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going to new orleans

going to new orleans

Even three years after hurricane Katrina, there is much rebuilding work yet to do in New Orleans as this video from the Center for American Progress indicates …

Tomorrow I leave with a mission team of twelve adults from our congregation for a week’s work in New Orleans. We will be one team among many taking part in the ongoing efforts of the United Church of Christ to help the people of New Orleans rebuild their homes and their lives. Ours is a good team — six men and six women — and we go with strong support from our church family. I have high expectations, both for the blessings we will bestow by our work and the blessings we will receive from the people we meet.

We will be hosted by St. Matthew/Central United Church of Christ. We will worship with them on Sunday, make their church our home for six days, share a red beans and rice supper with them on Wednesday evening … and see their city up close, both through their eyes and our own. So we go not only to help, but also to be helped, to be helped to see our neighbors as Jesus does.

Our 400 man-hours of work will make only a small contribution to the larger needs of the city, but, we pray, a contribution that will make a great difference for the two families in whose homes we will work. It is good to be able to do something … to take our faith beyond mere words, to live our compassion beyond mere feelings.

more on jeremiah wright

more on jeremiah wright

Here are some of my reflections on the widespread condemnation of Rev. Jeremiah Wright based on video clips of a few of his sermons. I will share this with our church this Sunday as a part of my sermon based on Jesus’ parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:28-32) …

Actions speak louder than words. It is so important for us to remember that, because we live in a time when our words may be used as weapons against us, when just a few words may be used to judge or dismiss or denounce an entire career, an entire life.

That is just what has happened to one of my colleagues, a member of our church, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, recently retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

You have undoubtedly heard the news stories or seen some of the video clips: Jeremiah Wright standing in the pulpit saying, “God damn America!” For those few words and for a few others that have been excerpted from thirty-six years worth of sermons, he has been judged and vilified and denounced as unpatriotic and a hatemonger.

It is surely unfair to lift a single phrase or a few short paragraphs from their broader context. If you were to listen to the entire sermon from which those words came, you might better appreciate what Rev. Wright was trying to say about our country and what he was not trying to say. You might not, but you might.

And it is surely uncharitable to ignore the cultural context from which and to which he speaks, a context very different from our own. We don’t know what life looks like from the underside. We who are white cannot begin to understand what it is like to be a person of color in America. And the style and substance and heritage of African-American worship is probably like a foreign language to most of us.

But even taking his words at face value, out of context, we have to remember: actions speak louder.

The man we deem unpatriotic heard John Kennedy’s famous words in 1961: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” … and he did. He gave up his student deferment and joined the Marines where he completed a two-year tour of duty. At the end of the two years, he became a Navy corpsman, serving his country another four years, while earning numerous distinctions and commendations.

Jeremiah Wright then completed his college and seminary education and went on to assume pastoral duties at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a church then of eighty-seven members.

That same church now has over 8,000 members. It is a most wealthy and most successful church, but has intentionally remained rooted in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. Its website lists fifty-nine different ministries of the church, including support for cancer survivors, career development, counseling ministries, dance ministries, ministry for victims of domestic violence, drug and alcohol recovery programs, grief ministry, girl scouts, work with individuals and familes impacted by HIV/AIDS, support for married couples seeking to build and maintain Christian homes, tutoring programs in math and reading, a elementary school mentoring program, a prison ministry, and forty-six more ministries!

Actions speak louder!

The congregation holds education in high esteem and has sixty members currently enrolled in seminaries, earning masters degrees and preparing for Christian ministry, while their tuition costs are fully paid by the church.

John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ says of the church:

While the worship is always inspiring, the welcome extravagant, and the preaching biblically based and prophetically challenging, I have been especially moved by the way Trinity ministers to its young people, nurturing them to claim their Christian faith, to celebrate their African-American heritage, and to pursue higher education to prepare themselves for leadership in church and society.

I was able to witness that for myself three years ago when I attended the Festival of Homiletics held that year in Chicago. On Thursday night, Rev. Wright preached to the nine hundred ministers attending the conference, while a choir of probably sixty to eighty voices provided worship music and two dozen young dancers added a stunning visual layer to our worship.

It was for me a most moving worship experience. The passion and energy and joy and hope and faith of these young folk were palpably visible and highly contagious! I thought to myself: here is a ministry that really does reach young people and give them something to believe in and live for and take pride in, a ministry that crowns them with dignity and honor and purpose.

Actions speak louder!

Does this sound like a church, a pastor, that foments hate? Does this sound like a church, a pastor, that despises America? This is a church, this is a pastor, that are deeply invested in ministries of compassion and hope, that are deeply committed to transforming neighborhood and nation and world through the gospel of Jesus Christ. As political commentator David Gergen said of Jeremiah Wright:

It’s not a lack of patriotism. It is a different form of patriotism. Actually, Reverend Wright may love this country more than any of us but feel we’ve fallen short of what we preach and believe.

on earth as it is in heaven

on earth as it is in heaven

N. T. Wright is right! The separation of religion from “real life,” the separation of faith from politics, from the push and pull of the everyday decisions that impact the lives of persons and communities of persons, is artificial and contrary to the “way” to which Jesus calls his followers. Faith is not just about “then,” but about now, not just about “there,” but about here. Hope is not just about “waiting it out” until we go to “a better place,” but about believing God can and will make this world a better place, with us and through us. The following quote comes from an interview Wright did last year with Christianity Today. You can read the transcript of the entire interview here.
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For generations the church has been polarized between those who see the main task being the saving of souls for heaven and the nurturing of those souls through the valley of this dark world, on the one hand, and on the other hand those who see the task of improving the lot of human beings and the world, rescuing the poor from their misery.

The longer that I’ve gone on as a New Testament scholar and wrestled with what the early Christians were actually talking about, the more it’s been borne in on me that that distinction is one that we modern Westerners bring to the text rather than finding in the text. Because the great emphasis in the New Testament is that the gospel is not how to escape the world; the gospel is that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Lord of the world. And that his death and Resurrection transform the world, and that transformation can happen to you. You, in turn, can be part of the transforming work. That draws together what we traditionally called evangelism, bringing people to the point where they come to know God in Christ for themselves, with working for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. That has always been at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, and how we’ve managed for years to say the Lord’s Prayer without realizing that Jesus really meant it is very curious. Our Western culture since the 18th century has made a virtue of separating out religion from real life, or faith from politics. When I lecture about this, people will pop up and say, “Surely Jesus said my kingdom is not of this world.” And the answer is no, what Jesus said in John 18 is, “My kingdom is not from this world.” That’s ek tou kosmoutoutou. It’s quite clear in the text that Jesus’ kingdom doesn’t start with this world. It isn’t a worldly kingdom, but it is for this world. It’s from somewhere else, but it’s for this world.

obama on his pastor

obama on his pastor

I have been thinking about how best to respond to folks who ask about the flap over Barack Obama and his former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Obama himself has provided the best response in a speech delivered today in Philadelphia. It is a remarkable speech, putting our nation’s “original sin” of racism in broad historical context, and challenging us as Americans — of all races and political persuasions — to find a way to move beyond the divisiveness that has so dominated and damaged both our political discourse and our common destiny. Here is the text of the speech in full. It is worth reading … in full.

“We the people, in order to form 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.

on the subject of the war in iraq

on the subject of the war in iraq

I reprint for you here an excerpt of the remarks Jim Wallis will make at a Christian peace rally to be held this evening in Washingon, D.C. His words are powerful and passionate and perceptive and faithful to the gospel of Jesus. As Christians, we must discern and root out the fear in our own hearts and minds, let it be rooted out as the love of God fills us more and more. As Christians, we take no sides, nor enlist God to defend “our side,” but do our best to put ourselves on God’s side …

For all of us here tonight, the war in Iraq has become a matter of faith.

By our deepest convictions about Christian standards and teaching, the war in Iraq was not just a well-intended mistake or only mismanaged. THIS WAR, FROM A CHRISTIAN POINT OF VIEW, IS MORALLY WRONG – AND WAS FROM THE VERY START. It cannot be justified with either the teachings of Jesus Christ OR the criteria of St. Augustine’s just war. It simply doesn’t pass either test and did not from its beginning. This war is not just an offense against the young Americans who have made the ultimate sacrifice or to the Iraqis who have paid such a horrible price. This war is not only an offense to the poor at home and around the world who have paid the price of misdirected resources and priorities. This war is also an offense against God.

And so we are here tonight, very simply and resolutely, to begin to end the war in Iraq. But not by anger, though we are angry, and not just by politics, though it will take political courage. But by faith, because we are people of faith.

This service and procession are not just another political protest but an act of faith, an act of prayer, an act of nonviolent witness. Politics led us into this war, and politics is unlikely to save us by itself. The American people have voted against the war in Iraq but political proposals keep failing, one after the other.

I believe it will take faith to end this war. It will take prayer to end it. It will take a mobilization of the faith community to end it – to change the political climate, to change the wind. It will take a revolution of love to end it. Because this endless war in Iraq is based ultimately on fear, and Jesus says that only perfect love will cast out fear.

So tonight we say, as people of faith, as followers of Jesus, that the deep fear that has paralyzed the conscience of this nation, that has caused us to become the kind of people that we are not called to be, that has allowed us to tolerate violations of our most basic values, and that has perpetuated an endless cycle of violence and counter-violence must be exorcised as the demon it is – THIS FEAR MUST BE CAST OUT!

And to cast out that fear, we must act in faith, in prayer, in love, and in hope – so we might help to heal the fears that keep this war going. Tonight we march not in belligerence, or to attack individuals – even those leaders directly responsible for the war – or to use human suffering for partisan political purposes. Rather, we process to the White House tonight as an act of faith, believing that only faith can save us now.

the great moral issues of our time

the great moral issues of our time

I quote below a portion of Jim Wallis’ response to James Dobson’s characterization of the “great moral issues of our time.” Dobson coauthored a letter to the National Association of Evangelicals objecting to their inclusion of climate change among the issues they have chosen to address as leaders of the evangelical Christian movement.

Dobson named the”great moral issues” as “the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage and the teaching of sexual abstinence and morality to our children.” … I believe the sanctity of life, the integrity and health of marriages, and the teaching of sexual morality to our children are, indeed, among the great moral issues of our time. But I believe they are not the only great moral issues. As many [other Christians] have been saying … the enormous challenges of global poverty, climate change, pandemics that wipe out generations and continents, the trafficking of human beings made in God’s image, and the grotesque violations of human rights, even to the point of genocide, are also among the great moral issues that people of faith must be – and already are – addressing.

What would you identify as the great moral issues of our time, the issues with which we, as people of faith, should be grappling?

jesus’ bones?

jesus’ bones?

Read a well-spoken response by a Christian historian to the “sensational discovery” by James Cameron (of “Titanic” fame) of Jesus’ bones: A Boring Box of Bones. Here’s an excerpt …

We are being asked to believe that a Christian movement – shaped from beginning to end by the claim of both resurrection and ascension (no bones, therefore no ossuary) – was started by a family dynasty of the same faith (Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Judah), and carried on the secret of actually having the bones of Jesus buried in an extravagant and public place while they encouraged early Christians to go to death because of their faith in Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

There are several ways a believer might respond to Cameron’s claims.

  1. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and there is no evidence that could ever be produced to convince me otherwise … The weakness of this kind of response is its “head-in-the-sand” attitude and its abandonment of any reasonable basis for dialogue with its critics. Its strength is the confidence it reveals in the authenticity of a believer’s experience of the real presence of the living Christ through faith: “I know what I know, I know whom I know, and I put my unwavering trust in him.”
  2. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and because I do, I am confident that any evidence offered to the contrary can be shown to be faulty … This is the point of view of the article cited above, and mine.
  3. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but there is nothing to suggest it must be understood as a physical resurrection, a resurrection of Jesus’ body … This is a common view among Christians and has the advantage of making any claims like Cameron’s irrelevant. In my view, however, this response has much in common with the first! We secure our faith by taking any possible avenue of dispute off the table. It is a belief more in resurrection faith than in resurrection.
  4. Oh, no! James Cameron has found Jesus’ bones. Jesus is dead. My faith is meaningless … Sad, very sad …

The bodily resurrection of Jesus is important because it reveals a God who has a healing agenda for this world, a God who cares about bodies as well as souls, a God who can and will bring shalom to this broken world. As a believer in the resurrection, I feel called to do the same, to do God’s will by caring about bodies as well as souls, by doing my best not just to prepare for some afterlife, but to make this life as God intends it to be, because it is this life, this life of body and spirit inseparably intertwined that God cares about and that God brings to fullness in Jesus.

obama: the role of faith in political conversation

obama: the role of faith in political conversation

Tolerance and passionate faith are not mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. Passionate believers, genuine believers, are more tolerant people, because they understand how tolerant God has been with them!

It is refreshing to hear Sen. Barack Obama, a Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ, speak about his faith and its role in framing his political agenda … and his response to folks who may not share his political agenda. He is not apologetic about his faith. Neither is he dismissive of other people’s faith.

He is right. We need a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this nation, about the role of faith in shaping our values … not slogans and sound bites and accusations, but a conversation, a conversation that includes both honest sharing and respectful listening.

Read this excerpt from his keynote address at Pentecost 2006, sponsored by Call to Renewal, a movement affiliated with the Sojourners Community in Washington D.C. Or read the entire address: Keynote Address: Sen. Barack Obama.

A few days after I won the Democratic nomination in my U.S. Senate race, I received an email from a doctor at the University of Chicago Medical School that said the following:

“Congratulations on your overwhelming and inspiring primary win. I was happy to vote for you, and I will tell you that I am seriously considering voting for you in the general election. I write to express my concerns that may, in the end, prevent me from supporting you.”

The doctor described himself as a Christian who understood his commitments to be “totalizing.” His faith led him to a strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage, although he said that his faith also led him to question the idolatry of the free market and quick resort to militarism that seemed to characterize much of President Bush’s foreign policy.

But the reason the doctor was considering not voting for me was not simply my position on abortion. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my Web site, which suggested that I would fight “right wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to write:

“I sense that you have a strong sense of justice … and I also sense that you are a fair-minded person with a high regard for reason … Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded. … You know that we enter times that are fraught with possibilities for good and for harm, times when we are struggling to make sense of a common polity in the context of plurality, when we are unsure of what grounds we have for making any claims that involve others … I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

I checked my Web site and found the offending words. My staff had written them to summarize my pro-choice position during the Democratic primary, at a time when some of my opponents were questioning my commitment to protect Roe v. Wade.

Re-reading the doctor’s letter, though, I felt a pang of shame. It is people like him who are looking for a deeper, fuller conversation about religion in this country. They may not change their positions, but they are willing to listen and learn from those who are willing to speak in reasonable terms – those who know of the central and awesome place that God holds in the lives of so many, and who refuse to treat faith as simply another political issue with which to score points.

I wrote back to the doctor and thanked him for his advice. The next day, I circulated the email to my staff and changed the language on my website to state in clear but simple terms my pro-choice position. And that night, before I went to bed, I said a prayer of my own – a prayer that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me.

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