Faith, Living in This World, Politics

Over Coffee

I'll confess it. There are a lot of days I have my coffee with Morning Joe (brewed by Star$$$$$).

Some of those days I have to change the channel due to the palpable rise in my blood pressure. This was one of them. On the subject of President Carter's remarks on racism being directed at President Obama, the Morning Joe regulars seem unwilling to accept the notion that racism plays any part in objections to and demonstrations against the current administration.

I think it's very easy for comfortable white people to deny racism. I say this as a person who grew up in the virtual apartheid of otherwise genteel Jane Austen's Village. I say this as a person who realizes that she often *doesn't* realize her own internalized racism.

This morning I would probably be happy to smack the smug faces of the Morning Joe crew. They're describing the vitriolic attacks against President Bush. Why, someone once called him a monkey, too, says Maria Bartiromo. Is it possible someone needs to explain to her the difference between an insult and an epithet?

They're talking about poll numbers and saying "It can't just be racism. He used to have 70% approval and now it's only 50%." But if racism drives the debate through its ugliness, does it matter what the percentage of racists is?

They're asking, if we were so enlightened in November, how is it that we're so backwards now? It seems to me we were always both, in some measure.

They're saying President Carter shouldn't have said it, that he's making trouble for the ever-so-careful Obama administration in its insistence that race has nothing to do with these things. I like their post-racial attitude. But we live in a world that is both modern and post-modern (right, church people?), where some people continue to fight battles that other people want to insist are no longer relevant. Maybe both things are true. And among the "moderns," there is still racism. I'll admit it, even if Joe and Mika would rather I didn't.

A-Croc-Alypse Now, Health Care, Politics

Can it be done?

Proper comportment in the Capitol building happens to have been part of my upbringing. I was five years old when my daddy won election to the U.S. Senate. During his one term as a Democratic Senator, he voted his conscience, often to his detriment politically. He did not speak rudely to his opponents because his mama, Miss Emily, raised him not only to be a gentleman but to do unto others as he would have them do unto him. 

I'm not sure what the Mom of Congress will
have to say about it, but where I grew up, we knew better than to call
the President a liar in the middle of a joint session of Congress, whether we agreed with him or not.

Reading the comments of my friends on Twitter after the speech I saw some who were pleased and others who wondered why the President continued to encourage the Republicans to work with the Democrats on health care reform. They remain convinced that the President will never win over the other side.

But I am encouraged that he still wants to try. I want to think there is hope, and it seems to me that such a public statement cannot be refuted.

"Is bipartisanship feasible," asks my TV boyfriend Keith Olbermann, "when there's this kind of almost blind reaction from the other side?"

The President's advisor Valerie Jarrett says, "Yes."

What do you think? Can it be done?

Funerals, Grief, Politics


He glamoured me, a little girl quiet as she could be at the top of the stairs, waiting for the moment to creep down and peek around the corner to see him. Maybe he wasn't the best Kennedy, but he was the one at my house that night, the one we had left, come to ask my daddy to vote for him in the race to be Majority Whip in the U.S. Senate.

He couldn't have been larger in my imagination. I didn't know anything about him except that he was one of them, the uncle of the children on the Christmas card we got from Hickory Hill, the ones pictured hanging onto a funny car, the children whose daddy had been killed that summer. I watched the film clips of their family over and over again. My mother and daddy rode on the train the day of their daddy's funeral.

But in the moment of being glamoured, I did not think of all those children whose names I had memorized from the Christmas card. 

Some people just shine.

As a little Washingtonian girl, I could not help hearing about Chappaquiddick, and over the years I read the stories about his life, so unseemly. The world began to revel in dirty stories about the famous. The world changed, old ways blown apart.

Fifteen years after the Senator came to my house, he was still in the Senate, while my daddy had moved on to other things. I went to a job in the Senate Library, a little hole in the wall of the Capitol, just down the hall from Senator Kennedy's hideaway office. We knew when he had someone to lunch, and every now and then you might be in the hall when his door opened.

In a world where everyone owns every connection possible, I could not speak to him. The glamour overwhelmed me.

Of course it didn't protect him from suffering. He did things, not nice things, perhaps in an attempt to ease his pain. Who wouldn't have things to forget after so much loss and
trauma? How many people survive such things unmarked?

I don't know when I stopped thinking of the Senator as a tabloid headline and started regarding him as a leader who cared about people and did good things for them. Fifteen years ago? Ten? Glamour, a charm that is nearly magical, covers sins and mistakes, and
for Senator Kennedy, it surely did. Last year he loaned his glamour to another Senator, hopeful that the country could move into a new era.

He knew a person could.

Living in This World, Politics

Lift Every Voice

(For the church's weekly email)

You may have heard me speak about growing up in Portsmouth, Virginia, and the brick sidewalks and old houses and the church of my childhood. But in my first year of seminary, I met a classmate who also grew up in Portsmouth and realized I quite literally did not know the half of my hometown.

While I skipped around Olde Towne, Gordon grew up in the neighborhood of Effingham Street, where our maid, Catherine, lived. His dad pastored a church, and when he told me the name, I realized there must be a whole world of churches in Portsmouth that I never knew. In a class called "Hymns and Worship," we compared our backgrounds while singing music from lots of traditions and working on a group project together.

One day the instructor had us turn to a hymn I did not know, and as was our practice, we stood to sing it together. Gordon said to me, "This is the Black National Anthem." The beautiful words written by the poet, James Weldon Johnson–how did I not know them? I lived, still, in a cocoon of comfort and privilege, without realizing.

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

As a nation, we begin a new day today, one in which limited images for who can be President or who might live in the White House will be changed forever. I hope I will continue to have my eyes opened about the differences between my reality and the way other people live, the challenges they may face and the commonalities we share. As the President-Elect said in his speech last night, "Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared."

And however we feel about specific issues, may we have the grace and the graciousness to support our new President and his family with our prayers.

Lift every voice!

Obama family


Live-Blogging the Election

We're live-blogging the Election, complete with Chuck Todd's Widget!!! Look below the map for bloggage.

1:07 p.m. My Internet works again, praise the Lord! I just received a text from #1 Son, as follows:
"Just saw Chuck Todd at Rockefeller Plaza."
My reply:
It's official. I am a fangirl of the World's Master Map Geek.


Chuck Todd
1:14 p.m. For those who are uninformed, Chuck Todd is the Political Director for NBC and a sometime host on MSNBC. Pure Luck need not worry that I have lost my head over Chuck Todd's reddish goatee. It's all about his steel-trap mind. And the way he moves the states around on his nifty toss-up tool.

Also, if he has a bias, I can't figure it out, and I like that.


1:38 p.m. My neighbor invited me to an Election Night party, but I promise I won't disappear from blogging for the whole evening. Meanwhile, I'm making brownies to take with me, in part because Phantom Scribbler recommended making brownies as a hedge against Election Anxiety Disorder. She has an awesome post up today; if you don't know her blog, I hope you'll go read it.


2:17 p.m. Brownies are out of the oven and cooling. I'm wearing my Obama necklace, a gift from the multi-talented St. Casserole. Soon I will leave to pick up Light Princess and head to the polls! More later.


Election Day 017 3:02 p.m. I voted!!! The polling booths at our precinct were full, but the line was fairly short. Light Princess squeezed into the booth with me and straightened me out on the referendum language when I had a sudden moment of confusion about sin taxes and casinos (two separate items, as it happens).

I grew up in a very segregated place and time. Casting a vote for an African-American, with cautious optimism that many others have done and will do the same today, feels historic to me. I left Temple Beth El somewhat giddy.

LP has a voice lesson, so I'll be back later.


Obama Domino4:52 p.m. From the comments: For Mags, here is a close-up of the Obama Domino
Necklace. Light Princess has the side-to-side pin version, which has
been a hit at school.We're back from the voice lesson. I filled my gas tank for under $40 for the first time in memory, amazing. And I stopped at Starbucks for my free cup of coffee (decaf at this hour).

Rehema Ellis on MSNBC tells me that in Chesapeake, VA, some voters waited 6 HOURS to vote. Wow. I remember waiting close to an hour to vote on the anti-discrimination issue a few years ago, but that's the longest I've seen it here. We use the optical scan machines that had trouble dealing with damp/wet ballots in Virginia today.

What kind of machine/ballot did you use?

I could see Pure Luck's name on the list above mine with the notation "AV" for Absentee Voter. I felt relieved to know his vote counted. Wish I could have asked them to look up the boys!


4:58 p.m. Lauralew mentioned working as a poll-sitter. My precinct has changed polling places a number of times over the years, but I've never seen an election day that didn't include Now-Retired Reference Librarian. When I voted at 2:45 p.m., the other poll workers looked a bit frayed, though they were pleasant. N-RRL looked fresh and excited! It must be a big day for her.


5:16 p.m. A precious Obama volunteer named Ashley just came to our door to Get Out the Vote and told me that MSNBC is calling our Vacationland Senate Race a "flip flop," by which I feel sure she meant a toss-up. I am seeking independent verification. From Chuck Todd, of course.


6:22 p.m. If you are one of the people wondering what Barack Obama meant when he said his faith in America had been vindicated, you might want to read this column in the Washington Post by Eugene Robinson. Just because Obama did not focus on race in the campaign doesn't mean this day doesn't have significant impact on our understanding of how people of all races interact in our country.


6:47 p.m. This waiting? Could make a person crazy…


7:02 p.m. Vermont blue, Kentucky red. These are not surprises. I want to know about my home state of Virginia. Come on, results!

What state are you most eager to hear about tonight?


7:22 p.m. Confidentially…

I always expect Virginia to break my heart, because that's what it did on Election Night in 1972. My father had served one term in the U.S. Senate, and I felt certain he would be re-elected. Who wouldn't want my daddy to be Senator?

My brother and I stayed home with our Grandma Spong, watching the results on a little black and white TV, while our parents went to Daddy's election night party at the Governor Dinwiddie Hotel. Maybe he knew how it would turn out, but if so, no one thought of telling the 11-year-old girl and the 9-year-old boy waiting so anxiously.

My grandmother knew, I feel sure of it. She wouldn't watch the TV with us, but stayed on a little chaise lounge downstairs, in a darkened hallway, clutching her transistor radio in its red leatherette case, legs covered with a crocheted afghan you might find at an old-fashioned church fair.

I could not understand the numbers. It was a three way race, but I hadn't heard much about the Independent candidate. I understood Republicans. One had rejected my cheerful campaigning overtures at the polls just that morning. Somehow I concluded that the votes of the people who voted for the Independent really belonged to my father.

I remember bargaining with the numbers, saying it wasn't over until all the votes were counted.

My father conceded fairly early; it must have been early. I remember coming down the stairs and seeing my parents standing just inside the front door, still in their coats on that chilly evening. My father looked resigned, my mother manically cheerful, probably hoping a smile on her face would reassure us that somehow we would all get through this.

I hated her for looking so pleased.

(I got over it, eventually.)


8:10 p.m. Woohoo! Pennsylvania!! Not to mention Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, DC, Maryland and Illinois.

We're going across the street to visit with our new church-planting, blogging Methodist neighbors. Back in a little while.


9:30 p.m. We're back! While we were across the street, lots happened. It was good to be with some like-minded friends.

Can anyone explain why MSNBC would have T.D. Jakes as a commentator? And have you watched public TV at all? Is Judy Woodward okay?


Berner wag
9:32 p.m. Molly says, "Wroo wroo! I knew it would all work out! Bernese Mountain Dogs for Obama!!"


9:56 p.m. In case you didn't know, there's an election special on Comedy Central at 10 p.m. Eastern. *I'll* be watching.

Grant Park–will that be an amazing scene?

Texas, by the way, went to McCain. It's 200-124 in Electoral Votes at the moment. Keith Olbermann did some pretty simple math a little while ago to explain the obvious path, or one clear path, to 270, but I think we're going further, friends. I think we're going further!


9:58 p.m. Okay, CNN and CBS give Obama 199 instead. I have no idea how. Trying to figure out which state they haven't declared and which they have…


10:11 p.m. Rev. Dr. Mom comments: "NPR
is saying that if things hold Obama will be the first Democrat since
Jimmy Carter to take more than 50% (I think of the electoral votes but
I'm not sure)."

Actually, I believe that refers to the popular vote. Carter won 50.1% of the popular vote. Clinton was in three way races (both times? having a lapse of history here).


10:25 p.m. Colbert: "Anything could happen. Meat could grown on trees."


10:49 p.m. Coolest thing of the evening thus far: appears with Anderson Cooper via hologram. What the heck?


11:00 p.m. Here we go…


Listen to that crowd in Grant Park!!!

So beautiful. I'm crying.


11:18 p.m. Text from #1 Son: "This is history. Oh my God."


11:30 p.m. I wish McCain's supporters (an invited crowd, right?) could be as gracious as he is.


11:42 p.m. I think what #1 Son said bears repeating: "This is history." Will we remember where we were and who we were with, as we do when tragedy strikes? I hope I hold the thoughts of this evening, the anxiety and the anticipation and the relief and the joy, in my heart and mind for the rest of my life.


11:56 p.m. From the comments, The Vicar of Hogsmeade writes:

"I love the symmetry that the same state that gave us Republican Abraham Lincoln is the state that gave us Democrat Barack Obama."


12:11 a.m. "Our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared." Barack Obama


Thanks for sharing all this with me, friends. It was a great speech and a great night.


The Wright Stuff

In a case of pretty hilarious media buying, a Republican group has been running a Jeremiah Wright-related anti-Obama ad over and over again on MSNBC.

I'm not sure they understand who watches MSNBC. Morning Joe aficionados, lovers of Keith Olbermann, straight women tempted to call Rachel Maddow their TV girlfriend, or just people who wonder when the top of Chris Matthews' head will come off, we are thinking people. We've heard the Wright story before. We have worked through it or set it aside. But since the question has been raised, I'll be happy to talk about it one more time.

Freedom of the pulpit–it's a beloved yet aggravating feature of the Congregational tradition, the polity agreed to in the United Church of Christ. Jeremiah Wright and I hold our standing in the same denomination, and we both preach from an understanding that we have the freedom of the pulpit. We agree when we covenant with a church that there may be times we are called to be prophetic, and we agree it may not always be comfortable, or at least that's how I understand it.

Reverend Wright, unlike most of us, preached in a church that welcomed his prophetic message.

My opportunities have been more limited, but I spoke out against the war as we began ramping up toward it in 2003, and I spoke against a referendum intended to overturn anti-discrimination laws in Maine. Both times I made some people unhappy. Lord knows, the times I referred to God as "she" early on in my ministry led to the departure of a power group in that small church.

I don't know if I would do again now what I did then. In the end the church blossomed after those people left. But we didn't know at the time what the upset would mean.

Reverend Wright preached the sermon excerpted in the ad in 2003, in response to the war. As a pastor of many years standing in a church accustomed to prophetic preaching, any edge he might push against by its very nature extended further than the boundaries I, as a preacher of less than a year, felt. Impassioned, Reverend Wright made his point with words chosen to shock.

And they did.

I don't know if I would ever curse in the pulpit. I know I've stressed the danger of worshiping country instead of God, his point in that sermon. I agree with some of his conclusions about what our government has done in the past, yet I earnestly hope he is wrong about others.

The thing I find sorriest about all this is that the Obama family left their church over it, felt they needed to for political reasons. I hope when they settle in Washington (when the Great Pumpkin comes, right?) they will find a place to worship with their family, and more than that, an extended church family and Sunday School for the girls.

Someone asked me, "How could he go for so many years to a church where the pastor preached hate?" I don't believe that's what happened at all. I believe we've seen a slice of prophetic preaching that white Americans rarely experience. We want our Christianity neat and sweet and tied in a bow. We want our Sunday morning to be vanilla as possible. We want our pastors tame and unobjectionable.

Was Jesus tame? Did he support the imperial regime? Did he parade around and salute a flag?

We confuse our faith and our national pride. It may be true that Wright said things we wouldn't hope to hear at our own churches or even say ourselves if we are preachers. Even Obama may feel his pastor and mentor went too far, may feel uncomfortable with the intensity of this sermon or others. Frankly, he may have been sitting in church thinking his own thoughts while Wright preached, because even that kind of preaching must grow familiar over the decades. I'm disturbed by the idea that anyone sitting in the pews while I preach would be held responsible for what I say, and I'm disturbed by the idea raised over and over again in this campaign that we ought to have a litmus test for anyone with whom we so much as have a conversation, much less a meal.

What a limited way to exist.

I'd much rather be shocked and provoked and have a chance to draw my own conclusions. Living a life of faith includes living with doubts and seeking answers to questions and even disagreeing with other faithful people we may meet along the way.

Finally, if you're reading this and wondering about whether Reverend Wright managed to influence Barack Obama toward hate, I hope you'll listen to his campaign-closing speech and hear the gentle strength in his voice. He may have learned a few things about public speaking by listening to preachers, but the message is his own, one of bringing together diverse groups and forces to make this country a better place. Yes, we can!