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I'm hopeful about our future, but not because Obama told me to be
I have always admired Barack Obama and his eloquence; although often marked by loftiness, he speaks to me as an educated person. I am often motivated after I hear him speak and the same was true the other night during his State of the Union address, the last address he will give during his presidency. Less and less of my friends watch the address because I think they are tired of the empty rhetoric that the heads of state offer us. If our national leaders wish to restore hope in the myth of the American Dream and its democracy, they certainly have their work cut out for them because it seems to me like most people aren’t listening. They realize it’s a lie. Despite the eloquence and even the serious ramifications of a divided ideological government, the people don’t care anymore. Obama may be speaking into nothingness.I think our population at large suffers from apathy at the power of institutions and looks for something real and authentic.
The government is not the only victim of this well-deserved indifference, the church is too. Just watch Spotlight if you want to know at least one reason as to why. The church has its work cut out for it to be real and authentic, to be genuine and inviting, to be actually dialogical and mutual. I think Circle of Hope is embodies those things, but we’ll have to work even harder to convince the world of that. I still think we get the cold shoulder, which is largely justified.
With that said, I wonder, should we be paying attention to what Obama says? Does his rhetoric matter? Are what the heads of state say important for the general population to know? I’m not sure. I pay attention to it, but I also pay attention to the Eagles coaching search. I think, in my mind, I put them in the same category. For me, it matters because it’s happening and I want to remain conscious of the world around me and not just live in my socially constructed world. On the other hand, the things that Obama was saying the other night about the poor and the afflicted in the world and in the country are important for Christians because the Bible repeatedly calls us to care for those very people. How the state is or isn’t should be of interest to us.
So despite our apathy, I think we should offer enough attention to these points from his speech.
Obama went out of his way to criticize Donald Trump and his call to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Anything reminiscent of the Holocaust seems to be a bad idea, but Barack made it clear that the U.S. shouldn’t move in that direction. Obama told us that we shouldn’t simply scapegoat citizens who are different than us. I agree with him. But beyond that rhetoric is the concept that simply being “American” is enough and good enough. That being American and included in the U.S. is enough to be safe and maybe saved. Inclusion into this great nation-state is how one gets saved. I don’t agree with that and while I think most people ignore that concept, I want to do more than ignore it. I want to offer an alternative.
You can see that Superman is basically saying what Obama was channeling. I prefer Paul in Galatians—it is the oneness that we share in the Body of Christ that saves us, the diversity that it can sustain and the solidarity that it promotes that unites us. Our common identity in Christ, not in our nation, is where salvation comes from. I think that distinction is noteworthy.
One of the reasons Americans are so afraid of immigrants and refugees is because of the real threat the Islamic State poses to its neighbors and the world. Obama downplayed its threat on the U.S., which I think is accurate, but he almost shied away from addressing it internationally. Granted, the U.S. is war-torn and fatigued by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He thinks there is needs to be a collective response—but unfortunately, that doesn’t stop him from using drones to contain the effort. Obama is not a peace president—he’s not calling for carpet bombing like Ted Cruz is (and he did throw a jab at the GOP candidate), but I did think he surprisingly lacked compassion while seeming overly hawkish. Bad combo, in my view. I think that acts of terror that people commit are serious and affect us all, even if they effect one of us. Every life counts. That’s how Jesus sees it and I want to follow him. He’d leave the 99 to go find one. I think the state is puzzled as to how to respond because it generally approaches geopolitical issues with an iron first. My suggestion? Follow MCC Washington on Twitter and pay attention to what our brothers and sisters in Christ are doing internationally that’s creatively and effectively protecting the least of these. I stopped turning to the state to solve the problems of the world at about the same time George Bush launched shock and awe. Another way is possible. Peace can be an answer.
Finally, Obama’s rhetoric is so great, it’s hard to see that’s he’s lying to us. As this Salon writer put it, “Obama’s rhetoric directly contradicts his policies. Why didn’t he listen to his own advice?”
The biggest quote from the other night may have been this: “Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.” This implication is that the state should care for the food stamp recipients and should punish the Wall Street plutocrats. Unfortunately, Obama’s record doesn’t show that. Our entire nation seems to be beholden to the government’s wealthy plutocratic funders. I don’t want to get too much into income inequality as I have repeatedly in the past, but as someone is swimming through the bureaucratic ocean of government benefits, our system in the U.S. is backward and oppressive.
Here’s my bottom line. The government is spewing hypocritical rhetoric. The people are ignoring them and subsequently ignoring any other institution. Our job as the church is to be real, authentic and different. The government itself has written an atonement narrative that makes it the bearer of salvation; it has preserved a symbolic gesture of peace in its war-hawk mentality, and cares not for the poor, but enjoys polite rhetoric around it. Lord help us and help us to be the alternative.