The Bishop’s Message
November 13, 2008
“Did you ever think you’d live to see an African American become the president of the United States?” I asked my 93-year-old African-American mother-friend.
She grew up in the South when the only school she could attend was in the basement of a church. She’s a living history of the civil-rights movement in the United States, including when her husband hosted Martin Luther King Jr. (and Malcolm X) in Cleveland. She’s seen almost a century of both the worst of racism and the changes that give her hope. She almost can’t believe it: the first African-American president of the United States. Not only Barack Obama but that people elected him give her hope in her fellow citizens and her brothers and sisters in the faith.
I called her after the election. She didn’t sound as delighted as I expected. For one thing, she was having one of her aches-and-pains days. She reflected on Obama’s appearance as he addressed the crowd at Grant Park and the nation. Obama didn’t seem elated. He seemed, as she would say, “filled up.” He was filled up with both gratitude for the opportunity to serve the country in this way as well as the responsibility. Immediately it seemed as if the burden of the position had descended upon him.
She has a reasonable hope that Barack Obama can lead our country and its people. She has a reasonable hope that he can guide us toward a strong and sustainable economy. She has a reasonable hope that his very presence will create an opportunity for a renewed respect in international relations. She has a reasonable hope that his ability to inspire and communicate will galvanize our divided nation. She has a reasonable hope in Barack Obama . . . it’s the rest of us that she’s worried about!
A plurality of Americans, undergirded by a large young-adult electorate, voted for Obama to lead us. While a small minority maintains that they are satisfied with the state of our nation as it presently is, the majority—whether they voted for Obama or not—desire some significant changes in everything from health care to the economy to international relations.
I find that most of us are reluctant at best and often resistant to change if it involves us! And yet any significant solutions to our problems as a nation will require change from all of us. Will those who elected Obama turn on him when hard work, sacrifice, and patience are required of us? I hope not. Will those who didn’t vote for him turn on him because he’s not their selected candidate, while the urgency of international and national matters presses upon us all? I hope not.
The refrain to the hymn “Let There Be Peace on Earth” keeps coming to my mind: “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” This expresses our challenge in the midst of the most global/universal/ idealistic goals, such as world peace, for us to remember that all things global are local; all things universal begin with us as individuals.
Let there be a sustainable and strong economy, and let it begin with me.
Let there be a systemic renewable energy source, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace in the Middle East, and let it begin with me.
Let there be a new conversation about race in our country, and let it begin with me.
Let our nation go beyond partisanship toward consensus and unity, and let it begin with me.
Let there be the elimination of poverty and poverty-related diseases, and let it begin with me.
Let this election of a person not of exclusively European ethnicity be a beacon of hope to all who have been disenfranchised and marginalized in our country, and let it begin with me.
As we gather up these and many other hopes, we need to pray for our new government officials. It should feel like they are practically family since they’ve been on the TV in our living rooms every day, their pictures in our newspapers and on our computers as we sat at our kitchen tables, their names in every conversation. We’ve analyzed, criticized and now voted them into office.
Now it’s time to pray for them and for us as a nation. In worship services and in your private prayers, pray for our country’s leaders—whether or not they were your choice—during these weeks of transition. Paul told Timothy to “pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply” (1 Timothy 1:2, The Message).
O God, who sees no national boundary
nor favors any national or ethnic origin,
nor resides with any one political party,
We ask for your wisdom and guidance for all our elected officials
whether we voted for them or not,
whether they are a member of our political party or not.
We pray specifically for wisdom, guidance, and protection
for President-elect Barack Obama and his family
as they risk offering themselves to us in this time of uncertainty and unrest.
Ours is a country in need of leadership for the common good,
specifically for the most vulnerable among us:
the children, who trust us to educate and feed them;
the poor, who must make desperate choices
between food and medicine,
between keeping a job and caring for a sick child at home;
those bearing the brunt and sacrifice of our foreign policies,
forced into leaving their homes and becoming refugees
and burying their dead from the violence of war.
Help us as individual citizens and people of faith
to become a part of the solution
and not just stand on the sidelines
expecting others to do the heavy lifting of sacrifice and change.
Forgive us and strengthen us with your mercy
that our spirits may abide with hope for our future
and our creative energy may be released to find the solutions to our problems.
It’s a moment of rare hope; help us not to waste it.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Bishop Sally Dyck