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Some Light Summer Reading …

July 11, 2012

From The Gospel Of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark, available now at Amazon.com:

And from the heart of the Power of Life, when the time was expedient and the time was right, about 2000 years after the birth of Jesus, praises be upon him, over seventy years after His Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie I, the Lion of Judah, praises be upon him, there came the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of centuries: Barack Hussein Obama, born of a virgin, young in age. The virgin’s name was Ann. And the man she was betrothed to was from the east of Africa. And the child they had was given the name That One, the Blessing, the One who Confronts and wins the victory: Barack Hussein Obama, a Blessing for all peoples.

I shit you not.

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49 Comments
  1. July 11, 2012 12:00 pm

    What? You didn’t know?

  2. July 11, 2012 12:03 pm

    Before readers get their panties into a bunch over this book, I think that it needs to be put into context. The amazon page says that the author is from Jamacia and the excerpt that was posted here suggests that there is a strong Rastafarian and Afro-centric influence at work here. Stuff like this is actually pretty common in the black community. All of the black Catholic churches I’ve attended have at least one picture of Martin Luther King posted in a prominent place and his birthday is a really big deal in those parishes. There are black Protestant churches that have stained glass depictions of the Civil Rights Movement using religious iconography. I see this book as being more or less in the same vein of casting black history in theological and teological terms. I think it was written by a black man for other black people who share his worldview. The Gospel According to Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark sounds blasphemous to the average VN reader, but I’ve seen books that are much stranger being sold at Afro-centric bookstores.

    • July 11, 2012 12:38 pm

      But this guy is an Episcopal priest. And one with some pretty lofty credentials, too. That’s what makes it surprising to me.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        July 11, 2012 1:02 pm

        And his parish is Trinity Church, Wall Street. As in lower Manhattan. Not exactly a throbbing Afro-Caribbean community down there between Broadway and the West Side Highway.

        • July 11, 2012 1:08 pm

          No, it’s not. He’s clearly quite mainstream. I have to assume that it’s a serious book.

        • July 11, 2012 2:15 pm

          Chances are if you’re a black person who is in a corporate or professional environment (or in this case, a minister in a historically white denomination), 90% of the people you encounter during your working hours will be white. That doesn’t negate the possibility that they might be an Afro-centrist in their private beliefs. The references to Haile Selaisse and the Lion of Judah indicate that the author is definitely familiar with Rastafarian theology, though I can’t say for sure whether he would consider himself an Afro-centrist or not. As I said before, I am not surprised that a book like this exists, or that it was written by an Episcopal priest with degrees from elite majority institutions. In my experience, many blacks, especially the older ones who lived through Jim Crow, view black historical figures from a teleological perspective, so Martin Luther King becomes a John the Baptist type figure that lays the way for Barack Obama. There’s a very common print that I’ve seen in black bookstores and businesses that depicts the Last Supper, except all of the Apostles are famous black men from the 19th and 20th century and Jesus’ place is usurped by a veiled Muhammad (I suspect the original artist was influenced by the Nation of Islam). You can also find different variations on Black Jesus, including prints that have Black Jesus conversing with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The possibilities are endless.

          What I do find somewhat surprising is that the other posters assume that such views must naturally come from an ill-educated storefront preacher. Most of you would be shocked if you heard the kinds of things that middle class black people say in churches, barber shops, and beauty salons. The rhetoric that got Jeremiah Wright into so much trouble four years ago is pretty standard in a lot of black churches. In fact, Rev. Wright has preached in several (Protestant) revivals in Atlanta in the last couple of months, which indicates to me that his standing in the black church is unchanged, regardless of what whites may think of him. The controversy surrounding Rev. Wright – and to a lesser extent, the book by Rev. Bozzuti-Jones – indicates that most whites don’t really know what goes on in black churches or among the aspects of black culture that aren’t marketed to mainstream audiences.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          July 11, 2012 3:20 pm

          What I do find somewhat surprising is that the other posters assume that such views must naturally come from an ill-educated storefront preacher.

          I don’t know who you’re talking about, but it sure isn’t me. I read the author’s biography, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he’s well educated. Not surprised at all. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that you couldn’t find a self-ordained, self-educated storefront preacher anywhere willing to offer up this kind of drivel.

          The problem with this thing isn’t Afro-centrism. In fact, it doesn’t strike me as terribly Afro-centric (and let’s not forget that the Virgin Ann wasn’t black at all). The problem is an Episcopal priest drawing a parallel between Barack Obama and Jesus Christ. Now, you may cluck patronizingly that that’s just the way black folk do things, but I doubt there are many barbershops or hair salons where they refer to Obama as the son of God. And in the biracial Baptist church of my youth, Miss Constance Brooks and Miss Sarah Jenkins, those guardians of orthodoxy, wouldn’t have approved even one little bit.

          We take pains here at Vox Nova to point out when right-wing Catholics and evangelicals co-opt the faith for the sake of partisan politics and American nationalism. This is the mirror image and deserves equal ridicule.

        • Thales permalink
          July 11, 2012 3:38 pm

          LM,

          Hhm, I’m confused. Are you trying to minimize or mitigate the wackiness of this? Are you trying to say that this isn’t really that strange or that big of a deal?

          Because your comment doesn’t do that at all. To the contrary, your comment just makes this whole topic even more strange/wacky/bizarre. You say that his type of thing is “very common” in bookstores, churches, etc.? That just makes it weirder.

        • July 11, 2012 4:27 pm

          A Google search for Rev. Bozzuti-Jones doesn’t bring up anything particularly controversial other than this book, which would lead me to believe that his career as a pastor is probably pretty mundane. I suspect that the quoted passage is meant to be allegorical, rather than a statement of the author’s actual beliefs, since the Trinity Wall Street site says that the books is, “a blend of fiction, gospel stories, and President Barack Obama’s real words” (http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/news/articles/according-to-mark-fr-mark-bozzuti-jones-on-his-newest-book). I don’t think that Rev. Bozzuti-Jones literally thinks that Barack Obama is the son of God.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          July 11, 2012 5:16 pm

          No one said he thinks Obama is literally the son of God. You keep rushing at strawmen in your eagerness to whitewash (pardon the pun) this ridiculous book.

        • July 11, 2012 11:23 pm

          My initial reaction when I read the except of the book was that it was similar to the weird self-published/independent press stuff that I’ve seen during my occasional forays into Afro-centric bookstores; something idiosyncratic and bizarre, but nothing to lose sleep over, not unlike Pope Pius XIII. I thought that maybe the author was using a Rastafarian framework to draw parallels between Haile Selaisse and Barack Obama, which would not be surprising if you are familiar with the logic of Rastafarian beliefs. However, after going to the Trinity Wall Street site, it became apparent to me that the sample pages are almost certainly meant to be allegorical. I can’t say what the allegory means because the Amazon preview ends after about six pages. At this point, I simply think it would be unfair to judge Rev. Bozzuti-Jones’ theological views on some whimsical passages that are probably being taken out of context. I don’t have any stake in this book, I just think that my link shows that it’s not the work of blasphemy that it’s being made out to be.

  3. July 11, 2012 12:10 pm

    There are so many people out there who need intensive counseling….

  4. July 11, 2012 12:36 pm

    I thought it was from The Onion!

  5. July 11, 2012 12:41 pm

    This guy is not just the typical storefront church evangelical nut:

    About the Author
    The Rev. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones is priest for pastoral care at Trinity Church Wall Street and is a regular retreat facilitator and spiritual director. He leads a weekly discussion group called, “The Gospel, Times, Journal & You.” Born and educated in Kingston, Jamaica, he completed graduate studies at Loyola University, Chicago, the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, and the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Cambridge, and has served as a missionary in Guyana, Belize, Mexico, and Brazil. Mark is an award-winning author and has published numerous books, including The Womb of Advent (Church Publishing), Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word (Augsburg), The Miter Fits Just Fine: A Biography of Bishop Barbara Harris (Cowley), Informed by Faith (Cowley), Sing the Faith: Spirituals (Augsburg Fortress), and the children’s books, God Created (Augsburg Fortress), God Thought of You (Morehouse), and Jesus the Word (Augsburg).

    ~ [This is from an amazon.com blurb]

  6. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    July 11, 2012 12:45 pm

    From the back cover:

    “The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark” is designed to initiate the reader into a meditation on what it means to be human, what it means to be a manifestation of God, and how Barack Obama is a unique and important manifestation of God’s desire for human flourishing. In a blend of words from his public speeches, imagined conversation, and fictional situations, the book highlights Obama’s real stance on social justice and, in particular, economic and political empowerment. It juxtaposes ancient Biblical form and contemporary reality, challenging the reader to see and seek God in all persons. “Our life-defining texts must be porous and we must be imaginative in our engagement with them. Let this book be a reminder not to so credit sacred texts or cultural icons that they lead us to hatred and violence in the name of God. When we see the Divine in another, we must name it. We must respect it. The practice demands nothing less than Love.” Mark F. Bozzuti-Jones, Author

    Not a literary form I think I would like, but I guess this gives me a better idea what he is trying to do.

  7. Brian Martin permalink
    July 11, 2012 2:43 pm

    “It’s the end of the world as we know it…..and I feel fine”

  8. July 11, 2012 3:01 pm

    @LM — You make some good points. As I said above, I have no doubt that this is a serious book.

  9. Julia Smucker permalink*
    July 11, 2012 3:07 pm

    At first glance I wasn’t sure whether this was satire or some Rastafarian-inspired cult. Then I followed the Amazon link, and like Rodak I was surprised at the guy’s credentials. Curiouser and curiouser…

    So is he trying to introduce a literary form we don’t have a paradigm for, or is this an actual deification of a political leader (the likes of which the world has seen before)? If the former, it seems counterproductive to whatever he is trying to accomplish, as it results in puzzlement more than anything. And even if that’s the case, having personally seen examples of the latter, I’m a little creeped out.

    • July 11, 2012 3:15 pm

      @Julia — Yes, that’s the question. I think (based on nothing other than what I’ve seen here, admittedly) that it must be a case of the former. That is, his apparent deification of Obama is poetic/metaphorical–a device used in an attempt to make a point about the human spirit.

  10. July 11, 2012 3:14 pm

    “Hail Divine Caesar, Lord of the Earth!”

  11. dominic1955 permalink
    July 11, 2012 4:36 pm

    I am also not surprised this guy is “educated”, and an Episcopalian “priest” to boot. Also, I’ve spent a good amount of time in a black barber shop in a previous job and they would never say shit like this.

    “Hail Divine Caesar, Lord of the Earth” is exactly right. This guy is no “Afro-Centrist”, he’s just another sweater wearing pseudo-intellectual hack in the white-bread, self-congratulatory group we know as Episcopalians, which might cease to exist within some of our life times.

    Seeing how they are busy with such pressing questions as the divination of the current POTUS and deciding whether to ordain trannsexuals, I just cannot understand why they aren’t absolutely thriving…

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      July 11, 2012 5:18 pm

      Dominic, we can always count on you to be the voice of reason. (That was sarcastic, by the way.)

      • dominic1955 permalink
        July 11, 2012 6:30 pm

        Regardless, I’ll take it as a compliment.

  12. Rodak permalink
    July 11, 2012 4:58 pm

    @LM — Thanks for the Trinity Wall Street link. I think that makes quite clear the man’s purpose in writing the book and the nature of his metaphorical use of Barack Obama as a Crhist figure. It seems to me like a well-meaning attempt, but one very difficult to pull off successfully.

  13. Rodak permalink
    July 11, 2012 5:24 pm

    Did I just her somebody shout “raca?”

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      July 11, 2012 5:29 pm

      :-)

  14. Ronald King permalink
    July 11, 2012 7:01 pm

    Mark, I am happy that you shit me not. Creating a different perspective can cause mayhem in the neuropathways of us neurotypicals:)

  15. gadria permalink
    July 11, 2012 11:52 pm

    Well the way I look at this is there is a profound maturity in this – reflecting actually rather positive on our religion and culture. The fact that a guy can write a book like this and NOT get stoned on the spot is very good indeed.
    I do not know who is nuttier those various evangelical sects that eagerly wait and deeply believe in the second coming of Christ or folks like this who re-imagine the spirit of the first Christ informing an personal hero and inspiring political leader.

    As Catholics we have come some ways the last 2000 years – 300 years ago we would have burned the good MarkII for this – now we pretend ‘outrage’ but in the process provide plenty of free advertisement – mission accomplished Mark III.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      July 12, 2012 8:18 am

      Well, it is a good thing that he isn’t stoned, but apparently you think he shouldn’t be criticized either. By the way, as Catholics, we also “eagerly wait and deeply believe in the second coming of Christ.” Or do you think the Creed is “nutty?”

      • July 12, 2012 9:10 am

        An important point: The Creed is nutty. We’re just sooooo used to uncritically mumbling through it every Sunday that it seems normal. No honest and rational person (read: not spiritually inclined nor bound by fear of becoming an outcast within the communty) would recite such a thing.

        If Bozzuti-Jones’ book does nothing more than open our eyes to how nutty our faith must seem from outside the Church walls, it has made a valuable contribution.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          July 12, 2012 9:19 am

          Yes, the gospel remains a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. But for a Catholic to call “the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ” nutty is something else altogether.

        • July 12, 2012 10:04 am

          gadia‘s apparently disparaging comment about “sects that eagerly wait and deeply believe in the second coming of Christ” suggests an assumption that faith ought to be understood from a purely rational perspective. Recognizing that the Creed is nutty and that it describes my faith and that I remain fully rational is a big step in a direction I’d call “forward.”

        • Hezekiah Garrett permalink
          July 25, 2012 9:18 am

          Spiritual inclination renders a human being irrational?

          And they call me dogmatic!

        • Frank M. permalink
          July 26, 2012 12:15 am

          Hezekiah:

          Who said “Spiritual inclination renders a human being irrational?” That makes no rational sense!

      • gadria permalink
        July 12, 2012 5:12 pm

        I have to admit that a rational perspective is very important and indeed many aspects of our faith I very much view in a strictly rational human context and yes I agree with your “Recognizing that the Creed is nutty and that it describes my faith and that I remain fully rational is a big step in a direction I’d call “forward.”” In that sense the deep seated desire of humanity to trust that a wise Leader/Savior /Messiah comes and provides vison is beyond Religion really. For me the divine can be found in the fact that a lrage majority of humans have deep seated spiritual desires – but the actual ‘mechanics’ of the interface to god seem to involve plenty of rather imperfect human interpretation- that was true 2000 years ago when humans wrote down scripture well after the fact. Obviously the creator of the Universe did not feel the need to really ensure precision of recording – we are thus winging it really from the get go – we might as well continue.
        and yes in that context this rather imperfect catholic is no better or worse than the next one.
        The overall spirit is important – the specifics however are overrated IMHO and seem to change plenty with time.

        • July 13, 2012 3:51 am

          @gadria — “The specifics” are not only overrated, but a good argument could be made that they are an impediment. I find your comment to be very much to the point. People who think that they can find the Kingdom by carefully following a set of rules and going through the choreographed motions of rituals have ignored every one of Christ’s criticisms of the Pharisees.

        • gadria permalink
          July 13, 2012 3:41 pm

          Thank you Rodak for your kind take of upon re-reading a pretty raw and obviously not edited comment. I do think for us liberal Catholics it is very important to be brutally honest with ourselves – we do indeed question a good number of the fundamentals of the official church – and yes we have to respond eloquently to the ?/critique ‘ Why don’t you leave? What keeps you if you think it is mostly wrong? Why do you live this lie?

          The other night I had an interesting conversation with a German visitor –
          He is a theology teacher and he in essence said – ‘of course we all know that there is no ‘heaven’- our spirits perhaps live on forever – but this is rather achieved through the way our good deeds as humans gets passed on from generation to generation. As parents we hopefully practice that type of realistic ‘spirituality’ day by day- as sons and daughters we can feel the spirit of our parents and grandparents working in us – as humans we know and experience this to be true.
          It will take some time to inch away from the utterly (IMHO) naive understanding of heaven and hell towards something more realistic. But it is happening and if we are honest most of us Catholics are not even close to where we are suppose to be – we pay plenty of lipservice when mumbling the creed. As a scientist and engineer my religion has to make sense in the context of my overall understanding of the physical world. What is 2000 years in the grand scheme of things – nothing – what is one particular interpretation/verbalization of otherwise deep-seated spiritual feelings – very temporary indeed. As you said Christ critiqued the Pharisees in his days-not surprisingly immediately following Christ’s life the humans that followed him went about to create christian rules in the name of the Lord – go figure.
          Christ profoundly understood us – as can be expected. Most of us really want to be very peaceful and kind -scripture reflects that desire – scripture however certainly also reflects our more negative desires to condemn and control – since it was written down by humans not a big surprise really.

        • Mark Gordon permalink
          July 25, 2012 8:54 am

          Sorry I missed this the first time around. Gadria, you really should investigate the Catholic faith. Talk to some Catholic friends. Make an appointment with a priest to discuss our Church. You might find that Catholicism has something to offer you, because it’s clear that you are a long, long way from the truth (not to mention the Truth).

  16. Anne permalink
    July 12, 2012 2:14 am

    Why “according to Mark”? On first glance, I thought Mark (Gordon, of course) had a politico-religious satire on sale at Amazon. That first paragraph held such promise. Oh, well.;-)

    • Rodak permalink
      July 12, 2012 10:47 am

      The author of the book in question is named “Mark.”

  17. Mark Gordon permalink
    July 12, 2012 8:39 am

    James Cone, the theologian of black liberation, has written that white and black don’t refer merely to skin color, but to “one’s attitude and action toward the liberation of the oppressed black people from white racism.” Whiteness in America, according to Cone, signifies dominance and structural power. In that sense, Barack Obama is perhaps the whitest man in America today. He is the president of the United States. He sits atop the federal government and holds frightening military, economic, and normative power in his hands. As both head of government and chief of state (a role reserved in monarchies for the king or queen) he is the symbol and embodiment of a nation that for 350 years enslaved Africans, then systematically denied black citizens their civil rights, then marginalized and/or ignored them. He presides over a global military empire and routinely deploys lethal force against poor, dark-skinned peoples. He surrounds himself with courtiers and patrons drawn from all the bastions of white privilege: Wall Street, K Street, the academy, and the corporate boardrooms of the Fortune 50. His project in office hasn’t been to fundamentally transform America into a more just and peaceful nation, but to preserve and extend the status quo, including those structures of oppression that continue to weigh on the poor, and especially people of color.

    If The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark were a serious work of black liberation theology, I wouldn’t hold it up for ridicule. Far from it. That’s a perspective that has been all but hidden from the vast majority of Christians. But skin color – perhaps combined with partisan affiliation – appears to be the only grounds on which Bozzuti-Jones offers up Obama as an alter Christus.

    • Rodak permalink
      July 12, 2012 10:57 am

      Mark — I don’t get the sense from reading the book jacket blurbs and the amazon.com reviews that this book is meant to be “black liberation theology” at all. I don’t think that it addresses historical racism, or African-American identity issues, per se. As it apparently says on the back cover, as quoted by David above, ““The Gospel of Barack Hussein Obama According to Mark” is designed to initiate the reader into a meditation on what it means to be human… .” I take that to mean that it is meant to help each of us realize that he is–really and truly–made in the image of God, and uniquely, wonderfully so.

  18. Jordan permalink
    July 12, 2012 10:25 am

    Thank you for your excellent post Mark [July 12, 2012 8:39 am]. There’s much to unpack here. I’ll focus on one point; forgive the length.

    Mark: As both head of government and chief of state (a role reserved in monarchies for the king or queen) he [Barack Obama] is the symbol and embodiment of a nation that for 350 years enslaved Africans, then systematically denied black citizens their civil rights, then marginalized and/or ignored them. [my addition in brackets]

    The systematic and pervasive degradation of African-Americans at the hands of federal, state, and local governments throughout American history is one symptom of the greater failure of American federalism. As you well note, American federalism has conflated the roles of head of government and head of state in the presidential office. This is a dangerous, but not exceptional or novel, conflation.

    The American presidency is quite similar to the first Roman empire, the principate. Julius Caesar deliberately styled himself as principes (first citizen) instead of rex (king). The deposition of the legendary kings of Latium established Roman republicanism; explicit autocracy would have destroyed sacred Roman myth. The three-century principate merely formalized the oligarchical Republic through the concentration of actual executive power in a semi-hereditary imperial household instead of a small circle of patrician families.

    As John Kloppenborg has noted, the principate pyramid-scheme social system exemplified the patron-client system. The emperor-princeps and his household were not a despised 1% but rather the pinnacle from which all financial and material benefits trickled down. Those who financially benefited from imperial favor repaid the imperial house through the manipulation of finance and economy for the “first citizen’s” favor. Is this not similar to the superpacs and wealthy donors who buy American presidential elections and expect favorable legislation in return?

    I see no difference between the oligarchical-kleptocratic-imperial Roman principate and the POTUS. I have not read Fr. Bozzuti-Jones book yet, but I suspect that either a glorification or damnation of any American president will be a curse against darkness. The American federal executive office itself is the source of the disenfranchisement of almost all Americans.

  19. Dan permalink
    July 12, 2012 10:43 am

    This is much ado about nothing. David’s post above clarifies that this a metaphorical work and the conversation should end there.

  20. July 12, 2012 12:41 pm

    The fact that this book is “advertised” on Amazon give the impression that it has more significance than it does. If it were published by Knopf or HarperCollins, that would be one thing. But since it is self-published, it may very well be that the only person who thinks it belongs in print is the author.

    What this guy thinks about Obama bothers me a lot less than the fact that so many people believe he is a Muslim.

  21. July 14, 2012 8:38 am

    @gadria — There are myriad ways to conceptualize existence; none of them complete; none of them correct. My incomplete, and therefore incorrect, take on salvation is that it involves Remembering; it involves “tuning in” to Reality. This transcends physics and biology, which represent the attempts of the forgetful to understand the alien state-of-mind in the midst of which they are dreaming. Jesus was Awake, Jesus Remembered that He was the Son of God. He wants only that we join Him in the Awakened Mind that is Reality.
    Seen from this point of view, we are, in our daily lives, trapped in the only “hell” that there is. The Good News is that it can only get better. God bless us, every one.

    • gadria permalink
      July 16, 2012 12:45 pm

      I have to reflect on this a bit – here is my spontaneous responds.
      Yes none is complete none is correct – however scientific methodology accounts for this nicely and by definition does keep a deliberate open mind regarding this problem and yes fully embraces the concept of not complete – not (‘yet’) correct.
      Unfortunatelly not the same can be said for most of our religeous and philosophical minded friends. There the concept best summed up as: ‘we know exactly what is true’ is a well accepted starting point.
      In my opinion in the long run the success of scientific methodology and worldview will have to lead to a more sophisticated religious launching point – and yes the tables will be turned a bit. Make your Religion work within the solid framework of your Science – vs. make your Science work within the (IMHO not solid at all) framework of your Religion.

      • July 17, 2012 11:47 am

        @gadria — The very language that you need to use to express your point of view here gives away the game: “framework” = it is all a construct; “launching point” = it is temporal; ergo “temporary”; etc.
        What must be found is not more and better ways of cataloging, characterizing, and classifying the essentially effervescent, but rather the Way to the Transcendent and Eternal. As we go that Way alone, there are as many paths (understood as “opportunities”) as there are souls to give their consent to Life.

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