Thursday, March 20, 2008

Obama's speech.

Aside from the fact that this is Holy Week, two important things happened this week (three is you're a New Yorker).  That third thing is the swearing in of David Paterson as our new governor, the first black governor of this state and the first legally blind governor in the country.  

I had an opportunity to meet Governor Paterson last January when we both took part in the official observance of Franklin D. Roosevelt's birthday at the presidential library.  He spoke about being a disabled person in public service - much like FDR.  Most of what I remember is that he was very pleasant, spoke well, and was not wearing a coat in those freezing temperatures.  I kept thinking, "The man's Lieutenant Governor, for goodness sake.  Get him a coat!"

The other big thing this week is the fifth "anniversary" of the Iraq War.  Ignoring protests around the country, President Bush said the world is a better and safer place for it.  His supporters condemn those of us opposed to it as defeatists who want to "surrender".  They are wrong.  We lost the minute we invaded a country that had not so much as threatened us.  We could not win even if we had any concept of what a victory might look like -- which we don't.  We cannot win, because we were wrong to start, and we have made a mess of their country and ours.

But what I want to look at most -- because it may be the most important event of this week -- is Barack Obama's speech on race.  

I did not hear the speech, but I read the transcript.  And then I read numerous commentaries on it.  

One of the biggest criticisms of the speech was that Mr. Obama did not renounce Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor who has made incendiary remarks about race in this country.  

I say, good for Mr. Obama.  You do not shut out a person because he says things we don't like.  Christ wouldn't.  But more than that, what we know of Rev. Wright is contained in CNN and Fox sound bites.  Mr. Obama knows him much more intimately -- and he has said over and over that there is much more to the man than what we have seen.

What's more, Martin Marty, one of America's prominent theologians, knows Rev. White and Trinity Church quite well, and he says what we see is not what you get.  Marty, a white, noted that Rev. White and Trinity have done great things for the poor and race relations in their community.  Those who say the church is only about racism most likely have never been there or met the man.  I haven't either, but if there's anyone I trust, it's Martin Marty.

Besides, I'm a pastor.  I say things some of my parishioners hate (like, "This war is immoral").   But I've buried their loved ones, baptized their children, officiated at the marriages of their sons and daughters, listened to their troubles in my office.  We are more than our differences, even when those differences are extreme.  It would be easy for Mr. Obama to cut all ties with Rev. Wright -- and cowardly.  Much more difficult and brave to say, "We are not in agreement with these views, but we share more than just that."  It seems to me, Mr. Obama has a healthy understanding of being a Brother in Christ.

As to the speech itself, I believe it will be taught in schools for years to come because it does something that few speeches (and certainly not campaign speeches) have done in recent decades.  It elevates us.  Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" said he spoke to us like adults.  Amen.

Obama's speech acknowledged the anger on the side of blacks as well as whites.  He acknowledged that there was hurt on many sides and reminded us that we are more than merely those hurts.  We are, as he said, more than the sum of our parts.  

His was a visionary speech, not naive but hopeful.  And as we walk through the dark days of Holy Week -- Good Friday is tomorrow, after all -- hope is what sustains us.