Barack Obama: For the people, the X-tian people

lincoln-bible-for-obamaIn 1976 I was the brunette Jew in a sea of blondes and Manhattan Beach was the whitest place on earth. I told my parents I wanted to be President , “You can do anything you put your mind to.” My father said, although secretly we both knew it was a lie.

I knew I could own a business, I knew I could write a book, or be an attorney. I knew that I would go to college, and perhaps more school after that. I also knew, as did my father, that I’d never be president.

As of  January 21, 2009 when a child, any child tells their parent that they want to be president, and the answer is, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” It won’t be a lie.

When the whispering began about Hilary running for President in 2008, I was vaguely uncomfortable with her voice. I’m not a throwback in every way, but when I hear a voice of authority in my head, it’s male. Almost equally startling was a black man running for our nations highest office.

As the year moved on, Hilary seemed less of a woman, and Obama’s blackness faded. She didn’t become more masculine and he didn’t become whiter, I just became less interested in the differences. I knew our next president could be a woman or a black man, now it was time to hear them out.

On Martin Luther King Jr. day I read about the end of acting white. I sat slackjawed at my computer, wondering how a man about my age could have such a struggle with the color of his skin. I know about the ghettos, my mother taught school in Watts for my entire childhood. She wept at our dinner table, telling us about children and their lives that bore no resemblance to my own. What I didn’t know about is that middle class kids struggled so much, not because I don’t care, but because it’s a tightly guarded secret.

As Barack Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible I shuddered, but not for the reasons you might imagine. Barack Obama pledged his devotion to our country by placing his hand on a book that excludes my family. Barack Obama gave one of the nations most hateful and divisive preachers the largest pulpit a holy man could ever dream of. Barack Obama mentioned other religions, but our nation asked Jesus to bless him. Barack Obama spent the night praying with us all, and woke up and asked for more.

Frankly, I’d forgotten Obama’s blackness until I watched him get sworn into office. I remembered his blackness again when I watched Joe Biden attempt (and fail) humor while swearing in the senior white house staff. Obama looked black again only because he was surrounded by whiteness, by middle aged men with more paunch than hair. Men who wiped away tears perhaps because of the momentous nature of the day, and perhaps because the pay freezes that relegate them to relative poverty for the next few years.

What I never saw, what I never felt, was me. I’m okay with that, because I think that the person who will save us all is the next president who will take the oath of office and affirm on their honor to do good things in this lifetime, and ask poets and scientists to speak for them. Perhaps our next president will offer me some of the hope I’m looking for; the separation of church and state.

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  1. Yeah, that whole Rick Warren business mars the glory of his election for me. It was bad enough that he’s so homophobic but then to hear his actual speech, I felt left out and weird. I learned a long time ago that separation of church & state fails in the face of personal belief when i was kicked out of homeroom for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance.

  2. Is not every president entitled to swear on whatever document that signifies his “faith”? Are you personally, if you were to achieve the office, not allowed to swear on a park bench if you so wanted?

    I understand that, not unlike the glass ceiling and the racial barrier, there is a Christian divide between where Rahm Emanuel sits as Sec of State and where Obama resides as president.

    But that is a structural problem that has less to do with Obama than with the American voting majority’s distorted interpretation of what is “American.”

    As for Rick Warren, Obama is trying to unite social conservatives with Democrats in a singular American mission: restoring the economy and resolving our problems in the Middle East. If Obama doesn’t get the social conservatives in his court, then their elected representatives will fight Obama’s proposals tooth and nail in Congress, and our economic and military problems will continue.

    Personally, I like the way Obama conducts his politics, because he appeases without abandoning his own principles. Obama asked Rick Warren to speak at the same time that Obama openly supports homosexuality and abortion. He is showing us that politics doesn’t require pandering, only a humanization of our ideological opponents.

    And out of appreciation for so being humanized, Rick Warren didn’t turn his prayer into a political pulpit to admonish homosexuality or abortion.

    We have to stop demonizing opposition, both domestically and abroad. Otherwise, our methods for overcoming resistance will perpetuate and even proliferate resistance. Our refusal to compromise and insistence on “now” will become a self-defeating enterprise.

    And we’ll become victims of ourselves.

  3. It’s interesting, I’m Jewish and have been considering this “now anyone can be president” line. I don’t expect to see a Jewish POTUS in my lifetime. Woman? Maybe. Hispanic? Sure. Jew? Nu-uh. Maybe Al Franken will surprise me, but I’m thinking not.

    The Chicago Tribune printed a spread on Obama’s cabinet highlighting the minority status of each member, if applicable. My husband and I commented to each other that the paper did not acknowledge Rahm’s status as a religious minority.

    I spend a lot of time listening to the radio instead of watching TV and I think Obama *sounds* like a leader. Bush, on other hand, made me nervous. He stumbled nervously, his voice quavered, he “mispronunciated” words.

    Obama and the US have tough times ahead, but I’m feeling more confident in our country than I was at this time last year.

  4. My third-grade aspiration was to be the first Jewish President. Seems I stumbled onto the right blog post for the topic.

    Why can’t there be a Jewish POTUS within 10 years? If a black man can win the throne, a Jew gets an easier shot than an Asian-American.

    Oh, and there are two Jewish Governors right now: Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania and Linda Lingle of Hawaii. The kicker is Ed is a Democrat and Linda is Republican.

    The church-state issue bothers me, as I hear benedictions everywhere. I had no problem with Rick Warren speaking, but wish there could have been less reverends and maybe a rabbi or imam too.

  5. That’s a very well worded piece. I’m 100% with you on the church v state issue. However, this country is like 95% Christian, so we’ve got to deal with it a majority of the time. I just don’t want it to get in the way of progress. They can swear on their bibles, just get some things done.

  6. I really appreciate this post as well; not as someone of a different religion, but as an atheist. Although I’m not offended by Obama’s choice to swear in on the Bible (that’s his religion, his choice), I was and am offended by the choice of Rick Warren to speak.

    Also, note this: A Jew has a far better chance at the presidency than an atheist. America will never accept a nonbeliever as their leader.

  7. The church-state issue bothers me too.

    But it is for a totally different reason. The ‘separation of church and state’ is a figment of the Supreme Court – not part of the Constitution.

    What is in the Constitution is the ‘Establishment’ Clause – the govt shall not establish a religion.

    I would also agree that an opportunity was missed to have a non-Christian on the podium during the inauguration, but I agree with Gray above that it was a bone to ameliorate the social christian conservatives a bit (good try but I am not fooled).

    This administration will have all the trappings of inclusiveness, openness, and fairness and will attempt to do more for more groups than has ever been attempted.

    Unfortunately, anything that is for everyone is for no one. Anything divided by large numbers gets very close to zero. So some groups will make out, and probably not the ones intended for.

    One of the reasons the haves have is because they learn very quickly how to adjust to new circumstances and continue to have. Conversely, the have-nots have not because they are trapped in their own mind with their limiting beliefs and unable to move out of the trap.

    Create a great day for yourself – only you can!

  8. I’m a Christian. An evangelical Christian. I’ve been to Rick Warren’s church and have seen him in action. No man has done more for AIDS and promoting world peace and social equality (without being a celeb like Bono) than Rick Warren.

    I’m always saddened when people assume that our faith means that we do not treat people with the love and respect that we want for our faith. Our faith may say there’s only one way to heaven (Jesus) but that does not mean we are allowed (or should) treat people differently or intolerantly.

    I’m also saddened when the media attacks people (any people) and everyone jumps on the bandwagon o’hate without really researching and understanding what people are saying. Probably the most wonderful way to treat people who disagree us I saw when John Stewart had Mike Huckabee on the Daily Show and they discussed gay marriage. I wanted to cheer that THIS is the way people should treat each other. Both sides were fair, balanced and nice to each other. That is what America is – a huge patchwork of people who will never 100% agree on anything other than we want to live in a land where we’re free (and even then we disagree about what that looks like).

    If Obama, being Muslim, had sworn on a copy of the Koran I would not be offended. America’s ideals are such that we HAVE the First Amendment – you can be Jewish, Christian, First Church of Big Bird or nothing at all.

    The symbolism of it being Abraham Lincoln’s Bible was beautiful to me – the one president who fought to end slavery was a part of the swearing in of our first black president.

    It’s really hard for me that Christians can be up for such brutal attack and no one cries foul play. If you replaced the comments and the commentary and made it against any other faith – there would be a huge controversy. You may believe that 95% of America is “Christian”… but I’ve not found that to be true living in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and even in small town Iowa. A majority of America is what we refer to as ‘civil religious’ – God bless America, but I have nothing to do with him at other times.

  9. We’re all getting closer to being represented by our gov’t. Just 4 years ago Lieberman almost became the first Jewish VP, Sarah Palin this year. I think in future elections things will get more and more diverse, Though I agree with Jillian, us athiest/agnostic will have a long wait.

  10. I dream of a day when a candidate’s race or religion doesn’t matter — only his or her competence, experience and vision. We’ve got far more separation of church and state than most nations, but it’s been under siege for a long time in some parts of the country. I don’t expect the culture wars are going to end any time soon… but I think Obama is trying to forge a truce. This is a step in the right direction.

  11. @Tabitha – The way you presented your remarks is excellent. And I agree that the way Mike Huckabee and Jon Stewart (two very diplomatic men) discussed things is as it should be.

    But lest anyone take your words for gospel, Rick Warren’s PEACE Plan has not done more for HIV than other initiatives. That’s just not fair – Warren supported the global gag rule, which inhibited many non-religious (abortion-supporting) initiatives from getting the money they needed to do their jobs, leaving funds only for the evangelical orgs. Do you really think that’s fair?

  12. Someday, someone, somewhere, will read The Constitution and realize that the phrase, “Separation of Church and State,” is NOT IN THERE!!!

    The first amendment reads in part, freedom of religion, not freedom from….

    Thanks for the rant space….

  13. The common thread here seems to be the notion that a particular racial/religious group “will never be elected/accepted” in some form or another. I find that to be false. The lesson to be learned from Obama’s election is that is no longer true.

    I am female, black, christian, and a democrat, and I for one would not write off a viable candidate based on them being atheist, jewish, etc., just as I would not prefer a candidate solely because he/she believed in Jesus. (I feel ridiculous just writing that.)

    Even if 95% percent of the country is christian, that doesn’t mean that all 95% are a homogeneous group that believes the same things, worships the same way, shares the same ideals (socially or politically), or votes the same way.

    I think people should stop categorizing themselves and just be. If someone who is jewish, atheist, agnosotic, muslim, or whatever, wants to serve this country, then they should go for it. Ideas and visions get people elected, not religious/ethnic platforms.

    Someone needs to be the first. So who’s it gonna be?

  14. But, Nichole, you categorized yourself in the first sentence of your 2nd paragraph. There is difference between categorizing oneself and identifying with a group or groups of people. I say, if an Irish Catholic can be president, then we can all be president, so thanks, JFK!!

    Also, let’s clear up the myth that Lincoln freed the slaves right here and now. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to areas under the control of Confederacy. Lincoln couldn’t force Confederate slave owners to heed the proclamation. It also didn’t apply to border states and some northern states that were under southern control. Slavery didn’t end until 1865, when the 13th Amendment was enacted. Furthermore, the Emancipation Proclamation was an attempt by Lincoln to retaliate against southern states who refused to return to the union. He knew that freeing the slaves would devastate the south’s economy. He basically used the slaves as a tool to get what he wanted.

  15. Hi Nancy – I should have been more precise in my language. I was attempting to provide some context by “identifying” myself.

    And instead of “categorizing,” maybe I should have said: I think people should “stop limiting their options” or “not take themselves out of the game” based on whatever “minority, or other” category they subscribe to.

    I understand what it’s like to feel as if you and your beliefs are outside the mainstream. But, I think now is the time to change our mindset about what is and isn’t possible. Maybe its true that 5, 3 or 1 year ago, it was inconceivable that a jewish, mormon, or atheist person could be president. But there’s no proof that it will still be true 4, 8 or 12 years from now.

    My whole point is just to encourage any non-majority person to go after anything they want. Don’t hold yourself back based on old assumptions of what can be. That’s all.

  16. Well, it’s an age-old story. Kids are always told that they can be whatever they want to be, even *gasp*, president of the free world. But then we run into reality, and the fact is, politics is a game. Black, white, red, purple, whatever… you only win if you know how to play the game and knowledge of the game is reserved for a select few, based on social connections.

  17. Tabitha, Obama is not a Muslim, he is a Christian. That’s an odd internet rumor spread by the far right. I guess you fell for it.

  18. I asked my son what was a reason that it was so special that Obama was elected, and he said because he’s the first black president. I then said that perhaps someday we’d have the first female, or Jewish president – “Is Obama Jewish?” was he response :)

    What a great post/discussion. And it’s one thing to encourage, but there is reality to be faced. It’s true athiests rank the highest on the “who would you not vote for” poll. Guess it doesn’t hurt to go for it.

  19. Wow, great post. Very deep. Though I’m not Jewish, I did have similar emotions watching Hilary lose. I very much wanted to be the first woman President as a little girl, and as an adult seeing that almost happen was an honor and then a huge let down. I did fully support Obama and even volunteered for his campaign. But there was still that little girl in me that was let down that it wasn’t the woman up there. But then on the day of Obama’s inauguration my three year old daughter came in the room and sat on my lap and as we watched the parade and festivities in DC on the tv, she looked up and asked “Mommy, can I be President someday like Barack Obama?” I told her that yes, she could. All the religious stuff (I was also not big on the highly Xtian ceremony as well) the racial stuff and even the gender stuff just fell away. Because in her eyes she just saw a person who was President, and as far as her three year old mind was concerned the only thing standing between her and being the same thing, was time. I intend to make sure she keeps thinking that.

  20. You’ve said so many things here that I’ve wanted to say, so first, thank you. Rick Warren’s prayer was an embarrassment and a slap in the face to many Americans in an otherwise joyful day. I still do not understand the president’s choice there. Still, it was an exciting year.

    I got to vote for a woman for president in the primary and a person of color in the general election, two things I did not expect in my lifetime, or perhaps until the very end. You know the story: “95 year old woman casts her vote for the first successful woman presidential candidate in history.” Cut to shaking, white-haired woman leaning on cane, tears in her eyes. “I never thought I’d live to see this day,” she rasps. “I helped elect Bella Abzug in 1970!”

  21. Separation of church and state would be SO NICE! I “pray” for the same. I’m an Atheist, and believe it’s ludicrous that we still run governments on Christian beliefs. I understand that it made sense back in the day, but America is a nation of immigrants… and should be run to be more diverse in that way.

    A black president is a GREAT start… and makes me teary-eyed with real hope for future presidents, whether they be a female brunette Jew, or an atheist like me. As long as they’re a humanist, religion is irrelevant.

    The future is bright. I’m so proud of America.

    PS: After the real issues are addressed, I think it’s time to change the rule that you have to be born in the US in order to run for President. If you have to be 35 years to run, why not include people who’ve been citizens of the US for 35 years? Seems fair to me.

  22. Sometimes it saddens me to be a Christian as we have trumped religion and all it’s negative agenda/judgements over the it’s more real spirituality. I can understand why people dislike Christian and anyone, like RW, that represents megachurch idealisms. We have to get to the root of what it means to be a Christian, practiced by the early church and learn to love others for no other reason than to love them…harder to say than do I admit. I am still working on myself to practice what I am preaching. It is a process… I heard someone say that we (meaning Christians) won the war. What war? To be the dominate force in America? Ouch. Unfortunately we have taken casualties in the process. As a Christian, accept my apologies for that…that is not what Jesus stood for in my reading the “book.”

  23. Pingback: Monday Musings: Expectations About Prayer at Public Events | Colloquium

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