When Barack Obama addressed the “Trayvon Martin ruling” Friday, he did more than offer his “thought and prayers” to the family of Martin, applaud them for their “incredible grace and dignity,” and narrate a history of racial surveillance that often leaves African Americans frustrated and even afraid. The president did more than acknowledge that the democratic judicial system had done its work, urge demonstrations to be peaceful, and call for close evaluations of “stand your ground” laws.
Obama took a moment where the nation was viciously debating its most cherished values through the death of a child and cast a vision for a better future through other children.
On Sunday I visited a church that's majority white but not overwhelmingly so. After worship, I stuck around for a planned conversation about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Here the demographics were flipped: a slight majority of African Americans.
But the white folks did their share of the talking.
If Americans of a certain age know anything about Puritanism, it is probably because they read something by the (atheist) historian Edmund S. Morgan, the great Yale scholar who died July 8. His bookThe Puritan Dilemma—which used the life of John Winthrop to describe the Puritans’ religious and political project in America—was widely assigned in high schools and colleges.
I had the good fortune decades ago to take a graduate class from Morgan on American colonial history.
I always savor the chance to speak with Dr. Meredith Gould. She is a sociologist who has written nine books. She is also deeply in love with the church. We used to live in the same general area (before I moved to Chattanooga), so I would drive to her apartment for home-made soup and advice.
There is a running joke among preachers that if the lessons seem too tough to tackle, you can always “preach the collect” or, in the absolute worst case scenario, “preach the Lord’s Prayer.” I’ve preached the collect a time or two, but never have I been so bold as to preach the Lord’s Prayer.