Freedom for the Lucky, Happiness for the Few

Last week, we watched as President Barack Obama took the oath of office for his second term.  

With traditional pomp and circumstance, the activities in Washington lit up the twitter feeds.  Even Twitter couldn’t handle the overload of commentary; the platform crashed for up to six hours for many users.  An estimated one million people gathered in Washington to watch the President take the oath of office.  I can’t begin to imagine the number watching on television, computers, tablets and smartphones.  And even though my friend Ted might disagree, I have to believe that many of those people were interested in much more than Michelle Obama’s fashion choices.  (Ted, your tweets were spot on!)

President Obama spoke eloquently, as was expected.    You can read the text of his speech here: 

One line in his speech continues to draw my attention:  “We do not believe that in this country, freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.’  I agree.

As many of you know, and others suspect, I am an independent voter.  I am not ashamed to admit that I do not have all the answers, and as a result, I try hard to listen to rational arguments offered by each side on issues of importance to our community and our nation.  I embrace the fact that freedom is a hard fought battle; am I am forever thankful for those who continue to fight for those freedoms – whether those battles are fought by our military, or in our nation’s courts, or on the streets of our cities

Happiness – now that’s a loaded statement.  I agree that happiness is not reserved for the few.  I believe that every person, created in the image of God, holds the key to happiness.  We read it in Matthew’s gospel, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (5:3)  In the biblical studies world, there is general agreement that Matthew wrote to Jews who had been waiting about 10 years – waiting for a Messiah to solve their communities’ problems – not realizing that they possessed internally all they needed for happiness.  

Sounding familiar?  There’s a rumbling in our nation that is similar to the rumblings in the community to whom the Gospel of Matthew was written.   “Make me happy,” we seem to say.  The ancient community shouted for a Messiah, an individual who would solve all the world’s tangible problems.  Fast forward thousands of years, we say it to our televisions, to our jobs, to our computers; and, in his inauguration speech, President Obama seemed to imply that some seek it from the government.  

Let me restate:  I believe a government should protect the freedom of its citizens.  I believe the government has a responsibility to fight oppression, defined broadly to include military oppression or social oppression.   I support the very needed efforts of my friends who are camping out in Austin, TX this week, protecting those freedoms.

That’s a far cry, however, from expecting the government to be the source of my happiness.  That happiness comes from my relationship with God, the Creator; with Christ, who redeems me and who set the example for building community on earth; and with the Holy Spirit, which sustains me as  I find ways to build that community for those who are in need.

Not just freedom for the lucky, or happiness for the few.  Each belongs to all of humanity, perhaps just not in the way the text of President Obama’s speech was intended.

In all things, love.

Everything is Spiritual – even footnotes (a reprise)

Many of you know that I began my formal study of theology in 2009, enrolling in Perkins School of Theology for my first class, “Interpretation of the Old Testament.”  With a few years and more than a few research papers behind me,  I can say it has been quite a ride!  What is life in seminary like?  Here’s a little reflection (from the perspective of a first term part time student, still working full time):
·         Backpack – check.  Pencils, sharpened – check.  Books purchased – check.  Eager anticipation – check.  Such was the first day of class.  I was smart enough not to bring all 11 books that first day – all the time wondering what was wrong with just the original 39 books in the OT?  My concerns were noted, and I learned that 4 of the 11 were not REQUIRED reading.  “That’s a relief,” I thought to myself.
·         My first professor is German, a female who teaches from a feminist perspective.  I am intrigued with the challenges this brings, and am forced to reconcile my accounting mind of “the answer is  X” to incorporate concepts such as “what if we read the passage THIS way?” 
·         My classmates range from beginners and part time students, such as myself, as well as seasoned veterans (some in their last semester) and full time students.  We hear commentary from fundementalists, Unitarians, African Americans, recent undergrads, musicians, and those, like me, still searching for their path.
·         Midterms.  What an interesting concept.  I pull out the notecards, quiz myself, and, in general, join my high school daughter at the study table.  My efforts are rewarded as I earn my first A.  A bit of comfort as I enter the next stage of class:
·         Research paper.  I select from a number of topics, and choose to write on the story of Rahab and the Spies.  After reading more than my fair share of interpretations on Joshua 2, from the context of historical criticism (is it true?), literary criticism (the style of writing) and cultural criticism (considering our social location), my brain is flooded with ideas for the paper.  It occurs to me that, as an accounting undergrad, I didn’t write a lot of research papers – the exams and homework assignments were either “right” or “wrong,” and my grade was based on accuracy.  What a refreshing change to compile, compare and contrast other authors’ view of Joshua 2, while at the same time, forming and justifying my beliefs of God’s role in the story.  Some may choose to see it as “right” and “wrong,” but I learn more by viewing from other’s perspectives, and affirming my own beliefs.
·         Research paper, documentation phase.  That is, footnotes.  Lots and lots of footnotes.  And this is where I learn it – even footnotes can be spiritual.  Each article I read leads me to another perspective, which needs to be documented, critiqued, and noted on the paper.  Every footnote created gives someone’s perspective.  Without those contrasting and sometimes conflicting viewpoints, we are never challenged to uphold what we believe as children of God.  With each footnote and each additional article, I furthered my relationship with God, if only by understanding the view of someone who is not considered “mainstream Christian.”  I may not agree with every footnote marked – but I do believe that every footnote has a voice.
And this is what I am learning, as the date for finals nears.  This class is not so much about the stories of the Old Testament, it is as much about hearing the stories from varied perspectives.  The class is NOT titled “Intro to the OT,” it is titled “Interpretation of the Old Testament.”  And, as I am learning, interpretations vary, and should be considered.  What does not vary, however, is the love of God for God’s children.  For this, and for the opportunity to learn, I am most grateful!