Politics at its best serves the common good — far above any one interest or political party. And right now in Washington, we see that playing out as we continue to reach accord on immigration reform. But when it comes to our budget debate, partisan ideology and special interests are winning out over the common good.
The ever-looming “sequester” that was never supposed to happen goes into effect tomorrow. Billions of dollars will be cut from domestic and military spending without any plan or strategy; jobs will be lost and people will suffer. Public frustration is growing with our elected officials, while they continue to argue over the role of government instead of governing responsibly. The press discusses who wins and loses in the polls, but it is clear that it is the common good that is losing.
On the other hand, immigration reform is being discussed, at the same time with the same political players, in a very reasonable and hopeful way. On that important policy change, bipartisan work is going forward to shape legislation that could pass both houses of Congress.
There was truth tonight in the president’s State of the Union message.
There was truth that the rising costs of health care must indeed be addressed by serious reforms in our Medicare and healthcare system — but that it’s wrong to put most of that burden on vulnerable seniors, while protecting the most powerful special interests. Truth that you should not reduce the deficit by cuts in crucial investments in education, infrastructure, science, clean energy, or programs for the most vulnerable — but leave billions of dollars in tax loopholes and deductions for the wealthy and well-connected.
Truth in the compassionate and committed words about “poverty” and “poor” children and families who deserve our attention to find ladders up from poverty. Truth that no one who works full time in the wealthiest nation on earth should have to live in poverty but have a living wage. That quality pre-school should be available to every child in America to create stable and successful families.
WASHINGTON — Longtime White House aide Joshua DuBois, who heads the White House office focused on the intersection of religion and public policy, will step down on Friday, President Obama announced Thursday.
Obama, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, asked DuBois to lead his White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009 when the Pentecostal reverend was 26, and hoped DuBois could sustain the ties he had helped forge between Obama and religious groups during the 2008 presidential campaign.
DuBois will teach at New York University starting later in the year, according to White House officials, and also plans to write a book based on the inspirational messages he sent to Obama daily.
Invoking once again the spirits of Lincoln and Dr. King — and reemphasizing his own personal faith — President Barack Obama called for humility and a focus on common ground in his remarks at today’s National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton.
Citing the divisions that exist in Washington, Obama said our charge as citizens, and as leaders in government, is “to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action,” he said.
He reflected on the humility shown by Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who both turned to their bibles — both of which Obama used at his swearing-in ceremony last month — finding solace in the words of scripture amid the divisions of their times.
Obama recalled his own reflection and study, saying he often searches scripture to figure out “how to be a better man as well as a better president.” His words build on previous allusions to his personal faith journey. He has always insisted that doubt is part of faith, but faith comes with constant seeking.
“Faith is something that must be cultivated. Faith is not a possession. Faith is a process,” the president said, adding later that, “While God may reveal his plan to us in portions, the expanse of his plan is for God and God alone to understand.”
In the fall of 2006 I saw Alfonso, one of my favorite young middle school students, walking around our neighborhood as I drove to the office. It was mid-day, and it was unusual for him to be out of school and on the streets as he was a good kid. I pulled over and hollered at him, "Why aren't you in school?" Well, he had been suspended. I told him to get in the car.
We hung out the rest of the day; we prepped for youth group the next night, buying food at Costco and making calls at the office. We walked over to my apartment talking about life and how to avoid suspension from school in the future. Talk turned to immigration and his status. I told him I was committed to giving whatever it took to fixing our broken immigration system, for however long it took, so his family and others we cared about could dream of a bright future. I asked him if he was open to working with me; still uncomfortable with sharing his status with others, he said he'd like to think more about it.
I had forgotten about this story until he reminded me of it yesterday as we boarded a plane together to see President Barack Obama speak about immigration in Las Vegas.
Charity doesn’t leave us unchanged, which is just one reason why it’s hard to make ourselves do it.
To be more specific: when we extend generosity and justice to others, it alters our relationship to them. Especially when those “others” are foreign to us. Hospitality has ways of making the people who receive it come inside and stick around, whether we really want them to or not.
We see this on display in Luke 4:22-30, which tells the second half of a story about Jesus’ statements to a group assembled in his hometown synagogue, in Nazareth.
The story began, in Luke 4:16-21, with Jesus unveiling his mission statement: he says he intends to be God’s instrument for releasing people from oppression of all kinds — spiritual, economic, political, physical, and social. This is the first narrated episode of Jesus’ public ministry in Luke’s Gospel, and so it lays a foundation for everything that follows. Summoning from ancient Israel’s scriptures grand themes about God-given justice and abundance, Jesus identifies himself as one determined to play a part in God’s intentions to free humanity from its sufferings.
One day after making climate change a key issue in his inaurugal address President Obama has decided to put off a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline until April. The issue was thrust to the front of the agenda today when the governor of Nebraska approved the pipeline. The ultimate fate of the project is in Obama's hands. The Guardian reports:
Republicans immediately pushed Obama to approve the pipeline. "There is no bureaucratic excuse, hurdle or catch President Obama can use to delay this project any further," John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, said in a statement. "He and he alone stands in the way of tens of thousands of new jobs and energy security."
Campaigners against the pipeline said Obama should immediately shut down the project. "Approving Keystone XL would make a mockery of the commitment he made at the inauguration to take action on climate change," said 350.org, which has led opposition to the pipeline.
"Faith in America's Future" — that was the theme of Monday's inauguration activities.
Watching the prayers, the songs, the speeches, the crowd massed on the Washington Mall, I felt the faith. We don't have to hate each other. We can work together for a future that will be good for our country and for us as individuals. We can, as the President charged us to do, make the "values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness real for every American."
Inaugurations are times for setting aside differences and wildly celebrating. While Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, even John Boehner looked teary-eyed.
The political divisions will be back in full force this week, of course. And yet we Americans are in the midst of some really big changes — changes that may make today's partisan squabbles look hopelessly antiquated in just a decade or two. Monday's events highlighted these changes.
I attended the Inauguration Ceremony today. It was thankfully not as cold as last time. But it was one of President Barack Obama's best speeches — strong, clear, even tough, in a good way. My favorite line was: "… history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they’ve never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth."
In other words, God has made those principles always presented at inaugurals "self-evident" or ordained; but human beings must implement them. The president is saying that it is up to us to do that in our time. He elaborated. He was specific.
A presidential inauguration is by tradition the grandest ritual of America’s civil religion, but President Obama took the oath of office on Monday in a ceremony that was explicit in joining theology to the nation’s destiny and setting out a biblical vision of equality that includes race, gender, class, and, most controversially, sexual orientation.
Obama’s speech, his second inaugural address, repeatedly cited civic and religious doctrines — namely the God-given equality extolled by the “founding creed” of the Declaration of Independence — to essentially reconsecrate the country to the common good and to the dignity of each person.
It was a faith-infused event that recognized both the original sins as well as the later atonements of America’s history, especially on race, which was front and center as the nation’s first African-American president took the oath on the holiday commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
And Obama and other speakers vividly traced the nation’s tortuous path from slavery to civil rights — from the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago to the March on Washington 50 years ago, the latter presided over by King.
Blogger Hamden Rice's 2011 essay "Most of You Have No Idea What Martin Luther King Actually Did" has become an underground classic that rightly resurfaces around King Day events.
President Obama will publicly take the oath of office on two Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. One Bible was well read, but cited cautiously, the other granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.
When Obama lifts his hands from the Bibles and turns to deliver his second inaugural address on Monday (Jan. 21), his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.
His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the same Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.
Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.
“He understands that you can appeal to people on religious grounds,” said Jeffrey Siker, a theology professor at Loyola Marymount University in California who has studied Obama’s speeches. ”But you also have to be able to translate your case into arguments that people of different faiths, or no faith, can grasp.”
The evangelical pastor that President Obama picked to deliver the benediction at his inauguration ceremonies withdrew from the high-profile assignment on Thursday following a furor over a sermon from the mid-1990s in which he denounced the gay rights movement and advocated efforts to turn gays straight.
In a statement, the Rev. Louie Giglio of Atlanta, founder of the Passion Conferences for college-age Christians, did not directly renounce his remarks on gays but indicated that fighting gay rights is not one of his “priorities.”
Still, because of the controversy – which erupted on Wednesday after the liberal group Think Progress posted audio of the sermon – Giglio said that “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda the focal point of the inauguration.”
It is an odd juxtaposition, December 21, 2012 and January 21, 2013. The former date representing the “so-called” Mayan apocalypse where the usual suspects prepared for the end of the world – many of whom were Christians awaiting the second coming of Christ – and the latter date, which is the day President Barack Obama will be inaugurated for his second term.
In my estimation, this odd 21st-century connection reflects the event known as the baptism of Jesus as described in Luke 3:15-17 and 21-22. Initially we see that there is an expectation elicited by the preaching prowess of John the Baptist. The unnamed “men” wonder in their hearts if “whether perhaps he was the Christ” (Luke 3:15 RSV). John, then goes on to describe what he understands to be Christ-like qualities when he proclaims, “[One] who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am unworthy to untie” (Luke 3:16).
Generally, we only know how history will be remembered once it is in the rearview mirror. Something, or some things, jump out and remain indelible in the collective memories of the culture. And in a world defined by sound bytes, sometimes only a few words tell us a lot about that moment in time.
In that spirit, here are my selections for the ten most defining phrases that will stay with us from the past year.