A Renewed Faith in Public Life
It's a better country than I thought it was. I honestly wouldn't have thought this possible. I guess I would have agreed with the older generation of African Americans in my neighborhood: this day would never come in our lifetimes--but here it is.
For four decades, I've been fighting against all the bad stuff in America--the poverty, the racism; the human rights violations, and always the wars. At a deeper level, the arrogance, self-righteousness, the materialism, and ignorance of the rest of the world, the habitual ignoring of the ones that God says we can't, the ones Jesus calls the least of these.
From the time I got kicked out of my little white Evangelical church as a young teenager, and plunged into the student movements of my generation; the issue that drove me was racism. Now the son of an African immigrant and a Kansas white woman was becoming President. I keep pinching myself.
And he talks differently--about almost everything.
I've known him for a decade, but I watched him grow as a leader all through this campaign, and now each day. I have never met a more self-disciplined political leader with one exception--Nelson Mandela. And Mandela had the advantage of 27 years of spiritual formation in a South African prison.
I am used to White Houses that want to arrest me--22 times over 40 years. This White House wants our advice. Leaders from the faith community have been virtually inhabiting the offices of the Transition Team over the last weeks, with our advice being sought on global and domestic poverty, human rights, criminal justice, torture, faith-based offices, foreign policy, Gaza and the Middle East. A staffer joked one day, "We should have just gotten all of you bunks here."
Joy and I were blessed to attend the private prayer service for the new President that began Inauguration Day for Barack and Michelle Obama. Then there was the swearing in, and then the speech. The more I have listened to it the better it gets.
Here was a leader who wants us to face how serious our situation really is. What some have called the "fake optimism" that often attends such inaugurals wasn't there; but rather a serous invitation to make the hard choice of hope which has always been the strength of this nation when facing the most difficult times. And here was a leader who said this wasn't really about him, but about us, and what we would decide to do together. The electric sprit which filled the Mall was indeed about him, yet he seemed resist the impulse to take the already inspired crowd even higher. Instead of making us soar, he seemed to want to sober us up. He called for a "new era of responsibility." And bridging the polarized left/right debates of the decades, it was clear that he meant both personal and social responsibility.
Some of the highlights for me were:
That national security strategy of Donald Rumsfeld will now be replaced by the wisdom of the prophet Micah--that our security depends upon other people's security.
That secret governance and detention centers of Dick Cheney will now be replaced by the rule of law and the renunciation of torture as not American after all.
And American "manifest destiny" will be replaced by a new relationship to the world more characterized by "humility" (he actually said the word) and leading by American example more than by American domination.
The opportunity that has always been the American promise must now be extended to all, including those at the bottom of the economy, said the new President, who also pledged the poor of the world would not be abandoned anymore.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.
Obama sometimes did sound like the prophet Nehemiah who after he carefully surveyed the broken walls of the temple, called the people together to start the re-building and to "commit themselves to the common good."
Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
Afterwards, as we were leaving the Capitol, my son Luke whispered in my ear, "Yes, we did."
Simply put, these last few days were a moment of answered prayers for me--the prayers of decades.
Participating in the Presidential Prayer Service at the National Cathedral was a fitting end to the week's inaugural events. Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus stood to pray for the President as the first family sat just a few feet away.
It was acknowledged that it was time now for the new President to go to work. And so would the religious community. Our job now is to offer prayers and support for the new President, as we did in the Cathedral yesterday. But it will also be our job, our prophetic religious responsibility in fact, to offer challenge, when that is necessary, as it certainly will be for this President like all Presidents before him. But I think this President has the capacity to understand that challenge can be the deepest form of support.
So let our work begin.
Posted by: Inquisitive3 | January 26, 2009 8:58 AM
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Posted by: herzliebster | January 25, 2009 4:48 AM
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