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Change We Can All Believe In

The GOP has good reason to celebrate this week. Thanks to the enthusiasm of those who imbibed the spiked punch at the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh’s generalship has been grandly endorsed and the President of the United States has quietly conceded failure, as he assumed responsibility for the Democrats’ deafening defeats. Two years ago, the majority of the impetuous public who had gone to the ballot had endorsed the transformational agenda of the Harvard trained Hawaiian visionary; but this week teeming masses from the same pool of eligible voters upset the balance of power by placing their hope in the self proclaimed “Party of No!”

Anyone who hoped that the recent upset would establish a base for civility in Washington was quickly slapped into sensibility by Minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who made it clear that the campaign to see Obama fail has only just begun. As he laid out the details of his party’s agenda, he defiantly threatened: “The only way to do all of those things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.” This obvious unwillingness to compromise exposes an intolerant attitude shared by many on both sides of the aisle who are beholden to the special interests who paid the highest bid for their seats and promised them a life of financial security. Even the so called reformers from the Tea Party have come to realize that entrance into the most powerful fraternity in the world comes at a controlling cost that quickly counters their redundant rhetoric. By all appearances, the political roller coaster that has sputtered up a grueling incline for the past two years has reached a peak and is about to experience a precipitous free-fall.

Try as I may, I can’t understand the combined American psyche. While it is true that election results are often determined by the active participation of an energized base and lethargic inactivity of the complacent masses; it is not difficult to see that America can never experience real change if our fellow citizens cannot exercise patience with their elected officials. Yet we seem to have become accustomed to dysfunction. It’s almost as if people expect precooked micro-waved fast food from a five star restaurant that prepares its meals from scratch. In other words, it appears as if many who go to the polls are looking for quick painless fixes to problems that can only be rectified by arduous long term sacrifice.

As he reflects on his humbling “shellacking,” our melancholic melanin enriched President is probably wondering where he went wrong. Could his desire to compromise with the opposition by taking the “public option” off the table be the reason why the formerly overwhelming support for health reform now appears to have been a nebulous day dream? Could his insistence on financially propping up the compensation packages of those heading institutions deemed “too big to fail” be interpreted as a classist snub on the economically struggling masses whose homes and five figure salaries are “too small to save”? Could his hesitance in closing the torture chambers of Guantanamo while keeping a military candle burning in Iraq and cranking up the heat in Afghanistan reflect his own inner conflict between private principles and public politics? Could his refusal to acknowledge the racial divide intensified by his elevation to the highest office in the land be the emboldening fuel behind the shameless racists who have been almost successful in extending Kevin Phillips’ “Southern Strategy” from “sea to shining sea”?

Whatever the reason behind the curiously termed “shellacking,” it is clear that those who had previously empowered Mr. Obama with a mandate of change have slipped into the sea of skepticism. The vero possimus attitude that made Mount Rushmore tremble at the thought of chisels and dynamite transforming its shape again with the addition of a new face has dissolved in a dungeon of despair. With great difficulty, supporters are forced to accept that Barack “Barry” Hussein Obama is not the reincarnation of the divine offspring of copulating gods from Mounts Olympus and Kilimanjaro. In spite of their expectations, he cannot turn water into wine, walk on water, feed the five thousand or raise the dead. The people have finally heard the human pleadings of their “Messiah” who already told them that real change necessitated patience and a concerted effort.

But even if the people were willing to support the President’s desires and extend the Democratic lease on Congress, could lasting change have been accomplished? I doubt it. History has taught us that all political change is temporary – even good ones. Who can forget the legalized apartheid that reintroduced a new form of slavery to America after Plessey vs. Ferguson seemingly nullified the Emancipation Proclamation? Or the political division of China that followed Sun Yat-sen’s successful quest to bring liberty to the masses? Or the Shona massacre of Ndebele after ZANU and ZAPU had put their tribal differences aside to overthrow Ian Smith’s oppressive Rhodesian regime? Time and time again we have seen why it is futile to put our total trust in political leadership (Ps 146:3) – other forces are in control! Leaders may rise up with visions of justice and liberty, but as long as we are on this side of eternity we are constantly reminded that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood….” (Eph 6:12)

During the 2008 election contest, many of the President’s opponents – from within and outside of his party – tried to discredit him by using his full name to stroke and stoke the Islamophobic flames that still rage throughout our nation. To some people’s dismay, they were unsuccessful and Barack Hussein Obama is now the 44th President of the United States of America. I have read a number of articles spawned from his full name, but none have taken the time to analyze the meaning of his individual names. I would like to conduct a brief analysis as I draw this commentary to a close.

“Barack” is the Arabic word for “blessed.” On a symbolic level, millions of those who have heretofore been denied access to the highest office in the land see him as a symbol of God’s blessings. Perhaps this sense of “anointing” is why so many placed their hope in him. His middle name, “Hussein,” is another Arabic word meaning “handsome.” In fact, in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Hussein is a preferred name for those infused with royal blood. As I think about the symbolism behind the President’s middle name, my mind goes to those who are enamored by the authoritative demeanor of a lean and youthful Commander in Chief whose athleticism is displayed on the basketball court.

What most people don’t know is that his surname is not Arabic, but Luo, his ancestral tribe via his father. “Obama” actually means “the imperfect one.” Here again, I see an eerie symbolism that serves as a warning to all who place their faith in earthly political leaders and systems. Our leader may be charismatic, qualified, calculating and competent, but he has been tainted by fallen humanity. He is finitely limited and singularly impotent to invoke and implement the change he calls us to believe in. He is a mere mortal who can temporarily inspire but can never permanently transform.

As I mull over the events of the past week, I am reminded of why I have chosen to place my faith in Messiah – the one in whom all the promise of God echo a resounding “Yes!” (2 Cor 1:20) The New Age vision of fallen humans creating an eternal Utopia is an illusive fantasy that quickly dissipates with the smoke emanating from the intoxicating pipe that birthed this dream. Real change can only come to this earth through the invincible hand of the One who “makes all things new.” (Rev 21:5) As they contemplate the political scene, Democrats, Republicans, Independents – and all other political enthusiasts who claim to be Christian – must remember that our first allegiance is not to party or nation, but to the eternal and indestructible Kingdom of God.

When I think about the hundreds of millions of people around the globe who are in desperate need of physical, psychological, social and economic healing, I yearn for the day when “the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and His Messiah.” (Rev 11:5) I yearn for the day when the only One who can, will bring “change we can all believe in.” Maranatha–Come Lord Jesus!

Keith Augustus Burton, Ph.D. is an adjunct professor of Religion at Florida Hospital College of Health Sciences and a global evangelist who loves to witness people actively receiving Christ into their hearts and lives.

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