Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama on race in America

It is ten minutes since I listened on the radio to Senator Obama's speech about race in America. Already the broadcasters, even the ones I most admire, are picking out bits of it to comment on, thereby spoiling the effect of the whole. I do not intend this blog to become a partisan tool this election year, but as a lifelong student of oratory and the power of words, I believe this was an epochal speech in our history and it will be a great pity if the sound bites taken from it cause us to lose focus on the entire speech and the subtleties in it. Very rarely has any political speech reflected upon the contradictions in human nature in such a sensitive and discerning way.

On a somewhat different tack, for preachers and biblical interpreters I will lift out just one portion of the speech, which Obama in turn lifts from his own book to explain what attracted him to Trinity Church in Chicago in the first place:

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.”

The text of the entire speech is at this link: