Peace on the Prairie

There are few sights more pathetic than a white, midwestern pastor trying to evoke call-and-response from a largely African American and Latino crowd.

The poor man couldn’t get an amen.

So he said “amen” himself every time he paused for breath, but the crowd didn’t seem to be feeling it.  Luckily, we’d felt plenty of other good, sincere, amen-worthy stuff during the cold, windy hour on the Storm Lake courthouse lawn.

Saturday, BVU’s diversity group held a peace gathering in response to the local KKK’s threat to picket former Mexican president Vincente Fox’s appearance in late October. The KKK didn’t follow through with the picket threat because our local KKK is one man who, between his threat and Fox’s speaking date, was arrested in another state on outstanding warrants. I believe the group had planned to have their gathering earlier, but canceled when the KKK dude didn’t show. However, many of our students felt a very legitimate fear at the very idea of KKK activity in Storm Lake, and the peace rally went forward as a way to name, own, and refute that fear.

It was a small gathering, no more than 20 or 30 people, including just two or three faculty members. The pastor’s wife spoke first (she got plenty of amens), followed by two of our Latina students, both of whom gave great talks (one quite rhetorically sophisticated, says the teacher in me). Then a student worship-dance group performed (they call their group by its acronym, D.I.M.E.S. — I’m not sure they fully thought out the whole money changers in the temple thing), and a student gospel choir sang a capella, also quite good. Another student soloed “We are the World,” and the head of the campus diversity department gave a truly impassioned speech that made my eyes tear up.

The hour ended with the begging-for-an-amen pastor (I believe he runs our local mega-church, but I’m not sure). I may have been the only one in the crowd who saw the humor in his performance; I can’t tell because, even protesting, midwesterners are so darn polite. It’s also possible that his performance (that’s it — it felt like a performance) just grated on me. At any rate, it was a satisfactory meeting, if a little more Jesus-y than I had expected, and I hope both the participants and the onlookers felt comfort and peace.

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