Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Dreams from my Father 2

Role of Faith in Activism.

I don't seem to be able to summarize what Obama writes. He can barely summarize himself. He shows. He does not explain as much.

In Chapter 15, we have him trying to organize the churches. He is speaking with Rev. Phillips.

Rev. Philips nodded and said, ‘You may be right, Mr. Obama. You have some interesting ideas. But you see, the churches around here are used to doing things their own way. Sometimes, the congregations even more than the pastors.’ he opened the door for me, then paused. ‘By the way, what church do you belong to?’ “I…I attend different services.’ ‘But you’re not a member anywhere?’ “Still searching, I guess.’ ‘Well, I can understand that. It might help your mission if you had a church home, though. It doesn’t matter where, really. What you’re asking from pastors requires us to set aside some of our more priestly concerns in favour of prophecy. That requires a good deal of faith on our part. It makes us want to know just where you’re getting yours from. Faith, that is.”

… “Was that all that had brought me to Chicago, I wondered—the desire for such simple acceptance? That had been part of it, certainly, one meaning to community. But there had been another meaning, too, a more demanding impulse. Sure, you could be black and still not give a damn about what happened in Altgeld or Roseland. You didn’t have to care about boys like Kyle, young mothers like Bernadette or Sadie. But to be right with yourself, to do right by others, to lend meaning to a community’s suffering and take part in its healing—that required something more. It required the kind of commitment that Dr. Collier made very day out in Altgeld. It required the kind of sacrifices a man like Asante had been willing to make with his students.

It required faith. I glanced up now at the small, second-story window of the church, imagining the old pastor inside, drafting his sermon for the week. Where did your faith come from? he had asked. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t have an answer. Perhaps, still, I had faith in myself. But faith in one’s self was never enough.

Obama was asked this question about faith over and over and he was asking himself, too. Can you be about organizing churches into community activism and not belong to one yourself? Can you even truly care without faith? Or was it just about his search for belonging?

… You have some good ideas, they would tell me. maybe if you joined the church you could help us start a community program. Why don’t you come by on Sunday?

And I would shrug and play the question off, unable to confess that I could no longer distinguish between faith and mere folly, between faith and simple endurance; that while I believed in the sincerity I heard in their voices, I remained a reluctant skeptic, doubtful of my own motives, wary of expedient conversion, having too many quarrels with God to accept a salvation too easily won.

A similar question echoed through the atheist's Matthew Parrish's article, where anyone whom he recently observed doing something helpful in Africa was at least unofficially there as a Christian.

Obama might have ended up with a different definition of faith than some of us have. But it is interesting to note that we often talk about "what are our works in relation to our faith", where he asks, "what is my faith in relation to what I'm doing". In a way, the same answer should apply.

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