All the churches I've regularly attended have had black pastors. My mother's father was one of the founding members of the Methodist church her sisters still attend. It sits in the middle of nowhere, on land that was unsuitable for farming, next to the turn of the century school building where my grandmother taught.
I went there in the summers for Vacation Bible School. I've been there for regular services many, many Sundays. I've attended funerals there for three of my aunts and uncles.
The thing about the Methodist church that seems to keep a pretty good balance between the needs of the parishoners and the aspirations of the pastor is the rotation system the Methodists have that move the pastors around every few years. The church is associated more with its leading members than with its pastor, and they have been successful, at least so far, in putting the resources of the church more towards the needs of the members in their regular lives instead of larger buildings.
The sermons kept your attention sometimes and put you to sleep sometimes. The pastors tended to be educated, and most of them prepared actual texts for their sermons.
The church my father's parents attended was Baptist. It was at the county line, under a stand of huge oak trees, a wooden building with no air conditioning. The minister was old and wizened, with a smile that seemed pretty devilish for a man of the cloth. He farmed during the week and preached on Sunday. The thing I remember about him is the way he used the bible verses as a guide to a stream of consciousness chant, a sing song rythmn that he emphasized with a stomp of his shoe upon the wooden floor. It seemed to end up being the same chant week after week.
The churches I see here in Atlanta probably aren't that different from Rev Wright's old church in Chicago, except here they preach black prosperity. After a church gets a few hundred members, the pastor becomes a manager. After a church gets a couple thousand members, the pastor becomes an administrator. More than five thousand members and the minister is an executive, leading an enterprise with cashflows and payrolls more reminscent of a mid-sized business.
Leaving all that power and adulation has to be hard.
What I can't understand is how such an educated man, who has dedicated his life to uplifting black people, can put himself in front of the press and the TV cameras at this moment, knowing full well what his continued presence on TV sets around the country can do to thwart one of the most uplifting experiences in black American history to date.
There are more than a few black people in America, college educated people who have never owned a gun or struck anyone in anger, who would be willing to draw a bead on Rev Wright today.
The old adage "black people are like crabs in a barrel" stayed with me all through the night.
Even now, a day later, I feel like I'm in a movie. Of all the things that could happen, this is the LAST thing I would have thought anyone with half a brain would do, let alone a learned and accomplished man who has risen above some of the same challenges Obama is facing.
Everyone else has stepped back except Rev. Wright and Al Sharpton. Wright knows that there has been a noticeable absence of rabble rousing by the usual rabble rousers the last few months. More importantly, he knows WHY this is so.
The chit chat hour has begun in my office - Rev Wright's antics are being debated by a couple of people about ten feet away - they are incredulous, even though they understand that much of this grandstanding is calculated.
I'm not in a civil enough mood to join the conversation right now.
The irony is, I've posted statements similar to the some of the ones Rev Wright has made on this very website.
What I am afraid of is the public at large. I can't get to the place yet where I can trust that enough of the voting public is able to successfully parse fact from fiction in a way that does not obscure the good things about the Obama campaign.
I'd like to believe that I am smart enough, am sophisticated enough, to not need to have a hero, but I succumb once in while to the rapture of what could be, to the shining light of possibilty.
The machinations required to sustain the candidacy of this black man running for president of the United States has caused me to be more introspective than I have at any time since I was a teenager. Am I able to be more than I am? Am I doing what it takes to be more than I am? Are my life goals perched high enough? Have I done anything that was really worthwhile in these forty one years I've been alive?
I can understand the need to confront the ugly truths that are an important part of America's history. But to me, some of the same people who are putting $10 and $20 a week into the Trinity collection baskets on Sundays are some of the same people who are finding ways to send Obama $5, $10 or $15 when they have it.
To risk squandering the hope of those hundreds of thousands of people all over this country who have never given to a political campaign before is mind boggling to me.
In a couple of days this will pass. I'll revert to the things I know to be true. There will be no real surprises in the upcoming primaries. But until then I will shake my head in wonder every few minutes as I try to see the utility value in Rev Wright's recent actions.