- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

Praying for Obama

“When we lead our people to pray for this new administration, we also need to pray that President Obama, and everyone in government, will have courage. Given the social, economic, environmental, and security threats today, we could accumulate a pile of fear-inducing situations to rival Everest. This is an exceptional time, when our leadership needs the strength of character and will to seek, say, and do what is right.

“When we pray for a pluralistic, conflicted, and divided nation like our own, we should recognize that we are not just praying for the church, for the community of God’s people. Instead, we are stepping into our role as faithful exiles, surrounded by a widely varied people, who seek God’s life-giving love, mercy, and justice, especially for the marginalized and for our enemies. We cry out to God for his shalom to be poured out upon others. That will be the evidence to the world that the blessing we seek isn’t just for ourselves, but that we truly care for all peoples, tribes, and nations.

“When we pray for these things - humility, wisdom, and courage - we are stepping beyond our own party affiliation or preference, beyond the bickering of the campaign, beyond the places where divisions are real and substantial. We are seeking instead to be prayerful partners of God’s shalom that comes, at least in part, through governments, civic leaders, and even presidents.”

— Mark Labberton, writing in “What to Pray for a New President,” on Jan. 16 on ChristianityToday.com

‘A hangover remedy’

“If sin is a pursuit for the holidays, and redemption for the cold dawn of the year, then Carlos Reygadas’s “Silent Light” is the rare happy film to have gone into theatrical release at the perfect moment. Now beginning an American run … after a long string of festival screenings, it comes into January with guilt and absolution as its very theme - I might almost say its rhythm.

“There’s a sense of contraction and expansion, as the events pulse through a small, tradition-bound religious community but a very broad rural landscape. The characters, by upbringing and godly habit, try to contain their feelings; the wide plains and distant mountains, meanwhile, draw their attention (and the camera’s) toward something grander and more enduring than human life.

“And so, for all the intensity of the film, its style suits the new year like a hangover remedy. With bravura austerity, Reygadas chases the effects of December’s cinematic bender: the stupefying round of Oscar contenders, the would-be amusements for the whole undemanding family.”

— Stewart Klawans, writing on “Guilt and Absolution” on Jan. 7 at the Nation

Shaping character

“[Historian Simon] Schama is at his best writing about Montgomery C. Meigs, the quartermaster general of the Union Army, who described the Civil War as ‘a great and holy war’ for American democracy, or about the civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who, when asked by Hubert H. Humphrey what she wanted, answered: ‘Don’t you know? The Kingdom of Jesus; that’s what I want.’

“Schama reminds us that, to the extent there is an American identity, it has been forged through words, whether Jefferson’s or Hamer’s, and images, whether John Gast’s 1872 ‘American Progress’ or Dorothea Lange’s 1936 ‘Migrant Mother.’ …

“Exceptionalism is above all else the story we choose to tell about ourselves - not some organic, immutable structure. And in telling it, over and over, at times we even make it so. To think about American exceptionalism as a genre of storytelling may revitalize studies of national character without glorifying the concept of nation. What are the stories that people relate about themselves and their nation? How are those stories contested and how do they change over time? How has the American story influenced other narratives and, in turn, been shaped by them?”

— Louis P. Masur, writing on “The American Character,” on Jan. 16 in the Chronicle of Higher Education

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