"

Now, I don't want anyone to think that I'm defending left-leaning churches; I'm not. What goes for the right can also go for the left. However, I do think that the basic message of Rev. Wright's 9/11 sermon is getting short-swiftboat-shrifted when it comes to its content. Are there crazy things in both sermons that are snipped and chipped over and over on radio and television? Yes. Are the sermons loud and dangerous sounding? Yes. Are there inflammatory juicy bits sprinkled throughout? Yes. Yes. Is there anything of importance that can be gleaned from the sermons? That answer, again, is yes.

Here is a portion of Rev. Wright's sermon after 9/11 that is of great importance. The question is, "What should our response be" after that day? I asked myself that question that day, didn't you? I'm sure millions of Americans asked themselves that question. Rev. Wright gives us an answer out of many possibilities:
[Gentle voice] Now, now. C'mon back to my question to the Lord, "What should our response be right now. In light of such an unthinkable act. I asked the Lord that question Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I was stuck in Newark, New Jersey. No flights were leaving La Guardia, JFK, or Newark Airport. On the day tht the FAA opened up the airports to bring into the destinations of cities those flights that had been diverted because of the hijacking, a scare in New York close all three regional airports and I couldn't even get her for Mr. Radford's father's funeral. And I asked God, "What should our response be?

I saw pictures of the incredible. People jumping from the 110th floor; people jumping from the roof because the stair wells and elevators above the 89th floor were gone-- no more. Black people, jumping to a certain death; people holding hands jumping; people on fire jumping. [plaintiff high voice] And I asked the Lord, "What should our response be?" I read what the people of faith felt in 551 BC [taken from an earlier part of his sermon regarding Psalm 137]. But this is a different time, this is a different enemy, a different world, a different terror. This is a different reality. What should our response be, and the Lord showed me three things. Let me share them with you quickly and I'm gonna leave you alone to think about the faith footnote.

Number one: The Lord showed me that this is a time for self-examination. [cheers] As I sat 900 miles away from my family and my community of faith, two months after my own father's death, God showed me that this was a time for me to examine my relationship with God. MY own relationship with God-- personal relationship with God.


This is a time for me to examine my own relationship with God. Is it real or is it fake? Is it forever or is it for show? Is it something that you do for the sake of the public or is it something that you do for the sake of eternity? [voice rising] This is a time for me to examine my own, and a time for you to examine your own relationship with God -- self examination.
After 9/11, as I lived in my city with its heart ripped out, I thought long and hard about the decisions that were to be made by my government. I did not go to church, but I worshiped at the shrines of candles, at the shrines of places where people gathered to watch the Twin Towers site burn; I worshiped with a million people who were all examining what had happened, and maybe people wondered what would happen. If I remember correctly, I was full of hate, despair, anguish and concern and there were moments when I wanted to strike back and strike back hard. I was also full of momentary gratitude (for the first time in eight years) to Rudy Giuliani for telling me to get out the house and go shopping. (Luckily, I quickly remembered that Rudy was still a butthead, but that's a different story.)

I knew we were going to go to war. I knew we only looked at the situation from a one-side prism. I knew our leaders would not encourage teaching moments to understand how we got from point A to point B. I knew we didn't understand, as a country, the consequences of our past actions and the consequences of what we were about to do. And we still don't.

Rev. Wright's 9/11 sermon, after stating a slew of actions we have taken as a country, asked us to examine the consequences of our actions, our real actions as a country, our actions as a people. One of these actions that we could have taken (and which we subsequently did take), was revenge. Earlier in the sermon, Wright quotes the last verse of Psalm 137, a cry from the Israelites cast out of Jerusalem who long to seek revenge in order to return to their home. According to Wikidpedia, Psalm 137, "'...ends with violent fantasies of revenge, telling a "Daughter of Babylon" of the delight of "he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.'"

Wright says in his sermon:
Blessed are they who dash your baby’s brains against a rock. And that, my beloved, is a dangerous place to be, yet that is where the people of faith are in the 551 BC, and that is where far too many people of faith are in 2001 AD. We have moved from the hatred of armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents. We want revenge, we want paybacks, and we don't care who gets hurt in the process.
Actions produce effects. Effects produce consequences. If, as Rev. Wright suggests, you or I or we believe in God (or not), we have to examine ourselves and our actions. We have to self-examine, question, and form a rational basis for the next move. From Wright's Christian standpoint, and as talked about in the start of his sermon, he states outright that our actions as a nation have not been completely honorable. It takes a lot of verve to say that our actions have all been virtuous. It takes a lot of head-in-the-sand mentality to think we are perfect.

I ask you today: did you think of the consequences of that day? Did you self-examine your heart that day? Did you cry out to God for revenge? Did you feel the anger within your soul and what did you want to do with that anger if you did? Where you ready to kill without looking at the reasons behind that horrible day of September 11, 2001?

He goes on to say that we need to examine out relationship to our family, not only the blood family but also the Church family and in an even larger context, the world 'family.' He makes sure that all of his congregation turns to each other and says, "I love you" because it might be the last day they have to say it. Say I love you to your family everywhere, all the time, right now, because tragedy can take you in a heartbeat.

Lastly, he says it's a time for social transformation, a time of change of how we do things as an arrogant and yes, in some ways and some times, racist-seeming, empire. We can't keep taking actions like we have without blowback. Maybe, he says, we need to find the money to cure AIDS instead of rebuilding downtown New York and stuffing the pockets of the already wealthy.

And who, really, could argue with that?

I know there are some out there will say, "but... but... but... they want to kill us." Yes, they may want to kill us, but we want to take their stuff and conform to our beliefs.

Easter Sunday for Christians is a time of spiritual renewal. It is a time of reflection, a time of self-examination. I ask that you and me and we take a moment to examine our relationship to the Universe or God if you want to use that word, say "I love you to your family," and know that it's a period of social transformation as well.

Most of all, I would like you ask yourself: where do our our actions of now lead us in the future and what are the consequences of our own needs for revenge?

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