Al Sharpton, Holy Man

Ned Williams is of the belief that we need to find some way to get rid of Al Sharpton. Ned, I must ask, do you really believe Sharpton is the cause of all current racial strife? Or, really, much racial strife at all? Because that just seems ridiculous to me.

I like Sharpton for a few reasons. I think he’s quick witted (which I appreciate) and funny. He’s not co-opt-able. You don’t see a bunch of middle class white kids running around with Al Sharpton hair-does spouting lines from Al Sharpton sermons without ever thinking very hard about what circumstances those words arise from. But I like Sharpton most of all because he’s holy.

Yep, I believe Al Sharpton is a holy man.

I think that’s what makes him so irritating. You can’t count on him to stay bought, to stay on target, on message, on point. You can’t expect him to make sense or to apologize for not making sense.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Al Sharpton is a good man. I’m saying he’s a holy man.

It’s hard to talk about holiness as a factor in public life, and yet, when you have a bunch of folks running around calling themselves Reverend and expecting to be taken seriously on matters of public policy, I think it’s about time we come up with some way of understanding it.

I have been around ministers my whole life and I can tell you that there are roughly two kinds of ministers. There are the folks who love God and feel so moved by their love of God that they are compelled to join the ministry. I would, just as an outsider, put Jesse Jackson in this category. These folks are perfectly fine folks, but when they go bad, they go bad in perfectly predictable, ordinary ways, and they respond to their corruption in predictable, ordinary ways. And when they’re bought, they stay bought. Most importantly, their ministry is based a lot on study and travel to the Holy Lands and care for their flock and often they understand God as being present all around them.

These ministers do good work and they often make fabulous church leaders because they’re good with people and manage bureaucracies well. We might call these ministers ‘shepherds’ or, I guess, pastors.

But then there are the holy folks. Nothing about them particularly recommends them for a life of the cloth. You wouldn’t look at them and their actions and necessarily say, “Oh, wow, that’s a good person.” (though, certainly, sometimes, you can). You can’t predict them, you can’t count on them, you can’t buy them and expect them to stay bought. What they do doesn’t make sense. The things they call to be done are hard or ridiculous. They’re terrible bureaucrats. And hard people to love and be loved by. These ministers have their finger on the pulse of the Universe. Jesus is literally on the mainline, telling them what to do. They seem crazy. Sometimes they go crazy (see Pat Robertson, bless his heart) and you can’t trust that they’re hearing from God anymore.

But I love those folks. Not just ministers, I love artists and poet and writers and lonely folks and all manner of us who touch and are touched back by Something greater and more ancient than themselves. They go some place most of the rest of us never do and bring back things we didn’t even know we needed and, in the process, they are slowly made unfit for the world.

I respect that when I see it. Even if I don’t understand it, even if I disagree with it.

As for you, dear ‘Ned,’ I’m pretty sure you had to figure that I couldn’t leave you unresponded to. Shall I make a list?

1. You say, “To assert that ANY of these realities are unique to African-Americans is demagoguery.” and yet, you quote me as saying, “And, while these things remain serious problems for black people, they’ve become systemic for all of us ,” and so clearly you know (and even leave it out there for your readers to see) that I’m not claiming these realities are unique to African Americans.

2. (Which should be 1., but I’m on a roll, so I’m not fixing it). “Aunt B.” Seriously, what the fuck? My name is Betsy. A lot of folks call me B. and I have nephews. Fine, “Ned,” two can play at that game (though, I believe “John Galt” over at NiT may have been the first, so THREE can play at that game).

3. “To assert (or imply that King believed) that government could eradicate brutality or prejudice is foolishness.” Come on! When did I either assert or imply that King believed that the government could eradicate prejudice? Never. As for brutality? Come the fuck on, “Ned”! Now you’re being disingenuous. When the brutality was being committed by the government (as in the police brutality that King directly makes a point of mentioning)? Damn straight he expected the government to do something about it. And damn straight he expected the government to step in and fix injustice.

4. “Ironically, as I’m typing this, ESPN is showing footage of Bears Coach Lovie Smith–one of two African-American head coaches appearing in the NFL conference championships this weekend, is graciously addressing a question about his race in a press conference.” a.) Why is this ironic? b.) How many NFL teams are there? (32) What percentage of NFL players are black? (I’m going to guess at least half) And how many African-American head coaches are there? (7?) Oh, well, then, forgive me. Justice has been achieved!

4.5 Also, oh, hurray! People who can parlay athletic prowess into wealth find that money opens doors in our society and breaks down racial barriers. Again, justice is served. Now, if only everyone had athletic talent and money!

5. I never said that government treatment of blacks is worse now than in the past, “Ned,” if that even is your real name.

6. I’m not sure what your beef with “Al Sharpton” is, so I’m leaving that alone.

13 thoughts on “Al Sharpton, Holy Man

  1. Sharpton intrigues me, I need to read more about him. Back during the ’04 election I took a few of those "find your best candidate" quizzes and he pretty consistently came in second behind Badnarik.And on a tangent, the person or people who post as "John Galt" make me snicker. Because I’m sure Ayn Rand would have nothing but good things to say about people who try to glom their identity off of someone else’s work. No, I’m sure she wouldn’t spit on them and call them parasites and second-handers.

  2. I have to disagree with you, B. Unless you figure that sometimes Sharpton gets divinely inspired to organize dignified, politically effective protests and sometimes the divine word tells him to incite murder instead. He has it in him to be tremendously disciplined and to demand self-discipline of others. But he also has it in him literally to foment riot — not only does he take no forethought about what may result, he takes no responsibility after the fact, either. I don’t see how that’s holy.OTOH, like you I don’t see how Sharpton is connected with your earlier post, and I can’t see any legitimate reason for Ned to have brought him up.

  3. Jon, one way to check Sharpton out is to go to the NY Times and Amsterdam News websites and read what they’ve printed about him over the past 15 years or so. That’ll give you both sustained heavy coverage and two very different viewpoints.

  4. I suspect that most of the reason he scored so high for me was his support for ending felon disenfranchisement — which, as a disenfranchised felon, is obviously a rather high priority item for me. But in any case he certainly seems to be an interesting character, for better or worse.

  5. Oh, I like most of his talk. I like a lot of his walk, too. It’s just that the parts of the walk that I don’t like … well, I find them abhorrent.

  6. Well, nm, that’s why I tried to draw a distinction between the one type of minister and the other. I don’t necessarily believe that Sharpton is a good man, using ‘good’ to mean something like careful and considerate of his power and man to mean something like a mature adult male.He’s been preaching since he was four. Ordained at ten. In order to make room for that, I think the kind of growth that would have made him a good man and a good pastor didn’t happen.

  7. But B, you say:

    These ministers have their finger on the pulse of the Universe. Jesus is literally on the mainline, telling them what to do. They seem crazy. Sometimes they go crazy

    Are you suggesting that it was Jesus who told Sharpton to encourage violence that ended in several people being burned to death? Or are you saying that, although he started out with Jesus in his ear, after that was crazy enough to confuse his own impulses with Jesus?

  8. Continue reading the quote – "and you can’t trust that they’re hearing from God anymore." Yep. I think she means that they skid rather rapidly from believing that they are doing God’s work to acting like they think that they are God. (That would be filed in the folder marked "delusional and not good.")

  9. Yes, exactly. He is crazy enough to confuse his own impulses with Jesus.That’s the danger in this type of minister. When the other type of minister goes bad, he can recognize it. He might still choose to do it, but he can recognize it. I think the real danger in this type of minister is that he doesn’t.Here’s how I’ve been thinking about it. Say it’s not a matter of you plugging into the Universe, but the Universe plugging into you. That much Whatever hitting you and coursing through you is going to leave a wound.Sometimes, I think, the wound gives you pain again because the Universe is plugging back in. And sometimes that wound gives you pain because it’s an open wound and things bump up against it.Considering how amazing it can feel to be tapped into the Universe like that, is it any surprise that we find that most folks cannot, often refuse to, judge whether they’re feeling the pain of being tapped by the Universe again or just the pain of the long absence of that tap?That’s why, even though I often find the first type of minister boring, I sometimes prefer them. The second type can be incredibly dangerous.Which brings me to a point I should have made more clearly in the post. I’m not using "holy" as some moral judgment, but it indicate that plugging into the Universe.

  10. OK, then. I guess that you’re using "holy man" as I would use "shaman." The thing is that I think shamans of any type have an obligation to discipline themselves so that they don’t get so confused (and, I guess, to take of the edge of the pain you talk about). And on that, Sharpton is terrifically inconsistent. You can see him spending years trying channel whatever forces are moving through him in creative ways. And then he just lets go.

  11. Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. And I don’t mean to take the blame off him, but one of the things that continues to just dumbfound me about how Christians train their ministers is that they train them all as if they’re the first type and there’s very little recognition of the second type and certainly no support system (or means of keeping them in check) to help them not only learn the necessity of self-discipline, but even how to do it.This, I think, is an amazing blind-spot in a lot of mainstream denominations who are all about bureaucratic pastoring. Do they even talk about this kind of stuff in Divinity School?I looked at the classes the local Divinity School offers, even looked at their application, and there doesn’t seem to be anything directly applicable. And, on the one hand, I guess that’s fine. On the other hand, though, if these holy men are operating in a Christian context, they need guidance from other Christians. I wonder when that comes in and from where?

  12. Now, Sista, if you spent all that time on your hair every day (as Marty and Al do), you’d want to make the most of it, I’m sure. Tee hee.

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