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Thursday, 6 November 2008

Further thoughts on Obama

There is a space for rejoicing with those who rejoice - particularly those who have struggled hard and carry the memories and the actual scars of that struggle - Congressman John Lewis for one whose invocation of Martin Luther King Jr as he celebrated the election of Barack Obama was one that we should be glad to join with.

My friend Simon Barrow has found words that express the balance of engagement and naming of our resonsibility for action when we move beyond that shared moment of celebration to an assessment that should brace the ongoing Christian response in his column in Ekklesia.

The election of Barack Obama in the US is a significant change, but it is a much smaller change than many people want to believe.

So the real issue is how we, "ordinary people", can use the tiny but vital bit of space opened up for justice and peace. It's no good expecting Obama to be a singular hero. I think he has humane instincts, but he is (of course) deeply wrapped up in the system he would like to redirect. I don't expect him to save us, and I shall not hate him when he doesn't.

If there is salvation to be had (and I fully respect those who doubt it, though I think any lesser hope is likely to be inadequate to the real challenges we face) it is going to be, in the words of the Hebrew prophet, "not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Holy One": that is, a massive refiguration of everything that is at stake, politically, economically, spiritually, interpersonally - starting not with overarching theory or messianic politics/religion, but with specific interventions and the cultivation of alternative ways of being.

This is what church as ekklesia and as part of the civic arena should be about. Not pipe dreams, but lived possibilities and concrete actions. There is a larger hope, but it starts in small places; it engages rather than overwhelms; and it is birthed by absorbing, sharing and transforming pain, not inflicting it by force of arms. It is Christlike. And it is rooted in metanoia, turning around and heading in a new direction.

Christians in Australia will want to consider the possibilities for pushing the Australian government harder on climate change and financial commitment on the Millenium Development Goals now that we have a US President who has committed to joning global action on these pressing issues.

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