Is that a Sea Change I See?

There probably was a time in my life when I wasn’t discouraged by and resigned to my gloomy evaluation of our government as at best ineffective and wasteful, and at worst corrupt and actively damaging humanity’s chances of creating a culture of peace between all nations (gee, thanks, Dubya, don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out). I just can’t remember any such a time. I have generally felt best while maintaining an intentional distance from that world, since I haven’t had a lot of hope that it will ever be any different.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty ImagesMy guess is that I’m not alone in my discouragement. I have been watching from a half-interested distance as the 2008 presidential primaries proceed, seeming to be pretty much business-as-usual, if rather a closer horse race for the Democratic nomination than has been seen in some time. I’ve felt bemused and sad to realize that in the first woman with a real chance at the presidency I don’t recognize womanly characteristics that would make her winning a big deal to me. Okay, so she cried. Once.

Now, I don’t know enough about Senator Clinton to speak from anything but the very vaguest of impressions. I think that in itself speaks to the condition of this political moment for a lot of people, especially women who value increasing the feminine perspective in high-level government. A woman as the leader of the free world would be… wow. That would be something, wouldn’t it? Well, maybe, but if Hilary gets in there I don’t have any sense that it would be a big deal, just business-as-usual, only with skirt suits.

Barack Obama, I have been repeatedly hearing, is a voice for true change, and not just because of his race. One quote I enjoyed: “My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or blessed, believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success.” Hmm. I liked what I heard. Could it be safe for me to poke my head out of my secluded valley and pay attention?

And still my apathy endured. The first Ms. President? The first African-American president? Sure, I can see the interest (and irony) of having one of each valiantly vying for the job, but who cares? I just want somebody to stop the war, give some priority to helping poor and uninsured folks instead of the already wealthy, to balance the budget, and through skillful diplomacy and peace efforts restore our place as a concerned and effective world citizen. The next president can be green with purple polka-dots, for all I care.

So how is any of this same-ol’ same-ol’ worth my (and your) precious RAM today?

Well, today, my apathy and resignation took quite a jolt in the pants.

Reading through a variety of blogs and internet news, as I do daily, I stumbled upon a link to Senator Barack Obama’s “Call to Renewal” keynote address and my outlook on politics suddenly took a sudden turn toward , if not unbridled excitement, at least hopeful curiosity.

Normally, since we don’t have TV out here and I self-filter my news via the internet, I don’t take in much by way of silly political folderol important political news. My attention was riveted, however, by this snippet of Senator Obama’s speech that was posted on Digg, speaking about matters of church and state:

“For one, they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn’t the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn’t want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves. It was the forbearers of the evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they did not want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it.

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America’s population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson’s, or Al Sharpton’s? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let’s read our bibles. Folks haven’t been reading their bibles.

This brings me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”

Reading this excerpt piqued my curiosity enough to seek out the full text of the speech. It’s a pretty long read, by interweb standards. I devoured it, becoming ever more riveted as I read.

After I finished reading the speech, I noticed that the things Senator Obama spoke of that did not resonate with me were still easy for me to take in, because I didn’t have any impression that he wanted to force any of his ideologies on me or anyone else. All I heard was an invitation to dance–to everyone. Yes, the message I heard coming through sounded suspiciously like sincere desire for dialog and collaboration to create a government that works for all people. I heard a call to authenticity for people of all faiths, and for people of no faith at all, in what they care about, and to bring that to the table. Come to the table, and let’s have a dialog of openness where all perspectives are valued, is what I heard Obama say.

photo by David McNew/Getty ImagesAnd this guy is… an actual senator? Holy cow.

Now, I’m politically jaded enough to have the thought that yeah, that’s what he wants me to think, and hey, he’s not the Second Coming, maybe not all that different from the rest. Yet, that cynicism receded quickly, and I found myself returning to interested curiosity. I think this guy’s the real deal, by which I mean somebody I want to vote for, not someone I choose in order to line up against somebody else.

And that was before I watched the video of the speech. Ah, for a visionary, articulate president… le sigh.

It took me a moment or two to actually notice the date of the speech - June 28, 2006 — and realize, geez, it’s like, coming up on two years old! I wanted to read more current speeches, so now I’m browsing the Senator’s speeches page, and checking out more videos on YouTube, wanting to hear what this man has to say.

Now there’s another shocker. Here’s a current political leader who’s words I find myself inspired to not merely sit through, but actively seek out, in spite of the fact that I don’t necessarily agree with everything he says. What the–?!!

A sea change might be a-brewin’ on our political ocean. I’d like to think so, as I’ve had enough of both doldrums and squalls. What do you think?

Note: The video of Obama’s speech can be found all over the place, including YouTube, where it is broken into several sections. Here is a link to a post that includes the video in its full length (over thirty minutes) so you don’t have to watch it in pieces.

One Comment

  1. Barbara Berry:

    Thank you for this! I absolutely loved that religion/state speech. I am more and more impressed with every speech I hear. He’s giving Hillary so much to offset. BBWriter43

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