I have felt particularly close to the “action” of this election in the 5 days leading up to election day. I departed for Chicago on Thursday, October 30 to attend the 2008 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (AAR). In my previous post, I shared the feeling of anticipatory anxiety permeating the air in Chicago and especially at the Hilton Chicago where I stayed those 5 days. As as staff person of the AAR, I was privy to some inside information extended to us by the hotel. Our executive suite that was used for entertaining during our conference, we learned, would also be used by the Obama campaign on election night.
I, along with countless others, inhabited the space of Obama’s stomping ground. On Monday, I attended a tour of sacred and religious sites in Chicago including the KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, Trinity United Church of Christ Chicago, and the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. I don’t suppose these sites were chosen with Barack Obama in mind, but each one was a part of his story. All these sites are located in the south side of Chicago, a part of town with much racial and ethnic diversity. The first stop on our tour was the KAM Isaiah Israel Congregation, incidentally located across the street from Barack Obama’s house, to the surprise and delight of all those touring. I was struck by the tour guide’s description of the congregation’s decision to remain on the south side when the demographics started to change decades ago, ushering in a majority black community. This neighborhood is mixed across class and economic lines.
Our second stop was Trinity UCC church, Barack Obama’s former church home and the seat of controversy surrounding the incendiary nature of some of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s sermon’s and worldview about America. The church remains one that preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ with vibrant ministries that reach out far beyond its doors. It is unfortunate that this congregation and its leader was painted as sinister, unpatriotic and enemies of America, all for political gain. Despite these challenges, the church has grown in membership.
The final site was Rockefeller Memorial chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago where Barack Obama was on the faculty. We learned that the chapel, while founded in the American Baptist traditon, has become a place that welcomes people of all religious affiliations.
These three sites gave me a window into Barack Obama’s “world:” his home, his (former) place of worship, and the university where he shared and shaped his ideas. I couldn’t have asked for a closer picture. To top it all off, I received one more treat on election day. That morning, I sat at the gate waiting for my plane to taxi to the runway. I was clothed in my Obama ’08 t-shirt and Obama/Biden button which sparked many to stop and chat with me as I walked through the airport. “Have you voted?!,” they said. Some flashed a thumbs up sign. One of the flight attendants who also flipped me a thumbs up as I entered the plane, visited my seat and directed my attention out the window. “Obama’s plane is just behind us! Look,” she encouraged. I turned around and, yes, there it was. The plane, with his signature logo and moniker, “Change We Can Believe In” emblazoned on the side sat there within my view. I frantically pulled out my camera cell phone and snapped a picture. “Do wonders never cease,?” I asked myself as the plane took off.
This was surely a memorable campaign and election. I am thankful for the opportunity to have amassed many stories to tell my daughter.