Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues

If Not at Church, Where?

The program's host shares her thoughts about Sen. Obama's decision to leave his church, and the need for safe places to get us through tough times.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Finally, if you don't mind, I have one more thought about Barack Obama's decision to leave Trinity United Church of Christ for good after the controversy over a guest preacher's remarks. It had to have been, as we said earlier, one of the low points in a week of triumph. But I have to tell you, the whole thing brought back memories for me. The year I was pregnant with my twins coincided with a very difficult time in my professional life. Maybe the two situations were related, maybe they weren't, I don't know. But I do know that there were two places that saved my sanity that year - my church and my OBGYN's office.

Every Sunday after I finished work, I would go to church and churn over everything going on - motherhood, race, glass ceilings. Sometimes I was grinding my teeth so hard that I wouldn't have been surprised if I had been generating sparks. And those poor hymns, well, I think there might have been more shouting than singing going on- belated apologies to my pew mates. I listened hungrily for sermons that might indicate when and how oppressors would be brought low. And if none were forthcoming, well I eventually came to appreciate the sermons that offered some sense of how to achieve forgiveness and peace. And on Monday, it was off to the OBGYN's office where no checkup was complete without some extensive venting on my part. It always took some probing. Something really incisive like, how are you? And I was off to the races. But I made it. I survived. My career have survived.

My sanity has survived and my twins were born healthy. Can I just tell you? I am really glad nobody was recording my thoughts and conversations during those times. It was not my best self. But it was my whole self. It was my reaction to what was happening to me. And I'm thankful that I had some safe places to get me through it. I don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out someday that Trinity was that safe place for the Obama family. A place with the pain of the world, your pain, your family's pain, your community's pain, your ancestor's pain - can be spoken out loud, even if you are not the one doing the speaking. A place where you can righteously rage against injustice. A place where you can be tired. A place where you don't have to be perfect. A place where you don't have to be on. A place where your particular hurts can be given voice and soothed.

It happens in life that sometimes one must move on, just like Bill Clinton had to stop playing golf at the all-white country club of Little Rock where he played several times a year when he was governor when he decided to run for president. He said he made a mistake and wouldn't do it again. I always wondered why a racial progressive like him chose to play at an all-white club. But now I wonder if maybe it wasn't his safe place. A place where he didn't have to worry about being progressive or saying the right thing or not offending anybody. So, now it's Barack Obama's turn to give up a safe place in the service of something bigger. It happens. Maybe you don't need it anymore and maybe it does not need you. And maybe there needs to be room for somebody else who needs to be there more than you do. Trinity is clearly not the place for the Obama's anymore. But here's to hoping they will find some place that is because they will need it - because we all do.

And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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Can I Just Tell You?Can I Just Tell You? NPR's Michel Martin gives a distinct take on news and issues