- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

When he was asked to identify the man pictured in the gift of a “Barack Obama, Words of Hope and Inspiration” 2009 calendar, my 5-year-old grandnephew, looked up from his Christmas coloring book, smiled and said “Jesus.”

We were, of course, taken aback. Christ?

Unfortunately, I’ve heard too many of his detractors liken our historic 44th president to the “Antichrist.” Neither savior nor Satan, President Obama is merely a man.

J. Marie Roundtree, a government employee and a longtime black Republican who voted for Mr. Obama, said, “He’s just a man. He’s not a wizard, not Merlin, not Jesus, but a very smart man, who understands it’s time for change, and people agree with that.”

Granted, judging from the Obamamania — which made the “cup runneth over” for media outlets and D.C. government coffers during the inauguration festivities for America’s first black president — you might have momentarily mistaken the throngs on the Mall for those countless followers a few thousand years ago, seeking a message of healing, hope and renewal from a far more exalted speaker during the Sermon on the Mount.

Most of those Americans from all walks of life, all colors of the rainbow and all corners of country returned from the Mall in Washington on Tuesday and reported a similar collective lesson learned about the power of peace and harmony that made the monumental 44th inaugural experience more historic than the man.

Jeanette Witter, a black psychologist in the District, summed up the overriding theme of good will from the dozens of people I contacted or interviewed: “Again, good spirits and cooperation even in that intense crowd was the rule rather than the exception it has become of late.”

“We had one gentleman who started us singing and doing cheers. We sang patriotic songs and civil rights songs. When the crowd sang ‘We Shall Overcome,’ one young man, white, a college student, standing next to me, asked ‘What is that song? I’ve heard it before, but I don’t know the meaning.’ I explained the significance of it in the civil rights movement and could see him looking around at the range of people, black and white, who were singing it with so much energy,” Ms. Witter said.

Another woman, Lillian Thompson, an educator from Alexandria, was among the thousands who had tickets but were not able to get on the Mall because of an unfortunate mistake, which is being investigated.

“It was so many people out on the streets; just meeting people was the best part. We stopped to have lunch on the way where we encounter dozens of people like us that didn’t get in. So we all yelled and scream[ed] having the best time watching it on a little television in a Chinese restaurant on H Street. I truly enjoyed my day, and I was glad to share the experience with so many that was as excited as I was,” she said.

Mr. Obama seems to understand his human limitations better than most. Can you imagine what must have been going through his mind at that poignant moment as he stood alone waiting to be introduced to take the presidential oath of office? Sometimes you have to be careful what you pray for, perhaps?

Though he did not usher in a pithy King or Kennedy phrase into the American lexicon, Mr. Obama did deliver an age-old mountain message that bears repeating especially today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

Not “the” son, but millions of sons and daughters. They need to take that colorblind camaraderie exhibited during Mr. Obama’s 20-minute speech when you could hear a pin drop as people hung on his every word, and love your neighbor as well as your enemy when you get back home and the real work gets rougher.

“For the world has changed, and we must change with it,” Mr. Obama said.

“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two,” as Christ said when he delivered a new covenant on how to act and treat one another on a different hill.

No question that Mr. Obama pored over the Bible for passages he could use in his inaugural speech, which implored responsibility and “good works.”

No question that the inaugural ceremony was like a Sunday-go-to-meeting service, too. As the Sermon on the Mount did, it included the Beatitudes, the new laws including the Golden Rule, the Lord’s Prayer, the cautions about the use of money and the warnings to “beware false prophets.”

Our new president asks us to hold him accountable, and we will.

Ms. Roundtree, a lawyer and a walking encyclopedia of Bible verses whom I frequently turn to when I need scholarly interpretations, noted how several television commentators Tuesday referred to the New Testament verses in St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians when analyzing portions of the new president’s practical prose.

Because of a last-minute but necessary deadline change, yours truly had to forgo her planned trek to join the frozen masses on the Mall and accepted Ms. Roundtree’s gracious offer to join her 50-inch HDTV-watching party Tuesday.

Mr. Obama called on us, like the Scripture, to “put away childish things.” Also, “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility.”

But to Ms. Roundtree, Mr. Obama’s biblical references hearkened to the Old Testament, the third chapter in Ecclesiastes wherein we are told that “there is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.”

“Now is the time for peace, not war; for love, not hate; and for sharing, not hoarding,” Ms. Roundtree added.

Mr. Obama said, “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.” He then preached that “as our world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play a role in ushering a new era of peace.”

Ms. Roundtree continued: “If you believe in the power of peace, in the power of love and the power of 2 1/2 million people when they are all on the same page in support of their government leader, then you know why there was not a single serious crime in the District of Columbia on the day of the inauguration. That’s impact.”

It may take months for scholars and pundits to fully dissect and decipher why so many people felt compelled to travel miles, spending their hard-earned dollars to listen to one mortal’s words. They came to witness history, but they went home with an attitude of hope and a handful of new friends if only for a fleeting moment.

Civil rights veteran Bob Zellner, of Southampton, N.Y, who wrote a book about being a white freedom fighter, suggests that Mr. Obama’s iconic popularity comes from people’s ability to “project upon him their values.” However, Mr. Zellner cautions: “[Mr. Obama] is who he is, and I hope a lot of people aren’t disappointed when they find out he doesn’t turn out to be God.”

Or, the devil.

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