Putting all the current political brouhaha aside, one must admit that Obama's run for the White House, suggests that something, somewhere in America is changing (in some way), for a black man to receive the support that this man has received thus far.1 He is not the first black candidate to throw a hat into the presidential ring: Moseley Braun and Chisholm, Jackson, and Sharpton are names of just a few who have stepped into that Romulan Forbidden Zone if for only a moment. But, Obama . . . I could almost have been tempted to buy stock in hope for racial reconciliation had it not been for those nooses.
Nooses! Not nooses from crusty, moldy, backwoods memories; but initially a young, teenage noose hung defiantly on the school's tree as a reminder of the dangerous undertow of America's Original Sin -- to borrow a phrase from Jim Wallis.2 Nooses on the door of a black professor, nooses in a young family's backyard. So many nooses that Bill Moyers devoted a recent Journal (November 23, 2007) to examining the meaning of nooses.
How is such a contradiction possible today? Howard Thurman, past dean of the Boston University chapel, used the phrase "contact without fellowship" to explain the racial tensions of his day in Jesus and the Disinherited. His use of the phrase "contact without fellowship" implied that it was possible to be in frequent contact with people, to work or go to school with diverse peoples, and still not understand or accept them. History has proven that contact will never be enough to heal the racial divide. Mutual respect requires that people be in some form of fellowship with one another.
Perhaps this is why a number of forward-thinking congregations have begun to hold cultural appreciation festivals in their churches. Cultural festivals offer gestures of appreciation and acceptance to neighbors who speak Spanish, Japanese, or Haitian Creole, to neighbors of African descent and to neighbors from the Middle East. These church leaders understand that it is more difficult to label and to slander the other after extending hospitality and fellowship. Things like food, music, and other expressions of culture often help people from different backgrounds make the uncomfortable leap from stranger to friend.
As stated so many times before, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration, not so different from the various kinds of cultural celebrations that have recently come to church. Over the years, Kwanzaa has evolved from an all-in-the family affirmation of African human worth to a "ya'll come" invitation to celebrate the beauty of one of the many groups of people our Lord hath made. I cannot help but hope that good Christian friends who observe Kwanzaa with their neighbors this year will make the uncomfortable leap from stranger to friend through the fellowship of sharing . . .
red beans and rice or feijoada,3
sadza4 or fufu,5
drum circles and dance,
kinaras6 and kente7
in hopes that nooses might finally become a forgotten relic of a painful past.
Blessings and Peace,
1This statement does not, in any way, constitute an endorsement of a particular presidential candidate or presidential party by the author or by the Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church. The statement is included because of its historical significance.
5 Fufu is a West African staple made from starchy root vegetables, boiled, pounded, shaped into balls and served with a thick stew. See www.africa.upenn.edu/Miscellany/Recipes_from_12913.html.