Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Trip to Thiruvannamalai!

Thank Christ for God Friday (Supposedly the original name for Good Friday!) While most of us don’t know why it is important day for Christians all over the world, people in India look forward to it for it brings in a long weekend combined with Saturday and Sunday.

So, our weekend driving destination for this long weekend was a place we visited earlier but could not stop going back again – Thiruvannamalai. Located 200kms from Bangalore, it’s a good weekend drive into spirituality and religion, if you are feeling like that. It is the place of the sacred Arunachaleswara temple – a temple where Lord Shiva is representative of the ‘Fire’ element. The place is named after the great hill – Arunachala – which is considered Lord Shiva in his physical form. And the temple of Arunachaleswara is among the best architectures that you see in the South Indian temples – probably closer on the lines of Madurai, Sri Kalahasti etc.

The temple is huge, occupies an area of about 25 acres with four large ‘Gopurams‘ on each side. The largest ‘Gopuram‘ is above the eastern entrance which is the main entrance. There are five ‘Prakaram‘ or corridors around the central structure with a high wall running on all four sides at the edge of the outer ‘Prakaram‘. There are numerous shrines for other deities in the temple complex and Goddess Parvathi has a separate shrine on the third ‘Prakaram‘. She is worshipped as ‘Unnamulai Ambal’. The view of the temple from the Arunachala hill is a must-see.

Arunachala Temple

The place was worshipped from a long time by various saints and was written about at length in the form of songs of paeans for the lord. But the place was made popular and known to the western world and so to the westernized (Confused!) Indians like us through the great Indian master Sri Ramana Maharshi. While Ramana Maharshi himself never moved out of Thiruvanmalai throughout his life, the world came searching for him in the form of Paul Brunton – the great English spiritual traveler of his times. In his book “In Search of Secret India”, Paul Brunton wrote in detail about various Yogis he met in India and described Ramana Maharshi and his path of simple self enquiry into ‘Who am I?’ in detail.

So through the lengthy route of Paul Brunton –> Ramana Maharshi –> Thiruvannamalai, we came to know of this place and by chance realized that it is a place pretty close to Bangalore. So do a whole lot of Europeans that you see around in the place. So much so that most of them live here for 6 months + even buying houses and bikes.

Our Trip and Giri Valam

Anyway, Ramana Maharshi used to say that ‘Giri Valam’ or Giri Pradakshina of Arunachala is very powerful form of meditation. To do Giri Pradakshina on a full moon day is supposed to give a whole lot of spiritual and physical benefits. Having read so much about it, to walk the 17+ kms stretch around the Arunachala hill was the objective of our trip this time. Bare-footed and willing to challenge ourselves physically, Paddu, me and Ramesh started driving to Arunachalam on the morning of Good Friday, 21st of March 2008 around 830AM. Driving towards Krishnagiri from Bangalore, we could not stop appreciating the changing face of India as shown on its new highways and the slick Petrol Stations to the side, with all facilities to allow for a great stop-over.

While it was raining in Bangalore, we were not sure what the weather would be like in Arunachalam. If it rains heavily, we cannot do Giri Pradakshina, the chief objective of the trip. By the time we were 10kms away from Arunachalam, thick clouds descended on the town as if to scare us away and it started to pour, pouring water on our hopes and the new found spiritual enthusiasm. We drove straight into Seshadri Swamigal Ashram, an Ashram accommodation right next to Sri Ramana Ashram. Finding a decent place to park our car and a nice place to get ready, we thought of changing the planned time of Giri Pradakshina. Initially we planned to do it in the evening in the full moon but sceptisim about whimsical weather made us start it by 230PM after a light lunch – Thank Paddu for the great Pulihora she packed in the morning.

                rainy-thiruvanmalai.jpg

Believe me when I say that I have never seen so many temples in one single place – in the 17kms stretch there are not less than 40+ temples of various gods and goddesses and even the great Rishis – there were temples dedicated to Agasthya and Durvasa also. Apart from this, are the innumerable ‘penance centers’ or meditation places of great sadhus. The density of spiritual souls per kilometer is extremely high and impossible to miss from the awesome serenity of the place inspite of the crowd. There are no less than 40,000 people walking around the path at any point in time, based on our guesstimates. We started visiting temple after temple, walking through the stretch stopping and appreciating, overawed by the sheer number of those temples – God knows how old each one of them is.

Of course, we in India are now on our way to making everything under the sun, a great market place. So you have mobile shops selling wares like candle stands, lamp holders; foods like Soups, Sugarcane juice, Idli; religious wares like books, cassettes, CDs; and a company-owned Maruti Van selling a Zandu Balm look alike for the paining legs. Everything can be bought making it a walk for shopping than for spirituality 😉

The view of the great Arunachal hill throughout the walk is awesome. You see a mix of people doing the walk and a mix of places. Every view of the hill has given self-realization to someone or the other. Every view of the hill is supposed to be good in its own way. For an unknown reason, just looking at the hill gave me a feeling of mystery and power. The walk and the place broke the barriers of thought and belief as to who gets self-realization. What does a man who has realized the self, look like? I have seen a lot of people on the Giri Valam path, who we usually associate mostly with superstition and weird rituals, who actually sit down to meditate with a deep serene look on their face. It might not be a weird thing but for people like me blinded by stereotyping, it is a revelation. I realized how much we have urbanized the concept of meditation and who should do meditation and how messed up our basics are.

You see people walking around the hill out of belief, out of hope, out of fun, out of curiosity, out of fear and every other human emotion we experience every day. Laugh you may, when I say that the first thought which came to my mind when I saw those hordes of people is – can I make it faster to Self-Realization than most of these people? And then I laughed at my conditioning of competition. Probably spiritualism is one place where all of us can pass the test together and for a change, there are no grades. All of us as humanity should make it through; otherwise we are all equally a failure.

Anyway as one of the bloggers said, Giri Valam is a journey through life – “It houses the Sanyasa, it houses the escapist, it houses the Grihasta, it houses the dead, it houses the Siddhas, it houses the Gods, it houses the animals. A complete universe pulsating with every breath of yours as you walk down trying to cover a 14 km stretch. It’s indeed a walk through life and beyond… depending on what you want to see….”

Closing on the walk we went into the temple for darshan and came out faster than we expected – by none other than the god’s grace. As towards the end of the 17kms walk, we were dead tired – unable to walk another step and search for a place for dinner. We went into a road side shack, had idlis with sambar for dinner and one chai to push them all through – pulled ourselves to the ashram acco and crashed. But not before serving our tired feet with some hot water and liberal amount of ‘real’ Zandu balm.

Next day morning, we decided to dedicate the day to knowing more about the saints of Arunachalam. So we visited Seshadri Swamigal temple, Sri Ramana Ashram. After breakfast in yet another road side shack, with tasty pongal and awesome vada, we started our trek up the Arunachala hill – the sacred hill around which we did pradakshina the day before. Our destinations – Skandashramam and Virupaksha cave, two caves where sri Ramana maharshi spent most of his life before coming down the hill into the place, which is the ashram today. A long trek up the hill and meeting curious set of piligrims, our trek was very eventful. We saw a lot of roaming sadhus and serene swamis. One of them was kind enough to engage us in a conversation – a Tax consultant in his previous life before he left all, he gave us great information on Ramana Maharshi and how to search for realization. Unfortunately we could not talk to him for long, but it was a really pleasant meeting.

Then we walked up to the two caves, meditated for a few minutes in each of those caves and came down the hill – yearning for a next time, when we can spend more time in those caves. Before we left the place, we were checking out a few books on Ramana Maharshi in the Ashram bookstore, when I was pleasantly suprised to meet a childhood friend of mine, after a long time – Devan Rajasekhar. Ramesh and he are meeting after 10+ years even though I met him couple of times after +2. So we sat and chatted for sometime about things, old and new. After that, lunch and drive back were normal as they seem, but it was with a feeling of contentment at challenging ourselves and somehow making it. A feeling of seeing a mysterious place from up-close but still not really knowing it. An emotion of pain, joy, contentment and a quest for more – it was a weekend of mixed feeling and our paining feet vouch for it 😉

However, unlike previous long weekends on Good Friday, we did what is supposed to be done on a Good Friday – Penance. It is widely believed in the Catholic Christianity that mourning for Christ’s crucifixion and feeling his pain are two principles things to be done on this day. We never realized that we will do atleast one of them, without knowing it 😉 Mourn we probably did not, but pain we really felt 😉 Thanks to Arunachala and Christ for the opportunity.

More pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/phanimitra/Arunachala2

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Email responses to Obama’s Race Speech!

I sent out Obama’s speech to my friends and I had some interesting reactions. I am putting them up here and my take on this.

One friend says – “People can give speeches or talk anything, but bottom line is what they do in real life….He gave a good speach, but for 20years he went to this pastor or priest who gave those speeches that all lead the controversy…Do you guys really think, that Obama did not know the pastors intention after associating with him for 20years?? and after all this happened he came out and gave a good speech??? Obama is good guy, but he is no different than any politician, who take situations to their advantage, or create situations to their advantage”

Another friend replied “I want to believe in the honesty and integrity of Obama. I don’t know if I ought to. But I want to”

“My View on Why Obama is better”

The first thing I liked about the speech was that Obama never disowned Rev. Wright, bravely and it might seem like a political blunder when he said “Rev. Wright is a part of me” or when he referred to Rev. Wright as an old uncle. People expected him to dump Rev. Wright and move to the other extreme by disassociating himself with Rev. Wright. But what Obama delivered was an awesome blow to the waiting vultures, ready to analyze the words and show his leniency to one side or the other. Anyway, let us move away from the speech itself and move to my take on him as a candidate.

Our assumptions:

1. All politicians are evil.

2. If they are not power will corrupt them.

They are absolutely true and that is the reason I mentioned that I am not sure if he is the best guy to be the president but atleast he is better to listen to. For a change, he gives hope – he atleast looks to be different and is courageous enough to take a path or give a speech which might backfire. The other two are even incapable of that – they are the same old stuff – typical white house veterans. Let him use every opportunity to his advantage – let him be a cunning wicked politician, atleast a different one at that. Because America needs CHANGE desperately – and does not have time to evaluate if the change is good or bad. Any change is good because the status quo does not look right and anyone who is remotely similar to status quo is not welcome.

For I believe that more than the recession and the sub-prime woes, US is bogged down by a sense of pessimism and lack of self-belief in itself as a nation, probably for the first time after the Great Depression. Or unlike during 1940-50, when one part of the country was rebelling against another. For the first time the entire America is jittery as a whole – in one way or the other, whether they admit it or not. It is not because they cannot bounce back, because the world cannot afford US to go down but still. But still it is an eerie feeling, somewhere deep down, that the happy days have come to an end. Somewhere deep down there is a slight fear that the mistakes committed on the world have come back to haunt them. A typical US citizen, sweet in his own way, innocently parochial in believing that the world starts in NY and end in LA – there is a greater realization of the poverty and endless suffering outside that small world – a greater realization what role their successive governments have played in doing this to the world. First time in a long time, the common American has started know the world beyond Pacific and Atlantic – for destiny has forced him to know where Iraq is, where Bangalore is and where Shanghai is.

For these privileged citizens, whom the rest of world craves to serve – there is for the first time a sense of fear that the entire world is conspiring to overthrow them and make them paupers. All for no real mistake of theirs. They did not even know for a long time that for all the expensive toys that they buy for their kids, there are kids in China and elsewhere giving up their childhood of dreams and fun. They never knew before that for all the gas they consumed driving one-person-per-car or 600CC bikes for fun, there is blood being spilt elsewhere. They never realized that medical insurance system which is supposed to make their lives easier will actually make them strangers in their own country and will one day make them fear giving out a few drops of blood for a DNA sampling. For the first time, they have started to realize they were somehow baited and trapped and they have no one to blame or atleast they do not know.

Nothing has changed, not yet – there is no real problem, not yet. The sub-primes are only 2% of total mortgages and the world still does not have a safer place to put its money in than the US nor do the companies around have a better place to sell than the US. Physically nothing changed, but the mindset did. What made them richer is making them feel unsafe – in simple words – “To sell anything that sells”

Fear sells (Ask Bush!), Tears sell (Ask CNN!), Fun sells (Ask Disney!), Crazy fun sells, Hope sells, Despair sells too, God sells (Ask those God-men on GOD TV!) and Satan sells better (Ask any rock band). So much is sold everywhere for such a long time that it is believed that everything SHOULD be bought and everything CAN be bought. And it is not just buying but buying more! I guess US has been on the one extreme of the spectrum of materialism with probably Tibet on the other extreme of spirituality. This string of reason and answering should be left for a different post.

Now US needs a man at the helm who represents the complexity of their problems and the complexity of the world. US desperately needs someone who has the seen the country from a different perspective. They need someone who knows what the pastors in the black churches talk about. Who knows how and why most of the black kids still become criminals. They need someone who just does not act tough on them but can empathize and veer them away. Also, US desperately needs someone at the top who has seen the world outside not as a travelling diplomat but as a common citizen. If not for the betterment of the US, but atleast for bettering the world view of the great nation built on the foundations of hope, hard work and will to win. Even if it does not correct the mistakes committed, it is a golden chance for the US, to be forgiven by the rest of the world for some of its atrocities. It is not probably reaching where the country should but atleast the first step in the right direction. Obama is an opportunity to listen to and be with someone who atleast out-rightly talks of the complex realities of the great country rather than pushing them under the blanket. It is for backing someone who thinks of talking to the enemies, before starting to bomb them. US and the rest of the world desperately need to communicate rather than assume things about each other. There is no other candidate better suitable to walk up to the table on behalf of the US. He is America’s and their civilization’s last chance to survive. For this if he needs guile, if he needs to contrive, so be it. As Rakesh said – “I am not sure if I ought to believe that guy, but I want to”

I cannot vote in the US, but as a guy who follows the world because I love it with all the complexity and strife, the good and the bad, I think he is the best chance for a change. Whether he does really change the order or not – is not just the destiny of the US citizens but of the world. And like everyone, I wait for God and Time to answer the question as to where is the mankind headed! As Obama said to the citizens of US, probably – “It is WE, we have been always waiting for!”

 

 

Obama’s speech on race!

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama
“A More Perfect Union”
Constitution Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union.”

Two hundred and twenty one years ago, in a hall that still stands across the street, a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy. Farmers and scholars; statesmen and patriots who had traveled across an ocean to escape tyranny and persecution finally made real their declaration of independence at a Philadelphia convention that lasted through the spring of 1787.

The document they produced was eventually signed but ultimately unfinished. It was stained by this nation’s original sin of slavery, a question that divided the colonies and brought the convention to a stalemate until the founders chose to allow the slave trade to continue for at least twenty more years, and to leave any final resolution to future generations.

Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution – a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.

This was one of the tasks we set forth at the beginning of this campaign – to continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America. I chose to run for the presidency at this moment in history because I believe deeply that 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, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and we may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction – towards a better future for of children and our grandchildren.

This belief comes from my unyielding faith in the decency and generosity of the American people. But it also comes from my own American story.

I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I’ve gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world’s poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners – an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.

It’s a story that hasn’t made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts – that out of many, we are truly one.

Throughout the first year of this campaign, against all predictions to the contrary, we saw how hungry the American people were for this message of unity. Despite the temptation to view my candidacy through a purely racial lens, we won commanding victories in states with some of the whitest populations in the country. In South Carolina, where the Confederate Flag still flies, we built a powerful coalition of African Americans and white Americans.

This is not to say that race has not been an issue in the campaign. At various stages in the campaign, some commentators have deemed me either “too black” or “not black enough.” We saw racial tensions bubble to the surface during the week before the South Carolina primary. The press has scoured every exit poll for the latest evidence of racial polarization, not just in terms of white and black, but black and brown as well.

And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn.

On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

“People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….And in that single note – hope! – I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion’s den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories – of survival, and freedom, and hope – became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

Some will see this as an attempt to justify or excuse comments that are simply inexcusable. I can assure you it is not. I suppose the politically safe thing would be to move on from this episode and just hope that it fades into the woodwork. We can dismiss Reverend Wright as a crank or a demagogue, just as some have dismissed Geraldine Ferraro, in the aftermath of her recent statements, as harboring some deep-seated racial bias.

But race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America – to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we’ve never really worked through – a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

Understanding this reality requires a reminder of how we arrived at this point. As William Faulkner once wrote, “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past.” We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African-American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow.

Segregated schools were, and are, inferior schools; we still haven’t fixed them, fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, and the inferior education they provided, then and now, helps explain the pervasive achievement gap between today’s black and white students.

Legalized discrimination – where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments – meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations. That history helps explain the wealth and income gap between black and white, and the concentrated pockets of poverty that persists in so many of today’s urban and rural communities.

A lack of economic opportunity among black men, and the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for one’s family, contributed to the erosion of black families – a problem that welfare policies for many years may have worsened. And the lack of basic services in so many urban black neighborhoods – parks for kids to play in, police walking the beat, regular garbage pick-up and building code enforcement – all helped create a cycle of violence, blight and neglect that continue to haunt us.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up. They came of age in the late fifties and early sixties, a time when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted. What’s remarkable is not how many failed in the face of discrimination, but rather how many men and women overcame the odds; how many were able to make a way out of no way for those like me who would come after them.

But for all those who scratched and clawed their way to get a piece of the American Dream, there were many who didn’t make it – those who were ultimately defeated, in one way or another, by discrimination. That legacy of defeat was passed on to future generations – those young men and increasingly young women who we see standing on street corners or languishing in our prisons, without hope or prospects for the future. Even for those blacks who did make it, questions of race, and racism, continue to define their worldview in fundamental ways. For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings.

And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright’s sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don’t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience – as far as they’re concerned, no one’s handed them anything, they’ve built it from scratch. They’ve worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they’re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren’t always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze – a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

This is where we are right now. It’s a racial stalemate we’ve been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy – particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances – for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs – to the larger aspirations of all Americans — the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives – by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.

Ironically, this quintessentially American – and yes, conservative – notion of self-help found frequent expression in Reverend Wright’s sermons. But what my former pastor too often failed to understand is that embarking on a program of self-help also requires a belief that society can change.

The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination – and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past – are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds – by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.

In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand – that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.

For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy, as we did in the aftermath of Katrina – or as fodder for the nightly news. We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.

But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we’ll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change.

That is one option. Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time.” This time we want to talk about the crumbling schools that are stealing the future of black children and white children and Asian children and Hispanic children and Native American children. This time we want to reject the cynicism that tells us that these kids can’t learn; that those kids who don’t look like us are somebody else’s problem. The children of America are not those kids, they are our kids, and we will not let them fall behind in a 21st century economy. Not this time.

This time we want to talk about how the lines in the Emergency Room are filled with whites and blacks and Hispanics who do not have health care; who don’t have the power on their own to overcome the special interests in Washington, but who can take them on if we do it together.

This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.

This time we want to talk about the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag. We want to talk about how to bring them home from a war that never should’ve been authorized and never should’ve been waged, and we want to talk about how we’ll show our patriotism by caring for them, and their families, and giving them the benefits they have earned.

I would not be running for President if I didn’t believe with all my heart that this is what the vast majority of Americans want for this country. This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation – the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.

There is one story in particularly that I’d like to leave you with today – a story I told when I had the great honor of speaking on Dr. King’s birthday at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist, in Atlanta.

There is a young, twenty-three year old white woman named Ashley Baia who organized for our campaign in Florence, South Carolina. She had been working to organize a mostly African-American community since the beginning of this campaign, and one day she was at a roundtable discussion where everyone went around telling their story and why they were there.

And Ashley said that when she was nine years old, her mother got cancer. And because she had to miss days of work, she was let go and lost her health care. They had to file for bankruptcy, and that’s when Ashley decided that she had to do something to help her mom.

She knew that food was one of their most expensive costs, and so Ashley convinced her mother that what she really liked and really wanted to eat more than anything else was mustard and relish sandwiches. Because that was the cheapest way to eat.

She did this for a year until her mom got better, and she told everyone at the roundtable that the reason she joined our campaign was so that she could help the millions of other children in the country who want and need to help their parents too.

Now Ashley might have made a different choice. Perhaps somebody told her along the way that the source of her mother’s problems were blacks who were on welfare and too lazy to work, or Hispanics who were coming into the country illegally. But she didn’t. She sought out allies in her fight against injustice.

Anyway, Ashley finishes her story and then goes around the room and asks everyone else why they’re supporting the campaign. They all have different stories and reasons. Many bring up a specific issue. And finally they come to this elderly black man who’s been sitting there quietly the entire time. And Ashley asks him why he’s there. And he does not bring up a specific issue. He does not say health care or the economy. He does not say education or the war. He does not say that he was there because of Barack Obama. He simply says to everyone in the room, “I am here because of Ashley.”

“I’m here because of Ashley.” By itself, that single moment of recognition between that young white girl and that old black man is not enough. It is not enough to give health care to the sick, or jobs to the jobless, or education to our children.

But it is where we start. It is where our union grows stronger. And as so many generations have come to realize over the course of the two-hundred and twenty one years since a band of patriots signed that document in Philadelphia, that is where the perfection begins.