Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco during Lent 2008, with boots and dogtags of fallen soldiers walking, searching for eternal truth

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Black Jesus, modified

I heard about an interesting article on Time regarding Obama and the Messianic reaction of so many Americans to his ascendancy to the most powerful office on the planet. It's an interesting piece, as it turns some of the prevailing talking head chatter sideways.

The point of article is that President Obama will not be liberating African-Americans from a psychology of defeatism. Instead, President Obama represents the emergent self-help attitude of African-Americans, and will liberate the rest of the world from their perception that African-Americans are self-defeating.

Two things strike me on this.

First, I don't think the self-help attitude is limited to the African-American experience. In my experience, immigrants to most any land, much less here in the US, try to move beyond their past, try whatever is possible to succeed, and demonstrate less willingness to rely on not-very-understanding governments. Obviously, there are many exceptions, as I'm merely talking about my own personal experiences. But if that self-help attitude is one that helped propel Obama to national spotlight, then I think one cannot avoid the issues of immigration.

"Barry" grew up with a "weird" name, son of an immigrant to this country and of an immigrant to a Pacific island state. He lived abroad for several years as a child. These were just as material to his character as his combined ethnicities. And if you look at his relatives, that's as diverse a potpourri of ethnicities and religions as it comes. As such, the rest of the world should learn not just what African-Americans can bring to the table, but what immigrants can as well. (And, I'm not talking the wait staff).

So, I'm not rejecting the article's notion, just expanding upon it.

Secondly, I do consider the concept of a Messiah to be important here. It's not that Barack Obama is a black Jesus per se. It's that so many people have tagged him as someone who can save us from international ostracism, who can mend the national moral fabric, who can guide us out of our economic wretchedness - - that's what is so striking in its extensiveness.

Let's face it. Many have had a deep need for a modern, secular, economic, political Messiah.

I saw it all around me in 2008. "So-and-so will fix things finally". "Someone come please clean up this mess". It's so biblical in sound.

Did we get the Messiah? No.
Did we get a Black Jesus? No.
Did we get someone who quenches our hunger for someone who can save us?

Perhaps. I was moved by the emotions leading up to and culminating in the Presidential inauguration. So many in the country have invested in Barack Obama from their hearts (because there's not much left to invest from the wallet), that one cannot help but see that we've assigned our need for a savior to him and to his administration.

But Obama isn't Jesus. He's just someone who befits the zeitgeist. We're in a mood to end the moral squalor of the past few years and a bombastic "bring it on" administration. Obama isn't the Righteous One, but if he'll just act like one for a spell, I think that many in this country is willing to go along with the casting.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Coming down off the mountain

It's raining in Pasadena today. Not our typical Southern California deluge. Just a chance to wet down the sidewalks, germinate some seeds, mess up the dust on my car.

And, unlike what I've been doing almost every day for the past two weeks, I won't be taking advantage of the spectacular weather to go on a stroll up the local mountains. It's really easy for me to take short hike, because one trail head is across the street from my home and other trail heads are less than a mile away. So, I've gone up to Echo, down into Rubio, explored hills post-2007 fire, and other fun little adventures.

Oooh, and the views are amazing. One Sunday, I could actually see lines and shadows on Catalina Island from my street. Now mind you, Catalina Island is 40 miles away. And a couple days ago, from atop the Cobb estate on Lake Street, it dawned on me that I was looking at Santa Barbara Island (a little spit of land about the size of Eagle Rock) or perhaps San Nicholas island, way past Santa Monica. I often forget they're even out there, much less see them on these strolls.

Now that's a view.

So why the bummed out mood? Well, the rain dampens the spirits and the hiking some. But also, reality hit after Tuesday's inauguration. There really are a basketful of challenges to be faced. Business is tough, and I'm trying to figure out how to avoid lay-offs. We have two wars, with friends serving overseas in frightful places. And the nation and the states have Kafka-esque budget nightmares tainting everything.

I'd love to bask and revel, as we did the other day. Watching Obama take his place as the most powerful person on the planet did move me. He is the living embodiment of not just African Americans empowerment but of the extent of today's diversity. His family has chinese, canadian, hawaiian, indonesian, african, irish and other interesting mixtures. He's got a rabbi, Muslims, and Christians in his family. Obama's brother in law is a Pac-10 (Oregon State) basketball coach - how "in the times" is that? He went to Oxy, depends on the internet and cell phones, and plays basketball daily. Dang, he really can be a cousin in my family. It's a reason to rejoice.

But it's tough to make a living while hanging out on these mountain tops. It takes hard work to climb up there and you still have mouths to feed. So, despite the glorious views, the gentle breezes and the bountiful joy, there are times when we have to come down and get to work.

So rain on, Southern California. Instead of being bummed, I just need to remember that with the rain and the gloom comes an opportunity for growth, rebirth, nourishment. We can germinate a tiny seedling that may one day be an astonishing tree from which we can seek shelter and shade. And not just for me, but for all who come after me. Bless us all with the water from the skies.

And I will let the optimist in me reign on.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Blog during the Inauguration...

And justice will flow down like water

5:30am Exciting day. Getting CNN all set up at the office. Setting up the projector so that we can watch in the office.

8:30am Cheney's in a chair? And nobody is going to push him down the stairs?

8:40am Rick Warren was affirming and not inflammatory. He sounded as though he wanted to reconcile. He used the concept of humility alot.

Aretha's hat is awesome. Sing out and proud! Wow, what a lady!

Biden is a very happy man.

The classical quartet piece was very good. Copland is a great choice. John Williams changed it to "Air and Simple gifts".

9am Justice Roberts screwed up the oath. Obama takes it in stride.

9:10am Obama is very Presidential. He's not avoiding tough language and starts off that way. Yields to hopeful talk. Mentions different religions and non-religious. Not a preacher tone or a chastising tone. Almost like a strong community activist.

Well done.

Camera pauses on Bush. Wonder what he's thinking. "The chopper better have my hunting gear ready" perhaps?

Awesome poem by Elizabeth Alexander.

Rev Lowery delivers the benediction. He's still alive? I remember how he pissed off conservatives during Coretta S King's funeral with his anti-war, pro-elimination of poverty talk. You go dude. I love it when Amos is quoted. Ooh, he ends on a funny rhyme.

9:45am All done. They're heading to lunch and then the parade. Helicopters getting ready to deport Bush to Texas. Oh dear, the crowds below are singing "na na na na hey hey goodbye" - - how very high school football! I guess that's appropriate since so much in America state things in sport talk.

Signing of some documents. Fancy lunch (Hiya John and Cindy). Dianne Feinstein (today's MC) said the recipe page was the most viewed page of the inaugural web site.

We're waiting for the parade. More on the next blog

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Clever People and the Inauguration

OK, so we're used to people thinking that there's a Yes-No, Right-Wrong, Black-White, Up-Down answer to most things. The selection of Rev Rick Warren to perform the inaugural prayers raised an enormous ruckus because he espouses views that are used to take benefits (and to many, rights) away from people. Obama was pressed by many in the gay community to rescind this selection.

Personally, I was vastly disappointed by the selection, but did not see his opening prayers as as a gay rights vs homophobia debate. So removing Rev Warren seemed somewhat of a false objective.

However, the selection of our very own Right Rev Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, to lead invocation at the 3-day Inaugural Ceremony was highly satisfying. One, it showed the influence that Episcopal Church has on the nature of the gay rights vs homophobe debate.

More surprisingly to me, however, was simple and clever way to defuse the issue. As in a big-tent, Hawaiian-style luau where everyone gets to have a stab at the roast pig, President-elect Obama's people have put forward a message that says "everyone has a seat at our table".

The announcement was simple, smart, affirming and appealing. I'm impressed.

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