Monday, September 1, 2008

Colored Blind: A Book Review of "The Faith of Barack Obama"

“You must read this perceptive and well-written book. Then you will know why Barack Obama has such a passion for justice and equality, such a gift for filling people of different generations with a newfound hope that things can and will change for the better. His inspiration comes from his faith; he is an ardent believer. Yes, he is a Christian and proud of it.”—Desmond Tutu, Nobel Laureate

Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, made an offer to bloggers to send a free copy of The Faith of Barack Obama in exchange for their agreement to write a book review. He did not require that the reviews be positive. Since I knew that Barack Obama said he is a Christian, I was curious about his faith. Michael Hyatt’s blog links to all the other bloggers’ posts. If you are interested in reading other bloggers reviews, click here.

The Writing Road does not endorse any political candidate. However, we review books—some that readers may consider controversial. We welcome your feedback.

Book Review
Stephen Mansfield
164 pp. Thomas Nelson, Nashville. 2008. $19.95.
By Scoti Springfield Domeij

When I was six-years-old, I visited Meemee, my grandmother, for the summer in Kosciusko, Mississippi. As my bare feet scampered over Kosciusko’s red earth, so did Oprah’s. I don’t know if Oprah ever sipped water at JC Penney, but I did. Two signs hung over two water fountains. The tall fountain’s sign proclaimed it to be “white.” The word on the sign over the short fountain sign said “colored.”

My first thoughts upon reading the signs were, “We don’t have colored water in Indiana. Is the water is pink or blue?”

Like Goldilocks in The Three Bears, the short fountain seemed “just right.” With excited expectation, I pushed the button. To my disappointment, white water spurted from the short fountain.

I wondered, Why isn’t the color working?

Every day that summer, I checked to see if pink or blue water would gush from the short fountain. Before leaving with my parents to return to Indiana, I insisted on running downtown.

I just wanted to see if the color was working yet. It wasn’t.

I consoled myself. Maybe next summer when I visit Meemee, the color will work.

What Color Is Barack Obama’s Faith?
In “The Faith of Barack Obama," Stephen Mansfield, the best-selling historical and bibliographical author, reveals how Barack Obama’s step onto the political stage has aired national wounds and sins that need healing. This book challenges individuals to look beyond politics to “be more Christian than Republican, more American than Democrat, more noble and righteous than crassly and callously politically.” Readers are invited to consider “if a man’s faith is sincere, it is the most important thing about him, and that it is impossible to understand who he is and how he will lead without first understanding the religious vision that informs his life.”(p. xxiii)

This short book recounts Barack’s eclectic exposure to differing faiths in his childhood and what influenced his personal decision to submit to God’s will and commit to Jesus. It refutes the “Barack is a Muslim” poison-pen email smear campaigns. While this is the only book that deals with “The Faith of Barack Obama,” it deviates by looking at the faith journeys of Jeremiah Wright and Barack’s political rivals.

The Parallel Universes of US Versus THEM: The Reds, The Whites and The Blues
Whether you plan to vote for or against Barack Obama, you will find justification in this book to defend your political support—or lack of. Many pro-life, neoconservative Christians may slam this book shut before finishing the Introduction (p. xv) that quotes Obama’s bold statement:

“Those of us on the political Left who believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion and who defend the rights of our gay friends and who care for the poor and who trust that big government can be a tool of righteousness—we also love God.”

The best way to read this book is to put aside bias, note your emotional responses to the content and thoughtfully consider, How do others judge my faith and compassion?

Chapter 1: To Walk Between Worlds: This chapter provides a compelling backdrop of Barack’s loneliness and "otherness" that tugs at the reader’s heartstrings. Obama’s white grandparents went against the red versus blue religiosity of their day when Madelyn Payne, a middle class, Methodist, married Stanley Dunham, a blue collar Baptist. Madelyn rejected the gossipy, cruel, racist, intellectually thin, and zealously intolerant hypocrisies of rural Kansas. Her astute observations of religious pretense—that still exists today—did not go unnoticed by their firstborn and only daughter, Ann.

Obama’s mother intellectually embraced the baby boomer counterculture. Barack’s mother and grandmother were thinkers and post moderns at heart—intellectually, religiously and culturally—before their times. Both Obama’s father and stepfather’s examples rejected their Muslim heritages. Obama’s eclectic background and “otherness” reflects the cultural and religious diversity of today’s American culture. What Barack’s parental role models could not give, he embraced—discovering God’s grace and truth for himself.

Chapter 2: My House, Too: Mansfield offers a gentler, less strident look at Jeremiah Wright, his biography, personality, theology, and his church, Trinity United Church of Christ. In this warm Christian family, Obama found Christians engaging in the world’s struggles—not retreating from them. Mansfield provides context for readers who have never attended black churches, to understand the black plight and the role of the black church in the lives of African Americans.

Chapter 3: Faith Fit for the Age: Obama reflects the respect that his mother taught him for all people and religions—including the father who abandoned him. Her assorted religious beliefs and atheism condensed down to The Golden Rule, “underlying these religions was a common set of beliefs about how you treat other people and how you aspire to act, not just for yourself, but also for the greater good.” (p. 55) This chapter will disconcert those wanting to pinhole Obama into their particular faith tradition. “The Faith of Barack Obama” celebrates God’s ability to draw a lonely, searching soul to Him and champions spiritual growth in sinful men that is ongoing, not static.

Chapter 4: The Altars of State:
Individuals who need to hear Obama speak Christianese to affirm his faith and agree with their pro-life views on abortion, may brand his conversion “less than.” Barack Obama challenges liberals to stop rejecting people of faith and find common ground. When he urged believers to engage in respectful dialogue and not to use faith as a tool of attack to divide and belittle, it unleashed the fears and prejudgments the religious right targets towards Barack. I suffer from religious self-righteous burnout and zoned out when Mansfield provided a theological and philosophical discourse regarding civil religion.

Chapter 5: Four Faces of Faith:
Digressing from “The Faith of Barack Obama,” this chapter examines the biographical faith journeys for John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Chapter 6: A Time to Heal: This chapter pointed out shocking details I wasn’t aware of, but my southern-born mother knew. For example, our government behaved like Nazi’s when they used 400 black men with syphilis as test subjects to study the effects of how syphilis spreads and kills. The men were not advised of their medical diagnosis nor were they given antibiotics to clear up their STD. And political pundits deride Rev. Wright for distrusting our government?

Obama approaches the pain of poverty, race, religion, and age with a detached perspective not as one still trying to recover from pain or suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mansfield brings up the question: How can compassionate Christians ignore injustice in our democracy? Is the faith community merely religiously fluent, like Bill Clinton, or is our faith sincere that confronts double standards with Christ’s love, mercy and grace?

Who Owns the Religious Voice of America?
Rather than espousing shrill judgmentalism, Mansfield presents a fair and well-rounded backdrop for Obama’s life, faith and political views. So fair, in fact, that those who differ with Barack’s political agenda will most likely question the validity of his faith, and those who agree with his politics may be irritated by his openness about his faith in Jesus.

Subtly the book presents Barack’s sense of destiny, linking him with Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and bringing healing to our wounded nation. The author points out refreshing characteristics that endear Barack to those repulsed by self-righteousness: transparency about admitting wrong choices, unselfconscious spirituality, unapologetically Christian, questioning certain tenets of his Christian faith, and comfortable co-existence and respect for non-Christian religions. What a sharp contrast to the US versus THEM religionists who wear the I’m-right-and-perfect masks, only admitting sin when caught with their pants down.

The Outsider
This book purports that Obama’s cultural disconnection derives from being a mulatto. However, Barack reveals many of the characteristics of Third Culture Kids (TCKs), which includes Missionary Kids (MKs)—children who have spent significant time during their developmental years in one or more culture(s) other than their birth or parent’s culture. TCK’s will relate to Obama’s struggle and the search to find his “own tribe.” The advantages of growing up in a cross-cultural world allows TCK’s, like Obama, to process their views through a multicultural lens, to comfortably cross between cultures and build relationships, and to assimilate aspects of those cultures into their personal “third culture.”

What Color Is Your Faith?
Blacks versus Whites: Our country has made some strides forward regarding racial prejudice, but is it enough? I think not.

Us versus Them: Will we ever make headway to overcome “pet” theological hardheartedness or religious prejudice? A balanced spiritual life includes more than just claiming fire insurance through the redemption of the cross or debating "Who's going to heaven or hell."

Reds versus Blues: Can Barack Obama “wed faith to a political vision that leads to meaningful change in our time”? (p.144)

As for me, I prefer to embrace others with eyes of grace and compassion and remain colored blind.

Don't Miss Interesting "Factoids from The Faith of Barack Obama" on Friday, September 5, 2008

Read How Do Your Beliefs or Faith Affect Your Writing? on Monday, September 8, 2008

No comments: