An Appeal to the Imaginations of People

NobelMedalWhen I heard last week that The Norwegian Nobel Committee had decided to award The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 to President Barack Obama I like many was surprised, as my immediate thought was “but he hasn’t accomplished anything yet.”   (To be fair the President himself said, “I know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement. It’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.”)  From comments I heard on the car radio, I somehow got it into my head that this really was about his being the first African-American being elected president.  

“Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future.”

NobelObamaPersonally, I have viewed Obama’s successful presidential bid as marking a change in America regarding race.  Obviously not everything has changed for racial prejudices cannot be obliterated by one election, but a ceiling was broken through and the chance for Americans treating each other as Americans seemed more possible to me.    From this point of view, and not taking anything away from Obama’s campaign and the risks he took in seeking the presidency, it seemed to me the Nobel Prize he had won really belonged to the American people who overcame 250 years of history which included slavery to elect a Black man as president. (And to those who say Obama could equally be called a white man since his mother was Caucasian, I can only point out that when Abe Lincoln was running for President, the state of Illinois considered any person who was one-quarter black to be a Negro and they were banned from entering the state.  The color of one’s skin has determined how people in America judge someone). 

But a week after President Obama won the Peace Prize, it is clear that the Nobel Committee did not award Obama the Peace Prize for breaking color barriers or giving hope to minority or oppressed peoples.   The Committee’s own press release states clearly that Obama was chosen

for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

NobelProgressObama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”                                            

What is most clear is that Nobel Committee really was taking a pretty strong swipe at the policies of the Bush-Cheney administration, the direction they were taking America and thus dragging the world with them.  The NEW YORK TIMES (Surprise Nobel for Obama Stirs Praise and Doubts) wrote:

The Nobel committee’s embrace of Mr. Obama was viewed as a rejection of the unpopular tenure, in Europe especially, of his predecessor, George W. Bush.”

The WASHINGTON POST (Nobel for Obama Brings Praise, Ire):

President Obama on Friday won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, bringing the relatively novice leader a new measure of prestige on the world stage … the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised the president’s cooperative approach to global issues, a clear rebuke of the Bush administration’s aversion to international organizations and treaties.

NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO (Gasps as Obama Awarded Nobel Peace Prize):

In Europe and much of the world, Obama is praised for bringing the U.S. closer to mainstream global thinking on such issues as climate change and multilateralism. A 25-nation poll of 27,000 people released in July by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found double-digit boosts to the percentage of people viewing the U.S. favorably in countries around the world. That indicator had plunged across the world under President George W. Bush.

The award appeared to be at least partly a slap at Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama’s predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

So clearly the assessment is that Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not based upon his accomplishments as president but upon a symbolic hope of what he represents in the eyes of the world (which in my estimation is how he won the presidency in the first place).   Americans, especially conservative ones, seem unconcerned how the world views America, and thus they remove America from its greater context, namely the planet which we 300 million Americans cohabit with 6 billion non-Americans.    In failing to consider the global picture in which America exists as but a small part, conservatives today mistakenly undervalue the power of symbol.  Symbol helps us understand our life and situation in a greater context.   In the rage with which they despise the new president, conservatives have blinded themselves to the reality that people do not evaluate the world purely in terms of facts and figures, for symbol and myth are very powerful forces in shaping the human imagination and causing humans to strive for something greater than what currently exists.  Not so long ago it was conservatives that were shaping that symbolic and mythical understanding of America.    Ronald Reagan in 1974  said in what is now called his “The Shining City Upon the Hill” speech:

ReaganObama“Standing on the tiny deck of the Arabella in 1630 off the Massachusetts coast, John Winthrop said, “We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world.” 

Six years later he would be elected as President of the United States in what was certainly a high point for conservatives in America.   Reagan imagined for America a role in the greater world – to be a hope to the world.   When that vision faded into selfish and self-serving values, America lost sight of its role in the world and the world lost hope in America.  People turned to someone who could enliven the imagination again and who could place America’s role in the larger picture of a world in need of hope.   In the world of politics, the appeal has to be made not just to the minds of people, but also to their dreams, aspirations, hearts and imaginations.

The Widow of Nain (2009)

THE WIDOW OF NAIN Commenting on the Gospel Lesson – Luke 7:11-16, the widow of Nain, St. Nikolai Velimirović  (d. 1956) writes:

NikolaiVelimApart from this and our sympathy, we feel ourselves incapable of offering anything else to those who are mourning. The power of death has so outstripped our strength that we crawl around like insects in its shadow; and as we heap earth over a dead body, we feel that we are heaping earth over a part of ourselves in the deathly darkness of the grave. The Lord does not say “Weep not!” to the woman in order to show that we should not weep for the dead. He Himself wept for Lazarus (John 11:35); He wept in advance of many who would later suffer in the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44); and lastly, He praised and blessed those who weep, “for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Nothing so calms and cleanses a man as tear. In the Orthodox methodology of salvation, tears are among the first means of cleansing the soul, heart and mind. Not only should we weep over the dead, but also over the living, and especially over ourselves, as the Lord recommended to the women of Jerusalem: “Weep not for Me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children” (Luke 23:28). There is, though, a difference between tears and tears. The Apostle Paul commands the Thessalonians “that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13), like the pagans and the godless, for they mourn their dead as utterly lost. Christians must mourn the dead – not as lost but as sinners, and their mourning must therefore be conjoined with prayer to God that He will forgive the sins of the departed and lead them, by His mercy, to the heavenly Kingdom. Because of his sins, a Christian must mourn and weep also for himself—and the more often the better; not as those who have no faith and hope, but, on the contrary, specifically because he has faith in the living God and hope in God’s mercy and in eternal life.