In my college years, as in the years since, I was not a church goer, I was raised in the bland and rather non-controversial realm of small town upper Midwest Methodism. A time and denomination I would describe as "Unitarians with a fear of non-commitment"
The sermons and services I grew up with were comforting banana pudding, we all left feeling marginally better about ourselves, mostly that the thing was over, but not too good -- that would require effort.
So walking into Urban Black Baptist Church was more than just going to say I've been there, it was a fascinating cultural experience -- and rather awkward. I was raised not to show strong emotions and here I was surrounded by people actively taking part in a church service, and actually singing, as opposed to mouthing the words or singing the female registers because I couldn't read music to save my life.
But I also heard the preacher talk about repression and other grievances at the injustice of the world -- caused quite clearly though impliedly (and with good reason) -- by passive-aggressive white people like me. It's not white guilt, it's reality.
Now, this was a bit disconcerting and my friend sort of apologized in a way because he could tell it was a mild shock to my sheltered middle-class sensibilities -- though at the same time I felt sort of sorry too because there was much of the preacher's anger that was quite justified and we all know it, whether we want to think about it or not.
Later, in an effort to be profound as all aspiring intellectuals of that age try to be, he summoned up his distillation of the whole thing:
"You see, White Baptists spent hundreds of years in this country justifying why the Bible, and Jesus have given them the blessing of being better than the black people they lord over, often those they owned. At the same time, they thought they were bettering us by forcing their religion upon us.
On the other hand, we accepted it gladly because we feel like we saw the truth within it of love and ultimate equality. Plus there was the benefit of "judgment" and we all knew how the people in the white church were going to be judged, and the black church service serves as the preview of coming attractions."
There was anger in the presentation that did not really exist in the reality (i.e. people were nice to me, not angry at me), what for me and most who went to my church was a one hour burden, was for much of that congregation a one-hour unburdening. Then we all went back to our usual lives of moderate sanity.
When I read this as an explanation of Obama's former preacher, it reminds me of that.
By the way, this is the current Senior Minister of Obama's church.
..are you sufficiently scared?
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