On this Sunday morning I sat reflected on one of my favorite parables from the Bible. It is the story of the rich man who was a fool. Found in the twelfth chapter of Luke, verses 13-21, it recounts the all too familiar story of a man who is only concerned with himself and while he wades in the waters of self-righteousness and selfishness, he famously extols that he will build bigger store houses for himself then he will relax, “eat, drink, and be merry.” That parable is still apropos today.
Over the past few months it seems that many of the one-time “die hard” supporters of President Obama have become that rich man in one way or another. They say that he is not as progressive as he should be. They question whether or not he is cowering too much to corporate interests and the associative lobbies. They wonder if the GOP has his number, as they search for meaning themselves. Some have even gone as far as to question Mr. Obama’s integrity not just as a politician, but as a man. I think this pessimism and doubt is misplaced.
Where are all the teary eyed, inspired folk who came to see Mr. Obama sworn in on that frigid day in January? Where are the folks who stood transformed by that moment whether they watched on television, computer, or listened to the radio (yes, radio)? I’ll tell where they are. They have retreated back to the safety and warmth of passivity and inaction, governed by a spirit that has, for all practical purposes, given up the very hope that got our president elected in the first place.
I was there too in January and for the first time I actually sang the national anthem, not as a stepchild of democracy, but as one of its standard bearers. I still feel that same way (minus the frost bite). With a more than checkered history of maltreatment and inhumanity born out of the peculiar institution of slavery, I still stand as proud now as I did on that day of this nation for what it can be, and understanding the debt owed to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that we would enjoy brighter tomorrows.
Now, that is not to say that I have donned rose colored shades to give me the impression that Barack Obama’s Presidency is some post racial moment, a signal for neo-Black Nationalism, or some kind of reincarnation of the New Deal. It is not. President Obama’s election is merely a watershed moment but requires work of all of us to see the “change” we voted for.
As a boy growing up, I spent many days outside with my father working around our property. We had a few acres that were used primarily to house his horses and that takes work to maintain. I mean WORK. We would go into the fields repairing fences, gates, refurbishing the barn, painting barns, mowing grass, stacking hay…you name it we did it. We would spend all day outside especially on Saturdays. One Saturday, during the middle of those humid Missouri summers, I asked my father, “Daddy, will we ever get all this work done?” He looked back at me and simply said, “Son, there is ALWAYS work to do.”
A democracy works no different. I once listened to one of England’s greatest progressive politicians, Tony Benn. Commenting on how democracy works he simply stated, “If you don’t keep up the pressure for democratic control you lose it…it’s use it or lose it.” Expounding further he warned, “there is never a final victory for democracy it’s always a struggle in every generation and you have to take up the cause time and time again.”
At this moment it is time to take up that struggle. President Obama mentioned during his inaugural address, “as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.”
During his oration, Obama constantly referenced “we”. Remember his campaign slogan, “Yes WE Can!”? It is high time we recommit those words to memory and engage it through word and deed and not sit back like the rich man who was a fool to relax, eat, drink and be merry. In the Christian Gospel according to John, he recounts Christ telling his disciples “he must work while it is day for night cometh that no man can work,”(John 9:4 KJV). Similarly, we must get busy while the sun of social change is shining, for the darkness of ignorance, intolerance, and bigotry is always looming and lately those shadows seem even more ominous.
We must understand that President Obama is not some messiah sent to wash our sins away…he is man. And as a man he has limitations, just as we all do. We elected him to lead, and to his credit I believe he has tried his best to do that. He will not always succeed, nor will he continually fail. He is leader who is accountable to the citizens, but we all must work just like I did on my father’s ranch. There will not be some great day that we can sit back and reminisce about how “we made it over.” There is no “Promised Land”. That notion, like democracy, is an ideological construct that takes sustained diligence to make manifest. There is always work to be done, now let’s do it!