Me for President

In Washington, DC, you can determine who works closest to the “seats of power” by their dress. For example, business suit? You work on the hill or on K street. Skinny jeans and a nice sweater? You work in a far-flung corner of the district.

Today, I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

Despite my distance from the Capitol, financial sector, or lobbying firms, people choose my metro stop to advertise, fund raise, and stage protests. And today was no exception.

Walking outside to visit my friendly neighborhood Starbucks, (it seems that caffeine and I are destined to have an on-again, off-again relationship) a man turns the corner with a box on his head and a walking stick in his hand. The box has a small slit cut out across his eyes, above which reads: “ME” and below reads: “for president”.

This is a fairly accurate rending of him:

To add credibility to his cause, he has a website, which I recommend you visiting, if only to note that my illustrious congressman from my parents home district has positive things to say about him. Oh Dennis.

The moral of this story? This election season, stand up for what you believe in – whether its through a yard sign, a campaign bus, or a box on your head – and embrace the freedoms of this democracy and let your voice be heard.

Memo

republicanTo the men of the Republican Party:

After work tonight, go home, pull out your Book of Common Prayer, Book of Church Order, or google “wedding vows”. Spend some time meditating on what exactly “forsaking all others” means.

Then, hold a conference for all your other Republican friends and discuss what you have learned. Get the media together and announce that you have realized that espousing “family values” while having rampant affairs is maybe not the best idea, and inform the American public that you will take your vows seriously. Then, go back to your offices and get some actual work done. Maybe this November will go better for you.

A New Kind of Generosity

One of the websites I visit often has a new section called Reject Apathy. In discussing it, the founder of the company quoted Bono’s 2001 commencement address to Harvard University, saying that he was “rebelling against [his] own indifference” and that this new section on rejecting apathy would be a means of helping our generation rebel against our indifference.

To tell the truth, this annoyed me at first. I don’t want to have someone else tell me that I don’t care enough. Most days, I think I care plenty. There are too many people in the world for me to save all of them, and I think I do a decent job helping those I can. I don’t need to be reminded of all the causes I can’t support.

But the truth is, I don’t care enough. I have a lot of time, and compared with the rest of the world, a lot of money. And I do really selfish things with those resources.

This realization was generated by this letter to the affluent church, by Jeff Goins. The article made me mad. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. But this paragraph gave me pause:

I’m concerned that there may be more at stake here than just your family’s ability to go on vacation or buy more plasma screen TVs. A world that has been skeptical of evangelicalism for awhile now has an opportunity to be proven wrong, and I’m worried that we’re missing it. Because we’re caught up in the melodrama of our own inconveniences, we’re missing the chance to show those who have yet to see true Christianity in action.I’m not talking about megachurches and light shows. I’m talking about the kind of Christianity that puts generosity above self-preservation. I’m talking about the kind of Christianity that gives not just out of its affluence, but even out of its poverty. I’m talking about the kind of Christianity where solidarity doesn’t just mean being united in orthodox beliefs, but it also means sharing each other’s resources.

I italicized the part that got me; the “melodrama of our own inconveniences”. Ouch. And yet he has a good point. What would it look like to “put generosity above self-preservation”? And what would that mean to the watching world?

I welcome you to think about it with me.

Live from the National Mall

stageAlong with 1.8 million other people, I had the opportunity to attend Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States. Below are some of my thoughts and experiences of the event, compiled for my family:

We are on the streets by 7:15am. Apparently others have heard that something big is happening on the national mall, because we are far from alone on the usually deserted streets. Families, high school students and grandparents join us from houses all throughout Capital Hill. We move as one large mass toward the Mall.   The air is brisk, but we are dressed for the occasion. Lines of ticket holders block most of the streets on the way to the Mall (a mere 6 blocks away from where we slept the night before). Lines of metal detectors wait for the thousands of ticket holders who will be allowed in at 8am. Everyone is friendly. No one seems to mind that the sun has barely risen and we are moving like schools of fish through increasingly narrow alleys that have been created by fences and poorly-parked tour buses. Only when a detour takes us through an open McDonalds does someone remark on the crowds.

We work hard to keep together. Even though there are only 6 of us, the crowd seems to push us apart. Cell phone service is virtually non-existent, so we stop every few blocks to make sure we still have everyone – if we got separated now, there would be no reunion. Finally, we arrive on Independence Avenue. The street is still open to traffic, but only those with special passes have been allowed to enter the district. We walk on the street, occasionally dodging the car of a Senator or Congressmen on his way to his reserved seat. At the 7th street entrance, police cars and signs tell us that this portion of the mall is already full. We continue on, in good spirits, to the 12th street entrance, near the Smithsonian castle. Volunteers hold up small laminated signs that simply say “Mall. This Way.” At 8:17, we arrive on the mall.

We carve out a space on the mall just big enough for 6 of us to stand in a circle, excited that we are in view of the Capitol, and one of the large jumbotrons. A group of students from Kansas are in front of us, and have laid down large green tarps to sit on. Most of the tarps are vacant, since the students have all piled in the middle, huddled together on the ground for warmth. We begin playing a game of catch phrase. After all, no part of the inauguration is scheduled to start for another 2 and a half hours.

At 9 o’clock or so, the jumbotrons light up with the concert that had taken place on Sunday night. The sound and the picture are incredibly off, but aside from a few joking comments, no one seems to mind. By the time “American Pie” and “Shout” are being sung, the crowd on the mall seems to have forgotten that this is not a live concert. So we sing along, jumping up and down as much for warmth as from enthusiasm. We pass our time making friends with the couple from New York next to us, counting snipers on the rooftops of the Smithsonian museums (9 as far as we could tell) and watching the sea of humanity that has joined us for this historic day. A group of people have brought large beach balls which float their way across the mall, guided by the hands of millions. A news camera continually pans the crowd, who cheer in response to its presence.

At 10:15, the orchestra starts playing and the jumbotron goes lives from inside the Capitol. Congressmen, future members of the Cabinet, Governors and mayors, Senators and the Justices of the Supreme Court are all announced and process out of the doors leading from the Rotunda of the Capitol to the stage of the inauguration. Briefly, the screen shows Barack Obama’s motorcade arriving at the Capitol. The mere sight of his limo is enough to elicit screams of anticipation. Cheers of “Fired up and ready to go!” and “Yes we can” begin to popcorn across the mall. Finally, a near unison “O-BAM-A” cheer rings through the people. We have come to see him, and we are ready.

The past presidents are announced and begin to process onto the stage. A woman behind us insists on calling them all by their number. “Oh, there’s 39! 39!” and “Look at how 39 is ignoring 42!” and “FORTY-FOUR! OBAMA!”. As President Bush appears on stage, a large group of people begin singing “Na-na-na-na na-na-na-na hey hey hey, good-bye”. And the number lady retorts back “I mean, I don’t like him, but you gotta respect the office! Respect the office!”. I am glad that she is here.

And finally. Finally! Barack Obama appears on the screen. The crowd literally cannot contain itself. Cameras flash. Children get lifted onto shoulders. Flags wave. The noise is deafening. Never mind that our feet went numb at hour three or that from where Obama is sitting we are a multi-colored carpet of humanity. We are here, and he is here. We are part of something, together.

Diane Fienstein welcomes the crowd to this historic event. She informs us that we can “please be seated” which elicits some strong words from a few people standing on the mall. Needless to say, Diane does not hear them, and the ceremony continues. Rick Warren gets up to pray.

And then. The moment. Barack Obama stands. Michelle holds up the Lincoln Bible. The very Bible that Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on. Barack Obama will be just the second man to vow to uphold and protect the Constitution on these sacred words. Chief Justice John Roberts stands to administer the 35-word presidential office. The crowd is briefly surprised when Roberts (twice) puts “faithfully” in the wrong place, but our fearless leader presses on, so we continue to listen. Obama’s “so help me God” is lost in a sea of joy. Cheers erupt from the national mall. A group of people in front of us has brought confetti from home and throws it as high as the wind will let them. American flags wave with reckless abandon. Complete strangers are hugging each other. I have never seen anything like it.

Then, Obama gives his speech. Local Starbucks have been distributing coffee cups with quotes from past inaugurations for days. I have had enough cups of coffee (let alone taken enough history classes) to appreciate the lasting power of a presidents’ inaugural address. To my mind, Obama’s did not disappoint. Having never heard Obama speak live, the effect is astounding. I have never seen a person able to captivate such a large and diverse audience. In a crowd of 1.5 million people, no one makes a sound. No one offers their commentary, or talks above him. The entire audience seems to understand that words matter, and that Obama’s words matter more than most.

How amazing to stand on the National Mall, at the nation’s Capital, one day after we remembered Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and witness our first African American president address one of the largest crowds Washington has ever seen. I stand listening to Obama’s soaring prose, harkening back not to Lincoln, but to Washington; to the founding of this great nation, and realize the magnitude of what is happening. History is not being undone, but it is taking a sharp turn, and we will never be the same.

A Personal Thank You

Man! Barack Obama knows his etiquette! Not only do I get a personal invite from the president-elect to attend his most memorable inauguration, he actually took the time to thank me for waking up early, freezing my toes off and standing 12 blocks away from where he was to witness it! What a guy!

Kristen —

Thank you for being part of the most open inauguration in our nation’s history.

As we begin the work of remaking America, we must draw on the common hopes that brought us together this week.

I’m counting on you to keep the spirit of unity and service alive.

We face many challenges. But we face them as one nation.

And we have seen, time and time again, that there are no limits to what we can accomplish when we stand together.

Our journey is just beginning.

Thank you for all you do,

President Barack Obama

A well deserved thank you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go keep alive the spirit of unity and service 🙂

A Personal Invitation

Barack Obama has personally invited me to attend his inauguration.

He said so in an e-mail.

According to Barack, he and his staff (lets be honest – neither he nor his staff have been setting up the Mall all week. It’s people who are on someone else’s staff who have likely never even met the President-elect.) have “put together an inaugural full of great events.” And at these events? Barack wants me “to be a part of the celebration.” Because after all, he continues, “This inauguration isn’t about me. It’s about all of us.”

All of us. That’s right. Me, Barack, and 4 million of our closest friends.

I will be at the the inauguration. If you’re going, give me a call. Perhaps we can find each other in the midst of the millions.

 

(For significantly wittier banter between Barack Obama and one of his 4 million friends, please visit: http://donmilleris.com/2008/08/27/donald-miller-barack-obama/ )

Individual vs. Community

man-alone

 

“Many see both sides in the “culture war” making individual freedom and personal happiness the ultimate values rather than God and the common good. Liberal’s individualism comes out in their views of abortion, sex, and marriage. Conservatives’ individualism comes out in their deep distruct of the public sector and in their understand of povery as simply a failure of personal responsibility.” Tim Keller

This is very troubling to me. I understand that this country has always been driven by a “rugged individualism”, but the idea that we have now elevated individual freedom above corporate responsibility and community wellbeing terrifies me.

I have many thoughts on this subject, but they are shaped and guided by better people who have gone before me. I give you their thoughts for your consideration:

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world…We have fulfulled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our ehavior toward the world – to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it. And now, perhaps very close to too late, our great error has become clear…We have been wrong. We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. ” – Wendell Berry, “A Native Hill”

We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love and learning…We are parts of a larger whole that we can neither foget nor imagine in our own image without paying a high price.” – Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart

The life of a neighborhood is a gift.” – Wendell Berry, “It Wasn’t Me”

Perhaps the common good is also our own good…