Friday, May 30, 2008


A minister decided that a visual demonstration would add emphasis to his Sunday sermon.

Four worms were placed into four separate jars. The first worm was put into a container of alcohol. The second worm was put into a container of cigarette smoke. The third worm was put into a container of chocolate syrup. The fourth worm was put into a container of good clean soil.

At the conclusion of the sermon, the Minister reported the following results:

The first worm in alcohol - Dead.

The second worm in cigarette smoke - Dead

Third worm in chocolate syrup - Dead

Fourth worm in good clean soil - Alive.

So the Minister asked the congregation - What can you learn from this demonstration?

Maxine was setting in the back, quickly raised her hand and said, "As long as you drink, smoke and eat chocolate, you won't have worms!"
That pretty much ended the service.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Faith and politics don't mix

from United Church News

IRS offers UCC complete vindication
Written by J. Bennett Guess

The Internal Revenue Service has concluded that the UCC did not violate tax laws when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama addressed the denomination's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., in June 2007.

"Based on your response to the inquiry, we have determined that the activity about which we had concern did not constitute an intervention or participation in a political campaign - and that the United Church of Christ continues to qualify as an organization described in section 501(c)(3)," according to a May 13 letter from the IRS.

The IRS determination outlined several steps taken by the UCC that indicated compliance with the law. The letter said the UCC's invitation to Obama came "well before he announced his candidacy and that [he] was invited to speak - in a non-candidate capacity, on how his personal faith intersected with his public life."

"You further established that the United Church of Christ had verbally communicated to those in attendance that Senator Obama was there as a member of the church and not as a candidate for office, that the audience should not attempt to engage in any political activities, and that the church's legal counsel had advised Senator Obama's campaign on the ground rules for the speech," the IRS determined.

The letter also concluded that the UCC did not authorize campaign volunteers to set up tables near the entrance of the Hartford Civic Center. "The activity was conducted on public property outside the control of the Synod and therefore was not attributable to the church," the IRS said.
The IRS also noted that the UCC's website provided a link to the IRS fact sheet on prohibited campaign-related activities by non-profit groups and that the church's legal counsel had properly advised UCC leaders of these rules.

"We are pleased that the IRS reviewed the complaint quickly and determined, as we expected, that the church took every necessary precaution and proactive step to ensure that Senator Obama's appearance at General Synod was proper and legal," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President. "This is very good news."

Donald C. Clark, the UCC's Nationwide Special Counsel, called the IRS' specific affirmation of UCC planning and action "gratifying."

"A faith community should not, and by following these now established best practices need not, be timid in asking any member to share her or his faith journey," Clark said.

Thomas praised the work of the UCC's legal team, especially the leadership of Clark. "From the early days of planning for our General Synod in Hartford, Don was committed to making sure that the United Church of Christ modeled the way in which it properly handled this matter," Thomas said. "He has provided expert legal counsel and the IRS' determination only underscores this."

William J. Wilkins and Brian J. Menkes, attorneys in WilmerHale's Washington, D.C. office represented the UCC before the IRS. Wilkins commented, "The denomination simply did not conduct any political activity in this case. The conduct of Synod events and the nature and timing of the speaking invitation made that clear." Menkes added, "Reviewers at the IRS gave our submission prompt review and consideration. We appreciate their bringing this inquiry to conclusion once they learned there was no basis to proceed."

Read the IRS determination letter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Third time was the charm

Sorry to disappoint those who are eagerly awaiting their chance to see the next Indiana Jones movie, but the series should have ended with the third movie. Here are my reasons:

1. To start with, the third movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, ended with Indy and his dad drinking from the holy grail, thus assuring their story of immortality. Then they, Marcus Brodie, and Salah ride off into the sunset. A perfectly satisfying conclusion to the Indiana Jones chronicles.

2. The present movie, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, relied too heavily upon the past, essentially gratifying someone's ego--individually or collectively, I'm not willing to guess. Karen Allen and her character Marian Ravenwood were excellent in the first episode, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bringing her back into the present after so many years to reprise her role as Indy's on-again/off-again lover was tantamount to a soap opera ploy, beneath Spielberg's and Lucas' imagination. Or so I thought.

3. Although this fourth installment has great action and suspense, the writing, acting, and production values all could have used more work; again, relying too heavily upon the past, especially the aging talents of their actors (despite that sip from the grail).

The palette of the film was too drab. The only 'pop' was during the scene shot in New Haven made to look like a '50's style soda shop. (Also, if you know New Haven and Yale University, it's fun to recognize familiar sights.) Cate Blanchett's character had black shiny hair and wore a light gray jumpsuit during the whole film. It would have been more dramatic to see her slip into something more feminine and colorful, perhaps allowing for some of that witty repartee that Indy is known to engage in with his female nemesis. It also would have given her character a little more depth.

As for the writing, the story of the movie was a bit farfetched (every Indiana Jones film has a story: the lost ark, Kali and the shankara stones, the search for the holy grail), bordering on science fiction rather than Indy's field of archaeology. Some of the subplots were also slipping into soap opera territory, which I outgrew in my twenties. And a few stunts were just outrageous, in that it would be highly unlikely that anyone else could have survived them.

4. Finally, the last 1/2 hour of the movie so closely resembled the last 1/2 hour of National Treasure: Book of Secrets you'd think someone got their hands on the storyboards.

Again, sorry to disappoint, but either go see a matinee to save a few bucks or wait for the DVD and watch it on a friend's big screen TV.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Benefits of domestic goddesshood

Movie ticket: $7.00

Online charge: $1.00

Breakfast of popcorn and soda: $8.00

Being able to see a movie at 9 a.m. before most of my geek friends because I am a stay-home mom: priceless.

Eat your heart out, Andy!

Although I wouldn't put it past him to have seen the show at 12:01 a.m.

Monday, May 19, 2008

What's Going On?

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4; Psalm 8
****** Congregational Church

May 18, 2008

Marvin Gaye was one the most influential rhythm and blues artists. In his music he combined gospel, blues, and jazz— ultimately reinventing soul music. Like most people he was a mix of contradictions: spiritual and sensual, romantic and radical. The juxtaposition of these traits made for complex, beautiful music. In 1971 he broke out of the Motown mold with his concept album “What’s Going On?” by writing about the war in Vietnam, the ecology, and the love of God. Berry Gordy, Motown’s hit producer, warned him it wouldn’t sell. Marvin didn’t care. For him, the message was more important.

Our denomination, the United Church of Christ, has invited local churches around the country to initiate a ‘sacred conversation’ about racism on this day, Trinity Sunday. In some places this particular message might not sell either. Some might call it a ‘scared conversation’. I am not your pastor; I am here to preach a sermon because your pastor is out of town. I am a white woman, born with a certain amount of privilege and advantages, with really no idea what it means to be the object of racism. But I believe the message is indeed important. We need to talk about ‘what’s going on’ when it comes to racism in this country for several reasons.

One, we have an African-American who just might be the next Democrat candidate for president: Senator Barrack Obama, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago. Two, his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, has been vilified in the public media, amounting to the equivalent of a public lynching of his 36 years of ministry and of the black church and its experience of faith. And three, it’s something this nation is not done with yet, not by a long shot. Jim Wallis, editor and founder of Sojourners magazine, said that America’s sin of racism has not even been confessed, much less repented.

Yes, we’ve come a long way: Senator Obama is a sign of the progress that’s been made in the effort to banish racism from this country. Recently, however, an Obama campaign volunteer canvassing for votes in the Midwest received one homeowner’s angry response with alarm: “Why don’t they just hang that darkie from a tree?” We are shocked that such vitriol still exists, even more so that it is expressed so openly. Yet why are we not equally shocked about our apparent inability to discuss our own racism and fears with our sisters and brothers of color?

It has never been easy for anyone to imagine themselves in the shoes and skin of someone else, whose experience of life is so vastly different from our own. Growing up in this country with a skin color other than white still entails an education different from that of most whites, a family situation different from most whites, an expectation of life different from most whites, and thus an experience of this nation and an experience of God different from most whites.

The Christian faith of most people of color dates back to the prophets, including the prophetic teaching of Jesus Christ, who preached liberty for the captives, freedom for the oppressed, release for the prisoners, and compassion for the brokenhearted, as it is written in Isaiah 61. As Rev. Jeremiah Wright proclaimed at the National Press Club it is a prophetic theology of liberation, liberation not only for the captives but also for the captors, not only for the oppressed but also for the oppressors. It is a theology of transformation, of radical, permanent change: changed hearts and minds, changed laws and lives. Ultimately it is a theology of reconciliation, for God does not desire that we be at war, that we hate or abuse each other, but that we be reconciled to one another. (I haven’t heard those words used in sound bite, have you?) Wright declared that this is not only the core of the black religious experience but also of the United Church of Christ.

This is the bedrock of the United Church of Christ, that as disciples of Jesus we all need liberating: from prejudice, fear, greed, hate, and ignorance. These all stand in the way of us seeing one another with the eyes of grace. God has another vision for us. In Genesis we read that God created us, men and women, in the image of God; in the image of God, God created us. All human beings were created in this image, not just some. In this morning’s psalm we read that we were made a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honor, that God is mindful of human beings, that God cares for mortals, even as the universe continues to birth new stars and new galaxies.

God did all this and then also gave all of us dominion over all creation. But what does it mean, to have dominion? The Hebrew word for ‘dominion’ is râdâh, which means to tread down, to subjugate, prevail against, to rule over, to take. Certainly this is what humankind has done to the earth and its peoples. There have been those who have had power and who have power now, who have oppressed, and continue to oppress, those who are different or believed to be inferior to the ones in power. Precious natural resources have been exhausted, and continue to be exhausted, in the quest to subjugate others as well as establish civilizations. It seems more likely that we were intended to manifest God’s rule of peace and justice on earth, having been made a little lower than God. But I don’t believe that God intended, that God desired this manifestation to be oppressive, violent, or abusive. Sometimes the Bible tells us about what God intends, and sometimes it tells us about what actually happened.

This first story of the creation in Genesis 1 is thought to have been written around 500 BCE, after the destruction of Jerusalem in 586, after the Jewish people had been conquered by the Babylonian empire and sent into exile. When a small number of Jews returned home about fifty years later to begin rebuilding their homeland, the stories of creation and of God’s relationship with human beings were written down, in the shadow of domination under a new imperial power, Persia.

The Jewish people knew all about domination, since the time of the Egyptian pharaoh who enslaved them and their descendants to build his empire to the Babylonian, the Persian, and the Assyrian empires, not to mention the Roman Empire of the New Testament, that each brutalized the Jews in their own way. Domination was not the desire of God but it was an extremely harsh reality within which the Jewish people struggled to be faithful.

The Bible is the only book I know of containing the history of a people who were on the losing side of empire. Most histories are written by the winners, the empires, casting themselves in a favorable light, ignoring the stories of those they may have stepped on or even destroyed along the way. Indeed, the whole Bible can be read from beginning to end as a treatise against the evils of empire versus the goodness of the kingdom of God. This is where the black theology of liberation claims its power and its heritage.

People of color know about the evils of empire; most white people don’t. We are the beneficiaries of empire. Even when our government has oppressed white people in some way, some parts of the Patriot Act come to mind, we are willing to overlook it or put up with it. But for people of color oppression can still dominate and permeate their lives. It was a government comprised of white people that enslaved proud African people, with their own culture and long history, and brought them to this country in chains to build an American empire. It was a government of white people who drove indigenous people from their land onto a trail of tears that led to the destruction of their nations and the demoralization of their peoples, all to make room for the American empire. This history doesn’t just go away. I think if this had happened to my ancestors, if they had been considered 3/5 of a person, my outlook would be quite different. When Jeremiah Wright cried out ‘God damn America’, it was not her people he said that God condemned but her empire, her government that continues to oppress, break the hearts of, and imprison people of color ten times more than white people.

God does not bless empire, God condemns it. The United States of America is a descendant of the Roman Empire, that spread its influence to Gaul and the land of the Anglo-Saxons, from which rose the British Empire, from whom this nation was born. From our very beginnings, even as ‘we, the people’ declared that ‘all men are created equal’, we behaved as a domination system, taking, subjugating, treading down the wilderness and its natives.

Today the United States military has over 737 bases or installations in 63 countries worldwide. We are indeed an empire, believing itself to be the only superpower in the world. However, in God’s kingdom power is shared. In Genesis we read that God gives us this dominion, God shares power with us; it is a gift, not a right. And it is given not to a few but to all. To share power means to share what is powerful: an equal education, fair housing, a living wage, justice linked with compassion, and community that embraces each one as a child of God.

Like any nation we are a mix of contradictions. Our government can commit acts of hegemony with impunity, but we the people worry about the people we love, and we see the pain and struggle of our neighbors. Our nation’s influence in the world is beginning to wane, yet we the people have the power to influence the direction of our nation.

Like any church, the United Church of Christ is a mix of contradictions. One preacher’s words can be taken out of context, but not all of us agree with him or with each other. And that’s okay. The majority of our church is white, but we are also African, Hispanic, Latino, Caribbean, Pacific-Islander, Samoan, Native American, and many others.

The conversation, the transformation, the message begins here, in this covenant community where we strive to love one another as Christ has loved us. Our brothers and sisters of color suffer because of the realities of living in an empire, in a dominant white society. What can we do to confess and to repent the sin of racism? How can we reach out in love to ease the suffering, to enact justice, and to embrace everyone as a child of God? God is still creating. How can we create alongside God, with the power that God has given us, to effect radical, permanent change? What holds us captive, how are we oppressed, from what do we need to be freed?

The Body of Christ is segregated and thus, not whole. It begins here, this call to revolutionary love and radical repentance. The church has the power, the power of the Holy Spirit, to disturb the status quo, to effect radical, permanent change in society, if only we will use it. It is not enough that black children and white children hold hands, but that all God’s children, black and white, Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and Arab, Christian and Muslim, Iraqi and American, Darfurian and Sudanese, Chinese and Tibetan, hold hands together as one people on one planet heading toward a common future. It begins here. Amen.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

La Madonna del latte

Amazing as it may seem, there are still people, in this seriously confused country, who are uncomfortable with mothers who breastfeed their babies. Perhaps if we had kept these images of Mary nursing her infant son Jesus we would think it commonplace and women's breasts would not be seen solely as sexual objects.

So in honor of Mother's Day and mothers everywhere, here is a selection of artwork through the ages of La Madonna del latte (just don't order it at Starbucks). I apologize for not including their provenance.

A modest portrayal yet see how baby Jesus reaches for his mother, like any other hungry infant.

This one is quite revealing but also realistic, with the slit in the undergarment.

I love this big, strapping baby--thriving because of his mother's milk.

Mary's face is tender and calm, something I could've used when I was a young mother, sometimes trapped on the couch for most of a day because my daughter was so ravenous.

There is nothing like the tender touch of a child.

This one is almost amusing, especially since Mary is dressed like a nun. Some of the iconic work made the breast look like a cone!

A few months ago this one made the cover of The Christian Century.

This one is my favorite. Mary does not look at her audience but at her child with all the fullness of love and devotion. Mary was the first to sacrifice her life for Jesus by carrying him in her body and giving birth to him. She was the first to give what she had to this child, even though one day a sword would piece her heart.

But then, don't all children eventually do this to their parents? And wouldn't we do it all over again anyway?

A happy and blessed Mother's Day to all.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

While We're Waiting

Acts 1: 6-14; John 17: 1-11
First Congregational Church of ******, CT
Sunday, May 4, 2008

Waiting: it’s not something any of us are particularly good at nor do we really wish to increase our expertise at waiting—because that would mean we would have to wait even longer.

Our experience with waiting is varied and wide-ranging. Most of our waiting is mundane, like waiting in line at the grocery store, the bank, the post office, the coffee shop, the red light, the traffic jam or commute home, to buy concert or movie tickets, to exit a crowded sports event.

Some waiting can cause anxiety or anticipation: waiting for a birthday—for some that’s anticipation and for some that’s anxiety-producing, waiting to hear back after a job interview, waiting for a baby to be born or for an adoption to come through, waiting for a letter of acceptance from a college or university, waiting for a letter from a family member in the military serving overseas, waiting on, like the song says, the world to change.

Some of our waiting can be more excruciating: waiting for surgery or for a loved one who is in surgery, waiting through a long recovery, waiting to hear back about a test result, waiting for a phone call to hear that someone has arrived safely, waiting for a loved one’s pain to end from cancer or some other fatal illness, waiting for an answer to prayer.

In this morning’s readings from the lectionary the early church, both in its infancy and approximately seventy years later, is in the sacred act of waiting. In the Acts of the Apostles Jesus instructs the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to empower them to be witnesses of the Good News. The gospel of John, written about 100 CE, addresses a community of followers who never knew Jesus in his lifetime, who have been waiting for his return—for the kingdom of God, waiting under the brutal stress of persecution and division within the faith community, struggling to remain faithful to Christ’s teachings.

Both readings attend to the great anticipation and tremendous anxiety in the early church: anticipation of the Holy Spirit, anxiety attendant to Jesus’ death and his ascension—his apparent absence. As with most things in the church, not much has changed, really. We too are often filled with great anticipation and tremendous anxiety, both our lives in the church and outside the church. Sometimes it seems much of our living and loving is made up of waiting: waiting for others, waiting for God, waiting for action, for empowerment, for healing, for resources, for peace.

Yet at the same time, we do have God, God working in the world: we have power from the Holy Spirit, we have healing, we have resources; we have peace because we have Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead. We have new life. Yet we also live in a fractured world of violence, greed, injustice, oppression, war, and death.

In theological parlance this contradiction is called ‘the now and the now yet’. We live in an interim time, between the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. And throughout the life of the church there has been significant tension in the faith community because of this ‘now and not yet’. However, the tension is not God’s but ours. Much of our suffering and frustration comes from this tension, this tension of being the Body of Christ but not yet whole; the tension of that kingdom seemingly just beyond the grasp of our fingertips.

Mount of Olives, Jerusalem

And in our tension we fight and grouse, complain and bicker; we murmur against God and one another, much like the Israelites wandering in the desert for forty years, waiting for that promised land to appear on the horizon. The tension can manifest itself in our life together as heated debates, pointing fingers, burned-out leaders, frustrated followers, tentative giving or withholding altogether. Some of us, wanting to end the tension, leave the church or find another, taking our frustration with us wherever we go. Some of us stay, simmering just beneath the surface.

We see some of this being played out in our nation’s protracted presidential primary season. We are waiting for the party nominations to take place, to end these seemingly endless debates, pandering for votes, and pointing of fingers. We are deep into the ‘now and not yet’ of who will lead this country, and much is riding on what this nation decides. We feel the anxiety and the anticipation in a palpable way, each time we listen to the news, we read the newspaper, discuss our viewpoints with family, friends, co-workers, and our sisters and brothers in faith. The tension is manifesting itself, in the anticipated fracture of the Democratic Party, in the pressure to set one party up against another, once again dividing our nation into red and blue, in the divisive feelings over the controversy of Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Obama, creating frustration, anticipation and much anxiety in our beloved United Church of Christ.

We are not the first to feel this anxiety and anticipation, nor will we be the last. It seems to be part of human nature to despise waiting, to be restless, to release the tension in some way so that we can continue what our lives require of us. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote that the whole creation groans in labor pains, that we groan inwardly while we wait for God to reveal the glory to come.

Jesus knew this, and so we hear him praying for the church, for this burgeoning band of followers, declaring in their hearing that they belong to God and that they are one, just as Jesus and God are one. Jesus’ farewell prayer is the Lord’s Prayer of John’s gospel. He names God ‘Father’ no less than six times. Jesus speaks of glory and eternal life, that kingdom of God that begins with our living of these days in the fullness of God. His prayer is replete with themes of ‘thy will be done’ and faith that it will be done. He moves his disciples from themselves to each other, from each other to the world.

Listen to this paraphrase of the gospel reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

Jesus said these things. Then, raising his eyes in prayer he said:

Father, it’s time.
Display the bright splendor of your Son
So the Son in turn may show your bright splendor.
You put him in charge of everything human
So he might give real and eternal life to all in his charge.
And this is the real and eternal life:
That they know you,
The one and only true God,
And Jesus Christ, whom you sent.
I glorified you on earth
By completing down to the last detail
What you assigned me to do.
And now, Father, glorify me with your very own splendor,
The very splendor I had in your presence
Before there was a world.

Acts 1: 10-11

I spelled out your character in detail
To the men and women you gave me.
They were yours in the first place;
Then you gave them to me,
And they have now done what you said.
They know now, beyond the shadow of a doubt,
That everything you gave me is firsthand from you,
For the message you gave me, I gave them;
And they took it, and were convinced
That I came from you.
They believed that you sent me.
I pray for them.
I’m not praying for the God-rejecting world
But for those you gave me,
For they are yours by right.
Everything mine is yours, and yours mine,
And my life is on display in them.
For I’m no longer going to be visible in the world;
They’ll continue in the world
While I return to you.
Holy Father, guard them as they pursue this life
That you conferred as a gift through me,
So they can be one heart and mind
As we are one heart and mind.

We are not to hear these words as directives for action on our part but as a pastoral prayer of Jesus on the behalf of the early church, thus a pastoral prayer for us, the church in this time and place. Jesus is asking God to accomplish great things through us, not for us to produce anything. Author Gail O’Day wrote that “[we] are a community for whom Jesus prays.” How does such a vision of the church affect the way we see ourselves, our mission, our strengths, the possibilities of our life together?

Not only do we hear Jesus praying for his disciples and for the church in John; in Acts the disciples spend their time waiting for the Holy Spirit by devoting themselves to prayer. While we are waiting prayer can often feel passive and idle, as though we aren’t achieving anything while we’re waiting. Yet Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God: that is, having a relationship with God and a high quality one at that. The quality of our prayer life is often a reflection of the quality of our relationship with God. And much of our frustration and suffering from all this waiting would be eased by a healthy prayer life.

A healthy prayer life is one that consists not only of our petitions and requests for loved ones and acquaintances, but also for those who suffer from injustice, for broken human relationships—our enemies near and far, for the church in all its contentiousness, honest confession of sin, a heart-felt acceptance of forgiveness, thanksgiving for all that is good in this world, and an equal amount of silence to quiet the voices of dissension and restlessness in order that we might hear the voice of God.

The health our relationship with God, as individuals and as a church, is the nourishment that feeds our ability to be in union with one another. When we are fractured and contentious, our witness to the Good News appears shallow. How can anyone declare “See how they love one another!” when we the church divide ourselves every time there is controversy.

When was the last time you had a heart-to-heart in a small group or one-on-one with church folk? A heart-to-heart with God? How is your relationship with God and with each other? For what does this faith community need the prayers of Jesus? What are you waiting for as a family of faith? Is the waiting difficult or peaceable or both? Is there any tension that needs to be released? When there has been tension in the congregation in the past, how did you cope with it? What do you require of the Holy Spirit for the witness of the Good News in this church?

The unity of the Body of Christ is not incidental to our salvation. Our solidarity grows out of our relationship with God and with each other through the silence and words of prayer, prayer that also leads us out into the world. Though we may be terrible at waiting we do not have to let it wreak havoc. Waiting is our opportunity to listen to the still-speaking God, to listen to one another, to let go of our frustration and suffering, to ease the tension of living in ‘the now and the not yet’. Jesus has ascended yet he has left us in the care of God as we anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit. And indeed, it will come but will we be ready? Let us fervently pray it will be so. Amen.

Monday, May 05, 2008

'Beware the terrible simplifiers'

From the United Church News
Written by Bill Moyers May 4, 2008

Editor's note: Bill Moyers, veteran journalist and UCC member, delivered the following essay during the May 2 installment of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS. Moyers provided the text of his remarks to United Church News with permission to reprint. Watch the video.

I once asked a reporter back from Vietnam: "Who's telling the truth over there?"
"Everyone," he said. "Everyone sees what's happening through the lens of their own experience."

That's how people see Jeremiah Wright.

In my conversation with him and in his dramatic public appearances since, he revealed himself to be far more complex than the sound bites that propelled him onto the public stage. More than 2000 people have written me about him, and their opinions vary widely. Some sting: "Jeremiah Wright is nothing more than a race-hustling, American-hating radical," one of my viewers wrote. Another called him a "nut case."

Many more were sympathetic to him. Many asked for some rational explanation for Wright's transition from reasonable conversation to the shocking anger they saw at the National Press Club. A psychologist might pull back some of the layers and see this complicated man more clearly, but I'm not a psychologist.

Many black preachers I've known-scholarly, smart, and gentle in person-uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course, I've known many white preachers like that, too. But where I grew up in the south, before the Civil Rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else. A safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed.

I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched. Or if my great-great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a constitution that proclaimed: "We, the people." Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Conner, and Jesse Helms.

Even so, the anger of black preachers I've known and heard and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic. That's not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances since my interview. What white America is hearing in his most inflammatory words is an attack on the America they cherish and that many of their sons have died for in battle - forgetting that black Americans have fought and bled beside them, and that Wright himself has a record of honored service in the Navy.

Hardly anyone took the "chickens come home to roost" remark to convey the message that intervention in the political battles of other nations is sure to bring retaliation in some form, which is not to justify the particular savagery of 9/11 but to understand that actions have consequences. My friend Bernard Weisberger, the historian, says, yes, people are understandably seething with indignation over Wright's absurd charge that the United States deliberately brought an HIV epidemic into being. But it is a fact, he says, that within living memory the U.S. public health service conducted a study that deliberately deceived black men with syphilis into believing that they were being treated while actually letting them die for the sake of a scientific test.

Does this excuse Wright's anger? His exaggerations or distortions? You'll have to decide for yourself, but at least it helps me to understand the why of them.

In this multimedia age the pulpit isn't only available on Sunday mornings. There's round the clock media - the beast whose hunger is never satisfied, especially for the fast food with emotional content. So the preacher starts with rational discussion and after much prodding throws more and more gasoline on the fire that will eventually consume everything it touches. He had help - people who, for their own reasons, set out to conflate the man in the pulpit who wasn't running for president with the man in the pew who was.

Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering, Catholic-bashing Texas preacher, who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee's delusions or thinks AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court Justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11, Jerry Falwell said the attack was God's judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass. Jon Stewart recently played tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the Oval Office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy and wrong -- white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren't.

Which means it is all about race, isn't it?

Wright's offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently.

He doesn't fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone's neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettles some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We're often exposed to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I've never seen anything like this - this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner played out right in front of our eyes.

Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said, "beware the terrible simplifiers."

Bill Moyers is managing editor of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Dangerous liasons

While the media has been scopelocked on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and his acceptance of Pastor John Hagee's endorsement has slipped largely under the radar. This video is the first part of five on a broadcast of Bill Moyers' "Journal" on PBS. If you thought Jeremiah Wright was crazy, Pastor John Hagee is downright scary. A video of Bill Moyers' interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright appears below.

Dangerous liasons, Part 2

This video is part one of four. I encourage you to view all of the clips in order to balance what you may have heard about Rev. Wright.