Prayers for the President
The other day I was watching TV in the gym while I ran on the treadmill. I don't do that as often as I should---the treadmill part, I mean.
Anyway, I was watching a story on CNN about the reaction around the world after Barack Obama won the election. I saw people gathered in pubs across the United Kingdom, who cheered exuberantly and raised their glasses in a toast. I saw students in Indonesia, where Obama once lived, jump for joy and exclaim his name over and over. I watched Obama's family in Kenya throw a huge barbeque and heard that the entire country of Kenya had declared the day after the election a national holiday. The cameras captured similar celebrations in France, Japan, Australia and several Latin American countries as well.
As I sat there running on the treadmill, the images that I saw hit me like a ton of bricks. And then the tears came. At first, I thought it was just sweat getting in my eyes, but the knot in my throat told me otherwise. I was overcome by emotion that I couldn't explain. One of the anchors on CNN said something to the effect of, "It's as if the whole world is a bit more hopeful today."
This past summer I was in England on vacation with my family. We watched English news programs at night in the house that we had rented. The news about the goings on in America was never very complimentary. In fact, most of the pieces were fairly negative---especially when they touched on the war in Iraq, our leaders or the downturning economy. Almost to a person, the English people that I met were sweet and kind, and incredibly interested in Americans. My wife and son accompanied me to a small village church one cold and rainy Sunday morning and the people in the parish were overjoyed that we had joined them. But there was a distance between us that was made all the more apparent when the talk would turn to politics or the war or the economy. I could feel it, and it saddened me.
Once I had a conversation with an Englishman in a pub who told me that for the most part the English look on the United States almost like a child. He went on to say that a great many people from the UK both loved and hated the United States. They loved our exuberance, our freedom, our spirit of independence, but hated so many of the ways that we have chosen in American culture to express them.
He said all of this in a wistful sort of way.
It was almost like he was saying that he wished we would grow up.
Maybe we have...just a little.
Against all odds, the American people have elected our first African-American president. I was thinking about the changes that our country has seen in my lifetime alone. 40 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, and our country was at war with itself over race and equality of all people. We have grown, to be sure, but how much we have grown remains to be seen. I do know this: for the first time in a very long time I am filled with an almost inexplicable kind of hope. And I'm not the only one.
Recently I was sent an invite on Facebook to join the group "1,000,000 Christians praying for Obama." I know that some of the people that joined that group are conservative Christians who didn't vote for the President-Elect. Another of my more conservative, evangelical Christian friends forwarded me a note on Facebook entitled, "10 Ways to Pray for President Obama." It is true that there were a great many conservative Christians who were terribly anxious prior to the election. But it also seems that even among those who did not support Obama there seems to be a glimmer of hope, a desire to do something positive and productive. I am not looking at this through rose colored glasses. We are going to have to deal with more than our fair share of anxious and fearful Christians who will resort to wringing their hands and predicting the "Rapture" is about to happen, and the "Great Tribulation" is around the corner. Maybe it's just my own hopefulness showing at this point, but I hope the vast majority of Christ-followers stop listening to them.
President-elect Obama's most recent book is entitled "The Audacity of Hope." There are certainly times when being hopeful seems like an audacious prospect. But as author Marilynne Robinson points out, "...hope deferred is still hope." It would be something if even the most anxious of Christians would begin to hope for rather than dread the future.
But for now those of us filled with audacious hope, with hope that keeps on springing eternal from within our hearts despite those who would deny its existence---those of us who choose to cling to a deferred hope, which in its very essence is a hopeful act... we will pray for the new President, and we will claim God's promise that God has "plans not to harm us, but to give us hope and a future."