I hosted a last-minute New Years party last January–some close friends, some cocktails,
and some board games. No big deal, really, but I think I’ll remember that party
for a long time. We made a couple of prophesies that night that ended up being fulfilled,
which is always exciting–something cool to add to your resume as you’re looking to
become a pastor.
The first happened when we clinked glasses after the ball dropped, and someone
looked ahead to the coming year. We knew it would bring the end to our three years at
seminary together–a time we had all been surprised to find we had become a second
family, still in the process of seeing one another through what were sure to be lingering
hard times. One friend had a father who would soon die after a short battle with a heartbreaking
illness. Another was frustrated with the burden of a strong call from God, but
no sign of a strong call from the ones with the bank accounts. Another knew she hadn’t
yet seen the worst of a family crisis. So when we toasted that year, and one friend said,
“Oh crap… ’08,” we all giggled and agreed. Oh crap… we were in for it this year.
But then someone else responded, “But… Obama ’08!” and it was true. We were
facing some inevitables that year, but there was the chance of something awesome, too.
Something awesome like a black president. Something awesome like people rallying
together to become the country we wished America could be. Something awesome like
living up to the stories our grandparents told about the country they loved enough to
risk their lives to defend. Something awesome like getting a taste for what people with
Old Glory affixed to their back bumper meant when they talked about patriotism. I never
understood patriotism, really–the more I learned about America, the less I loved her.
But Obama ’08. That could change things.
So we took to sitting each other down in front of rapper will.i.am’s “Yes We Can”
video on YouTube when we were feeling the bleakness of “Oh Crap, ’08.” We knocked on
some doors, attended some fund raisers, got some buttons and bumper stickers and tshirts.
We slowly started to let ourselves hope for something so unlikely as an electorate
swayed more by people of color than the deep pockets of the old-guard. We started posting
Obama speeches on our Facebook pages and emailing links to op-eds defending our
candidate. We started engaging in the political process in earnest, going point-for-point
with the Right to Lifers and the Muslim-phobic.
Which seemed weird. We were seminarians, after all–seminarians who became
pastors before the election came. To some, it probably seemed like an ill-placed hope–our treasures should have been in “jars of clay,” not mybarackobama.com. But to me,
the gospel had something to do with this Obama Mania.
As my friend Kate once wisely said, “I need a little more ‘already’ in my ‘not yet.'” I
long for a few more tangible signs that the kingdom has drawn near, because the waiting
for God’s dwelling among us is so constant, so palpable, so saturating. I have plenty
of reminders of the not yet. In a year when the world seemed to live up to the “Oh Crap”
expectation we had–Wall Street, Mumbai, Zimbabwe, Jos, the Big Three, milk at $3.50
a gallon–the fact that young Latinos were phone banking because they believed in a
president who supported the Dream Act buoyed me. The idea of Kenyan market-sellers
and Honduran taxi drivers looking to America for inspiration gave me a glimmer. Watching
two elderly African American men embrace–one waiting to cast his vote, the other
proudly displaying his “I voted” sticker–gave me chills. In a world where “Oh crap” had
become the norm, we needed a little “Obama” to let us catch our breath.
I’m not one of those folks who thinks that Obama is going to save us. I get that
there’s a difference between the hope Obama gives me and the hope I find in Christ.
But different kinds of hope usually have something in common. Faith that things can
get better. That we are in good hands. That the stories we tell ourselves are true. That
people are capable of achieving unlikely feats when they come together, include the disenfranchised,
have the common good at heart.
When our new president-elect addressed the crowd in Grant Park that night, it was
the unlikely end to an unlikely story. And I needed a happy ending for once to be realized–a little “already” in my “not yet.” I needed to be part of a group that was spurredon,
not by anger or resentment or the force of fear, but by a vision of hope. And then I
needed that hope to realize itself for once.
So I cried at 11:05 PM on November 4. I cried some tears I hadn’t had the opportunity
to cry yet in my “Oh Crap ’08.” I cried tears that came from a part of me that I
had reserved for the “not yet.” Happy, hopeful, expectant tears that were suddenly being
shed for an already.
World Relief Committee in Grand Rapids, Michigan.