This morning after dropping off my daughter at pre-school, I heard President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech replayed from yesterday on the radio. As always when I hear him speak, I was filled with pride and hope that we have elected such a man as our leader. Obama has been under much criticism lately, even from the left, with charges ranging from that he has not done enough, that his promises are unfulfilled, that he is weak. His approval rating sits today at 47%, low for a president at this point in his first term.
But his speech reminded me why I fell in love with him: he is never willing to retreat to cliches, he is strong but humble, he believes with his heart and soul in his vision of a better world. Though he has been accused of being nothing but rhetoric, the opposite is true as he showed again in this speech his willingness to take on complexity and ambiguity in talking about non-violence, what constitutes a just war, and the irony of receiving the highest honor for peace while being commander in chief of a nation at war. Too often we resort to facile explanations or solutions, contributing to our collective dumbing down and abdication of thoughtful engagement. Obama leads us away from that.
Perhaps more than any other reason, I love Obama because he is willing to be not just our president but our moral conscience, always facing head on the issues that needle our desire for simplicity and easy answers. I do not believe that when he talks about movements for freedom and peace and says things like, “it is the responsibility of all free people and free nations to make clear to these movements that hope and history are on their side” and “yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, or the staying power, to complete this work without something more – and that is the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there is something irreducible that we all share” that he is merely being eloquent or exercising a gift of putting words together in a way that moves people, like a hallmark card on a world stage. He is calling us to be something more than we are, to create a new reality, while being honest about what that will take.
Because the truth is real change can seem to progress glacially, and the work to bring it about can be very tedious. The work of change is daily; it is not always measurable, it is not always visible. It’s not even forward sometimes. Any expectation that Obama could change the world in his first year did not take seriously the complexity of the challenges we face.
Pastors are, or at least should be, about the work of change. Changing communities to be more compassionate, changing hearts to open and seek peace, changing our worlds to be places of justice and love. But, often, we see no change and sense that our accomplishments are few. I am grateful for Barak Obama because he reminds us all to move out of our own egos and remember that the future we seek is more complicated than any one of us can construct on our own. But at the same time, each person’s contributions are essential, and in time, with diligence and hope, will bring peace.
This is what I hope for the Multifaith Living Community, and finally all the work that we do at CA House: that it would ultimately be a step toward peace and a living out of Obama’s words at the conclusion of his speech: “no Holy War can ever be a just war…Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith – for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us…For if we lose that faith – if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace – then we lose what is best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass…So let us reach for the world that ought to be – that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.”