When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I posted on my Facebook wall (in 2008 fashion), "[Wes] likes the President of the United States... it can't last..."
I remember how good it felt to say that, for the first time, I actually "liked" the President, meaning I didn't feel threatened by him. Yet I also remember how apprehensive I felt about saying it. As a Christian, I have long believed that my first and only real allegiance is to Christ and that this allegiance essentially puts me at odds with systems of violence and greed and any of their beneficiary institutions or governments--including the American government and its leaders. I believe that Christians should have a tensional relationship with nations and governments, for the kingdom of God has no borders and, as Jürgen Moltmann has written, "peace with God mean conflict with the world..." (Theology of Hope p.21).
But when Obama was elected I actually felt hope that, while our system was still imperfect and I still would have to somehow protest against it, perhaps we were headed in the right direction. Perhaps now our system would not be so bent toward the rich, so abandoning to the poor. Perhaps now our foreign policy would be more built on mutual understanding than fear of one another. I think that when Obama was elected was probably my proudest moment as an American.
Now, in a way, my optimism didn't last. I quickly discovered the militaristic thread that ran through Obama's foreign policy. I discovered that our President didn't share all my criticisms of capitalism and that he was far more compromising on certain issues -including immigration - that I was counting on him to remain principled. So I have spent the last eight years being critical of Obama. But I never stopped being sympathetic.
In that way, somewhat surprisingly, my "like" did last. My admiration for him as a person and as a person of faith continued to grow. No great scandal emerged to disillusion me about his character. In the way he carried himself, the humility he displayed, I gained new respect for the difficulty and magnitude of his position and the conflict he himself must have often felt between his power and his faith.
I remain sympathetically critical. I remain un-enamored by the promises of America in the light of the promises of Hope in Christ. I remain skeptical of patriotism. But on this day, when the reigns of power will be passed to someone new, someone who has long thrived on an ideology toward which I cannot be optimistic and at which I feel strikingly at odds, I want to say: Thanks, Barack Obama. I want to say thank you for the humility you showed in leadership and the care you so often took with the decisions you had to make. Thank you for the subtle ways you have reshaped our country's imagination and my own imagination regarding the office you held. Thank you for being our President.