Friday, February 3, 2012

Another Great Speech...Like Always

Yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event that has been attended by the who's who of religion and politics since 1953. The President is often in attendance, as was the case this year, and is usually one of the speakers at the event. President Obama's speech was, as usual, riveting and inspiring, leaving me mindful of the implications of his message. It was definitely worthy of a bit of my time and attention here on this blog. I have included the speech at the bottom of this post, but have highlighted a handful of great quotes and a few of my random thoughts and comments.

A few great quotes:

"At a time when it’s easy to lose ourselves in the rush and clamor of our own lives, or get caught up in the noise and rancor that too often passes as politics today, these moments of prayer slow us down. They humble us. They remind us that no matter how much responsibility we have, how fancy our titles, how much power we think we hold, we are imperfect vessels. We can all benefit from turning to our Creator, listening to Him. Avoiding phony religiosity, listening to Him. "

"But in my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others. "

"Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often. (Laughter.) So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other. And I have to say that sometimes we talk about respect, but we don’t act with respect towards each other during the course of these debates."

"As a loving husband, or a supportive parent, or a good neighbor, or a helpful colleague -- in each of these roles, we help bring His kingdom to Earth. And as important as government policy may be in shaping our world, we are reminded that it’s the cumulative acts of kindness and courage and charity and love, it’s the respect we show each other and the generosity that we share with each other that in our everyday lives will somehow sustain us during these challenging times."

A few random comments:
  • When they pan the crowd at the Prayer Breakfast, all you see is white dudes. I'm not totally sure what this means, but I think it says something about the lack of diversity in Christianity and politics.
  • Along the same lines, the Prayer Breakfast costs a ton of money to attend and is really only for the rich. There is immense irony in the fact that the majority of people in attendance are folks Jesus normally wouldn't have dined with. I doubt Jesus would have approved of a prayer meeting that you have to pay a handsome sum to attend and in which you had better wear a $1000 suit.
  • Obama did a great job of remaining true to his Christian faith and roots while also validating the wisdom and truth of other faith traditions like Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. We live in a multi-faith country but he was speaking to a community that has not historically been abundantly gracious to other religions, so he walked this line beautifully throughout his speech. He honored the faith and belief of others without losing the distinctiveness of his own tradition.
  • I was disappointed when Obama described our global peacekeeping (i.e. war) as an effort to 'care for the least of these.' There still exists, throughout the world as a whole, the idea that war, fear, and power can be avenues toward peace. I am constantly surprised that more people don't see the oddity of that line of thinking. Why are we surprised that war and conquest does not solve the world's problems and that we have not yet arrived at world peace? It is statements like this from the leader of our great country which remind me that even though we live in a pretty good 'kingdom of the world,' it will never be comparable to the 'Kingdom of God.'

While some of my comments have been negative and cynical (sorry, that's sort of my nature), above all I loved President Obama's speech. Not as much as Bono's speech a few years ago, but it was was still great. He and his speech writers have always had a way of naming the problems of this world without succumbing to hopelessness, a much-needed quality in our current global situation. I almost always find myself spurned on toward hope, believing that there is a better way forward. May we all find ways to journey this hopeful path together.

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