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Sunday, January 18, 2009
Obama's Vision, America's Hope
--Hope, George Frederic Watts (1885)
The following is an excerpt from President elect Barack Obama's first book, "Dreams From My Father." The book was written in 1995, and the sermon he is writing about was, judging by the book's chronology, witnessed in early 1988. While the book leads us to believe that this Sunday morning service was a point of spiritual awakening for our next President, in hindsight we can see that it was much more. This passage was written before Obama would write his second book (which is named after the homily), and more than a decade before he would be elected President of the United States after running a campaign centered around Hope. While the Hope that Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. preached of that day was one of prejudice between black and white America, Obama was elected on the shoulders of a Hope he preached to be colorblind. First the passage, then my observation:
The title of Reverend Wright's sermon that morning was "The Audacity of Hope." He began with a passage from the Book of Samuel-the story of Hannah, who, barren and taunted by her rivals, had wept and shaken in prayer before her God. The story reminded him, he said, of a sermon a fellow pastor had preached at a conference some years before, in which the pastor described going to a museum and being confronted by a painting titled Hope.
"The painting depicts a harpist," Reverent Wright explained, "a woman who at first glance appears to be sitting atop a great mountain. Until you take a closer look and see that the woman is bruised and bloodied, dressed in tattered rags, the harp reduced to a single string. Your eye is then drawn to the scene below, down to the valley below, where everywhere are the ravages of famine, the drumbeat of war, a world groaning under strife and deprivation.
"It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks' greed runs a world in need, apartheid in one hemisphere, apathy in another hemisphere... That's the world! On which hope sits!...
..."And yet consider once again the painting before us. Hope! Like Hannah, that harpist is looking upwards, a few faint notes floating towards the heavens. She dares to hope... She has the audacity...to make music...and praise God...on the one string...she has left!"
Reverend Wright spoke of the black man's place in a white man's world, a concept Obama struggled much of his life with, being raised by his white mother and white grandparents while trying to come to terms with his own ethnicity. It's a struggle that, regardless of one's political inclination, makes for a fascinating and insightful read. While the book is subtitled "A Story of Race and Inheritance," it lacks the racial grandstanding one might expect. In fact, it offers quite the contrary, Obama's immersion into black America providing jarring parallels to today's economic and social divide in our country.
What I find most profound, reading Obama's account of Wright's rousing sermon more than a decade later, is how the white man's world the preacher described has evolved into a world where economics have become as divisive a factor as color. With America's dire financial straights growing nothing but deeper, Obama's message of Hope is one that we all can cling to. Is it audacious of us, regardless of the color of our skin, to want to believe in a man whose vision of making the world a more balanced place has been constant for more than a decade?
While I still find a mantra of Hope a bit too nebulous to hang a campaign on, in this case, the ambiguity of the word is eclipsed by the singularity of Obama's vision. Politics is just that, politics. I do believe that Obama transcends the political realm that we're accustomed to. He wasn't born into money. He doesn't have vested interests in oil. He doesn't have a family legacy. He's forging his own legacy. Yes, he's still a politician. Yes, he still has outside interests that he needs to satisfy. But he's different. He plays the political game well, but plays the social and cultural game, as well.
Do I agree with his politics? No, not particularly. But politics is a game of give and take, and his early decisions have indicated that he's more willing to practice that than many of America's most recent leaders. Where have politics gotten us lately? In an economic free fall. I'm ready for a change. If it doesn't work, well, we address that fact in another four years. Eight tops. I will say this much, I have nothing but respect for the fact that he's not afraid to admit there's a problem, and he's even less afraid to tell America to pony up and prepare for things to get worse before they get better. I'll take a straight-shooter over an ostrich with their head in the sand any day of the week.
I don't need to believe in everything that is said or done, I just need to respect the vision and hopefully understand the thought process that helps lead us there. America needs a drastic change right now. An audacious change.
An audacity of hope that all of America can get behind, and a foundation we can Hope to build upon.