Be gentle, good and faithful friends, be gentle

Word just came in that Senator Barack Obama has resigned his membership from Trinity United Church of Christ. Be gentle with your reactions, good and faithful friends, be gentle: the politics of winning are complicated, aren't they? St. Paul's words in Philippians 4:8 come to my mind: you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.
Some pundits and critics - Senator Clinton among them - will say that it is about time, others will wail this is too little too late and still others will try to use the totally misunderstood realities of the progressive Black Church to make the case that Obama is "not like us." Frankly, I am not at all surprised that this decision has been made given the recent hoopla around Father Mike; the church simply became too much of a liability in this hyper-sensitive atmosphere. Sadly, the place that helped Obama grow in faith and integrity has become a burden; what's more, the student has grown beyond his mentors.

I know this drill - I was a church based community organizer - I even worked with the same consortium in Cleveland that Obama worked for in Chicago. In those down and dirty fights for the rights of the forgotten and maligned, you use whatever resources you have to advance the cause. In Rules for Radicals, the grandpa of community organizing, Saul Alinsky, wrote of his campaigns against Eastman Kodak in Rochester, NY - and he wasn't afraid to use the natural effects of beans to stink out the power elite from their upper crust concerts if they refused to meet and negotiate with poor people of color. Hyperbole and in your face actions are the stuff of street politics in the rough and tumble world of community organizing. What's more, sometimes you can't help yourself in the heat of a campaign. Guess what? Real people sometimes take cheap shots at one another. I've done it and probably so have you - and while we're not proud of it in retrospect - it is part of being a broken human being who cares deeply.

Given the fact that a Black man is so close to securing the Democratic nomination for President of the United States of America, Obama had to cut Trinity loose. Reinhold Niebuhr used to advise his social justice colleagues to learn from the children of darkness and apply it to the light; he also spoke about being "wise as serpents and gentle as doves." And so Obama acted accordingly. He understands that he cannot control his church. He knows that most of White America doesn't get - and is actually terrified by - the boldness of the prophetic Black church. And he is keenly aware that there is a difference between a regional and national audience. Father Mike's schtick works in Chicago. He was actually very precise in his bold and savage critique of Senator Clinton albeit in a typically Chicago, over-the-top kind of way. But Chicago politics/Second City comedy and all the rest have limited appeal beyond Cook County.

Obama has a calling beyond the Windy City and I give thanks that he does. We are now looking at race relations in America again. The whole of the United States is trying to come to grips with Black (and Brown/Yellow/GLBT and other) anger, too, after 40 years in the wilderness. It will be interesting to see what happens next; in the meantime, the poem of Bertolt Brecht's comes to mine that speaks of the fights the German communists had with their oppressors. It ends with a word of caution: "Forgive us... for we became what we hated."
I leave you with this tune from one of my old singing friends, Garth Brooks, who cuts to the chase better than most in his song, "We Shall Be Free."

This ain't comin' from no prophet
Just an ordinary man
When I close my eyes I see
The way this world shall be
When we all walk hand-in-hand
When the last child cries for a crust of bread
When the last man dies for just words that he said
When there's shelter over the poorest head
We shall be free
When the last thing we notice is the color of skin
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within
When the skies and the oceans are clean again
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight. Walk proud, 'Cause we shall be free.
When we're free to love anyone we choose
When this world's big enough for all different views
When we all can worship from our own kind of pew
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Have a little faith. Hold out. 'Cause we shall be free.
And when money talks for the very last time
And nobody walks a step behind
When there's only one race and that's humankind
Then we shall be free
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight, (Walk proud.)
Have a little faith. (Hold out.) We shall be free.
We shall be free. We shall be free.
(Stand straight,) Stand straight.
Have a little faith. We shall be free.
We shall be free. We shall be free.
Stand straight. Walk proud. We shall be free.


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