Archive for the ‘obama’ Category

On Behalf of Aspirations

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

President Obama departs Rose Garden, October 9, 2009

The day after President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, I attended my first meditation retreat. Instead of the relaxing getaway that I anticipated, I came away from the day of deep reflection and concentration exhausted, but strangely exhilarated. Most importantly, I learned something about myself that (I hope) will allow me to remain mindful, to engage the world thoughtfully, and to approach difficult moments with compassion.

That’s easier said than done. Just the other day I almost lost my mind at a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party when an impatient, unsupervised little brat rudely nudged my daughter away from the air hockey table as her turn came to an end. As I looked around for the boy’s parent — where is this child’s mama? — I realized that I was more concerned about salvaging my pride as a mother than I was about my daughter’s feelings. She hadn’t even noticed the slight and was off to another game. Others may have handled the situation differently, but I let my anger dissipate in that moment. I decided to devote my energy to making sure she had a good time instead.

One of the lessons of the retreat that has stuck with me is about developing right intention (also called “right aspiration”) and being attentive to the thoughts, ideas, and assumptions that guide my decisions. We don’t often place much value on our motives as long as the outcomes are acceptable; after all, conventional wisdom says the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, right? As a black woman and a southerner, I know how to speak kindly even when my words are not rooted in sincerity or wisdom. As a survival strategy, it works. But then again, our nation’s history is distinguished by black southern women who took dangerous risks, speaking out rather unkindly against the status quo when spurred by the clear, earnest intentions of a righteous cause.

So I was especially intrigued by the way the Norwegian Nobel Committee praised Obama’s work through references to his vision, attitudes, initiative, and of course, hope. The sentiment was reiterated in the President’s remarks about the Nobel Peace Prize:

“Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.”

New pundits and bloggers of all political persuasions have been scratching their heads to figure out what Obama has done to warrant the prize. Okay, fair enough. Still I can’t help but be very glad to live in a world in which right intention is cherished. Undoubtedly, there is much work to be done on health care, education, and climate change among other issues. And like some of my friends, I worry about whether or not it is possible for Obama to meet the overwhelming expectations being placed on his shoulders. I am heartened, nevertheless, by the doors that open when we act “on behalf of aspirations.” Volition is a kind of power that is not confined to a meditation retreat, but when used as the basis for virtuous action, can be felt as close as the Chuck-E-Cheese air hockey table or as far away as Oslo.

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Michelle Obama in Time Magazine

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The great-great-granddaughter of slaves now occupies a house built by them, one of the most professionally accomplished First Ladies ever cheerfully chooses to call herself Mom in Chief, and the South Side girl whose motivation often came from defying people who tried to stop her now gets to write her own set of rules. Read the full interview here.

“For the Love of Crom!”: Obama & Comics Culture

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For days I’ve been mulling over what to say about Amazing Spider-Man #583, the well-publicized Marvel comic that features a chisel-jawed President Obama. But honestly, I’ve got nothing. It’s like writing about the time Mr. T appeared on Diff’rent Strokes. Or reflecting on the subtext of Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters. “I know it wouldn’t look good to be seen palling around with me,” Spidey says to Obama at one point. Zing!

But who am I to pass judgment? I’ve collected at least six Obama t-shirts, four campaign buttons, a coloring book, a watch, a tote bag, two calendars, countless stickers, and a 6″ action figure of the man. (But no Beanie Babies, I promise!) I’m genuinely thrilled to see Obama come to life in the Marvel Universe. I’ve been enthusiastically following Rich Watson’s posts on how the president is represented in comics and Newsarama reports that ASM #583 is now in its third fourth printing.

obama-supermanReading the story made me realize, however, that what I’ve always admired most about Barack Obama is not his perceived super-heroics, but the fact that an individual who is capable of achieving such greatness is, like me, just another comic book fan.

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The Inaugural Poem You Haven’t Heard


While the crowds gather in Washington, I will admit this:
it is enough that it happened, more than enough that we see
him standing there shattering all our good excuses: no, not bliss,
not some balm over the wounds that still hurt, but it is enough
to say that we saw it happen, the thing we thought wouldn’t,
and we did it even if we did not want to do it.
Kwame Dawes, “New Day”
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Seriously, Dr. Angelou: The Mastodon?

Inaugural poetry disappoints. Let’s be honest. When the poet speaks — so soon after the thunderous applause of the presidential address — we are never quite as prepared as we should be to pause for creative reflection.

Poems, as we all know, compel us to turn our gaze inward, much like invocations and benedictions. But while prayers invoke the call to a higher power, poems like the one written by Elizabeth Alexander for Barack Obama require a response from their listeners. And there are millions of us, each with our own expectations about what, in this powerful moment, poetry can and should do.

Consider the rocky precedent set by previous inaugural poets: The “Dedication” Robert Frost wrote (but couldn’t deliver) for John F. Kennedy’s inauguration reads like an American Civics lesson. Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” strives to reach outside of history and though it is more inclusive, her verse ultimately leaves me feeling disconnected. A strange sense of caution and doubt runs through Miller Williams’ “Of History and Hope” which was written (like Angelou’s poem) for Bill Clinton’s inauguration. Ultimately, each leaves a kind of syrupy aftertaste that is expected when someone declares America to be the Greatest Love of All.

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Alexander

So I’m not surprised that early reviews of Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day” are mixed. WriteBlack has a post up about its critics, and there is sure to be a lively exchange when Ta-Nehisi Coates posts the poem for his Friday discussion. But compared to Frost, Angelou, and Williams, I find much to admire about Alexander’s verse. It combines abstract ideals and virtues with the lives of everyday people. Each time I read it, I see new insights that mark an optimistic start to Obama’s presidency. (Plus, she did a great job on The Colbert Report!)

But there is another inaugural poem that deserves our attention: “New Day” by Kwame Dawes. Published by The State newspaper in South Carolina where Dawes is a professor and poet-in-residence, “New Day” consists of eight sonnets that offer profound snapshots of our world.

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“But Now I Think I’m Able To Carry On…”

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Video h/t Ta-Nehisi Coates (Also check out his excellent interview on Fresh Air).

Also: “A Prayer for the Nation and Our Next President, Barack Obama,” Text of Opening Inaugural Prayer by Bishop Gene Robinson

Take A Break, People!

MLK, Jr. Taking a Well-Deserved Break

MLK, Jr. Taking a Well-Deserved Break

Plenty of well-meaning voices will tell us in the days to come that Barack Obama’s presidential victory, while historic and worthy of praise, means that the work of racial justice and equality has only just begun. To guard against complacency, the watchful and wounded will be full of meaningful warnings, counseling caution, and with the best of intentions, assure us that we have not yet reached the Promised Land.

After all, where would we be without the freedom fighters who refused to cross one item off our nation’s “to do” list without adding another? The alarming rates of poverty, income and health disparities, hate crimes, illiteracy, and sexual discrimination – the forces of tyranny never stop, so why should we? It makes sense that our guardians would expose the naivete of proclaiming this a “Post-Racial America” – the odd new catchphrase that covers up more than it conveys. Fair enough.

But there should also be time to take a step back and rejoice in the victories, small and large. Perhaps this moment is what King glimpsed on the mountaintop, perhaps not. We’ll never know if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to enjoy the view. So take a break, people!

Celebrate the very real power of your voice and your vote to express our highest ideals. Get to know the gifted poet, Elizabeth Alexander, who will deliver a poem in honor of Obama’s presidential inauguration. (And give thanks for the unexpected miracles, like a quick-thinking pilot who can crash land a plane of over 150 people in the Hudson River without losing a single soul.)

When I listen to the humbling voices of the elders and warriors still among us, one thing is clear: our Biggest Dreams can and do, in fact, come true. And if we don’t believe that, then what exactly have we been fighting for all this time? So take just a moment to relax, to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and to gather your strength…for tomorrow.

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Lost & Found: Get Up! Edition

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A few links, videos, and other online ephemera from our favorite sites this past week:

  • 389 Years: And speaking of progress, check out this typographic mashup, soon to be a poster.

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