Thursday, March 27, 2008

Real Leadership

A friend of mine is always saying, “Play the hand you’ve been dealt.”

It does not do you any good to wish that you had been dealt better cards because its not happening and wishing will only keep you from facing the reality of the situation and playing the cards that are in front of you.

That said, I wish Hillary Clinton would play the hand she has been dealt. I wish she would recognize that there is only a 5% chance that she will get the nomination and - for the good of the party - bow out gracefully.

People would be pleasantly surprised. Grateful for her demonstration of leadership. She would secure a place for herself in the new democratic administration or a senior leadership position in the US Senate.

If she bowed out she would not split the party. She would not give the Republicans additional ammunition for the fall race for the Presidency. Right now her people are writing the Republican commercials that will eventually be used against Barack Obama.

She does not have a real chance at winning the nomination.

My fear is that for the sake of that 5% she will inadvertently destroy the Democratic Party and bring John McCain to power – which will lengthen the war and crush what is left of our economy.

Play the hand you’ve been dealt.


Barack's speech on race last week was one of the most articulate speeches given on the subject. I loved this passage from that speech...

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.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Ham...

Over the last several days this blog has had over 100 hits for my ham glaze recipe. If you google "cook Budaball ham" my blog comes up as the first or second hit!

Cook the FRESH ham uncovered in the oven for 18 to 20 minutes per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F on a meat thermometer.

The glaze is easy - 1 jar of french brown mustard, 1 jar of orange marmalade and 1 cup of brown sugar. Cook the ham according to the instructions and glaze the ham the last 30 minutes of the cooking.

I am amazed at how people end up at my blog. I started seeing an increase in hits on Wednesday and each day it grew more and more. Today by 10 AM the site had 70 hits alone.

I hope someone used the recipe!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wise words from Henri Nouwen

"When suddenly you seem to lose all you thought you had gained, do not despair. Your healing is not a straight line. You must expect setbacks and regressions. Don't say to yourself, ‘All is lost. I have to start all over again.’

This is not true. What you have gained, you have gained.Sometimes little things build up and make you lose ground for a moment. Fatigue, a seemingly cold remark, someone's inability to hear you, someone's innocent forgetfulness, which feels like rejection -- when all these come together, they can make you feel as if you are right back where you started. But try to think about it instead as being pulled off the road for a while. When you return to the road, you return to the place where you left it, not to where you started. It is important not to dwell on the small moments when you feel pulled away from your progress. Try to return home, to the solid place within you, immediately. Otherwise, these moments start connecting with similar moments, and together they become powerful enough to pull you far away from the road.

Try to remain alert to seemingly innocuous distractions. It is easier to return to the road when you are on the shoulder than when you are pulled all the way into a nearby swamp. In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Matters Current

I heard it asked this week - "Is Obama the anti-christ?" Follow the link above for Nick Kristof's article on religious bigots.

Has there ever been any institutionalized racism in the church?

Has anyone ever seen vestiges of discrimination in the church?

Has anyone ever witnessed a church abandon its mission of lifting up Christ to adopt a political agenda?

I have to tell you that I can understand why some people are suspicious of the church.

Christians are guilty of all these things.

We do harm in the name of doing good.

Can I offer a distinction?

For many people, religion is that set of humanly controlled institutions, which have hurt people in the name of God.

On the other hand, spirituality might be defined as personal openness to the working of God’s power in one’s life.

This is the kind of distinction that groups like Alcoholics Anonymous make between the two words to separate their negative feelings toward religion from their spiritual yearning for God.

I think this distinction can help all of us keep our focus on seeking God.

So where does religion fit in? It doesn't.

There is no role for religion because the Gospel leaves none.

Christianity is not about religion; it is the end of religion.

Religion consists of all the things that humans have tried to do to get right with God.

None of those things has ever worked. Everything religion has failed to do - has been done, once and for all, by Jesus.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tizzy Tuesday

I had myself worked into a tizzy on Tuesday. I was following the polls, reading the online news reports, watching MSNBC when I got home until after 11:00 PM.

By Wednesday morning I was pounding on the keyboard, formulating a response to the Clinton win.

After about 30 minutes into a haranguing diatribe I realized that I needed to focus on something else for a while, something other than the democratic nomination.

“My kingdom is not of this kingdom is from another place”

Things can get out of control so quickly. Next thing you know you are scolding and sermonizing and ranting on about something that does not amount to a pile of petrified pony poop.

“My kingdom...”

God does not need Barack Obama to be President of the United States in order to accomplish his will. God does not need a Democrat to be President of the United States in order to accomplish his purposes.

“My kingdom…”

Keeping perspective. It’s hard. You invest time, money, conversations, emotions and thought to something and you want it to be right. You want to be right.

“My kingdom…”

Lord, help us all to keep perspective over the next nine months.