As in Biblical times, yesterday just off the shore of the Willamette River, boats dropped anchors to listen to a stirring message of hope from an unlikely source.
Have you seen the pictures? 65,000 people — mostly white — spent their Sunday afternoon in a park in Oregon, on land and water, to be part of the Obama Revolution.
Security officials say another 15,000 loyalists were denied entrance. In reverse fortune to the lonely family of Nazareth, here there was no room in the Inn for the adoring crowds who wanted to witness the birth of a “liberator.
Is this for real?
D.C. veterans roll their eyes. “Rhetoric is easy, Senator. It’s nice to talk about hope, and justice. It’s convenient to promise, ‘not when I get to Washington’…but we know politics from the inside and we know things don’t change that much.”
Which, in turn, incites the perfect comeback by hope-filled Obamaites: “and yours is precisely the kind of old-fogy skepticism we reject.”
Ever since seeing the images of the doting crowds in Oregon, I’ve been thinking about hope — what generates it and what makes it true.
Hope, they say, is assurance of things longed for, faith in things unseen.
That’s all okay when the promises are divine, but I ask myself, in the world of politics, what can give me certainty in things unseen. In other words, what promises can I believe?
I won’t easily forget my brief encounter two years ago with a middle-aged woman in Venezuela. Rosa lived with her much extended and very broken family in a make-shift domicile of scrap metal. This wasn’t the sticks. It was downtown Caracas and immediately across the street from the National Assembly, a government palace.
At first Rosa spoke to me only through the bicycle chain that kept upright the sheet metal that served as an entrance to her home. Her pressing concern was whether I was a fan of the “opposition” — the political alternative to her beloved savior, Hugo Chavez. If I were, I would not get in.
I pleaded partisan ignorance and squeezed through the gate.
What rattled me to the core about Rosa was not her abject poverty (I’ve seen it in many places) or even the fact this poverty took shape directly across the street from a symbol of a very wealthy government (in Washington D. C. this happens too) but rather it was her fierce and absolute trust that the Chavez administration was going to come to her resuce, to single-handedly pull her out of her poverty. And it would happen sometime soon. The family had been in this hell hole for over nine years, and still she was waiting. I pressed for motives with questions like these: “If the government building is right across the street, why do you think they haven’t helped you yet? Do you expect a turn for the good anytime soon?”
Sadly, she didn’t have a lot of answers, but the one she had was just enough to keep her hopes alive: “He talks to us.” “He is on our side.”
Rosa’s social status had not changed with the coming of her political savior, but in contrast to pre-Chavez days, the new political voice, the new message, actually recognized her existence. The people in power knew her pain. Hope was alive.
It is sad to know three years later, Rosa is probably still waiting. Her false hope consists in a fairy-tale ending which depends entirely on the actions of others. With such great trust in a political savior she has no motivation to invest in the future; why send the kids to school, learn a trade, or even cleanup the house? She prefers to wait. Or more likely, that’s all she knows how to do.
But what happens when old actions don’t produce the good results they used to?
What do we do when we can’t keep local gas prices from looking like Europe’s; when there is no easy solution to a war we dislike; when after all these months — years — nobody wants to buy our beautiful house; when our kids ignore the faith we hold dear, when the political party of our youth loses its identity?
It is in moments of despair, like these, when we are tempted by soft voices and quick fixes.
We would like to believe in a political savior who can liberate us, painlessly.
Here’s news, that’s not going to happen. In fact, pain-free progress didn’t even happen when the prophet preaching from the shore was divine, and when the message was spiritual redemption: “Pick up your cross and follow me.” Remember?
In every face of this imperfect world — and especially in politics — real progress always entails hard work, personal responsibility, and sacrifice.
When a candidate tells us HE will change things and that WE should hope in him, then we can know for sure his promises of hope are empty. If he tells us HE will take away from the rich and give to the poor — instead of creating incentives for the poor to better themselves and motivations for the fortunate to be better neighbors — then his promises for justice are empty.
The biggest political and social concerns of our day — the abortion debate, social security, immigration policy, national security, international debt, and education (to name a few) — will not be fixed simply by the changing of the partisan guard, or by any perfect president.
Real solutions to these problems will require major sacrifice on the part of the whole nation. A candidate worthy of hope and worthy of trust will teach us, and lead us, to sacrifice for the common good.
That’s the only kind of change we can believe in.
God bless, Father Jonathan
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Father Jonathan Morris is author of the new book, “The Promise: God’s Purpose and Plan for when Life Hurts”. For information go to www.fatherjonathan.com