« | »

What Was Cut Out Of Wright’s ‘Audacity’

We have previously posted about the sermon from Jeremiah Wright that Barack Obama says inspired him to join Wright’s Trinity Church, as well as serving as the inspiration for the second of his autobiographies.

We have also commented on how Wright’s “sermon” has been subsequently edited to remove some of its more outlandish lines. Well, it turns out that there was even more redacted than we knew.

The text below is how this sermon is printed in Jeremiah Wright’s book, What Makes You So Strong?, pp 97-107.

It is also noteworthy that Wright’s book was published in 1993, thirteen years before Mr. Obama’s “Audacity” in 2006. Which may explain why this version was left unedited.

[The lines in bold are the sections removed from the currently available versions of Mr. Wright’s sermon, such as what appears at Preaching Today — which we posted here.]

(Click to enlarge)

The Audacity to Hope

I Samuel I:I-18

Several years ago, when I was in Richmond, Virginia, at the Fifth Street Baptist Church, the Lord fixed it so that I was there at the same time that the convocation was being held at Virginia Union University School of Theology. I said the Lord fixed it because I was able to conduct a revival at the church in the evenings and to attend the convocation services during the daytime. It was at those convocation services that my life was blessed like it has never been blessed before, as I sat under the preaching of the eminent pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Detroit, the Reverend Dr. Frederick G. Sampson.

In one of the sermons he delivered that week, he talked about a painting that I had studied in humanities at this same school when I had been a student there years before. The painting is by a man named Watt. It is a painting that seems at first glance to be a study in contradictions, because what is designated as the title of the painting and what is depicted on the canvas of the painting seem to be in direct opposition to each other. In fact, Dr. Sampson said that when he first saw the painting, he wanted to quarrel with the artist for misnaming it and for playing such a cruel joke on art lovers who had religious sensibilities.

You see, the painting is entitled Hope. It shows a woman who is playing a harp sitting on top of the world. Now that by itself would be all right, for what more enviable position could any of us ever hope to be in than being on top of the world with everything and everybody dancing to our music. But when you look closer at the painting, when the illusion of power starts giving way to the reality of pain, the world on which this woman sits—our world—is one torn by war, destroyed by hate, decimated by despair, and devastated by distrust. The world, in fact, is on the very brink of destruction, and Watt depicted that in what he put on the canvas, thereby contradicting what is evoked by the title Hope.

In our world, famine ravishes black and brown citizens who make up one-half or two-thirds of the globe, while feasting and gluttony are enjoyed by the minority of persons who inhabit the globe. I don’t know if you have ever been on one of those cruise ships that go to the Caribbean, but you do know of the hunger that is in such places as Haiti. Each week when those ships come back into Miami or San Juan, they dump more food into the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea than the hungry citizens in Haiti can find to eat in a lifetime.

With apartheid in one hemisphere and apathy in the other hemisphere, and enough nuclear warheads stockpiled to wipe out all forms of life except for cockroaches, the world on which the woman is sitting is a world on the very brink of destruction. It is a world that cares more about bombs for the enemy than bread for the hungry; a world that is more concerned about the color of skin than about the content of character; a world that is more finicky about the texture of hair or what’s on the outside of your head than it is about the quality of education or what is on the inside of your head. That is the world on which this woman is sitting.

We think of being on top of the world as being in heaven. But when you look closely, all in fact is hell. The harpist is sitting there in rags. Her clothes are tattered as though she, herself, had been a victim of Hiroshima or the Sharpeville Massacre.’ When you look at her closely, you see a bandage on her head with blood beginning to seep through. Scars and cuts are visible on her face, arms, and legs, and the harp on which she is playing has all but one of its strings torn, ripped out, dangling down. Even her instrument has been damaged by what she has been through, and she is more the classic example of quiet despair than anything else, yet the artist dared to entitle this painting Hope.

When you look closer at what the artist did on the canvas — the illusion of power giving way to the reality of pain — you may ask, Isn’t that just the way it is with so many of us? We give the illusion of being in an enviable position, but when you look closer at our lives, what you begin to find is the reality of a pain sometimes too deep for the tongue to tell. Like the woman in Watt’s painting we may appear to be living in heaven, but our existence is actually a quiet hell.

I’ve seen too many people not to know what I am talking about. Sometimes it’s a married couple where the husband has a lady in addition to his wife. The wife smiles and keeps on stepping. Or she goes shopping to buy something with the thought that maybe things can make up for the most important thing missing in her life. Perhaps she pretends she doesn’t hear the whispers. She ignores the gossip and remembers that she has the papers on him. And he would rather buy Fort Knox than file for divorce from her because of what she would make him pay. That’s a living hell.

Or maybe it’s a married couple where the wife has discovered that somebody cares for her as a person and not just as the cook, the maid, the jitney service, and the call girl service all wrapped into one. And now there is the scandal of what the folks might say and what the children might think. She has all of that to think about. A living hell.

Maybe it’s a divorced person whose dreams have been blown to bits. The family has been broken up beyond repair, and the lives of parents and children have somehow slipped right through their fingers. They no longer have any control. If she is a divorced woman, the dudes automatically assume she must be missing a man, and that is exactly how they approach her: “Hey baby, let me rap with you.” A living hell. If he is a divorced male, a single black man with a j-o-b, and in the church, you can imagine how they come at him. A living hell.

College kids and high school kids wear designer labels, engage in all the sex they want, and smoke all the reefers they can get, exhibiting the trappings of having it all together on the outside, but they’re empty, shallow, hurting, lonely, and afraid on the inside. A living hell. A lot of things that look good on the outside don’t feel good on the inside.

Martin Luther King had what looked good on the outside. He had it all: a Ph.D. from Boston University, the pastorate of a prestigious church in one of the nation’s leading southern cities, national recognition and international fame, a Nobel Peace Prize, and a voice known in every home in the country. It looked good on the outside. But he had to contend with jealousy among his lieutenants; hounding by Hoover, along with the FBI wiretappings; threats on his life and bomb scares for his family; preachers trying to steal his church and preachers trying to steal his thunder. There was public tension between his movement and those the media called the militants. He was unwelcome in Chicago, disrespected by Daley, jerked around by J.H. Jackson, and opposed by some preachers, and misunderstood by impatient young blacks who were tired of waiting and disenchanted with nonviolence. What looked good on the outside was a living hell for King on the inside.

What looks like being in heaven is often existence in a quiet hell. And this is exactly where Hannah is in the first chapter of 1 Samuel.

Hannah was top dog in a three-way relationship that consisted of herself, Elkanah, and Peninnah. Elkanah loved her more than he loved his other wife and her children. He told her he loved her (a lot of us husbands never do that), and he showed her he loved her (and many husbands still don’t do that). In fact, it was her husband’s attention and his affection for her that caused Peninnah to stay so consistently on Hannah’s case. Jealousy will get a hold of you, and you won’t be able to let it go, because it won’t let you go. Peninnah stayed on Hannah like white on rice: “Miss Fine. First Lady. Miss Grand. Well, you got the paycheck, but these children show you what I got. I didn’t have them by myself.”

At first glance Hannah’s position was enviable. She had all of the rights and none of the responsibilities: no diapers to change, no noses to wipe, no beds to sit up next to late at night when there were fevers, no clothes to keep clean, no cuts and bruises to bandage, no medicine to force down, no infants’ mouths draining you of milk, no stretch marks. Hannah had it all! Top dog! She had all of the rights and none of the responsibilities. Her man loved her; everybody knew that. He loved her more than anything or anybody. That’s why Peninnah couldn’t stand her. Except for this second wife thing, Hannah was sitting on top of the world, until you look closer. When you look closer, what looked like being in heaven was actually living in hell. What looked like power was, in reality, pain.

Hannah had to contend with the pain of a bitter woman. Verse 7 says Peninnah’s mouth was nonstop. Year after year this went on every time they traveled to Shiloh for what should have been a happy occasion. Every time they went there Peninnah saw to it that Hannah lived in pure hell. Motor mouth.

Hannah not only had the pain of this bitter woman to contend with, but she had the additional pain of a barren womb. In biblical days a woman with a barren womb was a study of deep pathos and distress. (Remember the story of Elizabeth and her husband in Luke 1?) Hannah’s world was flawed. Her garments of respectability were tattered and torn, and her heart was bruised and bleeding because of the constant attacks of a jealous woman. The scars and scratches on her psyche were almost visible in this passage as she cried and refused to eat anything. Like the woman in Watt’s painting, Hannah, who seemed to live in heaven was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Existence in a Quiet Hell

Let’s return to something Dr. Sampson said. He said that at first he wanted to argue with the artist for calling that picture Hope. Well, I was sitting there listening to him, and the Lord fixed it for me because I was living in a quiet hell. It was many years ago, and I was the parent of a fifteen year-old daughter who was in love, love, love, endless love. The boy was twenty years old, too old for her, but he wouldn’t leave her alone. Sampson was preaching about hope, and all I had on my mind was murder.

You think about what you are going through. I’m telling you about what I was going through while he talked about hope. He said that the artist had created a problem for him by naming that picture Hope when all he could see was hell and a quiet desperation. But then Dr. Sampson said he noticed that he had only been checking out the horizontal dimensions and relationships in that picture -– how the woman was hooked up with that world on which she sat. He had failed to take into account her vertical relationships. He had looked down on the painting and had seen the war, the hunger, the distrust, and the hatred, but he had not looked above her head. He said that when he looked over her head, he saw some small notes of music moving playfully and joyfully toward heaven. And it was then that he understood why Watt had called that painting Hope.

See, in spite of being on a world torn by war; in spite of being on a world destroyed by hate; in spite of being on a world devastated by distrust and decimated by disease; in spite of being on a world where famine and greed were uneasy bed partners; in spite of being on a world where apartheid and apathy fed the fires of racism; in spite of being on a world where nuclear nightmare draws closer with every second; in spite of being on a ticking time bomb with her clothes in rags, her body scarred, bruised, and bleeding, and her harp all but destroyed except for that one string that was left -– in spite of all these things, the woman had the audacity to hope. She had the audacity to hope and to make music and to praise God on the one string she had left.

Horizontal and Vertical Dimensions

In other words, the vertical dimension balanced out what was taking place on the horizontal dimension. That is what the audacity to hope will do. Paul said the same thing. You’ve got troubles? Glory in your troubles. We glory in tribulation. That’s the horizontal dimension. We glory in tribulation because tribulation works patience, and patience works experience, and experience works hope. That’s the vertical dimension. “And hope maketh not ashamed.”

The vertical dimension balances out what is happening on the horizontal dimension. That’s the real story here in 1 Samuel:1, not the condition of Hannah’s body, but the condition of Hannah’s soul. On the vertical dimension she had the audacity to keep on hoping and to keep on praying when there was no visible sign on the horizontal level that what she was praying, hoping, and waiting for would ever be answered affirmatively. That which she wanted most in life had been denied to her. Yet, she kept on hoping. The gloating of Peninnah did not make her bitter; she kept on hoping when the family made its annual pilgrimage to Shiloh, the place where the ark of the covenant was kept and where the mercy seat was. There Hannah renewed her petition to God. She may have been barren in her womb, but she was fertile in her spirit. Hannah was operating in the vertical dimension. She prayed and prayed, and she prayed and kept on praying year after year after year with no answer. But she prayed on anyhow.

This particular year she prayed so fervently that Eli the priest thought she was drunk. There were no visible signs on the horizontal level to say to Hannah to keep on praying. But Paul said something about that too. Paul said to hope. The vertical dimension is what saves us, for we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope, for if we hope for that which we see not, then do we with patience wait on it.’ That’s what Isaiah meant when he said, “They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” The vertical dimension balances out what is happening on the horizontal dimension.

There may not be any sign of a change in your individual situation, that private hell where you live that I wanted you to think about. But that’s just the horizontal level. First, check out the vertical as Hannah did, and you can say with the African slaves, “Over my head, I hear music in the air. Over my head, I hear music in the air. Over my head, I hear music in the air. There must be a God somewhere.” Keep the vertical dimension intact, and have the audacity to hope for that child of yours. Mine came out of her experience fine; there is life after teenage parenting. Have the audacity to hope for that husband of yours, to hope for that household of yours, to hope for that homosexual of yours. Keep on praying, keep on waiting, and like my grandmama, you might be able to sing, “There’s a bright side somewhere. There’s a bright side somewhere. Don’t you rest until you find it. There’s a bright side somewhere.”

The Audacity to Hope

In order for a people to have taken a negative and turned it into a positive, surely somebody had to have had the audacity to hope. In order for a race held in bondage to slavery to have taken a proclamation not worth the paper it was written on and to have turned it into a proposition that produced a race full of giants, somebody had to have had the audacity to hope. Abraham Lincoln is remembered as the “Great Emancipator” of the slaves, but in reality, he did not see black Africans as equal with whites. (The issue of slavery was paramount for him because it threatened the unity of the country. The primary reason that the Civil War was fought was not to free the slaves, but to save the United States because the southern states wanted to secede and form their own nation.) But blacks had a vertical hookup with the one who made Lincoln, and because they did, with little of nothing in their hands, they kept on holding onto God’s unchanging hand. They had the audacity to hope. In order for some ex-slaves to turn defeat into victory, devastation into liberation, nothing into something, no schooling into some of the finest schools in the nation, somebody had to have the audacity to hope. In order for a race despised because of its color to turn out a Martin Luther King and a Malcolm X, a Paul Giddings and a Pauli Murray, a James Baldwin and a Toni Morrison, and a preacher named Jesse, and in order to claim its lineage from a preacher named Jesus, somebody had to have the audacity to hope.

In order for Martin to hang in there when God gave him a vision of an America that one day would take its people as seriously as it had taken its politics and its military power; in order for him to hang in and keep working and keep on preaching even when all the black leaders turned against him because he had the courage to call the sin of Vietnam exactly what it was — an abomination before God — he had to have the audacity to hope.

You remember that Senator Brooke turned against Martin; Jackie Robinson turned against Martin; Carl Rowan turned against Martin; Roy Wilkins turned against Martin; the NAACP passed a resolution against Martin; the Urban League turned against Martin. It was all right for this preacher to protest against North American apartheid and segregated lunch counters, but when he dared speak the message God gave him against our racist, militaristic posture in South Vietnam and our racist involvement in South Africa, he was iced and isolated by all of the establishment blacks. And in order for him to hang in and hold on, in order for him to have the audacity to hope, he had to have a vertical hookup that assimilated Negroes had forgotten all about. It was a hookup that said “before I’d be a slave [a slave to conservative theology that enslaves and preaches love], before I’d be a slave [a slave to right-wing ignorance that wears black robes on Sunday morning and white robes on Sunday night], before I’d be a slave [a slave to white America’s corporate dollars that hold and pull the purse strings of so many national black organizations], before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave, and go home to my God and be free.”

Martin was more than a minister and a civil rights leader. Martin was a man who integrated the buses of Montgomery and the streets of Selma, yes, but Martin also took on the unjust economic system of our country. He took on the iron-fisted military system, and he took on the unabashed racism of this country because of his vertical hookup, his audacity to hope. There were no visible signs on the horizon, yet he kept on preaching. There was nothing on the horizon to say that he should keep on hoping, but he kept on hoping anyhow; he kept the vertical dimension intact, and that is the message for us. Have the audacity to hope anyhow, no matter what you can’t see. The real lesson that Hannah gives us from this chapter is how to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident.

I sat there that day listening to Frederick G. Sampson with no sign on the horizon that God was loving me or hearing my prayers. You see, it’s easy for us to have hope when we can see signs and evidence all around us of how God’s love is present. We can walk around singing “The Lord is blessing me right now.” But when you don’t know where that bright side is that my grandmama used to sing about, and you still hope, then that is the true test of a Hannah-type faith. lb take that one string that you have left and have the audacity to hope, to make music and praise God on whatever it is you’ve got left — that’s the real word from the passage and the real message from that painting that the Lord would have us hear and see.

I listen to the young people singing. They know the modern gospel numbers. They know all of Sister Winans’ songs and everything that James Cleveland popularized. But they don’t know some of the old songs. Until our church started singing some of those hymns on Sunday morning, they had never heard those songs. These old songs predate the National Baptist Hymnal; they’re even too old to be in the Gospel Pearls. Most of you who are over thirty-five can remember “I thank you, Jesus. I thank you, Jesus. I thank you, Jesus, thank you, Lord. 0, you brought me, yes, you brought me from a mighty, a mighty long way, a mighty long way.”

My parents would sing that song around our house, and they would sing it at what seemed to be some of the strangest times. When the money got low and things were tight and Daddy had to take flour and add it to the beans to make them thicker, he would stir up the beans and sing “I thank you, Jesus.” Or when I got in trouble and had to be punished, he’d be coming up the stairs with a razor strap in his hands singing “I thank you, Jesus.”

When I go to speak at various churches, there’s a nice biography on me on the back of the program and a nice blurb in the newspapers, but what these don’t tell you is that at fifteen years of age I was busted for grand larceny auto theft. And the night after my father got me out of prison and took me home, I was waiting for the whipping that I knew I had coming. I heard him and my mother in their bedroom singing “I thank you, Jesus. I thank you, Jesus.” Now it seemed to me that they were thanking God because we were financially in a jam; they were thanking him because we didn’t have any money; they were thanking him because we didn’t have enough food; or they were thanking him because I was messing up. But I was just looking at the horizontal dimension. I couldn’t see the vertical hookup that my mama and my daddy had. I did not know back then that they were thanking him in advance for all that they had the audacity to hope for and for all that they believed God would answer. I did not know they were thanking him for how they hoped God would intervene and for what he would one day do for and through their son. I couldn’t see that vertical dimension back then. But now, some forty years later, oh my God! I’m more crazy than they were walking around singing “I thank you, Jesus.”

See, I tried living without the Lord. Fifteen wasn’t the only age at which I got in trouble. When I went away to college, I thought I was grown. I didn’t have to go to church anymore. I left the church. I was licensed to preach my freshman year, but my sophomore year, Chi Psi Phi. I tried living without the Lord. I was influenced by Martin King, yes, but there was this other guy named Malcolm, and I tried one brief time being a Muslim: “As salaam alaikum.” Anything but a Christian. I tried getting away from the Lord. But my mom and dad had the audacity to keep on praying. There was no sign on the horizon. I was acting like a complete fool. But they kept on praying, kept on hoping, kept on thanking, and right now, “Thank you, Jesus,” I pastor the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ because the Lord heard their prayers!

Have the audacity to hope. Hope on anyhow. He’s a good God. He touched my life and made me whole. Praise God!

Weird, huh?

Especially when this is the sermon that Barack Obama says moved him so.

And yet Obama claims he never heard Reverend Wright say anything bad about America.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, October 1st, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

18 Responses to “What Was Cut Out Of Wright’s ‘Audacity’”

  1. artboyusa says:

    “The painting is by a man named Watt…” no, it’s not, you dumbass! Watt invented the steam engine.

    The Victorian artist George Frederick WATTS (1817-1904) painted “Hope” in 1886 and it hangs in the Tate Gallery in London. Check it out at: http://www.tate.org.uk

    Freakin’ uncultured, half-educated witless moron (not Watts – Jeremiah Wright)

  2. JohnMG says:

    I’m disturbed to find out that all of the blacks whom I thought were my friends harbor such hatred and anger for me for my “sin” of being white. No wonder there will never be harmony among the races. But thanks, Jeremiah, for letting me see through the window.

  3. Helena says:

    Artboyusa – Am I blind? I don’t see her in rags, but in a diaphanous gown. Nor sitting “on top of the world” but on a rock, though I guess you could argue about that. I see no “blood beginning to seep through” her blindfold – not “bandage.” I see no “scars and cuts on her face, arms and legs.” What painting are these preachers looking at?

  4. artboyusa says:

    You’re right, Helena -she’s wearing Greek costume from the Classical period and playing a Greek lyre, on which all the strings except one are broken. Its an allegory, and a pretty obvious one I used to think until this goofus opened his yap.The actual painting is low tones of green and grey and, although she is meant to be sitting on the globe, all those cuts and bruises only exist in Rev Wright’s hot, disordered imagination.

  5. Steve says:

    As we noted previously, George Watts’ painting, “Hope,” was painted in 1885 and given to the British nation in 1897.

    Click on the image above to enlarge it, and see if you can discern what Mr. Wright was going on about:

    When you look at the woman in Watt’s painting, you discover this woman is in hell. She is wearing rags. Her tattered clothes look as if the woman herself has come through Hiroshima or Nagasaki [Sharpeville]. Her head is bandaged, and blood seeps through the bandages. Scars and cuts are visible on her face, her arms, and her legs.

    Maybe what he describes can be discerned in the original. But somehow I doubt it.

    According to London’s Tate Museum, where the painting is displayed, Mr. Watts had something quite different in mind:

    The figure of Hope is traditionally identified by an anchor. In this picture she is blindfolded, seated on a globe and playing a lyre of which all the strings are broken except one. Watts wanted to find a more original approach to symbolism and allegory. But Hope’s attempts to make music here appear futile and several critics argued that the work might have been more appropriately titled Despair. Watts explained that ‘Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord’.

    What? No rags? No bandages? No blood? No sores? No scars? No Hiroshima and Nagasaki? No Sharpeville Massacre?

    Funny how victimhood can skew one’s perception of everything.

  6. Steve says:

    Also, I still don’t see the music above her head that Wright talks about.

  7. therightguy says:

    Instead of commenting on the finer points of a picture, try commenting on the speaker. While we already knew that Wright is full of hate, envy, and utter vile ignorance, this just nails it on the head. “He that lives upon hope will die fasting” — Benjamin Franklin. Such prescient words that Wright nor Obama heeded.

  8. artboyusa says:

    No one except the Rev can see the music above her head, SG, because it isn’t there.

  9. heather08 says:

    I think Wright kind of gets what the artist was trying to depict–with a lot of exaggeration on his part. There isn’t any blood and the girl is not in tatters, but he is correct that the painting seems to depict the opposite of Hope. But then he goes on to somehow interpret the painting as saying that hope–the audicity to hope–is the answer. I think the painting says the opposite. I think the painting says hope is futile but something humans cling to nevertheless. It depicts a very bleak view of the world and doesn’t suggest that hope can change a thing, except maybe giving people the will to keep on living.

  10. 1sttofight says:

    Hey, I hope I wake up in the morning.

  11. Helena says:

    rightguy – The reason to comment on the picture is that it is a clear cut case of him just making stuff up out of nowhere. And all you have to do to see it, is to look at the picture and read his description of it. They have almost nothing to do with each other. So it’s a good illustration of how his brain works – or rather – doesn’t work. It’s not that he can see what others don’t see, he sees what isn’t there.

  12. dulcimergrl says:

    I couldn’t finish reading this nonsensical so-called “sermon”. But it sure does sound like Rev Wright saw stuff that wasn’t there; like others who have commented today, I sure don’t see wounds and blood and rags…

    Seeing stuff that isn’t there–that’s what my dearly departed Daddy was doing after he had a stroke while recovering from esophogeal cancer surgery. Could Wright’s problem be that half his brain is missing?

  13. 1sttofight says:

    Children Sing Hymns To Obama


    Spooky, Like a time warp.

  14. Steve says:

    Touched on at our sister site:

    Obama’s Tykes Vs Lenin’s Little Potatoes | Get Drunk And Vote 4 McCain

  15. 1sttofight says:

    Yeah I saw that earlier, but this one seems to bring it more together.

  16. wardmama4 says:

    Well I’m glad (I’d read some of Wright’s ‘sermon’ and wondered – was I really going blind?Am I really that art dyslexic, that I couldn’t see what he was talking about? – now I see it is he who has the problem.

    A while ago, I read a pygmy proverb – If you spend time thanking God for your blessings, you won’t have time to weep over your problems. (Sorry, this is my memory of the proverb – I can’t seem to find it in my ‘files’ for the exact wording). Wright might want to think on this proverb rather than making things up about a painting – just to incite the crowd.

  17. Albertafriend says:

    Here is a link to a larger version of the picture. It also has a magnifier that you can run over top of it to see the various parts. Some commenters on the artwork say she is wearing a blindfold over her eyes not a bandage. There are none of the things JW describes and uses to build his so-called sermon. I can’t imagine him using an actual copy of the picture as he was doing this.Maybe he has never seen it himself. Maybe this is how Obama learned about how to embellish an image to manipulate whatever reaction you wanted from people.


  18. Steve says:

    “Here is a link to a larger version of the picture.”

    If you click on the picture in the article you will get a larger version.

« Front Page | To Top
« | »