Friday, May 30, 2008


Sam Smith

I spent most of my life thinking Congregationalists were kind of boring, like the Chevies of Protestantism. But then I hadn't done much theological rummaging in Chicago. Now we find that the action at Trinity Church is more than just about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The new guy recently brought in a guest preacher - a white Catholic priest named Michael Pfleger - who proved every bit Wright's equal, declaring along the way:

"When Hillary was crying--and people said that was put-on--I really don't believe it was put-on. I really believe that she just always thought 'This is mine. I'm Bill's wife. I'm white. And this is mine. And I jus' gotta get up. And step into the plate.' And then out of nowhere came, "Hey, I'm Barack Obama." And she said: 'Oh, damn! Where did you come from? I'm white! I'm entitled! There's a black man stealing my show.' She wasn't the only one crying! There was a whole lotta white people cryin'"

Barack Obama wasn't around the hear the performance, but he wasn't unfamiliar with Rev. Pfleger, having obtained for him, while a state senator, a $100,000 grant for the youth center at his church. Pfleger was also a rare member of the clergy to support Obama in his run against Robby Rush, according to James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal.

So now Obama is in trouble again. But why? After all, we're talking about a candidate so cautious that he changes positions in parenthetical phrases using the commas like they were chains on a playground swing set. Despite Wright and Pfleger, no one has come up with a single example of Obama saying anything outrageous about anything. And when you disconnect his teleprompters, his passion seems to wither under questioning like he was trying to guess which response his professor really wants. He even dances like a Harvard Law graduate.

So unless Obama is some alien creature whose true nature was transformed during space travel, the attempts to draw a parallel between his preacher pals and himself is ridiculous. Except for one thing. What's a stiff, ponderous guy like him doing hanging out with such types?

Part of the answer is that's the way you do things in Chicago if you want to get ahead. But something else occurs to me, namely that to someone like Obama, listening to Wright and Pfleger are like watching sports or pornography are to other men. He just gets to a point where he can't stand parsing, thoughtful responses, and post-partisanship and needs the high of hyperbole and hypocrisy performed with magnificent abandon. Wright and Pfleger are not reflections of his personality but his relief from it.

So let's not begrudge the guy having had a little fun. He'll soon be back sitting at the table, frowning, pretending to write something and trying to look as contemplative as possible. How would you like to talk about hope and dreams twelve times a day without any relief? Besides, it's a hell of a lot better than getting it off by screwing young aides in the Oval Office or invading Iraq. Under Obama, misapplied metaphors by misbegotten ministers is probably about as audacious as we can hope for and, come to think of it, we could use some quiet for a while.


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Your editor has been a musician for many decades. He started the first band his Quaker school ever had and played drums with bands up until 1980 when he switched to stride piano. He had his own band until the mid-1990s and has played with the New Sunshine Jazz Band, Hill City Jazz Band, Not So Modern Jazz Band and the Phoenix Jazz Band.


Here are a few tracks:





APEX BLUES   Sam playing with the Phoenix Jazz Band at the Central Ohio Jazz festival in 1990. Joining the band is George James on sax. James, then 84, had been a member of the Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller orchestras and hadappeared on some 60 records. More notes on James

WISER MAN  Sam piano & vocal

OH MAMA  Sam piano & vocal