This post was originally composed as an email from Henk Hart (Professor Emeritus, Philosophy, Institute for Christian Studies) in response to Brian Walsh’s musings in “Barack Obama: A Post-Imperial Presidency?” We liked them so much that we asked Professor Hart if he would allow us to reprint them here.
by Hendrik Hart
I think the real crux here is to have expectations that are both high and realistic. For Obama to break with empire may neither be necessary nor realistic if we use Isaiah’s figure of Cyrus as a model. He was emperor as well as servant. For me that opens perspectives that may have a real future.
For a good read on what Obama is up against I was impressed with Ronald Wright’s What is America? You will recall Wright as the author of the very insightful A Short History of Progress. This new book (out in August) has similar depths of insight. Obama’s written embrace of capitalism and his old fashioned patriotism make me think that his inaugural could well dash our hope if we grasp too high. But with Cyrus in the background I do have high hopes.
I actually formulated these high hopes in some notes I made in the garden late afternoon of election day, using language a “Cyrus” would have understood. Here they are:
In my bones I feel this day as the birthday of myth, of a spiritual story that lifts us beyond ourselves and our times and plants us firmly into a land of the future that today shows us a glimpse of itself, a
bright glimpse that shines like a light we are invited to follow.
This day moves me deeply because in my bones I feel the rebirth of hope, of redemption, of grace. I feel connected to deep spiritual forces and the media testify that millions feel the same, all over the world.
This day is not only the day on which a country elects a president, nor is it simply Obama’s day. What all of us feel rises above Democrat or Republican, transcends black or white, goes beyond male or female, is more than American, European, African, Asiatic, and cannot be contained in creed or ideology.
I am moved this day by a spirit that comes from beyond our self-imposed limitations. That spirit became visible in Iowa many months ago and, despite the pundits’ angry visions of arrogance and
pride in the bosom of a black man without experience, was recognized instantly by people the world over.
Increasingly, people felt empowered, called to renew their faith and hope, compelled by a vision of purpose and meaning. The spirit that became embodied in voting Americans today was shared by dreaming Africans, enthused Afghanies, empowered Australians, laughing Argentinians, celebrating Arabians.
This spirit became flesh and bones in the aspirations of a son of oppression and was embraced by children of a land that had become a symbol of shame. In that way this spirit entered into weakness and lodged itself in a vessel of clay. Barack Obama will err, Americans will not let go of the idols that brought them to the heights of power that corrupts. But today is not the day of Obama and his country.
It is the day of a spirit that chose to show its power in a new president and his people in order that we, all of us and everywhere, remember what we saw, especially when they, the president and these people, betray the power of that spirit. If it is really true that faith and hope came to life globally today, we will continue in its inspiration. And we, all of us, celebrate this with Barack Obama and his people.
Today, November 4, 2008, the sun, its warmth, and the peace of a rare day in the fall invited me to sit in the garden a while and feel the spirit of this day in the earth and all its creatures.