Thursday, January 13, 2011

When He's On, He's Truly On

Between him and his speechwriters, it was plain yesterday that the communicator we saw and heard in 2007 and 2008 is still around:

If President Obama was angry about right-wing rhetoric on Saturday--and he probably was--he and/or those close to him were smart enough (unlike me) to keep it under wraps, do some thinking and praying, and come out with a better, wiser view. Especially this:

[A]t a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath. For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future. But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

As the Guardian newspaper reported, Obama "spoke less like a politician than a pastor or priest comforting a grieving community. The focus on those who had saved lives was an attempt to offer hope amid the sadness." Some don't like that; they look down upon or distrust political leaders trafficking in civil religion, in morality, in attempts to articulate something broader and deeper, to connect their fellow citizens to a religious and ethical narrative which they can identify with. And they especially don't like it when such attempts become institutionalized, ritualized. Well, I kind of like it. I like--and I know that in many ways this arguably runs against some of my own democratic beliefs--knowing that someone can still cut through the noise, and be "the adult in the room." I've no desire to ever be president, and I've no desire to ever stop commenting on and criticizing them, when I feel like doing so. But I do hope to be a little bit better at being an adult, and I'm grateful for every positive example of such I get.

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