Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Montanans and Obama

I grew up in Montana. My lovely spouse was born in Montana. Our wedding was in the First Presbyterian Church of Billings 25 years ago. I wasn't from Billings. Billings is the big city. I grew up in a little town called Whitehall across the Continental Divide from Butte.

After we married, we moved to other places (Boise, Seattle, Princeton (NJ), upstate NY). In 2001 we moved back to Montana and I was pastor of First Presbyterian in Billings for four years. Now we live in Tennessee. Montana is and probably always will be "home." I know Montana more than any other place.


Montanans think they are normal and that the rest of the world is weird. Our accent is similar to the nondescript accent of television announcers. Chet Huntley was from Montana. One of my wife's students in Tennessee told her she sounded "like a narrator."

Most anything beyond North Dakota is "the east" and south and west of Wyoming is California. The southeastern United States are not the radar. It is all "the east." Those are all strange places. You can spot Californians and Easterners when they pass through Montana or stay and buy large houses or try to tell Montanans what to do.


Sheltered is a good word for Montanans. White Montanans and Native American Montanans have a rocky history to be sure. Outside of cowboys and Indians,
most of what I learned about other kinds of people I learned from television. The first black person I had ever seen in Montana I met when I was about 14. I played chess with him at the Butte Chess Club.

I resonated a great deal with those who are featured in this article in the Washington Post, "Never could I have anticipated...a black man being at the top of the ticket."

Among those who came here over the years were the descendants of Irish, German and Scottish immigrants. Their families continue to populate the spare landscape between the towns of Roundup, Grass Range, Teigen and Lewistown.

But one group that never settled in any numbers here, or in any part of Montana, were blacks. There has never been a black schoolteacher, mail carrier or law enforcement officer in any of these towns. As those school foundations attest, there is history here, but no black history -- no frayed emotions over the flapping of the Confederate flag, no sit-ins for voting rights, no debates over the duties of the Talented Tenth.

So how do the people here get to know the accomplishments, artistry, pain and jubilation of more than 36 million Americans? How do they begin to understand Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, who could become the first black president? Particularly when they may never have seen a black mayor, a black school principal or even a black shift supervisor?

Enjoy the article and welcome to my world.



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