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Archive for November, 2008

Election reflection: Praying for the president

Posted by Ron George on November 2, 2008

The numbers are good for my candidate, and I’ve already voted for Barak Obama. The polls say he’s ahead, but this is America, with its undemocratic way of electing presidents. Mr. McCain could lose and still win, just as Mr. Bush did in 2000 with disastrous consequences for the nation. 

Our president

Our president

If Mr. Obama wins, it will be easy for those of us who support him to be good Christian citizens for the next four or eight years. It will be more difficult for us to live in hope if Mr. McCain wins, just as it will be difficult for Mr. McCain’s supporters to live in hope with Mr. Obama as president. Win or lose, there will be disaffected sister and brother Christians across the country.

How do we pray for a president whose politics we despise? Well, I’m no expert, but I have some experience from the past eight years of praying for Mr. Bush.

I’ve learned, among other things, that praying for my political opponents changes my attitude toward them. Their humanity comes to the fore, humanity we share and that we share with Jesus, God who became human that we might become divine. Praying for Mr. Bush has been less about praying for the president than praying for the man who occupies the office and letting God remind me that Mr. Bush is made of dust, just as I am, that he lies awake at night, sometimes, just as I do, wondering about what the moment of death will be like.

Praying for Mr. Bush means praying for his family, especially for their safety and well being. Praying for Mr. Bush means praying for his administration, especially those whose decisions affect the conduct of national policy — our misguided invasion of Iraq, for example. Mr. Cheney, Mr. Gates, Ms. Rice, and of late, Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke: All are beloved of God, children of the Most High, and I must confess that without the buffering of intercession, I might hate most of these people, because it’s hard for me to separate what people do from who they are.

Praying for Mr. Bush means praying for God to open my heart and mind to seek understanding and agreement with the president, even when that seems unlikely. At the very least, I may discover common ground in our assumptions about what’s good for the body politic, even though we may disagree profoundly about how to achieve it. It is the very least to know, but still a starting point, that we have a path along which we may walk together in dialogue, perhaps as friends, although with diametrically opposing views.

Praying for Mr. Bush means accepting him as a brother in Christ, the bedrock assumption that we are one in the Spirit now and forever and that, finally, all of our differences will be reconciled in our eternal fellowship with God. Perhaps, because we are God’s children, we are allowed the freedom to fight like cats and dogs on a playground, to compete in the marketplace of ideas, to win, to lose, even to let our passions get the best of us, as long as we’re willing at the end of the day to put aside our differences and wish each other well.

Praying for Mr. Bush means that I be repentant, that I acknowledge my hot-headed outbursts of indignation, my self-righteousness and my errors of judgment, sins that block the truth of things as they may be understood in this world, except for my vanity and pride. It accomplishes no good whatever for me to point out the flaws in my brother, the president, without taking stock of my own. That, too, is something I share with Mr. Bush, the teachings of Jesus commending self-examination and repentance, the cultivation of a humble heart and mind.

My prayer relationship with Mr. Bush would seem to be a one-way street, except I trust that his faith, too, expresses itself in prayer for the nation and the world, and that there is something real about the benediction at the end of his speeches. How can we not agree, as Americans, with the sentiment — our hope — that God will bless America with prosperity, peace and wisdom in our national leaders? It’s easy for me to dismiss that prayer as political hokum — and I have, by the way, because I hate the idea that God is on our side or anybody else’s. It may be, though, that it’s the only way a president can pray, truly, for all of us under his leadership — and that’s another thing we must not forget, that though there are innumerable ways of expressing patriotism, all of us who are blessed by living in this time and place, are called to love of country, not right or wrong but warts and all.

On my worst days, then, there’s something in every one of Mr. Bush’s speeches with which I can agree: May God bless the United States of America. It’s a way I have of praying not only for the president but with him.

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