Some interesting reactions to the Vashti McKenzie program this past weekend, both positive and negative. This interesting e-mail in particular was mentioned during our Monday morning staff meeting, coming from Kathryn in Davis, California. She mentions a segment around 01:12:00 in the full interview that we cut out of the final production. The segment is about 6 minutes long, and survived through a couple of rounds of edits before it was ultimately cut out.

I am a big fan of this show and admire your talent, Krista. The editing on this particular show disturbed me, however. By her own account, and yours, the essence of Vashti McKenzie is discovered in the the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. It’s an incredibly profound teaching in the same way that Native American stories are so deeply wise and transformational. (One can understand how Christianity of the mainstream stumbled so badly by failing to understand the meaning of this core teaching. Rev. McKenzie finally gets it right.) And yet, it didn’t make the final cut.

When I look at what did make the cut — the emphasis on the Jeremiah Wright exegesis — and the timing of this interview, it tells me that you used Speaking of Faith and Vashti McKenzie to make an appeal to nervous undecided and conservative voters to support Barack Obama, much like the just released movie about George “W” Bush did.

This is your show, you can do that, and I hope it works. That said, the story of the Samaritan woman holds so much more meaning and value for viewers here and around the world than whether or not undecided voters now might feel a little better about Barack Obama’s Christianity. Rev. McKenzie’s teaching goes both to her core and the central mission of your show. Your rough cut managed to miss the mark on both counts.

There are a couple of things there. The first thing is the apparent support for a candidate. Depending on what we’re covering on a particular week, we often hear from listeners who think we’re supporting this or that political ideology. Just as an example with this program, some listeners suggested that even mentioning Jeremiah Wright at this stage meant we were trying to derail Sen. Obama’s bid. It seems to go with the territory no matter how much editorial rigor we subject a program to, and that’s fine, we’re happy to talk about our process.

But as with most Speaking of Faith programs, we try to contribute something to the conversation in the larger American community. Talking about race in the context of this presidential election might seem cynical, but I don’t know if there’s ever a wrong time to talk about racism.

Maybe the story of the Samaritan woman contributes to that larger conversation in a more enduring way than anything that can be said about the Wright controversy. Rather than reflecting an ulterior motive, this is where the desire to be newsworthy comes in. Krista is talking to someone who is a prominent leader in the African-American community, and who had close ties to Jeremiah Wright. There is a journalistic responsibility to address it openly. To be honest, in the full interview, I detected some reluctance in Bishop McKenzie’s voice as far as talking about the Wright controversy. There is more discussion of the controversy throughout the interview, but we edited a lot of that out because the segment we had in the final program addressed the issue without belaboring it. And there was some thematic redundancy between the story of the Samaritan woman and other parts of the interview. With our eyes on the clock, we make room for some things at the expense of others.

The show itself was meant to act as part of a reflection on how race and gender have been used in this campaign. And when we decide to re-broadcast this show at some future point, it’s highly possible that we swap out the Wright discussion — which will no longer be timely — with the story of the Samaritan woman.

For now, we’re still trying to draw something positive out of the uglier aspects of the campaigns. Bishop McKenzie talks about defining moments. In our public life, we often hear about missed opportunities to turn crises into teachable moments — “transformational” is a word Kathryn uses above. I don’t know, what do you think? Samaritan woman, or Jeremiah Wright reaction? Timely or timeless?


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10Reflections

Reflections

Samaritan Woman...That story (mini-sermon) also tells me more about Bishop McKenzie as an African American Woman Leader which is why I listened to the interview in the first place. I hope you follow up with her in the future when she's ready to talk about her experience in Africa and focus on her. In my opinion, I didn't learn anything from her reaction to Jeremiah Wright that was worth cutting the samaritan women segment. Thank you for asking.

So that deeper core of someone's theology is more important in this case than the (over)covered Jeremiah Wright issue. I only know that if Krista casually says, "Vashti McKenzie knew Jeremiah Wright for many years," it might beg the question of what Vashti McKenzie thinks about all this. Although, I suppose her opinion is quite clear in the Samaritan woman's story, too, and that's probably closer to her heart and more meaningful in her life than the controversy du jour. She did write a book around the Samaritan woman's story.

I really appreciate the transparency of your journalistic process, and your desire to provide meaningful conversation in all of your shows. I believe that the Jeremiah Wright material is important and has enduring value. I, for one, finally grasped how the African-American church experiences and understands the Gospel. That did put some of his more seemingly outrageous comments from the pulpit into context. (It was, after all, his ad-lib comments in Washington DC at a press club that got him into trouble, not so much the comments he has made from the pulpit). That alone would make a great show. I do understand how challenging it must have been to bring racism, politics, church and Bishop McKenzie all into the context of one show, without shorting anyone. In my view, their was some redundancy in the Wright material in the final cut, and it was obvious that Bishop McKenzie didn't want to pursue that conversation. A little more editing there might be worthwhile if the show is re-aired at a later date (a different musical score would help, too), without sacrificing the entire segment. The piece that could be cut almost totally, to make room for the Samaritan woman, is the Rev. Cone material. On your web site, there is a link to that full conversation, which is more worthwhile than the snippet that ended up in the final cut. I really would love to hear at least two more shows that this one inspired-- how the African-American church understands the Gospel (including hearing from Rev Wright himself) and, most of all, an entire show about sacred story in the Christian tradition. Rev McKenzie has deep insights, and so do people like Carolyn Myss and Father Richard Rohr, both of whom have deepened my understanding considerably. With a teacher who can take you deep into meaning, past institutionalized theology and doctrine, the stories as lived experience are truly amazing and transformational.

Some good comments. I was a bit surprised at the mention of cutting the James Cone audio. The whole interview with him, admittedly, is more interesting than just that one clip, but we wanted to get some "official" definition of black theology in there. It ties into that point about the African American reading of the Gospel--that understanding was something we explored earlier this year as we were researching the topic, but we never found the right voice for it, unfortunately. I'm glad we have some more names to look into. Thanks for those suggestions.

Out of all the theologians I've ever listened to, Father Rohr is most gifted in his ability to articulate the original intent of the "gospel to the oppressed," which the African-American church hears in a way that perhaps is more sensitive than the dominant culture, or the "Pharisees" and the "rich" that Jesus also addressed. "Black theology" as articulated by Dr. King contains those core truths, but I'm not so sure the syncretism of Rev. Cone represents it in the same way. It's different. In contrast to the inclusiveness that Jesus revealed as he walked around as love-in-action or "Living Water," and the inclusiveness Dr. King sought, the theology Rev. Cone articulates seems to have many exclusive elements in it, beginning with having "African American" in the name of the church. What does that mean? Is it social inclusiveness on African-American terms, or exclusiveness on Malcolm X terms? Is it about justice, or reverse racism? Is it a declaration that only the "black church" really understands the Gospel, and the white infidels don't? If that is so, how do they explain the sexism that Bishop McKenzie articulated? I'd like to know more. It really seems that you have bumped into the tip of an iceberg here.

Shiraz-- one more thing. Maybe what you call "black theology" as articulated by Rev.Cone and Rev Wright is not theology so much as psychology, or even therapy, with a theological driver. It also retains values and traditions that otherwise would be lost in mainstream culture. It reminds me of the indignant anger of leaders of other groups that historically have been oppressed, such as Native American authors Dr. Jack Forbes at UC Davis and Vine Deloria,who wrote "God is Red." Native American churches are also clearly recognized by name alone. When the oppression has included genocide and perfect cruelty, it is no wonder that even the scholarly Dr Forbes, and clergy like Rev. Cone, speculate openly that "there is something wrong with white people." I would reframe it as "humans are slow to recognize the perverse effects of domination culture and politics." But there is more. Everywhere we look, from the caste system in India to all forms of slavery, sexism and tribal violence around the world, religion has had little power to change human behavior. America began as groups of the oppressed seeking freedom,and look what happened. The story of the Samaritan woman gives us the needed remedy. After she threw off the chains of society's power over her, and saw herself for who she truly was, she didn't run back to the village to take revenge on those who had hurt her. She ran to gather them up and bring them to the well, so that they could learn the same thing.

We often tend to use shorthand during our production process, and you caught me using some when I talked about "black theology." I think we're referring to a specific type of socially critical preaching that we've come to associate with civil rights leaders, and African American preachers before that and after that. There's a broader spectrum than just Cone. He represents some slice of that spectrum that seemed to be helpful for some listeners.

"Theological driver" and therapy, yes, I think many forms of what we'd call ideology have that effect. It becomes so specific to its audience, though. And at surface value, that seems more immediately useful. This thing about the Samaritan woman's story is that it does indeed get us thinking not about "my identity," but moving past that, the exclusivism, so something more useful at a human level.

I'm glad for icebergs!

There seems to be a very different take on prophecy in Jewish and Muslim circles. I may be wrong, but I was told that in Islam prophets are perfect and that Muhammed was flawless. The idea of a flawless prophet just doesn't exist in Judaism. No one is flawless in the Tanach. I just can't relate to a flawless prophet. I bring this up because Krista started with the Abrahamic faiths and prophecy.

Jerimaiah Wright went on to say that Farrakhan was not talking about Jews, in his famous comment about Judaism being a gutter religion, he onlty meant Zionists. This was Wright's idea of reaching to to Jews. First of all it's a little like saying you like Black people, you just don't like the 97% of Black people that are going to vote for Obama.

To your first point, I think the more traditional interpretation in Islam is (and I'm not an Islamic scholar) that the prophets were people of extraordinary piety, and it was this piety that led them to be chosen by God to perform a specific mission. I don't know how a billion-plus Muslims work with that to make it relatable, but a lot of progressive Muslim commentators like to point out that, say in the case of Muhammad, that we know more about his human life than about most other religious figures, that he's portrayed in a more human light, as a family man, with his kids, with his friends, etc. And how I understand the Sunnah, the teachings of the Prophet, is that they're meant to replicate the human actions that Muhammad did on a daily basis, as a means of attaining that higher piety. So they are, in that sense, something very human, something that is attainable. The more idealized interpretation of prophets is, I think, about striving to follow their example. Maybe it doesn't work for everyone. For myself, it's not something I really think about on a daily basis, though a lot of people do; that's where the derive the strength of their faith. I look at the prophets' ability to shake their societies out of some kind of moral complacency. It's about purpose, and that I can relate to.

As for Jeremiah Wright and Farrakhan, this is a bit harder for me to talk about, since we didn't aim to do a complete treatment on the theology of Jeremiah Wright, so I'll take it from a slightly different angle. There's a lot of casual racism that I find really upsetting, when people say, "Obama's not a Muslim." I think this is an absolutely preposterous way of trying to explain his religious convictions and identity. Colin Powell's been the only high-profile political figure, to my knowledge, who's come out and said, "So what if he were Muslim?" I don't see how the American political establishment's implicit disregard for Muslims is going to help their efforts in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. So getting back to your point, if Jeremiah Wright was making racist remarks, that should be criticized, no question. This issue of race is going to be something we aren't going to completely explore in just that one program. There's more we need to talk about.


AN OPEN LETTER TO THE MUSLIMS IN AMERICA:
THE FACE OF ISLAM IN AMERICA
WHO DECIDES?

No other event has affected Islamic Culture and Muslims here in America as we enter the 21st century as did the events of 11 Sept.2001. Likewise, nothing greater that the Islamic worlds “collective” response will ensure our future as a culture and meaningful way of life here in America. To date the ‘FACE and VOICE’ of that collective response here in America has been foreign. Perhaps by design or chance, most Americans view Islam and Muslims as something foreign, something non-traditional. We here at the INNER CULTURAL EVCHANGE INSTITUTE believe in order to affect serious and meaningful social reform in the presentation and representation of Islam in America that face and voice must become as diverse as the mosaic we call America. We believe that entering the 21st century Islam in America needs to be DEFINED ‘in America to Americans by Americans for Americans. In order to dismantle the idiosyncrasies deeply endemic to American Culture.

Call it what you will, racism, Islamic phobia etc. there exist a need to define Islam in American in a langue that is understandable and yet non-threating to (absent the hyperbole, fear inducing phobia associated with main stream media and governmental propaganda) fundamental American values. We here at the Inner Cultural Exchange Institute are a social activist educational non-profit org. founded in 2003 by Americans who are committed to the Moral Rebirth of the Abrahamic Traditions( the Jewish, Christian and Islamic moral traditions)in reforming that segment of American society commonly referred to as Popular Culture. In promoting the growth and development of non-violent means of exchanging educational, economic, social and technological information between these three (3) most dominate moral traditions in America society. Specifically, to cultivate in what is commonly referred to as American Popular Culture (its most dominate and visible expression today being called Hip Hop Culture) a viable means of affecting social and moral reform between these three (3) often contentious traditions.

Our fundamental objective (our vision) being “Enjoining Social Good and Eradicating Social Evil” as defined by the larger society to wit: traditional American Judaic, Christian, Islamic moral values. Our methodology being the Rebirth of the Moral Balance embodied in the Abrahamic Traditions upon which rest Moral Authority in America. Without doubt the 21st century begins here in America with the culture of Hip Hop (popular culture) being the most powerful, most influentional, most recognized expression of American Cultural life styles. The demographics are staggering and cover every statistical category imaginable. Income, educational and career opportunities, multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious to name afew. And yet the Culture as a vehicle for meaningful and serious moral and social reform in the larger society is powerless, ineffective and inept due primarily to its Moral Bankruptcy. The culture in spite of its much success in the areas of business, music, the arts and entertainment also happens to represent the most immoral of America’s subcultures.*(see notes) It is this ‘Moral Bankruptcy’ we
Here at the ICE Institute believe the most EFFECTIVE PRESENTATION of ISLAM can
And will in fact REFORM AMERICA’S approach to Muslim’s and the religion of Islam.*(see notes) as we believe it is through Moral Superiority (enjoin social good and forbidding social ills) that the true battle between these contending traditions will be won. We are in fact in a War of ideas contrary to what’s often promoted as a war on terror.*(see notes)

The late 90’s saw the Culture of Hip Hop reach the eyes and ears of world-wide youth and young adults unlike any cultural phenomenon before and yet this segment of the American landscape is TOTALLY IGNORED in efforts to reform America’s perception of Muslims and Islam. *(see notes) your approach to young people.
We say with total and absolute commitment to our vision we intend to do ‘in and for ‘
The Culture of Hip Hop what the Moral Majority did for right-wing Christian Conserveritism here in America in the 70’s and 80’s *(see notes). To accomplish this we need your support. Without doubt the largest segment of the ‘Face of Islam’ in America we spoke of before are young people under the age of 40. Second generation ‘IMMIGRANTS’ BORN IN AMERICA, American Muslims the larger society still calls Foreign. These Muslim Youth are in FACT American’s youth who’s Cultural Expression, Langue; dress etc. is the face of the Hip Hop Culture in America. Members who in fact ‘identify’ with the Popular Culture of Hip Hop more so than Islamic or traditional American culture. They speak, dress, embrace and represent the larger American Popular Cultural lifestyle commonly referred to as Hip Hop. And yet in our approach to redefining and presenting Islam in a non-threating, non-violent culturally inclusive light to the masses in America . We ignore even our own Muslim Youth who have clearly abandoned traditional Islamic Culture for the more’ POPULAR’ American Culture.*(see notes) We here at the ICE Institute believe this is a grave mistake. The stated ‘generational gap’ between first and second generational immigrant Muslims is a Cultural divide that can only be address through a langue, message and lifestyle the youth and young adults understand, embrace and more importantly ‘TRUST’. Their Culture of choice: Hip Hop Culture.

We believe that enormous opportunity for growth and movement towards cross cultural understanding and more acceptances of Muslims and Islamic Culture can exist through second generation youth and young adult immigrant American Muslims’ embracing both their Islamic and American identities. We believe this opportunity for outreach needs to be cultivated. WE understand the belief that POLICY can best be influenced at the academic level and fully support this approach as well. However, we are firmly committed to the reality of Culture always being more important than politics.

We welcome comments and replies:
innerculturalexchange@gmail.com
iceinstitute@lycos.com
innerculturalexchange@www.googleblog.blogspot.com

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