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Worshipping Obama

Scott and I have a quote inscribed in big yellow letters on our wall in our dining room. It reads:

"Of course I want to save the world, but I was hoping to do it from the comfort of my regular life". - Brian Andreas

We wrote it there to remind ourselves of a little voice we both harbor. A voice that can rear's its head periodically, telling us a better world is not our responsibility, that change can happen just by electing great leaders alone. - "Of course I want to save the world, but I was hoping to do if from the comfort of my regular life."

It's our get-your-butt-off-the-couch slogan! I tell you this, because I read this quote, right before I went downstairs to listen to Obama's acceptance speech, in which he said:

"I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts.
I will restore our moral standing
I will end this war in Iraq
I will also renew the tough direct diplomacy
I will cut taxes,
I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century - terrorism, nuclear proliferation, poverty, genocide, climate change, and disease."

And for a few moments - more than I'd care to admit, I let the quote go to the wayside, and I wanted to give up my power, my contribution to change - to one man. I wanted to not have to get my hands dirty, or get scrappy for my values, or leave the comforts of my living room. Cause in that moment, with a glass of wine in my hand, it was easy, easy to believe that he could take care of all of our problems, and he didn't need our help. There was a piece of me that found myself wanting to join the Cult of Obama - as it's been called.

Because it is hard to resist, and I don't think I'm the only one. I think almost all of us are tempted by the same lure. To let someone else do the hard work of rebuilding a nation torn apart. Not all the time, I know, but sometimes I think there is a piece of us that wants - what some theologians call - cheap grace. Heck I do. And let's be honest, everywhere we look this Obama as superhero - as the new messiah - is tempting us to give up our power to the one person who could become the most powerful person in the world. And all we gotta do is vote. And when we've all had a hard day, and the kids are whiny or we're in need of a nap, there should rightly be a piece of us that says, "Hmm, that'd be nice, I'll just hand over my power for a little while." And then too we are surrounded by the message that we should hand it over - everywhere we go. Walk by any magazine stands or listen to the pundits on television. And this image of the messiah among us is all around.

The front cover of the magazine - Mother Jones - has an article that reads: "Is Obama the Second Coming?"

The New Republic: "Is He God? '

We listen to our icons of contemporary culture - like Oprah Winfrey for instance - and she says "He is the One! He is the One! He is the One!"

The Republicans commentators - like National Review editor Rich Lowry calls this worshiping of Obama - "a secular messianism."

It has been pointed out to us that the African name - Obama - means "a blessing."

But it isn't just the news or quips on television.

I walked by a new book at Barnes and Noble: "The Cult of the Presidency" and read its intro - "voters are looking to the president for salvation from all problems great and small." Yup, I think you got that right, we are sometimes.

Scott and I have had weeks, where we've called parishioners or fellow community activists and asked for help on various social justice effort, and a striking number of responses went something like this: "I'm not so sure I'm going to keep putting my energy there. I'm hoping it will get better once Obama gets in office"

Indeed for me the kicker was the Daily Show with Jon Stewart - who manages like always to expose the absurdity of our swooning. Brilliantly and honestly he took on this worshipping Obama.

They start with music from "The Lion King" in the background and show the clip of the cartoon - "The Lion King." The clip is where the monkey takes the baby lion club to the edge of giant cliff, and lifts him up for all the jungle to bear witness to their new king. And instead of the face of the baby lion, they've superimposed Obama's face over the top.

The music from the Lion King continues but with a voice over that says - "Every time Barack Obama speaks an angel has an audience,"

And then - "there is one man once again who will unite the world."

Then they go to the clip of his speech where I just admitted I was so moved, how Obama says: "I will restore, I will rebuild, I will renew, I will build."

And it cuts to Jon Stewart who finishes the segment with this: "And then on my second day, I will rest. On my third day, I will put everything back, everything will go back to the way it was so I have something to do on my third day."

And I think, jeez it's tempting isn't it. To believe that if elected he can change the forces of America by himself. In truth how can we not be tempted? Because I know you are tired, I'm tired, I know you want a break, I want a break. I know we feel the issues are overwhelming. They are overwhelming. Indeed, if you could see your faces when any of us talk about the hard realities and consequences of the trajectory we as a nation are facing: from global warming, to a weakened educational system, to job loss, to rising working poverty, to the growing disparity between the haves and the have nots, to the war in Iraq, to a 9 trillion dollar national debt. I see your faces, I see what happens to you, you slunk down into your chairs, the breath comes of you, your hands start creeping up to your ears, as if to say enough already. Give it a rest Rev. I get it, cause jeez it happens to me too. There is a primitive piece in human psychology that when we feel overwhelmed or under threat, we will give up our power, our responsibility, our ownership of the issue to someone else. We want a savior. And then compound that tendency with the reality that wherever we look the option suggests we should take it. Well, in that context, giving away our power to one person makes sense, worshipping Obama makes sense.

So yes, I think many of us, at times, in our spent moments, are worshipping Obama. And in truth I think we do it without really noticing that we are doing it. So let me put my cards on the table today. Part of what I'm asking us to do is pay attention, pay attention to all the ways that we are consciously or unconsciously giving away our power. Handing it right over, passing it on. Saying to ourselves, this fight will be over soon enough. All will be right. Pay attention to how often, and with what energy, we are hoping, praying, cleaving, or briefly wishing that someone else with the power to make change would just do it. And we can have a new world, from the comfort of our regular life. I want us this morning to pay attention to how we are consciously or unconsciously giving away our power.

And I'm asking you to do this, not because it is what I want you to do but what our faith is asking us to do. We don't talk about this often but in many ways Unitarian Universalism is most fundamentally a religious instinct against giving away your own power.

The early Unitarian Christians didn't want to give up their power. In rejecting the trinity, they rejected the Catholic Church fathers efforts to make creeds authoritative verses one's own reason. They didn't accept whatever scripture said, but questioned it.

But perhaps the best example, are the Humanists in our movement, who rebelled against placing hope for salvation in an all-powerful and all knowing god. For them that power rested in and among we fallible but amazing human beings. The Humanists advocated that we could fix the world together. They believed it was not a God who would save humanity, but humans together who routinely and with purpose saved one another. They were reclaiming power from a god, to our power.

These Unitarian tendencies of not wanting to give away their own power, concluded that together, when we put our lives to the service of others with our hands, heads, and hearts we would tap into that power we collectively own. It is in our deeds not our creeds - that we are called to be religious. That is our great calling as Unitarian Universalists.

Now strangely this week, something struck me. Because as much as that concept of owning our power together is our religious idea, I've found it is equally an American ideal as well.
E pluribus Unum, E pluribus Unum, E pluribus Unum.
Out of many - one, out of many - one, out of many - one.

E Pluribus Unum, is our nation's main motto, it's found on the seal of the President, Vice President, House of Representatives, Senate and Supreme Court. Take out a penny - and there it is.

We need to remember that this idea of the power of we together, is not just a Unitarian Universalist religious idea, but also a foundational idea of what it means to be an American. It is indeed the definition of a true patriot. Which makes me feel a little funny this morning, because I've only just recently put our faith together with what true patriotism means. And that isn't normal for me.

Up until this week I've always argued against the idea of equating ones religion with what patriotism means. Shame on those conservative Christians who equate Christianity with patriotism, with being an American. Religion and patriotism should be absolutely separate. And then dog-gone-it, I read a book this week that might be making me into a hypocrite, because while I still believe one shouldn't equate Conservative Christianity with American Patriotism, I'm now seeing a connection between what our faith is asking us to do, and what our country - at its root - as patriots - is asking us to do.

Let me explain. Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer put together a little primer called The True Patriot. Their aim as they say is to answer in moral terms: "W is a true patriot?" - so they ask: What rules do we need to live a good life together? How should those rules govern the choices we make not only as individuals but as a community?

So they went back to the original documents, and found the common values: The Declaration of Independence
Lincoln's Gettysburg address
George Washington's Farewell Address
Jefferson's First Inaugural Address
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union Address
Theodore Roosevelt's - The strenuous life -

You get the picture:

After reading the documents: they distilled the message - true patriotism means freedom with responsibility, as they say: To love our country means to rise above 'I am because I am" and is instead to recognize that "I am because we are."

Jeez, think about that. It means, that power, the hope for change rests- not in one position, or leader, but in WE the people. Which brings me back to Obama.

The path to this country being great rests not in just electing great leaders. But it rests in us, owning our part.

I'm proposing that there is a dance that happens between the leaders and US - WE THE PEOPLE. I think what is happening right now, is that we are tempted to let our leaders lead that dance, and we follow. And that makes sense they are leaders after all. But, it isn't that simple, and at times - indeed most of the time - WE the people, need to lead the dance. There is an important piece of our US history that should be remembered. It's about FDR and some labor leaders. Evidently at the beginning of his term, these union bosses came to Roosevelt for help. They were asking him to lead the country with a new vision for labor. "Lead us." they implored. To which he basically answered. "Nope. I'm sorry. Doesn't work that way. Now that you've elected me your job is only half done; now you've got to go out and mobilize the people to make me do a good job."

All of which means our power is actually needed more as we sit on the edge of electing a new leader - and I'm not trying to be partisan here. I could easily give this same sermon next week and insert Sarah Palin for Obama. Very quickly this is becoming a debate about who will be the better savior - the god Obama, or the Goddess Palin.

And all of it is a ridiculous distraction. No one will save us. No one will get us off the hook. No leader will ever make it UN-necessary for us to put our power into action. In truth, our power will be needed more than ever after this election no matter the outcome. Both to make our leaders do the right thing, and for us to do what needs to be done. In the end, it's never about their power. If you take FDR's comment to the labor bosses, it was us who eventually forced him into using his power. Remember, FDR ran as a conservative fiscal liberal who wanted to balance the budget. But it was WE who made him take the risk of deficits for the sake of safety nets and the great society.

Why am I so revved up about this, what to some, may seem like a little intellectual distinction? Why does it matter to me so much? Well, I'm scared to death friends, the world is in trouble. It isn't about how I want you to use your power more; it's about how the world needs your power for it to survive. What's that quote those that much is given much is expected. - I would only add, much is needed.

Eric Lui and Nick Hanauer end their book with these words:

"There is another American way as old as America itself. Long before the revolution, the very first settlers of this land came rooted in a tradition of shared sacrifice and common cause. This land became a great nation because countless millions wanted to better themselves- but they all knew that to better yourself meant to better your neighbor, and to better all your children. And with each passing generation, from settlement to colony to state to union, they laid down an American habit: relentless progress and possibility through deep adherence to old-fashioned virtues. It is time to revive this American way. . .The best and worst thing about living in a democracy is that it always gives us the leaders we deserve. That's why if we want great leaders, we must demand great citizenship of ourselves."

I love that, demand great citizenship of ourselves But what does it mean? What am I asking you to do? I know you friends, you work hard, you sacrifice, you give to needs greater than your own, and you contribute to the common good. I guess what I'm asking you today is, not to stop. There will be voices in your head that will whisper or shout-"Let your power go, it's ok, let it go, somebody will surely pick it up." But don't listen. Don't stop. Don't give your power away. Because it is on that power - the WE the people power - that the world depends. To those that much is given much is expected - and needed. Amen.

Kaaren Anderson, Parish Co-Minister
September 14, 2008