White House

My Unexpected Meeting with the President of the United States

Photo courtesy La Casa Blanca Twitter feed
President Obama and faith leaders meet to discuss immigration reform. Photo courtesy La Casa Blanca Twitter feed

It was past 10 on a Sunday night in Spokane. The wedding was over and I was sitting in the hallway of the hotel in my pajamas reading my email by iPhone while my grandson slept in our dark room. 

I saw an email from White House sent by a woman named Julie inviting me to meet that Wednesday with President Barack Obama and his senior staff "to discuss the moral urgency of passing immigration reform ...  Please RSVP to me by no later than noon Monday ... "

This was a joke. Why would I get an invitation? I emailed friends in the Evangelical Immigration Table, and by Monday morning they confirmed it was real. How could I say no?

I found out later on Monday as we were flying home from Spokane that this meeting was to be a small gathering with the president, his senior staff and a handful of faith leaders in the Oval Office. I laughed out loud. 

Aide Shares Bible Devotionals He Sent to President Obama Each Morning

Joshua DuBois’ book, “The President’s Devotional.” Cover via RNS. Courtesy Harper Collins

President Obama may not attend church most Sundays, but a new book reveals the Bible verses and prayers that he reads every morning.

The President’s Devotional, released Tuesday by Pentecostal minister turned political aide Joshua DuBois, is a compilation of 365 of the more than 1,500 meditations DuBois has sent the president since he started working for him in the U.S. Senate.

DuBois, who left his White House post in February, spent his weekends reading and praying over what he would send to Obama’s Blackberry the next week. He drew from the words of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, the songs of Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, and the activism of Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Complexities of Struggle and Love

LEE DANIELS’ The Butler, a century-spanning tale of race in the United States and service in the White House, is a dream of a film—by turns historically realistic and magically fable-like. It’s a perfect companion piece to last year’s Django Unchained, in that case a movie whose tastelessness wrapped up as fabulous entertainment forced audiences to engage with a deeper level of the shadow of U.S. history.

Based on the story of Eugene Allen, a black man who served multiple presidents in a White House that took its own time to desegregate its economic policies for domestic staff, The Butler begins with a rape and a murder of plantation workers by the son of the boss. The ethical quality of the film is immediately apparent. This horror is not played for sentiment, nor even spectacle, but to evoke the very ordinariness of monstrosity.

This makes The Butler a rare film: one more interested in confronting us with a kind of previously unspoken truth than in goading us to feel the catharsis of guilt-salving by association. (It’s the antithesis of films such as Mississippi Burning, which use white protagonists to tell black stories and appear to believe that we can somehow participate in the virtue of the civil rights movement just by watching a movie about it.) The makers of The Butler have told a kind of truth about the struggle for “beloved community” that has rarely been seen so clearly on multiplex screens. The film illustrates the serious and painful work of nonviolence and invites us to consider the political and cultural tensions within the black freedom struggle, while giving a more humane perspective on the presidency than is often the case. We can hope the door is now open to more reflective cinema about the unfinished business of the black civil rights movement, broken relationships, traumatic memory, and how we tell the story of who we are.

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Meeting Madiba — An Unlikely Encounter with Nelson Mandela

South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com
South African stamp of Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy Neftali/shutterstock.com

Mr. Venter’s question is a constant thought during these declining days of Nelson Mandela’s life, especially today — his 95th birthday.  I pray daily for my South African daughter Eliza, husband Jonathan, and their four sons Noah, Aidan, Luke, and Sam, along with the many dear South African friends gathered over the past 30 years.   Will they live the on-going dream or in an emerging nightmare? 

In 1994, during Bill Clinton’s presidency, I had the honor of meeting President Nelson Mandela in a most unexpected way — just two months after his April inauguration as the first democratically-elected President of South Africa. 

Hunger Games, U.S.A

The number of those who’ve benefitted from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has increased nearly seven percent from 8.7 in 2007 to 15.2 in its most recent study. Despite the economic challenges America has faced over the past several years, the Houses’ decision to do away with food stamps has not only caused controversy between the House and the Senate but has caused controversy between the government and the American people. The New York Times reports: 

Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.

Read more here.

VIDEO: People of Faith Tackle Climate Change

Rose Marie Berger writes in the May 2013 Sojourners magazine cover story, “For God So Loved the World,” that people of faith are key to reversing climate change. It will take a holy power shift to compel God’s people to care for creation and “launch an irresistible force for change.”

In creative and bold ways, people of faith from various religious traditions are doing just that. Together, they are raising their voices and taking action to address climate change.

Recently, a group of 75 people gathered in front of the White House to hold an interfaith service. Prayers and speeches from various traditions were recited, including the Muslim call to prayer from the Quran, an invocation of the Four Winds in the spiritual tradition of the First Nations, and a Christian prayer and reflection by Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger. They called upon the president to act justly and heal creation from the dangers of Big Oil, Big Coal, and Unnatural Gas.

Fifteen people were arrested at the interfaith service for engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. To learn more about the event and watch Rose Marie Berger in action, view this video released by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate (IMAC).

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A Prayer at the White House

A meeting today of faith leaders with the president on immigration reform opened and closed with prayer.

This was my prayer at the end:

Thank you Lord, for this circle of leaders around the table and how you have brought us together to help welcome the stranger in our midst — to fix this broken immigration system that breaks families and lives.

Thank you for the leadership of Barack Obama in making comprehensive immigration reform such a high priority in these critical months ahead. Guide and direct him to find a genuine bipartisan political path to accomplish something so important that has been needed for so long. We thank you for both the Republicans and Democrats who are coming together to make that possible.

[Continued]

An Amazing Journey

From the Senate staff to the 2008 campaign to the White House, Joshua DuBois has been President Obama’s top faith advisor. Last week, DuBois resigned as the director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. On CNN Belief Blog, he shares reflections on his journey and what is ahead – writing a book, launching a new social enterprise, teaching and speaking. DuBois concludes:

“As a committed African-American Pentecostal, I never thought I could become such dear friends with so many in the faith community  Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews, conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats  who care first about God, and second about their neighbors, and seek to live this care out into the world. I would hope to honor those friendships, continue to serve this good president, and let my life and work be a song of worship in the exciting days ahead.”

A Grateful Farewell

Photo: USDAgov via Flickr
Joshua DuBois, at the Consultation on Improving Latino Outreach in 2010. Photo: USDAgov via Flickr

Joshua DuBois has been running the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships for President Obama for the past four years, but he leaves the White House today. That Joshua’s farewell party had to be moved to a larger location is just one sign of the respect and affection he earned during Obama’s first term. The President especially appreciated his young spiritual adviser, and read devotional biblical reflections from DuBois every day. At yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama lifted up Joshua’s importance to him and his administration, and said how much the young African-American Pentecostal pastor would be missed; the applause from the audience demonstrated the president wasn’t alone.

I have worked closely with Joshua, and want to wish him my own grateful farewell. I’ve watched this young man grow into this important job. He has been a good listener, facilitator, encourager, and convener; and has worked hard to put faith-based offices in executive departments throughout the administration — a first for any White House. Over the course of the last four years, Joshua has been successful because people both trust and like him, and the farewell comments at his going away party will show that. Joshua has especially worked hard to connect outside faith leaders and the faith-based community to key places and players in the White House to move agendas that we care about forward. 

DuBois Leaving White House Faith-Based Post

RNS photo courtesy of Pete Souza/The White House
President Obama signs the proclamation marking the National Day of Prayer. RNS photo courtesy of Pete Souza/The White House

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.

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