12 March 2010 11:32 PM (prophet | prophetic | voice | illiniwek | unwelcome guests | rhetoric | scouts | indians | jensen)
Assalamu alaikum, internets. And what internets! My wanderings this day have been varied, though my reactions be cloudy -- perhaps due to my cold. Damn the virus.
the prophetic voice
I was listening to a speech by Imam Mahdi Bray, who is, as you might guess, an imam -- a preacher, effectively. I was impressed by the strength and righteousness in his voice -- and then I started to wonder (and wander) a bit.
I grew up Catholic, very Catholic at times, and perhaps my readers will allow me to put off saying what it is that I am now, until I figure it out myself; but that past does not explain my weakness for sermons. It's almost as if I had some secret Baptist heart.
Take Martin Luther King Jr., a prophet if we ever had one. His speeches move, an effect that comes from the sense of ringing righteous justice; but that sense only rings in the body of the listener when given with the proper delivery. King spoke with the prophetic voice, not only with content but with a diction that carries weight and truth.
Mind you, it's a practiced diction: one can learn it in a school, even. But to speak in the prophetic voice is not mere device; it allows truth to shine through in a way that "rhetoric" does not.
A prophet is freed from the constraints of the premises of her day; she does not need to spend her time refuting arguments based on those premises, but to build off of the implications of her own. In doing so she allows those premises to be examined more explicitly, and honestly.
So I was pleased to find that in a later listening of Unwelcome Guests, I came across the lovely words of Robert Jensen.
Jensen is a white journalist living in Texas. Granted, it's Austin, the anomalous hippie district, but Texas nonetheless. And just so that I'm not the only Free Software hacker blogging about sermons, I'd like to mention one he gave in 2007: We are all prophets now: Responsibilities and risks in the prophetic voice.
I'm happy he mentioned the risks aspect, because there are many. There is a fascistic tendency in rhetoric. Any humanist speaker should acknowledge that tendency, and its implications, and seek to mitigate both.
A Jensen interview was broadcast on Unwelcome Guests in the wake of the release of his book, All My Bones Shake. The title references the Old Testament, which is indeed a shaky point of reference, if one is looking for justice. (For a humorous take on the topic, see Saramago's Cain; not yet translated into English, it seems.)
But still, there are parts of the Old Testament that do have a ring worthy of King, that resounding clarity. Jensen quotes Jeremiah 1, 7-10:
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you you shall go,
and whatever I command you you shall speak.
Be not afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD.”
Then the LORD put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”
cowboys and indians
Wandering on, Jensen ended up linking to Chief Illiniwek, a fictitious Native American character set up as a mascot for the University of Illinois -- finally retired some five years ago, due to concerns that he was, well, racist.
"Racist" rings alarm bells with people, but ultimately it's correct I think. Continuing this confessional thing, I was also a Boy Scout as a kid, eventually reaching Eagle, even. The Illinois mascot came out of American Scouting, almost a hundred years ago, but pseudo-Indian traditions are quite alive there still.
The important thing to realize is that such pseudo-traditions are just that, pseudo. They're fake. They come from a real desire to connect, to the land and to people, but via a connection to an idealized culture, without any inhabitants, without a connection to its survivors; and without any examination of the relationship between the military (upon which Scouts are modeled), colonialism, and native peoples.
To me though, the important realization is the level of ignorance in the world, and I don't mean that in a malicious way at all. Everyone needs roots, and native cultures are part of that. But roots cannot go down without reconciliation, and a very hard look at the past and what it means in the present. And that's something that was never discussed by the proponents of "respect the chief" (a pro-Illinois-mascot group), and something that was totally ignored when I was a Boy Scout, dressed up in skins, pretending that I was an Indian.
Lest this all be a bit too heavy, let me close with the classic:
A quiet woman said,
Speak to us of Virtue.
He then answered.
Goodness and Kindness are popular Virtues.
Some Virtues are much older.
The serene chaos that is Courage, and the phenomenon of Unopened Consciousness have been known to the Great World eons longer than Extaboulism.
Why is that? the woman inquired.
Because I just made that word up, the Master said wisely.