Thursday, January 11, 2018

Oprah Is Not the Messiah

I confess that I did not stay up to watch the Golden Globe Award show; I never watch those shows unless someone who is staying with me wants to see them.  Thus, I did not see Oprah's speech.  I haven't read it, but I've heard/read snippets.

It was inspiring, as I expected.  She's always had a great way of connecting with those of us who aren't super wealthy, of reminding us that she comes from very meager beginnings.

I think we're losing sight of how many of us came from very meager beginnings, if you go back a generation or two or three.  But that doesn't detract from Oprah's speechmaking skills.  Lots of people from meager backgrounds don't make the most of their opportunities and certainly can't speak about it as powerfully as Oprah does.

Lots of people have been taking up a lot of time by discussing whether or not she should run for president.  We can genuinely say that we've seen worse candidates.  But would she be best?

I think her powers of inspiration could be important.  I'd like a candidate devoted to calling us all to live our best lives.  Would she have the legislative capability to put programs and money in place to help us do that?  She might.

I've been thinking a lot about politics and about our desire for a messiah in that arena, someone who can swoop in and fix things.  Anyone who has been in a leadership position of any kind knows it's not that easy.  Some days we're lucky, and the ideas we offer are accepted with enthusiasm--and they work.  Other days we spend time redoing work we thought was finished months ago; if we're lucky, we do the work with grace and with better results.

 As the week has gone on, and Oprah-for-President/Savior fever has grown, I've thought of other stories we tell ourselves.  My thoughts have returned to The Last Jedi which I've written about at more length in this earlier blog post.

The movie explores the cultural desire for a Messiah, for someone who will save us.  But we're often doomed by our insistence on being the Messiah--it was interesting to watch this movie with the words of John the Baptist ringing in my head:  "I am not the Messiah."  I'm still thinking about these parallel ideas--how to respond to a world with so much need for a Messiah?  We can't be the Messiah, but people need more than just the promise that a Messiah will come.  I worry that I'm transposing my theological ideas on the movie, but here it is:  the Force (which I've always understood to be God) operates much more effectively in the world when there are spiritually attuned people to help.  Those light sabers and rocks won't move themselves. 

The idea that the Force can be used for good or for evil (or for profoundly mixed motives) isn't one that Christianity traditionally presents to believers, but it makes sense to me.  I don't see God as a parent, but as a partner, albeit a partner who knows more and has more resources than I do.

Our political lives would be very different if we saw our politicians in the same way, if we stopped waiting for someone to save us and instead saw opportunities to start creating the world where we want to live, if we did that hard and consistent work ourselves.

My religious tradition (mainstream Protestantism, of a Lutheran flavor) teaches me that God begins the work of salvation and through grace, I am saved.  But I am not saved just to sit on the sofa and whine about how no one cleans up this mess or helps out that population group.  One of Luther's quotes that is one of my favorites instructs that "faith moves our feet."

I have seen this same thread running through many religious traditions, those with saviors and those without.  We are not helpless in the face of injustice; on the contrary, the Divine commands/instructs us to get involved.

I might vote for Oprah--much depends on my choices.  I'd like to vote for someone with a political track record.  I'd like to vote for someone who is grounded by similar religious traditions as mine.  But if that candidate isn't running, I'd be happy to vote for someone who remembers what it's like to be on the outside and who can offer us a vision of a world where we're all better off.  Oprah has been that person in every incarnation of her life so far.  We could do worse.

And yes, I'm aware that we could do better--but we'll need to start thinking about that now and preparing now--and that work is necessary, not for the 2020 race, but beyond.

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