Jesus Drank a Little Too!

I’m a fan of Andrew Sullivan’s blog and check it regularly throughout the day. He tends to focus on a few topics rather than trying to comment on everything, and I think he’s better on the page then he is on radio or television. He also includes “Mental Health Breaks” that are often funny and always interesting. Meet Gladys. She makes me think that getting older could be more fun than I imagined.


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National Day of Service: Update

As is so often the case when I set out to do something for someone else, I am the one who benefits. While not many of my neighbors donated to the food drive I planned, those who dropped by gave generously. Five bags of food will go to my local food pantry, which sent out a call because of the “newly poor” who have sought them out.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here was snowy and cold, so I was happy to be in all day. Some of my neighbors simply left their donations in the basket by my door while others rang the doorbell. Friends came by on and off during the day to bring by food and visit, and that was quite cozy. I had hot cider with some friends and Pig’s Snout Scotch with others.

The day made me realize how much I miss the “visiting” part of Louisiana Southern culture where people come by for a little bit—sometimes for just 20 minutes—and chat over a beverage and treats. I miss that a lot.

Of course, one day of service is not enough, so some of my thoughts will be focused on what to do next…so long as I don’t get too cold (seriously, I get cold in the summer).

At Last: Cutting the Gordian Knot

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray

–from ” The Negro National Anthem” by James Weldon Johnson

Today in class, during a conversation about Harry Potter and Reganomics, a student made a passing comment about President Obama and the economy. He said “President Obama” so casually, so offhandedly, that I got choked up and had to look down for a minute to regain my composure. Nonchalance about President Obama can bring me to tears.

Of course, at any given moment I’m in danger of losing it, for no particularly good reason. Obama doesn’t even need to be mentioned, on the television, or on the radio. In line at the grocery store I’ll see a young black man in a suit and get weepy, any commercial featuring a little black boy…waterworks, seeing a little white girl hugging her little black girl friend…and don’t let me see an old black man or woman.

I’m in serious danger of dehydration.

My feelings are not unique, but I’ve been curious about the depth of my reaction. After all, I’m young enough to see the Civil Rights Movement as history, young enough to use the phrase “free at last” playfully, and young enough to feel I can wear multiple identities at once. Although neither of my parents graduated from college, no one was surprised that I did and any surprise about my decision to pursue a doctorate was about the fact that few people could imagine me sitting still long enough to complete a dissertation.

I still never thought I’d see a black president, and the success of our country regularly reduces me to tears. Why?

For whatever gains were made because of the Civil Rights Movement, racism and ignorance still run rampant and, with one exception, every black person I know has at least one glaring, scarring moment where they were denied something basic because of their skin color. I’m not talking about rude service in a restaurant but about being denied jobs, housing, and adequate health care. I am talking about young black people who followed the rules their parents and grandparents set out for them—go to college, get a degree, get a good job, dress appropriately, treat others with respect. It doesn’t work they way we thought it would. Yes, we have more opportunities than our parents and our grandparents, but in many ways we have less.

Faced with racism in its myriad forms, my generation has developed a series of responses (humor, anger, rap), all of which are inadequate at any real level. These responses, coping mechanisms if you will, did little more than thicken my skin to help me keep moving. Yes, I learned to brush things off, but swallow too many bitter pills, and they form a knot in the pit of your spirit, a bitter knot comprised of righteous anger, pain, rejection, confusion, and dashed hopes.

The election of THIS black president has cut that cord loose. And so I’ve been crying a lot. It’s a big knot (I was six-years old the first time I was called a nigger, though it’s a memory that belongs more to my mother than it does to me), so it’s loosening takes time. But oh my does it feel good.

It goes too far to say it has been replaced by hope, but the absence of a certain kind of deep despair will suffice for now.

This is not to suggest that I believe all this “post racial” claptrap. As Frank Rich put it so well earlier this week in “White Like Me” :

For all our huge progress, we are not “post-racial,” whatever that means. The world doesn’t change in a day, and the racial frictions that emerged in both the Democratic primary campaign and the general election didn’t end on Nov. 4. As Obama himself said in his great speech on race, liberals couldn’t “purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap” simply by voting for him. And conservatives? The so-called party of Lincoln has spent much of the past month in spirited debate about whether a white candidate for the party’s chairmanship did the right thing by sending out a “humorous” recording of “Barack the Magic Negro” as a holiday gift.

But the times they are a changing, so much so that when Reverend Lowery ended his poetic, rousing benediction, I could laugh heartily through my tears:

when black will not be asked to get back,
when brown can stick around,
when yellow will be mellow,
when the red man can get ahead, man,
And when white will embrace what is right.

Amen?


Amen!

President Obama’s Inaugural Address

Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address

Following is the prepared text of President-elect Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address, as provided by the Presidential Inaugural Committee:

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land – a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America – they will be met.

On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted – for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things – some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sanh.

Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act – not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works – whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control – and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart – not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort – even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment – a moment that will define a generation – it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter’s courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent’s willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world…that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it].”

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

Inauguration Looks

Dan Quayle looked bloated

Jimmy Carter looked ready to go and build a house

Barbara Bush looked fit enough to complete the Bataan Death March…in one day.

Bill Clinton looked furious.

Dick Cheney looked like the love child of Mr. Burns and Dr. Strangelove

Michelle Obama looked like a Faberge egg in green gloves, a fabulous Faberge egg…

Joe Lewis looked dignified.

Rick Warren looked…well, all I could see was his homophobia, so I couldn’t tell you how he looked.

Aretha Franklin looked like she thought the size of the bow on her hat should be as expansive as her…voice (don’t be tacky, people).

Yo-Yo Ma looked like he was having a blast. Itzhak Perlman looked distracted.

Barack looked startled when neither he nor the chief justice could get the oath right

Malia looked pleased, “Good speech,” she told her father when he returned to his seat.

Elizabeth Alexander looked terrified but fabulous in red. One wonders why the inaugural poem could not have been a haiku—now that would have taken skill.

Reverend Joseph Lowery looked wonderful.

Our Easy Instincts

What is required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives – from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry – an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

—Barack Obama Philadelphia

I’ll admit that I thought Barack Obama’s “historic train ride” was kind of hokey, but given then I got all weepy and inspired when I stumbled upon CNN’s coverage of it, maybe hokey is the order of the day.

One of the many things to admire about Obama is his ability to offer so much in so few words, to pull language from the past and use it to pull us forward. He does that in this single sentence. He’s right. As a new administration attempts to pull a divided country together, it’s the easy instincts we all must resist. This does not mean disconnecting our critical faculties, and I hear it as a charge to the left as much as it is a charge to those on the right. In fact, I think this applies more to the left than to than it does to anyone else. Liberals, Democrats, Lefties, “Progressives”—whatever you choose to call them, me—have spent the past eight years seething at the inadequacies and atrocities of the Bush-Cheney years. We’ve been chomping at the bit to make the world right again, and we are just smug enough with our righteous notions of what it means to be right that our easy instincts could well be mistaken for our better angels.

The blessing and the curse of the left is its lack of uniformity; the power of the right has, until recently, been its discipline. In the crucial early days of the Obama administration, let’s try to take a second, even a third look at our easy instincts. He knows what we want:

  • Universal health care
  • Bush and Company held to account
  • Guantanamo closed
  • Reversal of Bush tax cuts
  • Our soldiers out of Iraq

The list goes on and on…and on. And apparently the majority of Americans polled understand that it will take a long time to move on some of these goals. I hope this patience lasts, and I hope the left can channel its critical faculties into multiple directions at once. Speak out when President Obama makes decisions that undermine our country’s principles (inviting Rick Warren to participate in anyway in the inauguration) at the same time that we continue to answer his call to service and learn to talk to moderate conservatives. We should choose our battles carefully and gird ourselves for the roller coaster rider ahead. Most importantly, it’s vital to remember why we voted for Barack Obama in the first place and do what we can to support him as he leads the country out of the morasses that entangle us.

This is truly a rare moment, an awakening for so many, but it will be easy to forget the feelings, the emotion, the goosebumps when the messy business of governance overtakes us all. It is then that we’ll need our better angels. We’ll have to find them; too much is at stake.