A blog reader asked me two questions in a recent comment: “Is Obama who you thought he was? and has America changed for the better(long term) since he was elected?” I thought about it a bit and started writing a response, but it was too long so I made it into this post. Here’s my response:
Q1: Obama seems to be about what I expected him to be.
Q2: I don’t think America has changed appreciably since he took office.
That’s probably not what you are looking for, but I feel no special allegiance to any of the American political parties or ideologies. I don’t generally watch Fox News or MSNBC, unless Jon Stewart is poking fun of them. I don’t buy the bashing and conspiracies from the right and I’m not an Obama sycophant.
Christianity is a politic, to be sure. But it is not Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal in nature. Our agenda is mercy and justice, right relationships between the person and God, the self, other persons, and God’s good creation. We work with anyone who works for peace, no matter their race, religion, creed, or politics. I can’t even begin to explain how much I don’t care about the typical bashing that goes on from the right and left alike. Nothing good comes from that, it is not designed to inspire hope, but hatred, fear and negativity.
America seems to be struggling as a culture and a country. But it’s not simply the fault of politicians. I think politics largely reflects culture and our culture has chosen greed & affluence over mercy & justice. Even more than that, as a culture, we’ve lost the ideal of the “common good” as well as any concept of “enough.”
But it’s not only the fault of culture, it’s the fault of the church as well. As Christians, we’ve offered no alternative vision strong enough to counter the narrative of greed. We’ve largely gone along with the culture and baptized the values of individualism, consumerism and nationalism with religious language. In the end, we’re not appreciably different from anyone else in our culture, in many ways we’re just less tolerant, more self-concerned and more violent.
Followers of Jesus need to learn how to embody and proclaim a completely different vision of reality. The alternative vision is the kingdom of God and it is the central message of Christ, (see Matthew 5, 6 and 7, Mark 1, Luke 4). This narrative calls into question our entire way of life and it is actually powerful enough to inspire a completely different “way” of being human.
In this “way,” we find our life by losing it…losing ourselves on behalf of others. We do not exploit weaknesses in our opponents, we become purposefully weak ourselves so that the power of God can inhabit our weakness. We practice kenotic self-emptying and humbling. And we believe that this way of being human is what Jesus has inaugurated and empowered through his life, death and resurrection. It has very little resemblance to either side of the American political landscape and must not be so joined to either one that it becomes impossible to embody something so radically different as the kingdom of God.