Obama in Cairo

peacemakersBlessed are the peacemakers. If you have not listened to or read President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, please check it out. You can find it here.

The President brings words of peace and welcome to those whom many have deemed to be the enemy, that is, Islam. Obama is our first postmodern president, meaning that he’s of the age group that is truly bringing the differences found in the shift of worldviews into play. Not surprisingly then, the words he spoke in regards to the huge chasm between east and west reflected not only our points of contention (familiar rhetoric for the religious and political right and the most recent administration) but also reflected a different posture in addressing our commonalities and the overlaps in our ideologies (which are important things to mention when trying to make friends). Reflecting on Obama’s speech, Miroslav Volf (my favorite theologian- yes I am a geek) says, “This point is crucial. In encounter with others, if we see only differences, the result is exclusion; if we see only commonalities, the result is distortion. Only when we see both-undeniable differences that give others a peculiar character and commonalities that bind us together-are we able to honor both others and ourselves.”

For the first time in a long time we have heard truth spoken because it includes all of the truth. [Edit: Ok you literal rascals, I did not mean all Truth from Everlasting to Everlasting, just that both the hurts and culpability from both sides were actually mentioned. There is more to say, of course.] There was no mincing of words when it came to 9-11 or the dangers Israel has faced from people who want to eliminate her from the face of the earth (another whole topic of discussion). However, he also spoke plainly about the significant problem of the suffering of Palestinians in refugee camps which enrages the Muslim world and rightfully so, as well as Israel’s (and thus America’s) role in that. There was also great acknowledgement that we do indeed have many overlaps in moral and religious values and convictions.

What truly moves me is that there is so much that is in line with what Jesus taught. It is a sharp contrast to the polarities taught by the modernist, dualistic thinking that has infused and inflamed (and I would say confused) much of the Christian right. Karl Rove, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, said, “You know what? Who cares about whether or not they approve or like the President of the United States? The question is do they respect the policies of the United States government? And you bet they did. Because we showed strength and power and influence.”

Contrast that with the way of Jesus. “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them.  Yet it shall not be so among you . . .” (Matt. 20:25-26) And of course, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than the others?  Do not even the tax collectors do so?”  (Matt. 5:46-47) Several times I have been in a conversation with a Christian in the US who reached out to a Muslim neighbor and was told, “You are the first Christian that has been kind to me.” What is that about?

This post is not a polemic against the religious and political right, though in dualistic minds, to disagree is often seen as an attack, so many will see it that way, regardless. And I believe that they do want America to be safe and well and upright. However, as Christians we do know that to care for our welfare means that we also care for the other’s welfare just as much, perhaps even by putting them first. Obama made it clear that he will protect the American people but it is not the language of either or, us or them, destroy or be destroyed. It is another paradigm altogether. For those who believe we should be a Christian nation, are you ready to face the sacrifice that being truly Christian means? Loving a Muslim as much as loving yourself? Making sure his needs are met and his family is as safe as you desire for yours to be? (Aside: The title  “Christian nation” seems to contain an oxymoron here – by definition, a Christian does not grasp power or demand rights so to create a Christian nation one must give up trying to make it so…)

The problem is that anyone who seeks so much vengeance and self-preservation is able only to see evil outside of themselves. In the interviews of both McCain and Obama done by Rick Warren last fall, you could see this clearly. McCain, representing the older, modernist worldview, was only able to talk about evil “over there”. He expressed the polarities about which Volf remarked, “Especially since September 11th, many in the West deny that there are commonalities between Christianity and Islam or between Western Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilizations. They see only differences, envisioning the West as bathed in soft welcoming light and Islam enveloped in forbidding darkness.” In contrast, Obama challenged us to face the evils that exist right here in our own country as well as our own homes. But I must emphasize that in addressing these issues, we cannot look only upon the speck in the eye of the extreme right (or any group) lest we fall into the same error, for the humongous-log-in-the-eye-syndrome is the condition in which we all find ourselves. To this (and to all of us) Volf says, (in Exclusion and Embrace, a MUST read) “Sin is here the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out…”. In squashing or eliminating the other, we become the evil we seek to vanquish.

The words of Jesus, “Do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Praise be to God.

To read Volf’s excellent essay go here.

(By the way, have you noticed how ticked off Osama Bin Laden is at Obama? The last thing he and El Qaeda want is a peacemaker. But I think his tantrums expose him for what he is. Neener neener.)

Peace through elimination of the other vs. peace through sacrificial love

Is peace through the elimination of the other truly peace? “Sin is here the kind of purity that wants the world cleansed of the other rather than the heart cleansed of the evil that drives people out…" (Volf)

Well, he was. (This is from bloodforoil.org - I haven't read much of the site so this is not necessarily an endorsement but like everyone else, they have something to add to the conversation.)

Well, he was. (This is from bloodforoil.org - I haven't read much of the site so this is not necessarily an endorsement of that but I liked this poster and like everyone else, they have something to add to the conversation.)

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  • Karey

    Great post Ellen. I love Miraslav’s quote! I bookmarked his article to read later, and too I’m going to return to your post to read again. Life is a little busy around here now that Heather’s come home for a bit. But what that means, with Heather here, is the ongoingness of our differences in viewpoints that keeps surfacing in conversations … What this time, am I and her to learn!? Prayers for graciousness and openness to truly listen.

  • lindy

    I am very glad that you posted this. It is amazing that people can read this speech and not see what we see. I truly believe that in order to effect change in this world we need to love our enemies. You are awesome and I am glad to call you friend!

  • lindy

    I fully believe that this speech is what turned the election in Lebanon and also in Iran (too bad about Iran, though).

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