Some commentators on television yesterday were asking where President-elect Obama got his oratorical gifts. Spike Lee said he got it from listening to black preachers, like Doctor Martin Luther King.
Probably true. He’s listened to some good preachers in his lifetime, as so many other great political orators have. It’s a connection you don’t hear much about, but the preached word can finds its way into many places, into political speeches and political discourse, even into ordinary human conversations and people’s private thoughts.
An article in the New York Times today indicates that Barack Obama reads widely from classics like the Bible, Shakespeare, St. Augustine and from modern poets and novelists as well. He obviously appreciates the power of words.
Today we honor Doctor Martin Luther King, who also knew the power of words. A new book “King’s Dream” reviewed in The Times yesterday analyzes his famous “I have a dream” speech which he gave at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963.
The “I have a dream” part of the speech was extemporized. It repeated a theme that ran through many of his sermons before, but was not in his written text that day.
Yet today it’s what most people remember and the words are etched into our national consciousness. King’s wife Coretta thought it ” flowed from higher places.”
Sermons, homelies, words. They’re so important. At their best, they make the Word known and call for his kingdom to come.
Barack Obama’s inaugural address tomorrow will be the nearest thing we have in politics to a sermon.