There are those that suggest half the population is unconscious of what leadership we have on local, state, and national levels. In fact there are even those who suggest we are unconscious of leaders in our own individual lives, poking holes into the celebrity idol culture on athletes, musicians, or actors (Hedges, Rohr, Postman). Cody Keenan a Chief writer for the 44th President, said in a Smithsonian documentary that aired recently that if the youth were taught one speech to read or hear by Barack Obama, it ought to be his 50th anniversary address in Selma:
It was there, in that speech, where the former President was acting the role of the nationalist identity (and perhaps bigger) as a whole by using the words, “We.” The narrative to shift from the dualism of white or black America, as he is remembered from his break out lines in the 2004 Democratic National Convention, “No red or blue America, but the United States, red, white, AND blue.” Both, AND, Yes, AND, “We.”
No wonder it would be a focus of his to pivot from the nationalist perspective and do what critics and rivals dubbed the “apology” tour to the rest of the world on behalf of “us” whatever that us, exactly is, and who it entails, is the subject in current events. Are the Republicans us? Are the Democrats us? Independents? Migrant children us? Are the zombies who do not know who the secretary of the interior is us? Is all of us, all of us? Or is the collective we to entail the entire world, hence, Obama’s apology to Hiroshima?
The 44th president was not exempt from climbing into the binary during campaigns to carry the blue flag for election, but Ben Rhodes in his 2018 memoir “The World as it is” reveals a more intimate and deeper default point of view that makes sense in the overall picture of Obama’s actual worldview. He said to Rhodes in ‘The Beast’ (presidential limousine) “I guess people want to revert to tribes.” That statement suggest that we as a collective consciousness had evolved beyond tribes? Maybe we had been carried a few less miles than Obama had originally believed, or, as a spiritual mentor of mine always says, “we always take one step forward and two steps back.” (Rohr 2009). Certainly in terms of spiral dynamics, that must be true in a way that only Ken Wilber could most accurately write.
Look at how the binary was used by Senator Rubio:
He said “We” but then ended with “They’re.” In his own video on critiquing identity politics, he returned to his tribe, which the binary must do. Being in a political party is a trap to the binary, there is no way not to be “identified” in politics, without becoming a “them” to individuals within the “us, we.” Look at how fast the House passed a resolution to condemn Trump’s tweet, imagine actual bipartisan legislation getting that fast of a track.
The question becomes, “Which is first, the individual or the collective?” President Obama said the collective, President Trump said the individual. Now these different structural orders battle out not only in the abstract but in policies of state. “America is not the only country in the world” versus “America first.” A go to line by author Andy Crouch comes to mind: this idea that by critiquing something we have changed it or altered it, when in fact, we must make those changes in actual culture, not mere critique! Donald Trump’s Twitter stream in the build up to campaigning was a non stop flow of critiques, whether he actually believed those ideas or not, once he critiqued it, he felt he was changing it. Then he accumulated power, and some of those changes, by policy, by persuasion and corporate influence, is now changing the culture. Academics are tempted by Godwin’s law, and other extremes, but it is not wrong that the reflection from the top can sew, in unconscious and unintentional ways, havoc on a society within different levels of collective consciousness, different political tribes, different definitions, experiences, and languages of identity, and different cultures amidst their individual lifestyles.
Karen Tumulty wrote a column in the Washington Post on July 15th titled, “We need someone who can lift us up again. Enter Barack Obama.” The only problem in a Democratic Primary after ones “prime” time, is he cannot fill the void or vacuum when his peers are fighting to do so. The second he does it becomes about his policies and baggage all over again, as we can forever know with the Clinton campaign.
Obama was a leader that we were not ready for, and in many ways, words and actions fell against an abyss that did not hear or see them, not because the leadership was not displayed and communicated, but that numbers of the population were deaf and blind to it. Enter Trump and the electorate that voted as, “We didn’t see or hear that” and the other percentage is left totally confused. Which leads us to that pivotal moment of the 44th President in “the beast” saying to Ben Rhodes, “What if we were wrong? What if I was ten years too early?” That is both the individual and the collective speaking. Obama was right. He was ten years too early minimum. There is no doubt he even, as he writes his memoir, will say he did not go far left enough or do more to unite divisions that only grew worse. Yet without him says the WAPO columnist, it is even worse, and, I’m afraid she might be right. We could use Obama after this weeks horror by all sides and pundits, except that one problem of the Democratic Primary underway. These final death blows thought to have taken down old patterns have not yet begun finality. The question for the Selma speech in the test of time is not if it was true, but when it becomes truer, for years still to come. The question is: how long? Not how long to write about it, and critique it on Twitter, how long to change the culture by action, by power, by politics?
A field guide to a field guide!
These truths are also true in theological circles regarding the Church and it’s future. Matthew J. Milliner is a teacher at Wheaton College who recently wrote a critique dubbed guide on Richard Rohr. In his discussion, while biographical details are semi accurate, his analysis and conclusions and exegesis on Rohr’s alternative orthodoxy misses the entire point. If, only in the abstract, to theologize everything, we had time to stay in the abstract and go hunt and speculate where this and that idea originated, and in persuasion to deconstruct it only to suggest going to those original authors as a best guess, is a very weak reconstruction, and, beyond what one would ever recognize as the person’s actual expertise.
To change culture, we must go beyond critique, into the actual. Would it not be great if it were only called the Center for Contemplation? Yes, maybe then we could go read all the classics again with headlights and ego “Gotchya.” Fortunately, the foresight and expertise of Rohr led him to name the Center for Action AND Contemplation. Action changes theology entirely into the political, which was of course, the genius of Christ in Jesus. The resurrection is here, now, with Him we have been raised, the resurrection has already begun. There is no text from dead saints to undo it. Therefore we must act for our neighbors sake accordingly, knowing the time and who’s we are. Contemplation alone is what got “experts” of the day into so much trouble with that outsider that insisted to “remove the clay from our eyes.” We have had a crisis of leadership since the days of Jesus, the 2020 campaign will be no different.
Crossan, Jon Dominic “Resurrecting Easter”, Harper Collins, NY, NY, 2018.
Crouch, Andy, “Culture Making”, InterVarsity Press, IL, 2008.
Hedges, Chris, “Empire of Illusion”, Nation Books, NY, NY, 2009.
Postman, Neil “Amusing Ourselves to Death” Penguin Classics, NY, NY, 1985.
Rhodes, Ben, “The World as it is” Perry Merrill LLC, NY, 2018.
Rohr, Richard, Center for Action and Contemplation, ALBQ NM, 2006-2019.
Wilber, Ken, “Trump and a Post-Truth World”, Shambala, CO, 2018.