God Bless You Barack Obama?

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I’m trying to avoid talking too much about politics and current affairs on this blog as it can be so divisive and it’s also something I think a lot about at work. When I get home at night I like to turn to fiction, music, television, and general ho-hum conversation. But sometimes there are shows on TV which I hear about at work and make a mental note to watch later. This very scenario occurred this week when I was made aware of a program (kudos to Krish) put together by Robert Beckford, a theologian and documentary presenter for the BBC, called “God Bless You Barack Obama?” (Although in this particular documentary he was missing his characteristic dreadlocks.) The program was, in short, about Obama’s journey of faith, particularly his Christian faith which he espoused in his mid-20s while working as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago.

The usual suspects were interviewed, including Jim Wallis, Richard Land, and Newt Gingrich, but he also interviewed the controversial Jeremiah Wright (Obama’s former outspoken pastor) and James Cone, one of the seminal figures of black liberation theology. I didn’t have much time for Wright who seemed to have a huge chip on his shoulder, not only about the religious right but about how he was treated during the campaign (although he was very forgiving of Obama, who severed ties with him). However, I listened with interest to Cone’s comments. His shrill voice was somewhat off-putting, but his emphasis on black churches and black liberation theology attempting to restore “blackness” as something that is not inferior but worthy of full human status was welcome. Given the history of America’s treatment of blacks it is hard not to sympathize with that goal, although I’m sure there are many things about black liberation theology that would give me great pause.

But on to Obama. There’s no doubt that it’s extremely refreshing to have a Democratic president who not only celebrates his faith but welcomes people of all faiths into the conversation. Whether he accomplishes that is another matter, of course. I found Robert Beckford’s exploration into Obama’s church history fascinating. Soon after moving to Chicago, he figured out that the best way for him to engage with the black community was through the local church. He found a small Baptist church with a pastor he admired, but he told the pastor that he didn’t want to attend the church just out of convenience – he wanted his faith to be authentic. And so he came to saving faith in Christ. Isn’t that the kind of honesty we want all Christians to have?

Now I’m uneasy about some of Obama’s policies and the occasional populism that springs up every now and again (although that can be found on both sides of the aisle), but I really do respect his commitment to his family, his championing of racial justice and community action, and most especially his faith in God. This program helped give a bit of the story behind it, so if you’re in the UK I recommend watching it, but hurry up as it’s only available until Monday night the 1st of February.

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1776 revisited

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My Christmas read this year was 1776 by David McCullough. It’s a thrilling read about the year that turned the tides of history, setting the foundations for a new American nation and marking the beginning of the end of British rule there. Lauri found it in a British charity shop, mere minutes after I had remarked how much I had wanted to find a McCullough tome (either 1776 or John Adams) secondhand but held out few hopes of getting my hands on one in the land of King George.

I enjoyed the book tremendously – I haven’t studied early American history since my senior year of high school, and was happy to find that I recognized most of the places mentioned in the siege of Boston because my sisters now live there. I was intrigued to read about the attitudes of the Loyalists (many of whom lived in Boston and New York) who wanted no trouble with the king and saw Washington’s army as a bunch of rabble-rousers. I was also inspired by soldiers, often going cold and shoeless, trekking  miles through the night with no knowledge of where they were headed. Both King George and George Washington are treated with a fairness by McCullough who takes a more nuanced approach to their personalities than historical caricatures allow. I especially love McCullough’s extensive use of personal diaries in this book, particularly from teenage boys who were fighting with the rebels describing battle scenes.

Upon finishing, I couldn’t help but wonder (and I know this question has often been asked) if the war was really necessary to gain independence. Australia, for instance, gained independence in 1931 when the British empire transitioned into the British Commonwealth. It now enjoys special links to the UK, not least the occasional £10 flight deals from London. Even India was able to gain independence in 1947 without a war, although the partition between India and Pakistan that resulted from it displaced 12.5 million and led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. All this to say, if America hadn’t had the Revolutionary War, we would have ended up in the Commonwealth with the likes of Canada, South Africa, Australia and India.

But really…can we imagine that? So much of American politics and history comes out of that revolutionary period, those “times that tried men’s souls.” And that little thing called the Declaration of Independence, and then the subsequent writing of the Constitution. It doth stirreth my heart. So while a nice, cozy position in the UK commonwealth wouldn’t have been such a bad place to end up, it would’ve made for pretty boring history.