Obama’s Speech to the School Kids- What I learned on the way to the end of my fears

At Booker T. Washington High School in downtown Dallas, they gave President Obama a standing ovation when they saw him enter on the large television screens. Booker T. is my daughter’s alma mater- it’s the performing arts high school. It’s Norah Jone’s alma mater, too. And something she is proud of, also.

So, when I saw the kids there jumping to their feet as the President appeared on-screen, I knew that the people to whom the president was aiming this speech were going to hear it. And as was evident from their comments, they heard it loudly and clearly in a way even most of us adult supporters of the president could not have heard it.

“He was speaking to me,” one small 9th grade boy said.

“He makes me want to get all As this year,” said another.

Many adults, especially- it appears- those of the Caucasian persuasion, were fearful of what the president would inculcate their children with today. I heard them breathing hard and sweating into the cameras pointed toward them as they screamed that the president had no right to tell their children what to think. Maybe they were afraid he would reveal the secret message of the fist-bump to curious fifth graders, or describe the joys of his parent’s interracial sex to shy high schoolers. Given the level of anger and suspicion many of these parents displayed, it is hard to even guess at what kind of jive they were afraid the president would brainwash their un-brainwashed children with.

And, despite the fact that even Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich endorsed the content of Obama’s speech, we know that in today’s America the facts don’t matter nearly as much as what a person wants to believe. If you want to believe Obama is a Muslim, there’s nothing anyone can say, show, or demonstrate that will dissuade you from that belief. In America today, among a certain crowd of fellow believers, you will even be applauded for hanging on to a belief despite the Truth that lies dying in the ditch nearby.

And there are still people waiting for the release of Michelle’s “Whitey” tape and for the Belgian Congo birth certificate of the president. And they’ll wait and they’ll wait because they KNOW they’re right and it doesn’t matter that that astronomy reveals the sun to be the center of the solar system, you silly fools, you can see that the sun rises and sets around the Earth, can’t you?

So here’s what I’ve learned today: All of that noise was preceding the speech was irrelevant. A whole lot of parents kept a whole lot of children out of school and away from the Internet and television today because they were afraid of something that bore no fearful meaning whatsover- liminally, subliminally, or otherwise. They were people being afraid, and that’s all. They would probably call it being protective, but they could have been protective at home, with some intelligent conversation around the dinner table tonight. They could have introduced their children to genuine critical thinking. I assume most of them are capable of that.

Since the noise was irrelevant, I should consider it so as well. AND SO SHOULD THE PRESIDENT! My argument with the president so far, indeed, my disappointment with the president so far is that he is spending too much time trying to be friends with people who don’t like him, did not and will never support him, and whose candidate in the last election was convincingly defeated.

President Obama: those of us who voted for you voted for change, significant change to happen. We wanted our country out of the twin sinkholes of Iraq and Afghanistan that we were lied into. We want war criminals tried, if that is what a grand jury deems them to be. We want sexual preference among adults to not be a factor at all in a person’s enjoyment of their full civil rights. Those are the changes we voted for above and beyond the need this country had for a president who was smart and who didn’t look like every president before and who was running with a vice-presidential candidate who didn’t scare the living socks off of us as we imagined him possibly becoming president. That’s what we voted for, Obama, not how many friends you could make among the people who had gotten us into the military and economic quagmire we are in now.

So, while many many, many of my friends are Republican, most of whom I would take a bullet for (and they know it), I must tell them that I will not listen to their political views with any more fear. Theirr politics are coming to an end. The world can’t be the way it was in the 50’s; they’ve spent us into a hell hole of unimaginable depth, and while they can try to blame the other party for that, the statistics of Reagan, Bush, and Bush tell another story. Unfortunately, I voted right there beside them until 2006, when I saw the light. It’s not a bright light- Pelosi and Reid are both standing in it after all- but it is a whole lot brighter than the dim fluorescents pirated out of Enron’s headquarters.

And I know this: that the loudest among you old-timers- those who fussed the most about Obama’s Svengali grip on the minds of school kids, some you made asses of yourselves. And your kids saw you doing it. And while they no doubt still love you, they have seen you be wrong, over-reactive, maybe even goofy. Statistics show that that has happened a lot recently. During the 80s and 90s you preached and preached and preached about the takeover of schools and government by those with a gay agenda. You made bogeymen out of young men dying of AIDS so that you wouldn’t have to confront the sympathetic response you deeply felt toward them. (We all know it is easier to fear and hate than it is to give in to love, especially if that love- holy cow!- might be misconstrued as fag love!).

The point is, you painted the homosexual community into something it wasn’t. At all. Your kids went to college, got jobs, and moved into apartments near and with these men and women. They even became friends with them! They found out that you had been wrong about them, and that some of you and some of your preachers had been lying about them to you. They even found out that there seems to be a direct relationship between the loud rantings of an anti-gay protester and his desire to passionately kiss the object of his fury!

So you lost more young people in your loud and silly protests over this speech today.

Good.

And knowing those things, I won’t be so upset the next time. Your numbers are decreasing even as the spittle from your radio and television leaders is increasing. Even as the crazed rantings of Beck and Limbaugh and Hannity grow louder, more and more young people are hearing them, and the demographic slice of their advertising pie grows older by the day.

(Thank you again, young people of Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas. I’m giving you my own private standing ovation right now!)

Hey! Obama- Over this way!

First of all I am at a computer that has no PERIOD key- but what I have to say is short and not sweet- so I’ll be quick

Hey Obama! You’re disappointing the enthusiasm right out of me! We- millions and millions of people who voted for you- NEED TO SEE you doing SOMETHING to put the Pelosi/Reid Pork-barreling and Ear-marking crowd out to some kind of pasture! It is their SELFISHNESS and ability to MANIPULATE the system which is a perfect reflection of all the economic fandangling which brought us to the mess we are in today!

The excuses are wearing thin- thin thin thin- we need to see you- publicly and visibly- renounce selfishness and greed in ALL OF ITS FORMS! (please)

Now- for those of you who may be sitting back with assured smug smiles thinking “Ha! I told him so!” be assured that I still thank God and my 50 million fellow Obama voters daily that we elected him and not the reactionary fear-mongering tired trite Palin-picker McCain! Bless him- he’s a good senator; but he showed us what a terrible president he would have been the moment he connected the words “My friends” with “the governor of Alaska”

Obama may be making mistakes but  I shudder to think what it would have been like if the self-proclaimed economic ignoramus was in charge; he would probably doing as good a job as the wedding-planner/Alaskan governor is doing—

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.
**

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.
**

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……………
**

(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.

Goodbye, George W. Bush

On Tuesday, Barack Obama will become our 44th president of the United States. At the same time that is happening, George W. Bush will be on his way to his pretend ranch in Crawford or to his new cul-de-sac digs in Preston Hollow, in Dallas. I really don’t care where he is going; I am simply relieved that he will be gone.

Obama will swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Preamble to that document is always worth reviewing:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is also a worthwhile thing to remember that when that Preamble was written, persons of African descent were not included in the phrase “we the people.” But that’s another day’s topic. Today, I want to say goodbye to the 43rd President, and urge the 44th President to uphold and and defend the Constitution in all ways– among them, the investigation and possible prosecution of his immediate predecessors for falsely and knowingly leading us into a war that has cost 5000 American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.

Scroll down the pages of this blog and you’ll see that I’ve changed my mind on that subject; it was not long ago that I simply hoped Mr. Bush would fade away. But when he spoke, at his final press conference earlier in the week, of one his greatest regrets being the inability of Allied forces to find Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, I was pushed- hard- from the “compassionate” attitude I had taken toward him. 

His greatest regret; the thing which he regrets the most about his presidency…is that his predication for the war was not vindicated. Forget the thousands of new terrorists which have been ideologically birthed over the last six years; forget the suffering of American, English, Canadian, and Iraqui families who have lost so many sons and daughters while  our armies desperately sought phantom evidence that would- for once and for all- prove Bush was right about at least that one thing; forget about “Brownie” and the administration’s “dress for success” shirtsleeve response to Katrina’s meteorological rape of the Gulf Coast; forget the $12 billion per month which has been landing in the bottomless coffers of everyone with a round round of ammo to sell the federal government, or the wiping out of pensions because Wall Street traders came up with formulas the SEC couldn’t make sense of let alone a commander in chief who seemed to parade with pride his inability to speak (which, in his case, is a pretty good indicator of his inability to think); forget all those things. BECAUSE WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT IS THAT THERE WERE NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION TO BE FOUND!

I know that increasingly tiny band of Bush supporters and defenders continues to believe that history will be kind and that, in retrospect…whatever and yada, yada, who cares?

I’m done with Bush, on these digital pages anyway. I’ll join in cleaning up the mess that’s been left, although I’m not sure this mess can be entirely or ever cleaned up. We’re all going to be forced to try, however, if we want anything resembling the United States as it was, to be passed on to the generations to come, who will be paying for this mess.

Hello, Barack H. Obama..</

Maybe the best reason yet for being happy that Obama was elected..!

On the day before Thanksgiving, Barack Obama and his family helped serve meals to Chicago’s homeless at a Southside Catholic Church. After about an hour, Obama left the food line to go to an elementary school associated with the Church. This AP photo captures the reactions of those kids who had only been told there was a “special guest” arriving.

Wow!

Look at every single face. Each face is the verse of an epic poem. Each expression is a note in a symphony. Here are a hundred eyes full of excitement and joy, and..(though these kids don’t know it yet their parents and grandparents do)..hope. This is the kind of Hope that straightens paths, brightens colors, and builds bridges to possibilities. It is the kind of Hope that I feel so grateful to have been able to witness, and even feel in my own heart.

But, just look at these kids! Whatever I might feel is peanuts compared to the smiles, laughter, and amazement of these young ones. These kids are having their futures redefined- right now- in ways we could not have  imagined that happening just three years ago.  None of us know the full extent of the redefinitions or the long-term ramifications of the cultural reformation that has just taken place. But we do see those smiles, and those smiles tell me that whatever is coming next has got to be good.

Obama-Thanksgiving-19

It has got to be.

It just has to be.

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