more about this sight

"you're packing a suitcase for a place that you've never been...a place that has to be believed to be seen"...'Walk On' by U2

WATERSHED: A voice in the wilderness. DARYL UNDERWOOD.

 

The concept of Centerpoint Christianity briefly stated is:

Christianity from the centerpoint outward.

Christianity from the climax forward.

This blog constitutes concepts for a new view of Christianity that begins with what is foundational and moves forward from that point. It is based on the assumption that we are being pulled towards something unseen and pushed from a place that once was.

What Centerpoint Christianity attempts to do is bypass some of the constraints imposed by metanarratives by using the life of Christ and particularly the climactic actions of Christ as beginning points.

It supports the conviction that God is essentially timeless. From this beginning point we endeavor to move outward from the definitive moment of the parousia (visitation) of Christ and forward to the future which functions as a type of magnet to "what can be--and is coming".

When we begin at the life of Christ and move outward as from the centerpoint of a web, rather than in a linear timeline of history, another wide picture emerges.


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Wednesday
Apr302008

What's 'Wright'?

Introduction

I am compelled to say something to the community about Senator Obama and Reverend Wright. While I am not a political analyst by any stretch of the imagination I feel compelled to comment on the recent furor over Barack Obamas relationship with his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Though this is a sensitive issue at this juncture in the democratic process I feel some of the frustrations and angst could be dissuaded with a bit of understanding. Perspective can become a salve at times like these.

As a pastor in the Grand Rapids area I may have some understanding of why Wright is saying and believing what is often painted as ridiculous and absurd in the media. Being a pastor gives me a type of instinct when I listen to Wright and Obama navigate this road. I shudder to think of what kind of montage could be constructed using sound bites from a collection of my sermons. I think it unfair and underhanded. Be that as it may, I am, in fact, a white pastor on the fringe of mainline evangelicalism living in a decidedly conservative, politically “red” community. I am not political, but am convicted that God is concerned with our treatment of “one another” and often that has to do with politics. I lean more towards Jim Wallis than James Dobson. In some ways I feel I live out side of the box of much of the church of Grand Rapids and am, like Wright, prone to vivid imagination as to the violence of “the man” towards the oppressed or “held down”. I am familiar with “domination systems”; a term coined by Walter Wink, and that type of thinking, and habe brushed up aside liberation theology despite warnings from many in the tradition of evangelicalism. I was told to be careful, cautioned about this liberal belief system that was somehow less than evangelical. The suggestion was that those who embraced this theology or way of thinking were guilty of accepting a lesser gospel that borders on outright desertion.

I may not be black, or the child of a single mother, or any list of things that may disqualify me in the eyes of some but I do have a shared journey and vision with Dr. Wright. I think he is being horribly misunderstood right now. And I believe the story that is unfolding puts Senator Obama in an unfair Catch 22.

I hope this article brings some clarification to the matter. We should be clear minded in our thinking without the impulsive knee jerk which leads to a rash of uninformed conclusions. If we can understand what part each player plays in this drama we can better navigate the issue without all the unnecessary angst it sometimes stirs.

Traditions

We begin with “traditions” a word used by Wright frequently. Traditions for a pastor, who is a public speaker sometimes goaded into entertainment by the crowd or congregation, are part of the social contract between the people and the leader. There are certain expectations that are part of the package of church gatherings. In the tradition, right or wrong, of the Chicago church Wright leads oratory is king. The delivery is proclamation in the “prophetic voice” confronting rulers and authorities who should “let my people go” be they Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome, Britain, or America. Prophetic has to do with confronting the oppressive systems in the name of God more than predicting the future. Indeed this is what the prophetic books of the Bible are about for a people living in exile looking for a home. This type of oratory rolls down from the pulpit. It is by its very form a type of communication that gains momentum, filled with explosions and whispers. It is like the justice that rolls down like a mighty river that brings righteousness, God’s righteousness, unending, like a never ending stream. It is Biblical preaching in the tradition of the prophets and in line with the controlling narrative of the Bible which is, of course, the Exodus event. The pastor is animated, colorful, confrontive, creative, bold, speaking as from God, and mesmerizing in this tradition. This is not only acceptable but expected. He leans into the ‘level playing field’ concept. There are no favored ones and then the lowly rabble. No blessed over the cursed. The ones under persecution are like Jesus before Pilate, accused by Caiphus and his minions, persecuted and controlled. Yet in the end, in this story, vindication comes when Jesus comes up out of the grave.

When Wright declares in metaphorical embellished anecdotes a dissatisfaction with the status quo he is saying something deeply felt by many that are gathered in his church. How soon 'not now' becomes 'never'. This is a quote attributed to Martin Luther…not Martin Luther King mind you, but the Germanic, white Anglo-Saxon, Martin Luther. It is the mantra of the oppressed who is impatient with the reluctance of the oppressing voices; indeed the Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King echoed the words when he wrote from a Birmingham jail cell,

"Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."--Letters from a Birmingham Jail--Rev Dr. Martin Luther King

When Wright says some of the things he says he is abiding by a social contract that he has agreed to, not by coercion but by choice. Here he stands and like Luther “ Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen! prevails. Here he stands and like King confronts the privileged groups represented by the Hillary Clintons of the world. There is a kind of stubbornness found here as in the “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” firmness that will not sit at the back of the bus or shine shoes in the city anymore. This type of social commentary in accordance with the social contract is a theological conviction. To Wright this is not an idea, fodder for discussion from time to time, but the core of the gospel preached by Jesus who quoted Isaiah 61 as he unrolled the scroll at Nazareth, spoke of in Luke 4: 18

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

When Jesus says this has been fulfilled in your hearing he is saying the prophecies time is here, upon us, so “let my people go”. This is the message of the gospel, not a lesser, secondary, social gospel as some have made it to be. So Wright preaches this message with color and charisma and conviction. Here he stands like Luther, like King, like Amos, Like the Baptist, the long line of prophets who were martyred for their message, and in the end here he stands...like Jesus. And that is why he will not back down even to the pressure of the magnitude named the election of the president of the United States. His allegiance is for God and to God alone. And like the prophet John the Baptist he minces no words when he confronts the Herods of the world and like the John the Baptist, this defiance of the media, powers, and principalities that are will in some way “cost him his head”.

As for the congregation they encourage him, ‘come on’, ‘well’,’ amen’, ‘preach it’ and he does. They throw sheaves along the way as he rides along. It is a type of dance and has its own cultural heritage. Obama is, or at least was, a part of that tradition but it is hard, if not impossible to have these strong convictions and survive in the political arena.

The prophetic voice is like the voice of Amos in chapters 4-5. The voice demands freedom for the captives.

The “haves” are being judged…

Amos 4:1 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
who are on the mountain of Samaria,
who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
who say to your husbands, ‘Bring that we may drink!’
2 The Lord God has sworn by his holiness
that, behold, the days are coming upon you,
when they shall take you away with hooks,
even the last of you with fishhooks.”

…and the have nots are being vindicated.

Amos 5: 21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The drama

Whether this development was somehow orchestrated by Barack Obamas antagonists is unclear. Could McCain or Clinton camps actually stoop so low as to uncover this cetain conflict is somehow unthinkable. Still the damage to the Obama campaign is clear.

Senator Obama is in a Catch 22. On one hand he was drawn by the liberation message of Dr. Wright, for oppression is an important matter to God. And as a politician with significant power it is his responsibility to rule with righteousness, fairness, compassion, and dignity. The aroma of liberation theology is an intoxicating scent to him. It should be.

On the other hand…This is politics and the masses make the judgments as to who will rule. When the sound bites came out they were scathing and upsetting to those who would give him power. Wright was painted as a wild man; he may as well ‘eat berries and wear a tunic in the wilderness’ as far as the general public is concerned. Senator Obama was faced with a terrible decision. He had to either go through an arduous task of explaining his friend, while the friend waxed on in the unpredictable sometimes demanding voice of the prophetic, or distance himself from his friend.

Either way he loses.

If he does not side with Wright some would see Obama as a sell out to the ‘black community’ and the rich heritage of standing proudly against the domination systems of injustice. Others may see Obamas actions as turncoat. They may think he crumbles under pressure so as to sell out his onetime friend. Local musician Ralston Bowles sings a Mark Heard lyric to open his album “Carwreck Conversations” The lyrics are haunting.

What Kind of Friend

What kind of a friend could pull a knife
When it's him or you and his kids need shoes?
What kind of a friend would do you in
When the bomb goes off and the shelter's his?
What kind of friends do friends become
When the musical chairs get down to one?
What kind of friend could I become?
What kind of friend am I?

What kind of friend would tell you lies
To Spare you from the bitter truth?
What kind of friend could stoop so low
As to shield your eyes from the mirror's gaze?
What kind of friends to friends become
When a blind eye turns on the damage done?
What kind of friend could I become?
What kind of friend am I?

What kind of friend survives the night
In a frightened sense of self-defense?
What kind of friend can take the ache
Of loosing face for friendship's sake?
What kind of friend could I become
When the heart says kill and the soul says love?
What kind of friend could I become?
What kind of friend am I?

Has Obama pulled the knife on Wright? Is he looking for cover leaving his friend to the media dogs among the ruins? Is he the type of shepherd that leaves the sheep when the wolves attack? Is he a fair weather friend who grabs the last musical chair? If Obama becomes this kind of friend in crisis would he cower and retreat whenever the heat was turned on and perhaps even desert America? Will he sell out like Peter did when Christ was on trial? These are questions some may ask, perhaps not verbally, but certainly in their hearts on a subconscious level. What kind of friend sacrifices his own friend of so many years to save his political skin? The answer--almost always--is the friend who is under extreme duress.

In the end we ought to understand what is happening and not contribute to any pressure to react. Obama is in a tough place and is being forced to play his part. He has to acquiesce to the press and public to have any possibility of capturing the nomination. Wright is who he is, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. He too, is seemingly destined to play his part.

And as for Hillary? We imagine her celebrating the dilemma—but perhaps she isn’t. Who knows maybe she gets ‘except for the grace of God go I’. I hope so. Let’s not contribute to a public lynching of anybody over this matter but seek to understand the drama of the moment. Let us be wise lest we “lop off the head of John the Baptist” whether it is Obama or Wright or even Senator Clinton.

Understanding the backdrop of the story helps us to unravel the complexities of the furor.

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