With her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God . . . To take the one string you have left and to have the audacity to hope . . . that’s the real word God will have us hear from this passage and from Watt’s painting.”
The preceding is taken from a controversial sermon by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ acknowledged his inspiration for the sermon he delivered in 1990 was G. F. Watts’ painting Hope.
Many have imagined the woman in the painting is sitting pretty on top of the world but she is actually in a bad place: the world upon which she sits, our world, is, as the Reverend Wright described it, “a world destroyed by hate, devastated by despair and distrust, wars, famine” and so on.
The Reverend Wright being the Reverend Wright, also laid the blame squarely on the padded shoulders of reptilian politicians and their multi-faceted accomplices, whether hiding in plain sight, under cassocks, lawyers’ frocks, or in three-piece made-in-China hand-me-downs.
Our own local wannabe Rev. Wrights are demonstrably less concerned with the Almighty than with the almighty buck, a fact never more obvious than when they are pontificating on “hope in hopeless times.” Their public reaction to every horrific murder, every rape of a cradled infant, every instance of abuse by a trusted public official, is another not-to-be-missed opportunity to remind their flock of the hopelessness of the situation we all face, regardless of religious or political stripe.
We are living in “the last days,” they like to remind us, while gleefully citing texts ostensibly supportive of their professional conviction that man has no way out of the mess he created for himself—a warped religious twist on Einstein’s impeccable observation that problems cannot be resolved by the same thinking that created them.
The answers to our problems reside in another realm, say the alleged purveyors of hope in times of hopelessness. Why waste energy seeking to escape our utterly hopeless circumstances when the only way out is to abandon this world, hand over our meager possessions to their churches, then pick up our cross and walk in the tire tracks of our pastors in their luxury SUVs?
It is a particularly effective pitch in times like these. Don’t count on hearing our own Rev. Wrongs advocating the removal from our midst of the evil holders of the highest offices in the land—the main source of our nation’s problems—all cut from the same cloth as were the pontificating prevaricators.
Some offer as justification for sleeping with the enemy their surreptitious plans to devour the monster, like hagfish, from within. Meanwhile there is ever-mounting evidence that the floor-crossing double-crossers of the people have always been a selfish lot, deceitful, insatiable and as evil as the respected despicable establishment gangs they have allegedly infiltrated with malicious intent.
This nation’s churches are outnumbered only by the ubiquitous rum shops and gambling dens that count the especially young and the desperately poor among their best customers, an untenable situation likely to become much worse before it improves.
Not only has the collective local church lost its voice when it needs most to be heard, many of its once vocal champions have taken refuge behind the hardly Christian excuse that it’s no longer safe to speak from the soul.
Meanwhile the hooked-on-phonies section of our society recently received the prime minister’s solemn promise (typically written on sand) that he has no immediate plans to increase the price of liquor as he had the price of sugar in the best interests of a diabetes-free nation.
Channeling the huckster in his soul, the prime minister switched from English to Creole, while referencing some of the solicited TUF’s money-saving proposals destined for his office trash can: “Yo vlay mwen maytay VAT assou say bagai-la ou aimez pliss.” [“They want me to increase the VAT on the two items you love most!”] And what are the two must-haves? Cancer sticks and the devil’s beverage, better known as cigarettes and booze. (Dr. King, where . . . are . . . yooou?)
As for the law that proscribes the vending of liquor to individuals under sixteen, well, the prime minister didn’t go there. Neither did he touch on the ever-multiplying, ubiquitous gambling establishments, his election pledges notwithstanding.
Conspicuously MIA is the Saint Lucia Christian Council whose views the media once automatically sought at the first whiff of evil. Perhaps the Council, like the collective church these days, is too busy digging itself from under the deadly debris of its collapsed credibility.
Remember the conveniently mute church leader who, when faced with indisputable evidence of a prime minister’s gross indiscretions involving a 14-year-old student, could say only that “If John the Baptist had been more careful, he might’ve saved his head?” Did someone say the devil citing Scripture?
The presumed holy man’s response attracted more public attention than had the prime minister’s wholly illegal, no longer secret proclivities. But that was then. Today, it is unlikely a naked priest strolling hand-in-hand in William Peter Boulevard with a topless nun in a see-through spider thong would merit more than two gibberish calls from known hypocritical bible thumpers.
The chickens in droves are coming home to roost. And although to some extent we are all blamable, there can be no denying the most culpable are those who even now continue to teach the nation to see no evil. I refer particularly to the con artists, male and female, that have managed to convince the more gullible the self-ordained agents of God are altogether deserving of tax-exempt luxury cars, VAT-free libations, and other “lubricants of diplomatic intercourse,” albeit related to liturgical politics.
Regardless of how absurd their pronouncements, regardless of how counter-productive, the purveyors of hope in times of hopelessness expect their words to be treated as gospel. After all, they were chosen by God to speak for him. In much the same way Jadia JnPierre-Emmanuel had been chosen by a lesser god to give voice to his thoughts.
It occurs to me that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, while he preached from various Baptist pulpits worldwide, also took to America’s mean streets in his ceaseless fight against evil wherever he encountered it. For him, there was never such a thing as “a lesser,” therefore embraceable evil.
He was not afraid that some might seek to physically hurt him; to the end he refused to be deterred in his mission by the largely unwarranted assaults on his integrity.
He never pretended to be without sin. By being himself, by exposing his frailties, by publicly acknowledging he was “like any other man,” Dr. King inspired the weak and deprived, the abused multitudes, black, white and colors in between.
Regrettably, he was criticized by not only his racist enemies but also by fellow black preachers who had carefully defined for themselves what was their turf and what was to be “left in God’s hands.”
Consider this from a jailed Dr. King to his critics among the clergy: “I am in Birmingham because justice is here . . . I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere . . . Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly . . . You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.
“I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with the effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.”
Which returns us to the vendors of “hope in hopeless times.” The Reverend Wright, when he delivered his famous sermon that was inspired by a painting, was teaching his congregation never to give up their fight for a better day, regardless of their sufferings and unceasing frustrations. He taught his followers to resist all temptation to abandon their just cause, and always to remember fulfillment depended on unwavering faith and a determination to pursue worthwhile goals come rain or come shine.
It seemed to me the Reverend Wright’s message spoke of faith in the Almighty; belief in self; belief in action. Not acknowledgement of defeat in advance of battle. Even with just one string left, the portrayed battle-weary, battered and bruised epitome of Hope continued to play her harp, convinced God would hear her music.
Yes, Dr. King talked the good talk wherever he went—not only from his Baptist pulpit to the converted. He walked the walk, whether leading protest demonstrations he knew were always targeted by racist cops and their specially trained biped and quadruped attack dogs, or at the head of such dangerous undertakings as the March on Washington for jobs.
Often he used his unprotected body as live bait to attract out into the open the disgusting face of racism. In the process he embarrassed cozily uninformed citizens into forcing apathetic politicians at home and abroad into remedial action. It never occurred to Dr. King to fight the enemies of justice “from within.”
Neither did it to the Man from Galilee.
Protecting his own skin was never Dr. King’s bag. Or the Reverend Wright’s. If only we could say as much for our local purveyors of “hope in times of hopelessness!”