I think that Barack Obama is an intelligent man and that the way he speaks about many of the issues that our country is facing demonstrates a considerable depth of thought and substantial wisdom. I am also convinced that Obama's convictions concerning many of the issues are born out of a well thought out ethic that takes seriously what it means to be a Christian in our American democracy. When you add to all of that the sights and sounds of yesterday's inauguration; Obama's inspiring words, the innumerable throngs of people huddled in the cold for hours just to welcome him into office, the historical significance of our nation's first African American president taking office the day after our nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday... its difficult to not be at least a little caught up in all the excitement.But then that little bit of excitement also reminds me of George Bush's election to office. It reminds me of how impressed I was with his message of "compassionate conservatism". It reminds me of all the patriotism that I felt and that arose throughout our nation after the attacks on September 11, 2001. It reminds me of how high President Bush's approval rating was, much as Obama's is now.
Of course, Obama and Bush are very different people with very different policies. I, too, am a different person than I was eight years ago, voting for very different reasons than I did then. So maybe Obama is right. Maybe change really has come to America.
But can the kind of change we really need ever come from an elected official? Don't get me wrong. I think good government is tremendously important. American democracy is truly an amazing thing. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the world. But let's imagine the best case scenario: the economy recovers, the wars is Iraq and Afghanistan come to a suitable resolution, education improves, and green technology advances. What then? Of course, I prefer an America where all those things happen to one where they don't but even if they do, where does that leave us? With an even more powerful and affluent country than with which we began? And isn't it our power and affluence which usually gets us into trouble in the first place? Our power leads to arrogance and our affluence leads to greed and these seem to be the very things that have lead us to the mess we find ourselves in now.
So while I certainly prefer prosperity, peace, and justice to poverty, violence, and inequality, my greater hope is for a spirit of humility and self-sacrifice for President Obama, our nation, and our world because I'm pretty sure those are the only things that can lead to lasting prosperity, peace, and justice for all. Humility and self sacrifice, in addition to new policies and politics, are the real change that we desparately need.
Perhaps Dr. King's dream can be realized in an even more profound way than an African-American becoming president (as profound as that is). What if the Church in America looked to Dr. King as a modern American example of what it means to seek justice with humility, to seek peace and reconciliation through self-sacrifice, to embody Jesus' way of life in our own context? That would truly be a dream fulfilled.