Inauguration Day..

“Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Jack Kerouac

I’ve started to write an Inauguration Day statement many times in the last two days. As it is with writing sermons, though, I can no longer think in straight lines. I can no longer understand anything in cause and effect formulas; there are too many unexpected appearances by ideas in flight, information in juxtaposition, and concrete conclusions built, in the end, of sand.

I am overloaded on images, as we all are. The tears of old black men and young white women are now indistinguishable within the headwaters of the mighty stream of righteousness. The edges of our individuality have blurred- a little, a lot. The human differences we have historically institutionalized at times, and even celebrated, fought over, and died because of, have begun (begun, yes, but- hallelujah!- begun) to fade- a little, a lot, and here and there even: altogether (my God, hallelujah! they have!).

President Obama’s first executive action as president was to set in motion the disassembly of the Guantanamo prisoner facilities. That there are significant numbers of Americans who believe that this was a wrong first action- who believe that some rights should be denied and that some torture should be allowed, indicates the depth and infections of the wounds we have suffered as a country. Even more important, far more important than economic recovery, will be the recovery of our shared decency. As the President signed those orders, a light began to shine. It’s Our Light and it is overcoming (because it must) the shadows which have grown inch by dark inch behind us in our time of politically encouraged fear and intentionally coerced separation from the world.
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I think of the million little boys who can look over the heads of Kobe and LeBron and see Barack.

I thank God for the million little girls who are able now to look past Beyonce and Brandy and see Michelle.
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A praise song for the day. I can’t stop smiling and neither can you and those smiles are on our hearts in ways some of us didn’t know they could be and in ways others of us had forgotten.

I’m sure there is someone who didn’t like Aretha’s hat, but I loved it because Aretha was singing about this day in 1967- “Respect”- before she knew this day would be, and before the King had been to the mountaintop and before all that goddam gunfire and before the dreams some of us dreamed had been scraped from our hearts and before the Twin Towers were built and before Watergate, Katrina, and Lewinsky and that hat, on her, this day, on this stage of stages in front of this crowd of crowds, just before a man stands up and says “I, Barack Hussein Obama…”

R, E, S, P, E, C, T……………
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(Like I said, there is nothing linear possible for me here- I can only do this in recollection and amazement.) But there is one more thing:

Jess is 87, a neighbor here in this little red town in this big red state where I live. Jess told me yesterday about an episode in 1944 when he was in the service. A black soldier- a cook- had been assigned to the unit Jess was a part of at the base in NY to which he’d been assigned. After training, the unit was sent to Virginia, in preparation for their assignments in Europe.

Just outside of Washington, D.C., part of the unit stopped for lunch at a local diner where- of course- the owner of the diner insisted that if the “n—–“ was going to eat, then he’d have to eat in the kitchen. Jess said that it was pointed out by the NY members of the unit that the man was a soldier! But the Southern soldiers, like Jess, knew how these laws worked and so they told their black friend to go ahead and go to the kitchen. So he did.

He did, and they followed him. Along with their Commanding Officer, the soldiers, white and black, Northern and Southern, lined the kitchen and ordered their food. And were served.

Jess was telling me this and he said he’d never forgotten that day, that meal, that soldier. His eyes were telling me – 64 years later- that they had, together, done something right and good that day, and they knew it.

And, I think (hell, I know), that day was a part of this day, too.

A Letter to My Children (and Yours)

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” Barack Obama, Victory speech, 11/4/08

What Obama’s election means to each of us who voted for him is different, but within a shared context. We have all been participating witnesses to something far greater than the election of a new president, and each of our stories- what this election personally means to us- is important.

This two year long election process has changed many of us, and those changes have combined together and will continue to bind together in ways that will cause historians to one day mark this past year in particular as revolutionary.

(If you are one of those people so fortunate as to be frequently within range of my voice, you know I often engage in hyperbole to make a point. The word “revolutionary” in the above sentence, is not a hyperbolic statement. Just so you know.)

How this revolution will play out over time is as unknown as the future of the American Revolution was at its beginnings in 1776. That revolution, too, was undertaken in audacious, courageous but not specifically definable, hope. The colonists’ eventual victory over the British began a political, sociological, and economic process, one that continues, and which includes this revolution of 2008. The history of the War for Independence is important for us, as Americans, to know about and remember. And one of the great primary sources for written histories of that time is the personal correspondence of not only the Founding Fathers and Mothers of our country, but of the soldiers from both sides of the fight.

Those letters reveal the hopes, the dreams, the frustrations, the confusion, and the love of their writers toward those to whom they were writing. Taken together, those letters are a snapshot of a particular time in history, yes; but they also reveal human commonalities that transcend time. So, let’s jump to my point here: I think we should be writing letters to each other right now about the revolution we’ve been a part of. British or American; blue, red, or some lovely shade of purple- what we are thinking, feeling, hoping, or fearing as individuals is part of a larger context and that context is important . We all know this election has been unlike any election we’ve witnessed (don’t think that’s true? Check your emotions over the last few days. Compare them to what you felt in 2004, 1996, 1980, or 1972. See?), and there is historical importance in what we write down and enable others to know about us, and about our country, as we have experienced it.

Therefore, to my children..

Dear Joshua, Darcy, and Sarah:

Thank you for the things you did, each in your own ways using the resources you have, to make this election of Obama possible. You are part of a generation that was able to have hope and to have that hope realized. You have been part of a movement that reached its first important goal. You have done something that has far greater implications and meanings for others, than for yourselves- as lofty and high as your own ideals are.

My generation started out that way, but by the time we were your age, it seemed the whole world of politics and culture was Nixonian and white. One by one, with few exceptions, Baby Boomers turned their energies toward gross exaggerations of the very things they had at one time rebelled against. The generation that felt their hearts beat wildly with newly found passion when they heard JFK say, “Ask not what your country can do for you..”, and who listened to MLK Jr. speak, “I have a dream..”, and watched as RFK said “Some men dream dreams, and others say, ‘Why not?’ – that generation also had to hear the horrible silence that followed. And we filled that silence with illusions of happiness: drugs, debt, suburban sprawls, selfishness and all the attendant fears that accompany each of those false ideals.

From real hope for a better world we descended into “Me,Me,Me” politics, created false gods that looked and thought like us, elected superficial sound-bites to office, and lulled ourselves to a semblance of sleep with a Pandora’s box of pharmaceuticals, swelling bank accounts sucked from the national dirt and human hearts of Third World countries, and the conviction that our country was THE best, THE strongest, and the only country on earth that should not, could not, dare not be questioned about its God-given, wealth-confirming, pollution-belching, trinket-loving role in the world.

Somehow, somehow, though..somehow, in the midst of that self-absorption and between episodes of “Dallas”, “Charlie’s Angels”, and “Miami Vice”, my generation gave birth to yours. Generation X, Y, or whatever the media pundits try to reduce your names and ages to, you have not let the hope inherent in being an American dry up into an unrecognizable husk of veneer-thin words. You have gone to school with and worked with people of all colors, sexual persuasions, nationalities, and religions. And you saw them for who they really are- not as the categories your parents warned you against, nor as people who were separated by law and religion from you, but as humans, like yourselves.

Then, one of you rose high enough to ask, in a way that more and more people were able to hear, “Can we?”

And your answer spilled over into the hearts of many of your parents, because we remembered again what it was like to act out of love, rather than fear. We remembered that hope didn’t have to lie dormant under disappointment. We responded, because you responded first to the question, “Can we?” with a loud, put-your-money-and-time-where-your-mouth-is, “Yes! Yes we can!”

And- holy cow- we did.

Lead on. You’re doing a damn good job so far.

Love to you three especially, but also the millions and millions of others like you,

Daddy

What just happened..a story of the day after..

What I worked on today and have ready to post here will have to wait, because I want others to read this. It is an email which my daughter Sarah just sent to her mom, her brother and sister, and me. Travis is Sarah’s husband, and they live in  a very integrated neighborhood in Dallas. They have had Obama’s picture in their front window for months.

To: Family         11/05/08,7:05                                                                                                                       Subject: What just happened

Travis just got home and we were sitting in the living room and the doorbell rang.  It was a woman who lives down the street. 

She came to our house to thank us.  To thank…us. 

Her name is Sheryl, and she is a 57 year old black woman who grew up in times of segregation.  She told us about how she used to work at AT&T as an operator, and how people would not go into the bathroom with her, and how people would call and say they didn’t want to talk to a n***.  She said that her parents would only be allowed into a neighborhood like ours to mow the lawn or clean the house.  She said that her father supported a wife and six kids on $40 a week.  She said that she never thought that she would see this day.

She cried on our front porch.  And she thanked us.  She said that Obama is not just for black people, he is for all Americans, and she can’t believe that these times are here when we can be one nation and move forward. 

She stood on our front porch and she cried and she thanked us- for something that we did for ourselves!  But for her, this is everything.  I think I knew that.  I mean, I think I knew how momentous this is, and I think I knew that this changes everything for many different reasons for many different people…but then the woman down the street came to our house and she cried and she thanked us…and I can see it more clearly than I could before.  I won’t ever understand it the way that she does, and the way that so many Americans do, but she showed us a glimpse this evening.  She showed us her heart and it was bleeding for the past and rejoicing for the future and it was everything that I want for us.

I can’t believe we did this.  I can’t believe this time is here. 

How many hundreds of thousands of times- how many million times- are versions of this story happening around the country today? This is one lady, one young couple, one neighborhood in one American city. But it is precisely and exactly why America is different today than it was yesterday.

Hallelujah

Still Undecided For Whom to Vote? Obama Or McCain? Here’s A Suggestion..

If you are looking for more information about the candidates’ positions on various issues; if you are waiting to see a copy of Obama’s birth certificate or McCain’s health records before you decide; if you still- STILL!- are among that surprising percentage of adults who don’t yet know who they will vote for for president, then I have a suggestion for you:

Ask your children who they are voting for. Then vote tomorrow at your Early Voting location for whichever candidate they name.

It’s that simple.

Your kids, my kids, the neighbor’s kids, and their children and grandchildren are the ones who will be saddled with the bills we older people have racked up over the last 30 years with our drunken sailor spending and they should be the ones who get the biggest say in who the next president will be.

Don’t try to play the “older and wiser” card, either. We’ve already dug $60,000 deep into the pockets of every man, woman, and child in the country. Babies born today have the albatross of our older generation’s greed around their necks the moment they breathe their first breath of globally warmed air. Drive those newborns home over roads and bridges that are desperately in need of repair, lay them down in cribs bought with plastic I.O.U.’s, turn on the lights whose wicks reach all the way to Venezuela, take videos of their first moments in their first bank-owned ARMed home with cameras hammered together in China, hope they are not awakened later by the sounds of police sirens as War on Drugs suspect #82,987,000 is being chased, lean down, give them a kiss, and whisper, “Get ready to pay.”

O.K., the baby may not be able to give you an answer to your inquiry about voting yet. But he/she will wish they’d been able to about 25 years from now! Of course, by then, you’ll have your eyes on retirement and can look forward to that young man or woman keeping the Social Security checks headed your way, all the while also having to pay for the wars your generation fought, the subsidies your generation paid to tobacco farmers, the perks your generation poured out on the congresspersons and Wall Street C.E.O.s 0f 2008, and the all of the interest on top of interest that has been accruing since your country couldn’t afford all that crap even back then, and were borrowing money from everyone to buy it all in the first place!

Really. Ask your teenager, ask your college freshman, ask the sixth grader who lives next door. None of them are as afflicted with the cultural baggage you (we) are. None of them has the economic glory days of the 80′s and 90′s in their memories. Some of them will probably even be facing down the wartime enemy as you (we) have defined that enemy to be. Their vision is a whole lot clearer than yours and mine! That may be hard for some of my fellow middle-agers to swallow, but..it’s true. (Most truth is hard to swallow, come to think about it; maybe that’s why we have swallowed so little of it during most of our tax-paying, tax-spending adult lives.)

Vote for the person the young ones are voting for, or that they would be voting for if they could. You (we) owe it to them. God knows they owe US.