Friday, December 26, 2008

Remembering Kitt, Appreciating Warren

December 26, 2008, 7:00 a.m.; December 27, 2008, 5:00 a.m. (addition of AP's Rachel Zoll material on Warren)

(Brought to you by*)

Eartha Kitt. A stunning Hollywood friend with some 800 performances to her credit told me of an experience she had at an audition. After reading for the part the director told her, "Miss, I'm sorry, but we're looking for someone older, this character is supposed to be a woman in her mid-forties." "Look at me again," she replied, "this is what 45 looks like."

As we remember our last half-century's fascination with and admiration of Eartha Kitt, and mourn her Christmas-day death, it can inspire us all to watch her performance earlier this very year of "Ain't Misbehaving" and realize that "This is what 81 can look-- and sound -- like."

Talk about living one's life like the stage direction "Walk on; dance off"! This was one classy lady who just barely walked on this Earth as a young girl, but was perfectly capable of "dancing" off as Eartha at the end. May we all aspire to as much.

Slide the bar to 3:15 through the video, which is where her performance begins.

Pastor Rick Warren. President-elect Obama created a bit of a stir with his selection of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at Obama's inauguration January 20th. Alexander Mooney, "Obama's Inaugural Choice Sparks Outrage," CNN, December 18, 2008 ("Prominent liberal groups and gay rights proponents criticized President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday for choosing evangelical pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration next month."). This was primarily because of Warren's support last month of California's "Proposition 8" ban on gay marriage.

I've made my own support for gay marriage clear (e.g., Nicholas Johnson, "Gay and Lesbian Marriage" in "Gays, God and Plaques," November 24, 2008), and had I been a California voter would have voted against Proposition 8.

But while I've not always succeeded, I have tried to remember just how complex humans are, that we are as a general semanticist once observed "the only animal species able to talk ourselves into difficulties that would not otherwise exist," and that the odds of finding others who agree with you over the broad sweep of all the hundreds of things we could find to disagree about is far less than winning the lottery. (As readers of this blog have discovered, I even find myself disagreeing with myself from time to time.)

In the case of Mike Huckabee, we disagree about virtually everything up to and including evolution. And yet, among right wing conservatives I found him one of the least mean-spirited and divisive of the bunch. As he said on at least one occasion, "I'm a conservative, all right, I'm just not angry about it." See, Nicholas Johnson, "It's Huckabee," July 24, 2007.

I'm always on the lookout for a world leader who will speak to humanity's need to address the issues of war and peace, and poverty and materialism. For some of his years (1978 to 2005) that was, for me, Pope John Paul II -- notwithstanding my disagreement with his positions on women in the church, celibacy, abortion and contraception, among other things.

So I was willing to give Pastor Rick Warren some leeway. After all, I knew little about him, was not one of his flock of 100,000, had never been to his Orange County Saddleback Church, and had never really even heard him speak.

And then, yesterday evening, Christmas, I happened to turn to C-SPAN as it was rebroadcasting his talk to the Muslim Public Affairs Council's convention in Long Beach December 20, and I suddenly saw why he and the President-elect have the relationship they seem to have.

Here is a brief story about it from the Los Angeles Times, Raja Abdulrahim, "Pastor Rick Warren Addresses Muslim Group, Emphasizes Need to Find Common Ground," Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2008, and the C-SPAN location where it ought to be.

I challenge anyone to truly watch and listen to what this man was saying on that occasion and not come away with admiration for him and hope for our future. (Snippets of examples: "I love Muslims. I also happen to love Hindus and Jews and Buddhists. . . . We don't have to see eye to eye to walk hand in hand. . . . Al-Qaeda no more represents Islam than the Klu Klux Klan represents Christianity. . . . Religious congregations are the only set of organizations on earth that can successfully combat the five global illnesses of spiritual emptiness, corrupt leadership, disease pandemics, dire poverty, and illiteracy, and we must actively and directly cooperate with mosques to get the job done.")

As the AP's Rachel Zoll reports,
On paper, Warren might look like any other religious traditionalist. He is the son of a Southern Baptist pastor, graduate of a Southern Baptist seminary, and his megachurch in Orange County is part of the conservative denomination.

But Warren holds a different worldview than his roots suggest.

He has spoken out against the use of torture to combat terrorism. He has joined the fight against global warming and, encouraged by his wife, has put his prestige and money behind helping people with AIDS . . . at a time when a notable number of conservative Christians still consider the virus a punishment from God.

“If you want to save a life, I don’t care what your background is and I don’t care what your political party is . . . [T]hese humanitarian issues transcend politics, or ethnic or religious beliefs.”

While many religious conservatives openly condemn Islam as inherently evil, Warren reaches out to the American Muslim community.
Rachel Zoll, "Rick Warren's Biggest Critics: Other Evangelicals," Associated Press/Houston Chronicle, December 27, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren is to the religious community what President Barack Obama is to the political community -- someone to calm (even if not walk upon) the waters, to reach out to all, to focus on working together to solve the problems confronting humankind, to urge that we put aside the differences in our religious rhetoric to concentrate on the similarities in our perceptions of reality and need.

Moreover, both recognize the power of their personal example -- Obama with his diet, exercise, weight control, physical fitness, and value he places on intelligence and education (see, e.g., Eli Saslow, "As Duties Weigh Obama Down, His Faith in Fitness Only Increases," Washington Post, December 25, 2008, p. A1); Warren with his good works and a shunning of conspicuous consumption (tithing 90% and living on 10%) that could have come right out of my book, Test Pattern for Living, or that of my son Gregory's Put Your Life on a Diet.

I disagree with what seem now to be some of Obama's economic and policy positions, and a great deal more of Pastor Warren's theological positions.

But I deeply admire and applaud their ability to overlook their differences, and their ability to see why it is essential for our country that they -- and you and I -- demonstrate our ability to do so. As the AP's Rachel Zoll notes, "It is no surprise that he and Obama have become friendly. Each tries to operate outside a strict liberal-conservative divide, and has risked angering his supporters to do so." Rachel Zoll, "Rick Warren's Biggest Critics: Other Evangelicals," Associated Press/Houston Chronicle, December 26, 2008.

From Eartha Kitt's spirit to Pastor Rick Warren's new definitions of spirituality we have much to celebrate and be thankful for this holiday season for many of the world's religions and all of the world's peoples.


* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source -- even if I have to embed it myself.

# # #

No comments: