Category: Obama

The inauguration: an aside from a neglected author

By , 23 January 2009 7:43 pm

Well, we watched the inauguration. Having spent a number of weeks talking about the differences between Britain and the States this was a classic; other than a vaguely common language, there was a gulf as wide as the Atlantic between us on this. We just don’t do inaugurations, but of course this was far closer to a coronation than a changeover of a British administration.

Anyway I paid careful attention to Rick Warren’s invocation because I knew something of the furore surrounding it. Frankly I generally approved of what he said. I sensed him footstep very gingerly around a number of difficult issues and I applauded his courage in using the word ‘Jesus’ at the end. A key factor in my approval was simply that nothing remotely like such a public and explicitly evangelical prayer would have been allowed in the UK.

Later on I was directed to a reformed website for a transcript by son number two and made the mistake of commenting on the speech. No one directly answered me but as a result I got the remaining 99 or so e-mails. What astonished (and to be honest appalled me) was the real unpleasantness of tone of many of the comments. I read that Warren had no business making the invocation, that he was wrong to use the Lord’s prayer, that he should have prayed for Obama to be converted, that he should not have made any concessions whatsoever to Islam and Judaism so on.

One interesting one that troubled me was the complaint that he should have used some of the Old Testament prayers directly, such as Ezra’s great prayer of contrition (Ezra 9). Why did that bother me? It troubled me because that was a prayer specifically for God’s own chosen people and however great a view you have of the United States’ manifest destiny, it does not replace the Old Testament nation of Israel. Ultimately it seems to me that there is no scriptural mandate or parallel for anything remotely like an invocation at the inauguration of the President of a secular state. Yes, there were things I would like to have changed and added but I am not Rick Warren (much to my publisher’s dismay). I think he did a jolly good job under the circumstances and I felt he came over well as a genuine warm-hearted believer with a faith worth having. His words were carried to the ends of the earth and I pray that God will mightily use them. The fact is there are clearly people – within the Christian community – who so hate him that nothing that could be said would have appeased them. Or maybe they hate Obama so much that he got caught in the spillover.

Anyway as I read the comments I actually found a terrible thought dawning in my mind. I realised that I was beginning to formulate a prayer. It’s a prayer that I have not yet prayed but after being immersed in the vitriol I think I probably could. It is this: ‘Thank you God that my books have not been a vast success because I’m not sure I could handle bitter criticism from fellow Christians.’

Have a good week.

Why we loved Obama

By , 12 December 2008 6:07 pm

I really ought to leave American politics alone and I promise this will be my last post for sometime, but someone did ask why Europe was so fond of Barack Obama. Well without endorsing either him or McCain, let me offer some suggestions.

  1. Obama appealed to what most Europeans consider to be core values. As most Americans are aware (they certainly should be), Europe is somewhat to the left of the USA. Even at their most liberal your Democrats are often to the right of our socialist parties. Obama was presented over here as enlightened, tolerant and flexible. He certainly came over as literate, fluent and cosmopolitan. (The other week I failed to mention that one point about Sarah Palin which alarmed everybody here was the fact that she had only had a passport for two years.) He sounded sensible on issues such as the environment and global trade.
  2. Obama looked good and sounded good and I’m prepared to concede that in Europe image trumps any amount of character and track record. Certainly the President-Elect is not deficient in the area of image. He was portrayed as what we in Britain would call ‘a decent bloke’; a label which, if you can get it applied to you, covers over a multitude of sins. For us Evangelicals, his preparedness to talk of having a living faith in Christ allayed any concerns we might have had over his liberal social agenda. That was barely covered by our media anyway.
  3. If he wooed us by what he affirmed, Obama eased our fears by what he shunned. So we heard nothing of America triumphant, there was minimal flag-waving and references to God’s own country, there were no half-baked plans for imposing global democracy and no clumsy and Russian-irritating references to missile shields. (American readers should note that over here there is a widespread belief that missile shields might work for America but not Europe: we are too close to their most likely points of origin.) In fact, for most of the time Obama sounded like a European. (Actually the thing that concerns me and others is his resemblance to Blair, a man who had a total mastery over words but who was utterly defeated by reality.)
  4. In a world in crisis, Obama came over as the man most likely to fix the mess. He was portrayed here as a man of intellect, vision and discernment and someone who, if the 21st-century demanded them, was prepared to take new paths.
  5. Quite simply, Obama was depicted as the man who was not George W Bush. He was (quite definitely) someone who could string a sentence together and (quite probably) someone smart enough not to be lured into an Iraq style quagmire.

One minor point. Race is a very different issue here than in the States. We have no all-too recent struggle for equality and no ‘Civil Rights’ back story here. Oh yes there are racial and cultural issues here aplenty but they are quite dissimilar to those across the Atlantic. In other words, I do not think his racial background was of note in Europe.

Anyway, I titled this blog ‘Why we loved Obama’: the choice of the past tense was deliberate. You should also have noted how frequently I have used the terms ‘depicted as’, ‘came over as’ and so on. We must now see how the man bears up in the reality of office. It would be an unpleasant (and, dare I say, rather un-Christian) attitude to wish and pray for him anything other than success. In these dark days (and they may easily get darker still) no one needs a failure for American president.

And so victory was won…

By , 7 November 2008 7:51 pm

Even over here the event of the week has been the election of the new American president. I’m aware that many of my readers will have voted for the other side and quite a few will be sick to death of the whole thing. It certainly seems to have been going on for ever.

Like most people in the UK I was happy to see Obama elected, partly on account of his personal qualities and partly to draw a line under the dreadful Bush years. I must also say that many of the much touted virtues of the Republican pair (being either a Vietnam War veteran or adept at shooting large furry mammals) did not cross the Atlantic with the same attraction that they have in the States. Yet I have to say on Wednesday morning I was not ecstatic. The fact is I remembered Blair’s equally stunning victory in 1997 over a similarly entrenched and dilapidated Conservative party. There was then a golden dawn of hope filled with an extraordinary euphoria; yet before long the style had evaporated away revealing a minimal substance and the result has been a bitter aftertaste. Now barely ten years on Blair is now one of the most despised figures on the British political scene. (Actually he is rarely here; it is not just prophets who are without honour in their own country.) So time will tell with Barak Obama, but the good book is wise: ‘Put not your trust in Princes’ (Psalm 146:3, AV).

Indeed I feel the first shadow has already fallen with the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff. I am tempted to comment on the unease already emanating from those parts of the Middle East that had been most positive about Obama’s election, about Rahm Emanuel’s links with Zionism and the way he is being acclaimed in Israel as ‘their man in the White House’. It is certainly clear that he has strong loyalties towards the preservation and expansion of the State of Israel; you can read Wikipedia for all the details. I do not want to say much more on the subject. One problem is that even to make the slightest comment on such matters is to run the risk of being considered anti-Semitic. Of course, it is not his Jewishness that is the issue but his Zionism. Another problem is that it is to run the risk of encouraging the numerous lunatics (and there are many on the web) who blame Israel for all the world’s evils, from a ‘Holocaust that never happened’ to 9/11 itself. Excuse me if I distance myself from that lot. However, I do hope that when Rahm Emanuel’s duty to the United States conflicts with his duty to the State of Israel (as it will), it is the former, not the latter, that wins out.

Yet even if we lay this aside there are issues. If you read the commentators – and I have read many – Rahm Emanuel is variously described as ‘scary‘, ‘ferocious’, ‘profane’, ‘vicious’, ‘an attack dog’ and ‘out of a Mafia movie’. This all seems at odds with the image of a gentle, vaguely Christian, consensus politics that Barack Obama set out as his target in the campaign. Or did he? Or was that me reading into Obama what I wanted to see? Perhaps it is here that the real ability of a modern politician lies. They know – as we know – that in the information age you can’t really become all things to all people. But perhaps you can become something of a mirror or a projection screen onto which people throw the image that they want. Perhaps the master trick of the modern politicians is to make us, not them, the agent of deception.

To end let me reportedly the comment of a delightful colleague who is a saintly but slightly otherworldly Christian. On the morning of November 5 she came to get some coffee, and said with wide-eyed genuine surprise. ‘I’ve just seen a photo of this Obama fellow. And do you know? He’s black.’

Have a good week.

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