As I think about the life of Martin Luther King Jr. today and anticipate the historic inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow, I find myself sifting through a range of emotions. On the one hand, I am freshly amazed at how profoundly our country has changed over the past 50 years, how much progress has been made in such a short time, and how poignant it is to honor Dr. King the day before we swear in the first African American president. On the other, I feel a little embarrassed at my own dewy response to what several of my friends have dubbed a bunch of hype generated by the media. Are they just bitter because their guy didn’t get elected, or am I being too idealistic?
While I am energized by the images of thousands upon thousands of people descending on Washington D.C. to witness history, many with a renewed interest and excitement about the political process, I’m also skeptical about how much Barack Obama can really accomplish over the next four years. I worry that the more hopeful the American people are now, the harder we will fall into cynicism and doubt later on.
On the one hand, I am extremely pleased with America’s choice. I like Barack Obama’s attitude toward foreign policy. I like his positions on the economy. I am encouraged by his temperament and willingness to communicate. I voted for him because I thought he’d be the best man for the job, and I plan to wear my “Obama 08” button proudly on Tuesday. But I’m also worried that he will disappoint, and I’ll be stuck defending this guy for the next four years to all those people who accused me of being a communist baby-killer for voting for him. I know it’s selfish, but around here, most people know only one liberal, and it’s me. I’m not looking forward to the grief I’m going to get if things don’t go so well. A lot of people assumed that because I voted for him I must think him the Messiah. I most certainly do not, and the prospect of being blamed for all of his potential mistakes over the next four years is a bit daunting.
On a more spiritual level, when I see millions of people rally around the theme of hope, and when I think about the hopes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks and the African American community being fulfilled in this moment, I can’t help but feel hopeful along with them. I feel certain that people are indeed capable of doing great good, and that deep down, we want to love our neighbors as ourselves, just as Jesus taught. At the same time, I can’t quite shut out that old Reformed refrain that humans are incapable of doing any good apart from God, that we are rotten to the core and that illusions of meaningful progress are tricks of Satan or the result of sinful human pride. I don’t really believe this anymore, but I still hear that voice whenever I see people doing good or rallying around a meaningful cause.
And finally, as patriotic as I feel right now, I am reminded of Shane Claiborne’s appropriate warning in “Jesus for President” not to place my hope in earthly kings or kingdoms. As much as I like Barack Obama, it’s not his job to represent Jesus Christ in the world, it’s my job—and it's our job as the Church.
So I’ve got all of these competing voices in my head, telling me at one moment to be giddy, at another to be cautious, and at another to be cynical. But I have a feeling that tomorrow, my overwhelming emotion will in fact be pride, and I’ve decided to go ahead and embrace that. The capitol building was built on the backs of slaves, and tomorrow a black man will stand on its steps and be sworn in as president of the United States. This is good, and I intend to celebrate it.
So, how are you all feeling about tomorrow?
© 2009 All rights reserved.
Copying and republishing this article on other Web sites without written permission is prohibited.