I thought I'd be missing church this past Sonday.
Fellow Fellow Cassandra Mickens had e-mailed us info about presidential hopeful Barack Obama speaking in Birmingham with a noon start-time, which meant leaving Anniston no later than 10:30 or so. Great! I thought. In all my 50-something years, I've never heard a president or candidate speak in person--although I missed George W. Bush's unscheduled stop in our little town of Safety Harbor because I turned right instead of left one day. But that's another story.
Obama's visit sounded like the perfect opportunity to cross an item off of my bucket list. Not that I have one, and if I did I'm not sure this would actually qualify, but you know what I mean.
So other fellow Fellow Jeremy Cox and I drove over. We had gotten a last-minute e-mail saying that while the doors opened at noon, Obama wasn't actually speaking until 2. We almost decided to leave closer to noon, but it's a good thing we didn't. We parked just a couple of blocks from UAB's Bartow Arena and then stood in line for almost an hour.
We chatted with folks around us -- the middle-class black family behind us said they were undecided at this point. The man, who was close to my age, said the only thing he cared about was that his Social Security would be there when it was time for him to retire. The woman spoke about Kerry having a "heart" like Jimmy Carter's, so she didn't think he'd ever get elected.
Finally got in, and found decent seats facing, but at the farthest point from, the stage. Cassandra, on the other hand, arrived right at 2 and slipped in with no line, but had to hike up to the uppermost seats on the side.
Then the service began.
Welcomed by the pastor emeritus of a Birmingham church (1st UMC, I believe). Confession of sins (he called himself a "recovering racist") followed by an opening prayer to the "God of all the spirits of all flesh" that He would turn the "hearts of all the races and families of this earth toward Yourself" and "unite us in the bond of global peace," that He would "transform our political system and bring real glory to Your name. Amen."
Supporters started the "O-ba-ma" chant and then a mixed choir from area churches got the crowd clapping and urged them to "lift up your hands and praise."
We lift our hands and give You praise for the rest of our days.... Somebody say 'Change!' Change! We can believe in! We can believe in! Yes, Lord, for the rest of our days. C'mon, clap your hands! Like the dew in the morning, gently rest upon our hearts... Lord, I lift Your name on high Lord, I love to sing Your praises I'm so glad You're in my life I'm so glad You came to save us . . . We're gonna have some real church, some Alabama church Somebody make some noise in this place! All of my problems I put it all in His hands . . .
There were testimonies from a couple of young college types in jeans and t-shirts (he wore a jacket over his, she didn't). "Change begins with each of us."
There was an altar call, 21st century techie style. "Everybody bring out your cell phones and text in 62262" which would tell them what your cell phone number was so they could call it with updates and reminders.
There was an offering requested. "Four hours is a small price to pay for your future, the future of this country."
With the lights down low except for a spotlight on the "Change We Can Believe In" banner and the flashes of cameras and cell-phone cameras, He descended from heaven . . . oops . . . wrong savior. Although it looked like he was going to descend. Right under the CWCBI banner were steps leading from the seating area and, from my vantage point, it looked like Obama would make his entrance down those steps to the stage. Instead, he came in mortal-style from the side.
"There's a new South, ladies and gentlemen. And it's not a new South waiting to be born. To the consternation of some, it's done messed around and got here already."
Jeremy tells me it was his boiler-plate speech, so you've probably heard it before. You can read Jeremy's take on it and see some more photos and actually hear a bit of Obama's speech at his blog: The Fourth Estater. Get a "20-something word-herder's" view to put along side this quirky quinquagenarian's take on the event.
No coffee and cookies in the parish hall afterwards. Darn.