Friday, July 25, 2008

Favorite Things

Went through my ITunes "purchased list" this morning (cursorily) and picked my favorite songs (below). I will probably add other favorites (songs, books, food, games, tv shows, movies, etc.) to this list. For now, here are the songs I have picked as "five stars" from ITunes. It seems to me that selecting our "favorites" is a way of understanding ourselves and others better.


  • We Shall Overcome -- Joan Baez

  • Over the Rainbow -- Karaoke version

  • No Place But Texas -- Willie Nelson ** (lyrics below)

  • Both Sides Now -- Neil Diamond *** (partial lyrics below)

  • It Is No Secret -- Elvis Presley

  • Always On My Mind -- Willie Nelson

  • Forever and Ever, Amen. -- Randy Travis

  • I Came to Believe -- Johnny Cash

  • Believe -- Josh Groban

  • Belief -- John Maher * (see lyrics below)

  • The Closest Thing to Crazy -- Kate Melua

  • Battle Hymn of the Republic -- Morman Tabernacle Choir

There are a number of contradictory emotions and beliefs expressed in these songs. I am coming to believe that the need for us to strive for consistency in our lives (as a means of achieving integrity) is highly overrated. Honesty and loyalty should not be diminished, but as circumstances in life change, one must be open to embracing new perspectives.

Striving for consistency (e.g., "holiness code stuff") leads to living in denial (or conscious hypocrisy). Our existence is filled with settings in which we are multi-polar, impure, contradictory. Neil Diamond's song "Both Sides Now" tells me of the ways our "conformity-urges" constrict our growth and expression. Humbly, we find freedom as we embrace the illusions of life--which somehow synthesize our experiences.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Lyrics "Belief" by John Mayer

Is there anyone who Ever remembers
changing their mind from The paint on a sign?
Is there anyone who really recalls Ever breaking rank at all
For something someone yelled real loud one time

Everyone believes In how they think it ought to be
Everyone believes And they're not going easily

Belief is a beautiful armor But makes for the heaviest sword
Like punching under water You never can hit who you're trying for
Some need the exhibition And some have to know they tried
It's the chemical weapon For the war that's raging on inside

Everyone believes From emptiness to everything
Everyone believes And no ones going quietly

We're never gonna win the world
We're never gonna stop the war
We're never gonna beat this
If belief is what we're fighting for

What puts a hundred thousand children in the sand
Belief can Belief can
What puts the folded flag inside his mother's hand
Belief can Belief can

** Lyrics "No Place But Texas"

God painted the bluebonnets in the fields
By a tough little scrub oak on an East Texas hill
And he plucked the star from a lone star sky
And he put it in the twinkle of a cowboy's eye

The wide open spaces he made wild and free
Texas as far as any eye can see
And he made her sons grow tough and strong
They still cry when they hear a sad song

No place but Texas
Would I ever roam
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home

When I die I hope they bury me
By the Pedernales River 'neath a white oak tree
Where I can see the longhorns graze
And the cactus flowers blooming in the morning haze

No place but Texas
Would I ever roam
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home
No place but Texas
My home, sweet home

*** Lyrics: "Both Sides Now"
Rolls and flows of angel hair,
Ice cream castles in the air,
Feather canyons everywhere,
I've looked at clouds that way.
But now they only block the sun.
They rain, they snow on everyone.
So many things I would've done
But clouds got in my way.

I've looked at clouds from both sides now,
From up and down and still somehow
It's clouds' illusions I recall.
I really don't know clouds at all.

. . . .

Tears and fears and feeling proud,
Say "I love you" right out loud.
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way.
But now old friends are acting strange.
They shake their heads and say I've changed.
But something's lost when somethings gained
Living everyday.

I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life at all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Election 2008

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Monday, July 14, 2008


This sermon was preached at Boerne First United Methodist Church on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

I was reading on the internet a review of a movie earlier this week when I came upon a warning, in bold print. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD. What they meant was they were about to tell me the way the movie came out. So if I didn’t want to know how the story ended, I shouldn’t read any more. Knowing how the story ends, takes away from the suspense and emotion of the movie.

I think the same can be said for the passion story.

I have heard it said that we cannot experience the ecstasy and joy of Easter, unless we experience the pain and despair of the crucifixion.

It is an basic part of our human make-up that we try to avoid pain and we seek out pleasure. But it is also true that healing and growth often require pain and sacrifice.

So, tonight, let us listen to the testimony of some of the principle actors in the Good Friday events. We will hear from them as they speak to us on Saturday---the day after the crucifixion, the day before what we call Easter. So at that point, they did not know about the Resurrection

We know that the Jewish day began at sunset. So, “Friday” actually began on our Thursday evening. It included the Last Supper and ended at Sunset the next day.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our first witness is Peter:

“This is the worst day of my life. First, Jesus wanted to wash my feet and I wouldn’t let him. Then I begged him to wash my feet. I had a hard time knowing what was expected of me. Then Jesus asked me to pray with him when we got to the garden. And, of all things, I fell asleep. The next thing I know the Temple Guard is there, arresting Jesus. I was ready to fight them off, but Jesus said no. Then, early in the morning (or very late last night) I said I didn’t even know him. --- not once, but three times. I was so scared. I wish I’d never been born. And I ran away and hid. Then they killed him on a cross.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And hear from his mother, Mary:

I worried so much for him, especially those last days. There had been times in his life when our family felt like he was going too far. We tried to help him, but he wouldn’t listen. When he created that ruckus in the temple, earlier this week,I think that was the last straw.
So today as I watched him dying on that cross. I felt like I was dying too. I wish I could have taken his place. My heart has been crushed. I loved him so, and now he is gone. Any mother knows how I feel.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Then there was the Roman soldier:

I never wanted to come to this country. And when I got here I was appalled to be assigned to execution squad. Once, my son was terribly ill, and having heard about Jesus, I asked him to heal my son. And he did. That is why I find it so hard to understand why these people wanted to kill Jesus. I watched as my men whipped him. I saw him struggle as he went to Golgotha. It was incredible. Here he was, seemingly despised and hated by everyone, and he asked his Father God to forgive everyone. Then the earth began to move from under my feet, and the sky was covered with a blanket of darkness. I was surprised when I heard my self say, “Surely this is the Son of God.” And then he died.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

We call this Good Friday because we see all these events with Resurrection Eyes. But Resurrection eyes can see the risen Lord, only with the cross in the background.

As I heard someone say earlier today, “We know how it all turned out.” So for us the horrible things that happened on that day are more easily accepted. We may want to minimize the suffering of Jesus. We may want to run away from that cross and hide, like his disciples did. But we cannot; not if our salvation has any real meaning.

So here, on this night of all nights, may we meditate and give thanks for the overwhelming sacrifice of love which Jesus give to us.

We call this day Good Friday, because what Jesus did this day and every day of his life, was to erase the condemnation of sin from each of us.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Freedom of / for / from religion

In South Carolina one can now purchase an automobile license plate bearing the emblem of a cross with the words "I believe" embossed on the bottom of the plate. In my own church Sunday, the congregation said in unison (during the call to worship) "our nation was founded as a Christian nation". I take offense to both those expressions and discuss my reasons below.

Some evangelicals tout the United States to have been founded as a Christian nation; yet, nowhere in the founding documents (Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, etc.) is Jesus Christ mentioned. We do have freedom of / for / from religion in this great nation, and I, as a Christian minister, am proud and grateful that we are a secular "republican-democracy" instead of a state-sponsored theocracy.

I know of no religious group which would want a theocratic government dominated by some religious viewpoint other than their own. That is the key reason for rejection of any tinge of state-sponsored religion.

The assumption by most zealous religious groups is that the rest of the population shares (or ought to share) their own perspective. But in the real world, even the seemingly universal Christian statement "I Believe" is open to controversy. The emerging progressive Christian movement holds that a transforming relationship with God is more important than creedal beliefs.

So, can one order a South Carolina license plate which says "I relate"? To take the
argument even further, will other religous perspectives be allowed on the state-issued licenses? The star of David? The crescent? The words, "Hail Mary, full of grace"? Or even "I don't believe"?

Jesse Helms is quoted as saying that when religous critics espouse "freedom of religion" they mean "freedom from religion". While he may have meant that to be a derogatory condemnation of the "non-religious", I find truth in his statement.

While I will defend anyone's right to their own peculiar religious expression, I cherish deeply the protection that I am constitutionally guaranteed to have freedom from the imposition of "their religion" on me. The tyranny of majority religions being forced on minority perspectives presents itself as a sad and despotic stain on freedom's flag.

In the latter part of the 19th century, Methodism was so popular in the United States, it is said, that a movment wanted to delcare it to be the Church of America. As a Methodist, I am extremely happy that idea died away (I am sure my good Baptist friends also agree).

The choice to express, or to refrain from the expression of, theological / religious tenets in this nation must be vigilantly guarded against the efforts of the well-meaning but zealously self-righteous ones who seek the sanction of government.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lenton Meditation: Pride & Humility

Think with me for a few moments about pride and humility. Mac Davis wrote a song that goes like this:

Lord it’s hard to be humble
when you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
cause I get better lookin’ each day.

Folks, that’s pride.

I’m not talking about taking pride in your work, or being proud to be an American. I’m talking about pride as an arrogance that causes us to believe that we’re better than everybody else

+ A pride that leads us to be self-centered, “stuck up”, conceited,
+ A pride that causes us to think we are the center of the universe.
+ A pride that is the exact opposite of humility.
This kind of pride is the worst sin a human can commit because we come to believe that we no longer need God in our lives. We can handle everything ourselves.


Jesus was such an amazing person. When he was baptized he heard the voice of God declaring him to be God’s beloved son. Immediately after that he was tempted by choices we would find impossible to ignore. Just imagine how these situations would look to us today:

+ in the middle of tremendous hunger pains, you are told you can have all the food you want just for the taking.
+ or suppose you are deep in debt and you are offered all the wealth and power of this world, just reach for it.
+ or suppose your life drags through dull routines or blue depressions. You can have a life as exciting as an amusement park roller coaster. Just get on board.
Food, power, money, fame and excitement. And no one would need to know you made a bargain with Satan.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

How could Jesus keep his bearings? How could he remain in the right relationship with God in the face of these temptations? How could he maintain the balance between good self-esteem and humility? Let us look for clues in the Scripture, as found in Philippians 2.

5. Let the same mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus,
6. who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7. but emptied himself,
And being found in human form,
8. he humbled himself
and became obedient
to the point of death--
even death on a cross.

Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to his Father. Let us have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus.

Humility comes from placing ourselves squarely in the middle of God’s will. And we maintain our relationship with God by being obedient to that will.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the secret for avoiding sinful pride and finding life-giving humility. He speaks of three religious practices which can be either destructive or constructive of our relationship to God. He speaks of charitable giving, praying and fasting (or acts of piety).

He criticized those persons

+ who gave great amounts of money so others would think highly of them.
+ who prayed out in front of others so they would appear righteous.
+ who would fast and tell others so their “holiness” might be seen.

But aren’t we supposed to tithe and pray and do acts of piety? Well, sure we are, but the motive in our heart determines whether the act is good or evil.

To all these practices, giving money, praying, and other holy acts, Jesus tells us one thing is important: do them in secret. In secret, and your reward will come from your heavenly Father.

This Lenten season, I would ask you to consider pursuing acts of piety in secret. If you decide to give charity to a needy person, do so in secret. If you choose to abstain from some food or some activity, do so in secret. If you decide not to pray out in public, do it in your closet, in secret. And you will be blessed.

But beware of taking pride in your humble acts. Self-blessing is a first cousin to self-righteousness, which is the child of pride.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Middle East Allies, Oil, American Negligence

A quote from Barack Obama:

Let's fight to make sure our so-called allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and the Eqyptians, stop oppressing their own people, and suppressing dissent, and tolerating corruption and inequality and mismanaging their economies so that their youth grow up without education, without prospects, without hope, the ready recruits of terrorist cells.
--Speech at anti-Iraq War rally in Chicago, October 26, 2002
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Bush administration, and I suspect others prior, have pussy-footed around with the Saudis, in particular, because of our dependency on oil. We have known of this dependency for decades but have done very little to change the situation. In the meantime, even though most (all?) of the 911 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia, and even though Osama Bin Laden is the son of one of the most powerful families in Saudi Arabia, President Bush continues to kiss their cheeks and walk hand in hand with them, proclaiming our strong alliance.--Conrad
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
More Obama:
Our persistentent dependence on oil is a danger our government has known about
for years. And despite constant warnings by researchers and scientists, major corporations and our own government officials, it's a danger they have failed
to prepare for, listen to, or seriously try to guard against. It's a danger we can no longer afford to ignore.
"Securing Our Energy Future" speech, Sept. 15, 2005
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
And gasoline prices continue to climb. This increase is at the very least the result of Dick Cheney's secret crafting of an energy policy in conjunction with the president of the oil companies. The minutes of that meeting are not available. McCain wants four more years of the same. --Conrad

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcololism and then skipping the 12-step program.
Chicago Tribune, April 3, 2006.

The 12-step program requires real sacrifice, much pain, and a desire for change. The Bush program is to tell consumers to buy more, ignore the pain (it will work things out on its own) and, never forget, "change" is something we should fear.

Nearly all Americans know we are in deep doo-doo right now (most of the ones who do not recognized this are in Washington). We owe the next generation's liquidity to China. We stare at the possibility of $5 a gallon gasoline this summer. Food prices are rising sharply. San Antonio Texas (where I live) is facing higher dangers from ozone pollution. A kid from South Texas helped push our armed casulties (that's deaths) in Iraq to over 4,000. They've pretty much stopped building houses in our sub-division (and there are at least 40-50 lots open). Corporations continiue to move out; people are still being laid off. And we are told by our president that the economy is basically strong.

And I have picked a heck of a time to age into retirement. Click on Barack Obama. Read more about Barack's positions, and make a donation to his campaign!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Sixty-year-old Anger and Memory Suppression

I do not buy into the misguided mantra of the radical conservative white propogandists that Reverend Wright preaches hate sermons every Sunday for the twenty years that Obama was a member of Trinity UCC. Sermons like that are too strong to be heard week after week. I know the Sunday after 9-11, in Sonora Texas (where the political weathervane of the Southwest is turned) I preached what I now consider a rather radical speech.

I used Joshua 5 as a text: Joshua, on the morning prior to invading the promised land, encounters an image of a soldier. "Are you for us or against us?" Joshua asked the soldier. "Neither, I am the Commander of the Lord's army." Humble yourself. Did you get that? The Commander of the Army of the Lord refused to take sides---with the Children of Isreal or the Canaanites.

I preached that we Americans, in the wake of 9-11, could not count on God being on our side. After all, both Germany and America claimed divine support for WWII. And I preached about how our prayer should not be "God bless America", but rather than "America should seek to bless God".

Rather than talking about vengeance (which truly only belongs to God alone), we stood at a moment of profound importance for our future. We could do as Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek" and reach out in reconciliation; or we could seek revenge.

I know that sounds profoundly naieve. Our natural instincts are usually to strike back at any aggressor. But just imagine the impact it would have had on the world, if we had taken a different course: had not invaded Iraq, called for an international conference to discuss grievances, and included the Arab and Muslim nations. What if we had really tried to understand the motives of those who destroyed the Twin Towers? What if we had not responded with war, but with peace?; What do you honestly think Jesus would have done if the choice were his?

I know my words were not in the same league with Rev Wright; but I also see and recognize the anger and resentment of the generation of blacks in America who grew up with you and me--those of us born in the 1940,s). In Meridian Texas (where I grew up), we had no blacks in our school; and I never thought a thing about it. But you can bet the black kids who were being bussed 76 miles every day to Gatesville and back--they thought about it.

I remember being in Huntsville, Texas on my honeymoon (all we could afford) in 1964. I went into a local drugstore and had the clerk tell me I had missed something special this morning. "We had a dragging, right down main street". Maybe you and I have forgotten about the draggings of the past (can we say "Jasper"?) but I am sure that the blacks of our generation still think about it.

I remember the colored only and white only water fountains, as do you. And so do the sixty-year old blacks who grew up with our generation. How would you feel, if you had been pushed to the back of the bus, denied a drink of water, or the use of a restroom by a white supremecy philosophy.

And now, Barack wants us to talk about it. And we can only yell back words of hatred to all the Reverend Wrights of the world. What a turn it would be to have Bishop Tutu, the spiritual giant of South Africa, come to the United States and lead us in a movement of reconciliation. {Tutu led a nation-wide reconciliation movement in South Africa.]

I hope and expect our nation to take this moment and move a significant notch or two toward a new acceptance. I don't expect miracles, just progress. And if it happens, Barack will have played a major role in this generation.

As Governor Richardson just said, "You (Barack) are a once-in-a-lifetime leader."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack Obama: Racism March 18, 2008

Barack Obama
March 18, 2008

[For a short period of time you can view the entire speech at:

Philadelphia. “In order to establish a more perfect union, …”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America's improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation's original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution –
a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part - through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk - to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign - to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together - unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction - towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either "too black" or "not black enough." We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

"People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend's voice up into the rafters….And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones. Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild."

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, "The past isn't dead and buried. In fact, it isn't even past." We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven't fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today's black and white students.

Legalized discrimination - where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments - meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today's urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one's family, contributed to the erosion of black families - a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods - parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement - all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What's remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn't make it - those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations - those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American - and yes, conservative - notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright's sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It's that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country - a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen - is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope - the audacity to hope - for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle - as we did in the OJ trial - or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina - or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I'd like to leave you with today - a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King's birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that's when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother's problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn't. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they're supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who's been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he's there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, "I am here because of Ashley."

"I'm here because of Ashley." By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Don't tell momma, I voted for Obama!


"I believe America stands on the edge of a great gulf of opportunity. We have a chance to throw off the stifling control of our nation by the powerful and claim it once again for the common man."

Thus spoke the old preacher after listening to a speech by Barack Obama.

"I firmly believe that John McCain is either under the control of the military-industrial complex, or he and his pro-war cronies drive that mechanism. And, I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton, though very well intentioned (for the most part) is beholden to the very power centers she claims she wants to reform."

"One man stands apart from those overwhelming forces," continued the old preacher. "One man has captured the imagination of the informed middle-class. One man has been gifted by God with the vision, the sinewy strength and the discerning wisdom to lead us across, or through, that gulf--which so long has boundaried us on the shore.

"I have waited for this man for nigh fifty years. I appeal to you, America, do not let this moment slip away because you did nothing to support this man.

"Vote, yes; but more than that, find a way to work for his success. Go to work for America's future. Go to work for Barack Obama.

A criticism levelled by Hillary Clinton toward Barack Obama is that he is full of promises, but short on solutions. Clinton says Obama has no specifics, no plans for what he wants to accomplish or details on how to carry them out.

You are invited to read Obama's specific, detailed proposals on: civil rights, disabilities, the economy, education, energy, environment, faith, family, fiscal policy, foreign policy, healthcare, homeland security, immigration, Iraq, rural, service to country, seniors, Social Security, technology, veterans, and others.
Go to Obama's website and click on Issues.

It is necessary to spell out one's intentions, however this election is less about specific intentions and more about the overall thrust and style of leadership. This election is about the middle class and how the major corporations can be helped (guided by a new tax policy) to unleash their ability to revive the American enonomy. This election is about a turnover in the administrative, bureaucratic mind set which has been channeled by the Bushes and Clintons for the last twenty years.

The tens of thousands who rally to hear Obama speak, do not come to be informed about health care or social security. They come to be inspired with the hope that it is not too late. Not too late for America to turn the page from the economic plunder of the middle class to a balanced healthy economic structure. They come to hear the promise that their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters might be brought home from the Middle East. They come to gain confidence for the fight, to be filled with hope, to be united with the chant, "Yes, We Can".

Listen to an Ohio radio ad just put on the air today (2-14).
Scroll down and double click on the arrow below "Listen here"
Click here

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Caroline Kennedy Endorses Barack Obama

This editorial endorsement by Caroline Kennedy (daughter of President John F. Kennedy), appeared first in the New York Times on January 27.

OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other
candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country — just as we did in 1960.

Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidates’ goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.

Senator Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service, not just in the United States Senate but in Illinois, where he helped turn around struggling communities, taught constitutional law and was an elected state official for eight years. And Senator Obama is showing the same qualities today. He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people — known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics — to become engaged in the political process.

I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Caroline Kennedy is the author of “A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love.”

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Diminishing Time

Not shooting for morbidity here, just realizing that whether the year is 2008 or 2007 or 2009 does not matter much anymore.

Retirement slowly ebbs onto my beach and with it an erosion of many formerly valued goals. Goals which have always been "out there" somewhere, perched on a chronological shelf, tantalizing, offering an ineffable and uncapturable joie d'accompli.

Retirement robs so many missions of their excitement and meaning. Meanings that were grounded in numerics, or visions of unrealized hopes or graspings. Meanings which have slowly dribbled from the now-empty pail--which is finally set down with no regret.

Now, the peeling away of seconds, hours and days reveals narcissistic extensions, cloaked in an assumed, indefinable holiness, which millinnea of efforts have failed to touch. Not even the hem of a holy robe.

And at last, alas, it does not matter.

What matters is the perfection of . . . obsessions (true for my tribe, if not for yours). Getting my matters ordered. Chipping off those barnacles which seemed so intriguing along the way. Flushing shames and guilts. All to be given away, placed in the recycle bin, or set on a small shelf, handy for the final journey.

What matters is learning to speak a simpler, common guileless language understood by all.

What matters is finding a way to mesh with my spouse in such a way that the time together is synchronized. So that goodness erases or eases prevous hurt. Smoothness of movement.

What matters is amplifying the joy and softening the pain for my children, and theirs.

What matters is dropping the cloak of chronos (quantitative time) for the qualitative time, sometimes called kairos.

Time waits for no man, they say. But it can slow down, before it stops.