Thursday, November 06, 2008

The symbolism of Barack Obama

I grew up in a Protestant tradition. And while there are wonderful things within that confession, one possible weakness is an over-reliance on words. Words to the exclusion of symbols -- in the larger sense of the word.

Barack Obama is a symbol. Again, in the larger sense of the word, meaning what's happened to him is a picture of a larger reality.

I had an appointment today with an older black woman, aged 74. As I was leaving her home, she asked, "So what do you think about our president?"

She didn't mean Bush. She meant the new president. And when she asked me, her face positively glowed.

Because this woman grew up in North Carolina during a time when there were "Colored" water fountains and when much of public life was closed off to African-Americans. And because what happened on Tuesday would have been unthinkable to her -- and almost everyone else -- even 20 years ago.

I might have wished that our first African-American president was someone else. (I voted for Alan Keyes in the 2000 North Carolina primary -- not because he is black, but because I thought him the best candidate. I still do). But we live the history given us, and Barack Obama is our first black president.

I could list a dozen reasons why I disagree with Obama. But this wasn't the time for that. I just said, "It's a big moment in history. And we need to pray for him." With which she completely agreed.

Obama's election tells us something about America, and that's a good thing. I've disagreed with the particulars about his beliefs and plans, and will continue to do so. But this is a moment of history. I'm glad I was here.

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