As I watched Barack Obama confront the circular media firing squad about his relationship with his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, I was not angry or judgmental, shocked or apprehensive. Over the past several weeks I have felt that the divisiveness of this presidential race was like a heat-seeking missile searching for it's ultimate target. There was collateral damage inflicted along the way: South Carolina, the question of Obama's middle name, Samantha Power's attack of Clinton, Geraldine Ferraro's remarks and all of that lay between. All of these hurt. All of these gave the media a lot to work with -- and, of course, were being banked as precious currency for the GOP carpet-bombing mission to come in the general election.
I guess I had some ideas about what I thought and hoped Obama would say. But when he said that he was not present in the pew when Reverend Wright spoke the words that sparked all this fervor, I was sure that it would not be the end of the story...
What I was wondering was: what could be more constructive than the emotional and intellectual expression of anger, resentment, injustice and despair in church and with God? How can we truly come together without respecting the angry voice that lives inside all of us? And isn't it better to grapple with all of life's complexities in a spiritual context?
And then Barack Obama delivered his speech this morning. A speech that confirmed the historic value of his campaign no matter what happens.
"...we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together -- unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories."
Obama is not a conventional candidate. And it is because of all the things he is and all the things he is not. He understands that we ought to respect all of our stories and learn each other's stories to protect ourselves from our destructive patterns and from ignorance. He is working to help us find the connections between all our stories while not losing our distinctive narratives. And to accept our multi-layered memories as the truths they tell us about ourselves and one another.
And as much as anger and resentment can be an obstacle to progress, polite denial of what is real is another form of tyranny.
The ability to connect the threads of these stories and work toward a whole may be a new way to define leadership -- and Barack Obama could be the leader to point us all in that direction.
Perhaps the thing that will stay with me for a very long time about this speech is Obama's assertion that the one thing we all share -- no matter what our story is -- is the choices we make in how we live those stories out and how we visit them on others.
We each write our own story. But not without acknowledging that there are some indelible touchstones we carry with us. The balance between where we come from and where we are going allows us to become who we are -- as individuals and as a country.
If we choose now to relinquish the opportunity to embrace a leader who sees contradiction with such truth and tolerance we may be doing so at our peril. Because this kind of emotional and intellectual intelligence isn't born from the kind of black and white way of looking at the world we have been living with for the past 8 years. This is a man who dreams in color, and we should seize the opportunity his candidacy offers all of us -- together.