Change We Didn’t Expect

Change We Didn’t Expect

QUIET STRENGTH: President Barack Obama, Ruby Bridges, and representatives of the Norman Rockwell Museum view Rockwell’s "The Problem We All Live With,” hanging in a West Wing hallway near the Oval Office. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

With President Barack Obama’s approval rating sinking to new lows, it appears that many of his supporters may soon go from singing “The Thrill is Gone” to “Hey, hey, hey goodbye” in 2012 given, among other woes, general dissatisfaction with economic recovery efforts.

Calls exist from all sides for the president to do something — something that will finally lead to more jobs at the very least and anything at all to put Republicans, Tea Partiers, and other vocal critics in their places.

He’s obviously working, but what he’s done hasn’t been enough to quell criticisms even from his supporters. And I get it. It’s not that I want to take away my own approval rating points from the president. As much as I can identify the reasons behind why progress in some areas is slow, I just wish he’d take on his loudest detractors toe to toe.

People, figuratively out for blood, want to see muscle, the presidential version of WWE-style flexing. They want to scream “Yeah!” behind their guy as he threatens his rivals. Because there’s one president against many entities of everybody else, it seems like it would be easy beef to toss around. After all, Obama is the president, the big cheese, the one with the power to say a few words to shut everyone up.

Alas, that is not Obama’s approach.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, though, considering that in his inaugural address, he reminded us then that “power grows through its prudent use,” and he has continued to demonstrate such usage every step of the way.

He could’ve taken the path of “shock and awe” to go after Osama bin Laden. A massive airstrike, for example, would’ve made an impressive statement, though others could’ve died as a result. Instead, the president sanctioned a more restrained Navy SEAL mission that happened to be successful.

In response to more recent grievances about the economy, the president launched a bus tour in which he listened — not exactly a nuclear-war move. And amid talk of creating new jobs to no evidence of such, Obama plans to address a joint session of Congress Thursday. It would’ve been Wednesday but plans changed presumably to avoid a conflict with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate. This occurred as yet another example of Obama accommodating the very people leading the charge against him.

Seriously? With all due respect, Mr. President, what’s really going on?

More than trying to accomplish a country with a growing economy offering jobs to everyone who wants to work, Obama seems to be grasping at something even greater — a more perfect union between Democrats and Republicans. Yeah, I’m rolling my eyes too. But that’s why we elected him: That approach is one of those changes we yearned to believe in.

It’s less noisy, less flashy, and a lot more frustrating to watch. But, if a comparison had to be made, well, it’s probably pretty close to what Jesus would do. That’s not to elevate Obama to deity status; it’s just acknowledging how a follower of Christ would act in trying to be like Him.

Perhaps it’s appropriate, then, that Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “The Problem We All Live With” now hangs outside the Oval Office. The painting — which shows U.S. marshals escorting a 6-year-old black girl named Ruby Bridges into a New Orleans elementary school in 1960 as an angry white crowd registers its protest — represents one of our nation’s most powerful moments of racial desegregation. In little Ruby’s simple act of going to school, we see a striking example of quiet strength.

Can we also learn something from President Obama’s repeated gestures of civility and restraint in the face of nasty opposition?

Credit must be given to the president for maintaining a commitment to peace and reconciliation while dodging mud that if one decided to “raise up” would go away so easily. How often have we heard among casual conversations that all Obama needs to do is curse out the GOP one good time to get things done? Not that that would be the holiest approach. We’re called to live holy because Christ is holy. We’re also challenged to hold one another accountable for actions; that’s one of our responsibilities to one another.

Another, as laid out by the prophet Jeremiah, is to avoid boasting in whatever power we have. As president, Obama is a card-carrying member of the bully pulpit, and membership has its privileges. Only, with it comes a certain level of responsibility particularly with the practices of being a Christian.

Nothing represents a firm execution of Christian values more than not exercising the extreme power you might have in a situation in an effort to maintain civility. If it’s a preference on the table, do we want a Christian president who just talks the talk or one who inconveniently walks the walk through hell and high water?

Not only is that change we can believe in; it’s change we already trust as we follow Christ’s example and as we hope our leaders do the same.

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

Obama’s Meekness Is Not Weakness

CIVIL SERVANT: President Barack Obama shakes hands with Speaker of the House John Boehner before delivering the State of the Union address earlier this year. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“The uniqueness of His meekness is too deep to speak / and if you think meekness is weakness try being meek for a week.” – ShaiLinne, “Mic Check 1 2 (featuring Stephen the Levite & Phanatik)”

Let me state a few things up front, so this doesn’t devolve into something from my highly refined, literary alter ego, Captain Obvious (And His Adventures in Missing-The-Point-Ville).

Obviously, President Barack Obama is not Jesus. Our 44th president is not, nor should he be, exempt from criticism. It does not make anyone a bad Christian to publicly criticize his actions or ideas, from either the political right or the left.

So I hope that neither LZ Granderson nor Roland Martin, both professing Christians whom I respect greatly, will take offense when I say that as Christians I think they’re dead wrong about Obama.

Specifically, they’re wrong about how President Obama should respond to House Speaker John Boehner’s latest act of insubordination regarding his upcoming jobs speech.

For the uninitiated, the White House publicly requested a joint session of Congress to assemble on the same day that the Republicans were planning a debate, also surrounding the topic of jobs. In response, Rep. Boehner asked instead for the date to be pushed back, citing security issues.

Don’t cave to Boehner,” pleaded Martin. Then after the White House rescheduled the date. Granderson lamented Obamas failure to respond to a diss to the presidency, as if the primary responsibility of the President of the United States is to avoid being punked. Then Martin lamented further, claiming that the president’s biggest problem is that no one fears him.

I beg to differ.

The primary responsibility of the president is not to show people he’s in charge. His job is to lead people as effectively and prudently as possible. It’s not that he “needs a spine transplant,” and is therefore incapable of standing up for himself. It’s that when it came to this particular issue at this particular time, he chose a more expedient path of action.

He doesn’t need to show people who’s boss, because he’s already the boss. Posturing is what one does when they’re auditioning for the role campaigning for the job. But as the POTUS, Obama must be the boss. He has a very complex and subjective set of priorities to address and keep in balance at all times. It shouldn’t be a surprise that saving face wouldn’t be the highest thing on his list. 

The Uniqueness of Meekness 

Consider the example of the Christ Jesus to whom Obama has publicly, repeatedly declared his fidelity.

Jesus often gets a bad rap in our popular culture for being weak and effeminate (which is one of the reasons why preacher Mark Driscoll is so popular, but that’s for another column). If you read your Bible, though, you’ll see that nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus was constantly challenging and confounding both the religious and political establishment. When he felt like street vendors were making a mockery of the faith, he destroyed their operation. There was a reason why they eventually conspired to kill him.

However, Jesus was not the revolutionary that his followers expected. He never made a play for political office. At the point where his followers thought they were on the brink of an armed revolution, Jesus rebuked one of them for resorting to violence. And then he acquiesced to his accusers, knowing full well the result would be a sham of a trial followed by a brutal crucifixion.

If I would’ve been one of Jesus’ disciples during this time, I’m sure the sense of frustration and disappointment in the air would’ve been absolutely palpable.

Why is he letting them DO THIS?!?!

Jesus was not happy about the events that had transpired. A bit earlier, He prayed to the Father for another way out. But in the end, He chose to be obedient, knowing that there was a larger objective that He was given to fulfill, one that required enduring the cross and all of its horrors.

Believing what Christians do about the resurrection, it’s hard to argue with the result.

When Jesus said “blessed are the meek,” in the Sermon on the Mount, the Greek word he used that we translate today as “meek” is one that referred to a sense of a great strength under useful control. It’s like a fierce fire that could warm a great castle, but that could just as easily be reduced to a pilot light. Or like a wild stallion capable of galloping 100 miles an hour, lightly sauntering under the master’s control.

Meekness is anything but weakness.

Strength Under Control

Meekness is keeping your cool because losing it could jeopardize the prize ever set before you.

It’s the difference between I’m-doing-this-because-I-can and I’m-doing-this-because-I-should.

In my opinion, this is the kind of strength under control where President Obama excels. Sure, it was disrespectful for Boehner and House Republicans to respond the way they did. And sure, Obama probably felt more than little vindictive about it. But Obama has a larger set of priorities in mind, among them being re-election in 2012. And acting out of a desire to be vindicated is something that might win the battle but lose the war.

So no, he’s not Jesus. And no, he’s not infallible.

But if you’re a Christian, and you think Obama is weak just because he chose not to flex his muscles over a scheduling conflict, then either you don’t read your Bible, or you haven’t been paying attention.