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Monday, March 20, 2017

Reclaiming Hope


For years I considered myself apolitical. Yet I have found, as I have gotten older, that to not be political is to be political. It's difficult to be part of either political party when neither holds firmly to the beliefs that I do. In many ways, I'm conservative and, in others, I am liberal (particularly in regards to social justice).  I have never voted straight party ticket but have thoroughly investigated and checked the stances on specific issues for each candidate and then voted according to my conscience and after much prayer.

Growing up in a very conservative Republican and Protestant home, the closest my family had to a saint was Ronald Reagan. My mother's ideal for me was to be like Alex P. Keaton (Michael J. Fox's character on the TV show Family Ties).  I was taught that I was:
1. A Christian
2. An American
3. Southern
4. Republican
And all of those things were blessings of God.

This is how I was raised yet, as I got older and the more I read my Bible, I began to question. Yet I struggled to find a candidate who I could fully support.

In 2008, a candidate ran on the platform of hope and the dignity of all. Despite the odds, Barack Obama was elected the 44th President of the United States. It was an historic election that made many wonder if our country had turned a corner, particularly in regards to race.

Now, over eight years later, we have watched as all of that has changed into fear, distrust and discrimination. During this last election, I, like many, grew weary of the polarizing divisiveness of American politics and of the system itself. Many are losing hope.  The author, Michael Wear, writes, " . . . I believe it is an error to identify Barack Obama - or any candidate or political movement - as the source of our hope. But at the same time, I do not want to dismiss his 2008 campaign as an illusion, to reduce it to a cautionary tale of the dangers of political commitments. There was real promise in that moment. Many hundreds of his campaign staff would say he changed their lives. For thousands of volunteers, first-time voters, and all who felt their voices were finally heard in our political process, the Obama campaign affirmed their dignity. If only politics did this all of the time."

At the age of twenty-one, Michael Wear served in the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships under President Obama. Reclaiming Hope is part memoir, part political observation and a book of ultimate hope and faith. Wear writes candidly and honestly about the highs and lows surrounding that administrations achievements. He also writes openly of something many overlooked or dismissed: President' Obama's strong faith.  Seldom did the media cover it, partly because many in the White House did not want them to just as there were many in the Democratic party who were unhappy that Obama continued the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership (which was started under Bush and many on the left felt should've been abandoned). Obama championed vocally for the inclusion of not only that Office but voices of faith to be heard. He was disappointed when many in the Evangelical Church either doubted his Christianity and falsely labeled him "Muslim."

Wear writes, "In 2010, respected academics David Campbell and Robert Putnam concluded in their landmark book, American Grace, that partisan politics were directly to blame for the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans. 'The growth of the nones,' Campbell argued, 'is a direct reaction to the intermingling of religion and politics in the United States.' Evangelical writer Jonathan Merritt was more blunt in his assessment: 'As American Evangelicals have become more partisan, American Christianity has suffered as more shy away from the faith."

Yet, despite many people's claims to the opposite, President Obama's Christian beliefs showed up again and again in his speeches, especially those given at each National Prayer Breakfast.  He referenced his Christian faith more than the sainted Ronald Reagan. He spoke of how his beliefs shaped so much of how he viewed the world, others, and reaching out to help those in most desperate need. He spoke of being the Good Samaritan and he was "... the politician who injected the phrase 'I am my brother's keeper' into the political lexicon."

Michael Wear's book is balanced in his assessment of his former boss. He writes of watching the President change his position of gay marriage, as well as his attempt to find common ground between those who are Pro-Life and Pro-Choice to create ways to lessen the number of abortions in the United States. He also writes of achievements such as including the adoption tax credit and making human trafficking a major priority for his administration. This is an honest appraisal that balances both the highs and lows of being a Christian in the center of the public square.

Instead of the politicization of religion that so many in office use as a way to get elected, Michael Wear rights of the compelling need of real faith to intersect with politics. For those who have abandoned hope, this book is much needed and one will rediscover the reason for hope in the last two chapters. This is the hope that is more than a political slogan or bumper-sticker.

As we see our political system so mired down in ugliness and we seem more and more divided on issues, we should heed the words President Obama spoke at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast:
"At times, it seems like we're unable to listen to one another; to have a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens. It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other. It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on the truth. And then we lose sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families without health care. So what's the answer? Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility."

Yes, our political system desperately needs civility.

Our social media needs to be open to polite discourse that, while it does not always have to agree, it should always be respectful without breaking down into coarse, vulgar and incendiary comments.

All of us needs to truly and prayerfully be "empowered by faith."

Faith in what?

Not in a political candidate or party. As Wear writes in the introduction, "Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics o have their inner needs met. Politics does a poor job of meeting inner needs, but politicians will suggest they can do it if it will get them votes. The state of our politics is a reflection of the state of our souls."

Indeed.

Wear offers us more than politics, more than false hope and how we can truly reclaim real and lasting hope.

It doesn't matter whether you're Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal, there is something in this book for everyone. This was one of the books I was most excited about this year and it did not disappoint. It's no wonder that it's gathered endorsements from J.D. Vance, Tim Keller, Russell Moore, Ann Voskamp and Sara Groves among others.


Michael Wear's official website:

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