Sunday, February 24, 2008

Wrestling with the Cross

In another life, you know, one where Baby Girl doesn't want to be fed, played with, or teach me about the world, I would have written a Lenten series as I try to wrestle with Big Questions. The Hitchens debate at the 92 St Y was part of that. This is, too.

I turned on C-Span yesterday and caught the tail-end of the ninth State of the Black Union. If you want to know more about it, check out Tavis Smiley's webpage. It's a very intriguing symposium, and I am always invigorated by what Smiley puts out there in the culture because, even when I don't agree or have a context to understand, I am grateful he is having the conversation.

The astounding and prophetic Dr. Cornel West was in attendance, and I found myself riveted by his closing statement. So much so, that I went to C-Span and spent the morning transcribing this brief four minutes of gospel. It follows below:

Smiley: Doc, I raise this question in part based upon that Western formulation of the distinct difference between hope and optimism, and so you don't believe that being black means being optimistic, but it does mean always remaining hopeful and I'll pass the baton to you, sir.
West: We got to always be prisoners of hope, but I think we can learn something from the great musicians, especially being here in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Mary Jane Blige, Jill Scott, we can go on. What have we learned? That there's a qualitative difference between a voice and an echo. A voice is about an individual creation based on other voices that came before, an echo is about imitation, which is suicide, and emulation, which is a sign of an adolescent mind.
However you vote, don't let it be an echo. It's got to come from your heart, mind, and soul; it's got to have integrity. You've got to be able to stand for it and deal with the consequences. Why is that important? That's important precisely because somebody like myself, my calling is Socratic and prophetic, which means I have a suspicion of politicians, I don't care what color they are. My aim is to tell the truth, expose lies, and to bear witness. So, yes, I critically support Obama, I, I break my neck across the nation to support him. When he wins, I'll celebrate for a day, I'll breakdance that morning, the second day I'm his major critic; I'm his major critic. How come? Because it ain't about him, it's about those [slash] so-called everyday people. It's about the ordinary people, and not only that, Tavis, but in the end, especially what our, this, this genius right here, this brother here (referencing Dick Gregory). He has broken down, and what is at the core for me of what he's saying is how do we actually learn to love in the most deep sense; and if justice is what love looks like in public, then when you love folk you can't stand unfairness and them being treated unjustly. And if that's the case, then the question becomes, seems to me, how do we understand the catastrophic, because as a Christian that Cross is a sub-lying moment of unarmed truth and unconditional love being manifest in human action in the face of the catastrophic.
And that's a grand moment. Who has the courage to speak the truth and to love in the face of the catastrophic? That's the Cross, which means what? Don't get too wrapped up in the flag, because every flag is subordinate to the Cross. That in the end you've got to bear witness to something bigger than the flag. So all this talk about campaigning and so forth and so on, it is penultimate if it's not focused on the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew--which is the least of these, which is the most vulnerable--is still idolatrous and it still is going to run into a dead-end. So in the end the question becomes how do we learn to love each other in such a way that we can struggle for justice, and in struggling for justice we learn to disagree and still love our brothers and sisters and recognize that with our crooked hearts we've got to learn to love our crooked neighbors and our crooked neighbors got to learn how to love us with they crooked hearts and then organize, mobilize, bring power, and pressure to bear.
That's why we love you, Tavis, because you allow us to do this, you allow us to be free enough to engage in radical love and radical freedom, even as we recognize the cracked vessel status of each and every one of us, that's a beautiful thing. That's John Coltrane's Love Supreme; that's Marvin Gaye's What's Going On; that's Toni Morrison's Beloved; that's James Baldwin's Love essays; that's Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life: love and the need of love.
Smiley: Love today. Please thank the oracle, Dr. Cornel West for being here today.

I do not pretend to be a preacher: certainly when one quotes the formidable Dr. Cornel West on your blog, you don't do anything so idiotic.
But this stirs something in me that rears up from time to time, and it consumes me now. When Jason started attending seminary, I had the opportunity to think about my Faith in a very deep way. I wish everyone had that opportunity, took that opportunity, to try to wrestle with the idea of sin, the nature of despair, and the overwhelming calling we have to reckon with justice. For me, the lack of justice in the world brings about the greatest human sin, the act of despair which, of course, is when we fall short of hope of God's promise.
What I have found encouraging in this political season is that for the first time in my lifetime I am seeing a political debate that reflects my values: my liberal, justice-seeking, hope-filled, advocating-for-the-promise-of-God values. I know that to whom much is given, much is expected and within my life I see abundance and wealth beyond measure. I breathe free, therefore I must extend justice; I am full, therefore I must feed the hungry; I have security, therefore I must care for those who are vulnerable; I am filled with Grace, therefore I must extend God's Grace to others.
In this political debate, I have been quite open about my support of Barack Obama. I have waded through the arguments with friends that he is inexperienced and I have responded that I am not worried about the decisions he will make even though I may have an incomplete record by which to judge because I understand the nature of the criteria that he uses to make his decisions.
My vote for Barack Obama is my voice saying that I am wearied by hatred and I am tired of fear. I do not want my politicians or my government to tell me that my desire to love God's Creation is foolhardy. I want a government that looks like me. I want a government that reflects my values. I do believe that hope is a reasonable platform on which to run a campaign because it is a reasonable platform on which to build a faith system.
For too long has the Left labored with the idea that to invite faith to the table is to invite totalitarianism. But that gives credence to the idea alluded to by those like Christopher Hitchens, the idea that what God intends for his creation is what Man calls religion. At this time, and from here out, we must delve deeper, we must look beyond our religion, our churches, our temples, and wrestle with what God calls us to do. As a Christian, I hear the call from Dr. West: I must wrestle with the Cross because I serve something higher.


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