The lead article in last Sunday’s New York Times Sunday Review section has generated conversations and comments that have continued far longer than the usual Monday morning chatter of those who pay attention to such things. “What Happened to Obama?” is worth reading. If you don’t like politics, it’s still worth reading. If you are a partisan of the President and don’t like to hear him being dissed, it’s still worth reading. If you root for the Republicans and don’t like to see them being trashed, it’s still worth reading.
Drew Weston is a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, a political liberal and an ardent supporter of President Obama during the 2008 campaign. His Times article begins in Washington on Inauguration Day. Weston has brought his eight-year old daughter to the capital to witness the historic event. But the father and professor senses that something is wrong. The man whose story and whose ability to tell a story had captured the nation the previous fall seems not to have a story to tell that blustery January day. The speech is flat and uninspiring.
Weston argues that nearly three years later this has become the story of Barack Obama’s presidency. The essay is not kind to the President; it is less so to the Republicans. I will let others sort out the politics, but where Drew Weston is best is where he is non-partisan; his understanding of the importance of stories.
Weston writes, “The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred.”
I might quibble with the professor about the relative importance of the stories parents and political leaders tell, but he could not be more correct about the power of stories – they orient us to what is, what could be, and what should be; to the worldviews they hold and to the values they hold sacred.
President Obama is by all accounts capable of soaring rhetoric. He has painted pictures with his words that have inspired a generation. He told us a story about the audacity of hope that we want desperately to believe.
It may be that the story our President is telling is still being told, it’s just one of those stories that is slow to develop, the kind of story we almost quit reading in the first 100 pages, but then are so glad we kept reading as the quickening plot inspires and excites us.
It may be that the story the President has to tell is not the story we want to hear. Perhaps it does not resonate with what our better angels know to be or think could be and should be. Perhaps it is because we are fickle and our hopes are thin; we are oriented to “it’s the economy, stupid,” and new flat screens and someone else paying the bills is all that we really hold sacred.
Drew Weston, the once ardent supporter of the President and still liberal professor, has come to believe that President Obama simply has no story to tell. There is no orientation other than political survival, no sense of what is, what could be, and what should be; no compelling worldview to be had and no values worthy of being held sacred.” It is a very harsh criticism and it may not be fair. Abraham Lincoln would not have been re-elected in the third year of his presidency.
The harshest criticism of American Christianity is that it tells an uninspiring story told in clichés and by the trinkets we wear around our necks; a baptized version of the suburban dream painted in pastels, the windows of our well-kept houses glowing with the reflected light of our flat screens.
The criticism is harsh and it may not be fair. Taking pot shots at the faith and the faithful has become a favorite pastime of both pundit and pastor.
In fact, we have a story to tell (
). But it’s not about the economy (stupid) or hollow hope for an easier life.
Our story is about a God who is; about what could, should and will be: the now and coming Kingdom of our God and of his Christ; it is about a whole new way to view the world that is radically non-anxious in our anxiety-inducing times; it is about a holy truth that cannot be shaken, the love of God from which we cannot be separated.
History is yet to judge as to whether President Obama was able or willing to lead us to the world envisioned in his story of audacious hope.
But day by day we Christians are judged by a waiting world – and a loving Savior – by how well we live and tell the story of a hope that is beyond audacious, a hope that is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. It is a story, well told, that is the greatest gift parents will ever give their children.
Are we, are you and am I, telling the story, clearly, joyfully, humbly without cliché or trinket prop? If someone asks, “What happened to the Christians?” may it not be said of us that we had no story to tell, or, worse yet, quit telling the story, the best story, of a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.