Wednesday, March 19, 2008

10 Things I Love About Oakland (5::10)
The Community

I was struck by the thing - maybe my number 1 - that I love about Oakland these past 2 days, working at the coop preschool one child attends, helping with science at the elementary school our other daughter, and Obama's speech on race and politics today.

I love the diversity of Oakland. Here are 3 stories that illustrate it and a quote from Obama's speech today that echoes what I treasure about our beloved (and still troubled) city.

1. I ran an errand with a 3 year old daughter to Berkeley 2 weeks ago. Another 3 year old friend came along. While in the store picking up th printer I was having repaired, the owner asked if they were my children. Seems normal. Yet my daughter is clearly Anglo and our friend is clearly African-American. The following day I was at the preschool talking with another parent who told me a similar story about being with her daughter and another same-aged girl about town and again being told, "Your daughters are beautiful!" Again surprising as one girl is clearly Anglo and the other very clearly Asian-American. The statements weren't ironic or meant to make a statement. They were matter of fact, stating what is normal in Oakland today.

2. I was working in my other daughter's elementary school classroom on Monday, St. Patrick's Day. The kids were all in green - their hair dyed, clothes, hair accessories, make-up. While working with a group of kids I asked who was Irish. They all raised their hands - Asian-American, Latino, Anglo and African-American. Maybe they were having some St. Paddy's fun, yet odds are that many of them are actually Irish!

3. In the church I serve as pastor we work intentionally to celebrate, affirm and integrate our faith and culture in our worship celebrations. We do this in many ways, which are most often my favorite and most memorable worship gatherings. Two years ago a woman in our church was scheduled to give a testimony in a Black History Month Celebration. She is often sick, and usually home-bound, and always saying she is "blessed." I went to see her before church to get a testimony quote to share on her behalf that same morning. She blew me away with her comments: "I never thought I'd ever be in a church with white folks and with a white pastor. Growing up in Oklahoma I never dreamed, let along believed, that it could happen. Only God could make it happen." I continue to be marveled by her honesty and love every time that I see her, whether in her Sunday best or homebound in her apartment. What better faith community to be a part of as pastoral leader and in which my children are discovering, growing and being shaped by in faith. It's a big part of our congregation seeking to allow God let us reflect the reality of our neighborhood community.

What better place to raise my children, to live in a community where expectations or stereotypes of backgrounds, class, ethnicity, culture and orientation - YES THEY DO STILL REMAIN AND OPPRESS - but can oftentimes recede into the background and even disappear.

In listening to Obama's speech today and re-reading the text (online here) I was seized by a line that rings with what I just shared about loving in Oakland.

That [not changing anything and being distracted by beside the point policies] is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, "Not this time." This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can't learn; that those kids who don't look like us are somebody else's problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don't have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should've been authorized and never should've been waged, and we want to talk about how we'll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn't believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation - the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election."

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