Since Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States, I have given some thought as to the implications of this historic event. As President-elect Obama builds his cabinet and thinks critically through issues such as the complexity of an economy in recession, the ongoing immigration conversation and challenging foreign relations, I couldn’t help but think about some ground level implications that I see in my neighborhood, faith community, and personal life. Here are some of my spiritual, social, and anthropological musings on this election.
Obama’s victory is great for the prophetic imagination of urban youth.
I’ve lived in East New York my entire life. My neighborhood has been regarded as a place of violence. A place of economic and relational instability. A place of emotional dysfunction. Gang activity and drug abuse have destroyed many young men and women. Like so many other places in the world, my neighborhood is filled with unrealized potential.
The term prophetic imagination is a term I’ve borrowed from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman. Brueggeman’s purpose in using this phrase is to evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the dominant culture. I’m using it in a similar fashion. To be prophetic is to speak and live truth in a way that deconstructs the forces of death. To possess imagination is to freely envision a world that can be different from the one that exists today. Most young people are told to stop daydreaming. However this prophetic imagination challenges our culture to begin dreaming in revolutionary ways. It is an anthropological necessity to dream. An existential non-negotiable. Barack Obama’s victory as well as his message communicates a much needed truth, that if we are going to change the world, we need to dream and act in unprecedented ways.
Having an African American man lead this country speaks to the millions of young people who have never believed that they have anything of value to contribute to society. In conversations with young African American and Latino men, I’ve seen a resurgence of hope and courageous imagination that has the ability to wake up a generation that has been regulated to the margins of the dominant culture. In short, Obama’s victory allows youth (especially African Americans) to see a new model of what they can endeavor to become.
Obama’s victory doesn’t mean we can slip into naïve idealism.
As a Christian, I am keenly aware of society’s hope to see the world as progressing into a utopian dream. Everyone wants peace. We all desire prosperity. Having said that, we are still confronted with the reality of humanity’s brokenness. Although Obama has presented himself as the candidate of change and of hope, we have to be careful of utopianism. My theological conviction holds to the notion that humanity and our world will never reach a place of perfect peace our own our efforts. We need God to put the world to rights (an N.T. Wright phrase). Therefore, we are to live in the world with a tenacity and vigor to see it change, yet realizing that ultimate shalom is established through divine intervention.
Obama’s victory does not promote him to messiah status.
Finally, with Barack Obama as our next president, we should be mindful not to project a title on him that he never asked for. Barack Obama is the not messiah. That position has already been filled for some time. As friend and mentor Gabriel Salguero has said, “It is unfair to set Messianic expectations on Barack Obama or any presidential administration….It is idolatrous to make of any elected official a Lord or Savior.” Barack will make mistakes and decisions that might not be fitting for a situation. This simply confirms his humanity. When that happens, many people will be distraught because they placed expectations on him that no one can conceivably fulfill. We should be mindful to prayerfully support him while not giving him a free pass that exempts him from our critique.
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