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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Preach On

I like honest preachers.

It's not that I agree with everything that all of 'em have to say. On the contrary, as a bona fide heathen and having grown up the son of a career old-school military veteran-turned seminarian-turned pastor, I have healthy skepticism of just about everyone who claims "helping others" as an occupation. My pops taught me that doubt doesn't have to be manifest as cynicism. It can also be a tool.

But lately, I've been having a bit of a problem with some preachers in the Miami area.

Now, before anyone cringes, I have no beef with these folk of the cloth over their various brands of religion. My problem is that they seem to be sidestepping the hard parts of their jobs.

Here's the deal: The easy part of a preacher's job is telling people that some higher power, or, according to Homer Simpson, Jebus, loves folks and wants 'em to be happy, and we should all treat our neighbors as ourselves, and so on. Outside their churches, the easy part of social advocacy for preachers is holding press conferences and calling for food for the starving, and medical care for the elderly. The difficult part is, as my grandmother would say, telling people about themselves.

All that peaceful stuff is easy to agree with. Even if you don't believe in any sort of religion, you can "feel" the intended good will with those concepts - be nice and help the needy.

But then there's the hard part of the job. Whether it's behind the pulpit or a microphone on the steps of City Hall, I've never met a preacher who embraces those Sundays when the sermon involves scolding parishioners, or those Mondays when the press conference called for a secular tongue-lashing. It's in their natures to want to uplift. I get it. But when you accept that sort of calling or job, you gotta fire from both barrels, not just the one with a daisy sticking out the end.

So over the past few months - most recently at a vigil last week - I've watched preacher after preacher step in front of the microphones and cameras to address violent crime among young people, particularly young black men in the Miami area. And the toughest thing any of them have been able to eek out is a call for people to pray for a stop to the violence. They've "requested" that young people stop assaulting one another over drugs and gangs and harsh looks and silly grudges. They've called on gainfully-employed men to present themselves as examples, something I'd argue such men already do by virtue of leading stable lives. And they've called on the public to do something about it.

That's all very nice. But it's not enough. And don't anyone leave me messages about not telling other people how to do their jobs. I get emails everyday from readers and sometimes random strangers telling me that if they were journalists they'd do my job this way and not that. So all's fair...

One of my many wishes for '08 is that these religious leaders who insist on being relevant in their communities' secular social fabric, quit dancing around this stuff and start telling young people who've given up hope or never had any that they have to stop the assaults and killings themselves. Not the federal government, not the city, not the Boys & Girls Club, not the YMCA, not the Village People.

These preachers need to call news conferences and tell troubled young folk to not hold their breath waiting for an "official" solution. They need to to grab the microphones and tell the young'ns that the cops can't put an end to the violent streak. Cops can only occasionally prevent violent crimes and most often seek and sometimes catch offenders after the fact. But an end to it requires a change in attitude and objective among the young folk most affected by the violence - perpetrators and victims. They need to stop calling for investigations and studies as to why young folk - particularly - young black men are dying, and grab the microphone and tell young people the issue doesn't need to be studied. The answer, if not all the influences, is obvious. They need to call on young people affected by this violence to proudly and bravely root out the perpetrators and turn them in. And if the young people are afraid to report friends and neighbors and acquaintances to the police, then the preachers need to offer to tell the cops for 'em.

And most important, these preachers need to be consistent with that message. Otherwise, they need to retreat to their churches and leave the social science to people who will "preach" the tough love.

PS., M@? Hey, hey, hey!

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  • Me, I like to see a preacher who has held a shovel. A guy whose knuckles are scarred and has callouses on his hands, and the knees of his pants show as much wear from kneeling in prayer as from kneeling in labor.

    When I meet a preacher, I look at his shoes. If the tops are smooth and shiny, I make my apologies, and move on. If they're wrinkled and the toes are scratched and worn, I stick around to get to know more.

    Usually, when you find this combination in s preacher, you discover he is a TRUE Man of God.

    By Anonymous og, at 7:00 PM  

  • Problem is, a lot of them treat their pulpits like a politician treats their office.

    If they rock the boat too much it may jeapordize their position.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 7:15 PM  

  • Amen!

    By Blogger Lex, at 8:16 PM  

  • Bill Cosby lays it out, and every time he tells the truth, he gets blasted.
    I think it boils down to the old adage,,, Follow the money.

    By Blogger KurtP, at 12:09 AM  

  • Now thats a good word. You ever been behind the pulpit???


    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:13 AM  

  • But that would mean telling people to take personal responsibility. & I gather too many Americans, & too many Brits for that matter, just don't go for that.

    Good idea, though.

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 6:36 AM  

  • You make some very good points here. Maybe addressing some of these thoughts via your own column - where some of the ministers might see it (unless they are into reading your blog and/or others) to give them some additional ideas about solutions. Kids, when I was growing up, (at least here anyway) had very little set up for them for recreational purposes -one had to find their own and generally, those who had a decent upbringing found things to do for entertainment that were legal and also, moral -not involving thievery, beating, shooting, rape, etc., etc. We played ball, rode bikes, had outdoor games, indoor activities -none of which involved destruction of property or people. Creating recreational places is fine to a degree as long as one doesn't take away the incentive of the kids to find ways to entertain themselves in a creative yet decent manner too.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 11:36 AM  

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