a conversation about prayer with president barack obama « Eugene …
Unless it’s Justin Bieber, I don’t get star-struck but I have to admit, it was pretty cool to meet President Barack Obama yesterday. During President Obama’s visit to Seattle on Friday, February 16, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend one of the events he was speaking at. Specifically, it was an event at Boeing Everett to celebrate the work of American workers, Boeing, and the culmination of the work of the Dreamliner 787.
Light to the World.
As you know. I don’t run in these circles. Sitting in a special section with dignitaries and politicians including mayors, members of the council, business bigwigs and the Washington governor was awkward to say the least. How I got invited to this event is a little mysterious but I think it stems from a commitment I’ve had – as a Christian, a pastor, and a leader – to be a light to the World and not just merely light to the Light. Translation: As we serve and love the church, we must look outward and engage the larger culture. Folks notice and when opportunities arise, they ask for input and involvement and that’s what happened.
Because of this theology and ecclesiology to be a light to the world, I’ve tried to obviously love and serve my church but to also engage both local issues and national issues – including the messy business of politics.
Why Politics Matter
I care about politics not because I obsess over politics.
Rather, politics is important to me because it involves policies and policies, ultimately, impact people. We have no choice: we must be engaged in our civic responsibilities and affairs.
I am a staunch independent when it comes to political parties and urge Christians to not be played, swayed, and seduced by the powers to be. What I’ve tried to urge others is to be cautious of the politicization and manipulation of Jesus, Christians, and religion.
But back to the story.
After the larger event to feature the Dreamliner 787 and listen to President Obama’s speech, a small group of folks were invited to a more intimate gathering with the President. I was told I was going to be invited but I had no idea what to expect.
A conversation about Prayer
In my mind, I had envisioned the opportunity to share some convictions of my heart that would dramatically impact President Obama and alter the trajectory of his leadership, presidency, and country. Hey, it’s not like we get an opportunity to regularly talk to the President of the United States – aka – the most powerful person in the world.
Unfortunately, there was no opportunity for a long talk. I was hoping to talk policies, justice, human dignity, womb to tomb, some Jeremy Lin and challenge him to one-on-one basketball game.
Rather, it was a few minutes amongst a small group. When folks were introduced at this smaller gathering, they all had “important” titles. I was simply introduced by “Eugene Cho” and I’m certain many were asking, “Who is this and why is he here?” In fact, President Obama, himself, had a puzzled look as he said, “Hello Eugene.” So, I had to introduce myself to him and explained to him that I was a pastor here in Seattle and involved with some other work. We chit-chatted briefly about stuff but there is something I very specifically remember and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget this portion of our conversation.
I shared with President Obama that I occasionally but regularly prayed for him and this is how he responded:
“Thank you, Eugene. I really appreciate that. Can you also please pray for my wife and children? Pray for their protection.”
His demeanor changed. Perhaps, this is just me. Perhaps, I’m reading and analyzing too much into all the non-verbal cues but then again, I’m a pastor and after 21 years of doing ministry, you develop a “pastoral sense” and I genuinely sensed his gratitude for prayer and his request for prayer for his family.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our short conversation – and a sense of the burden and weight of his job and the ‘calling’ of the Presidency. In many ways, we ought to commend the courage of all those who step into leadership – on any level – including the highest level. We can criticize all we want about our current presidential candidates but we must commend them for their courage to place themselves in such vulnerable positions.
On a more micro level, I too have experienced harsh pushbacks and criticism in my leadership as a pastor. Several years ago because of a controversial blog post I wrote (and a subsequent public spat with cultural figure in Seattle), we had a rock thrown into our church building, phone call threats to my home, and anonymous hate email. It was a scary time and after assessing the potential danger to my family, I called the police to explain and seek advice, deleted our home phone, and removed all pictures and names of our kids from the interwebs.
Now, imagine that x 1,000,000 + every day.
You see, it doesn’t matter what your political leanings, affiliations, and affections may be. I’m always amazed by those who so often quote 1 Timothy 2:1-4 as an encouragement to pray for our leaders but we hesitate when it’s someone we disagree with.
Occasionally, we’re reminded of this because of stories like Kansas GOP House Speaker’s nebulous prayer for President Obama’s as he quotes Psalm 109:8
“May his days be few; and let another take his office.”
And then there are those absolutely crazy stories like that of Wiley Drake who shared very publicly he was praying for the death of the president of the United States. Wow. Dude…
An endorsement for prayer
This post isn’t an endorsement for President Obama or a political party. I’ll talk about issues – particularly from the framework of my Christian faith but I’m not making an endorsement for a person. However, I am making an endorsement for prayer and specifically, prayer for President Obama and his family.
Agree or disagree. Like or dislike. Republican or Democrat. Tea or Coffee Party. It doesn’t matter. Lift a prayer for President Obama and his family. Lift a prayer for this fellow brother-in-Christ. Pray for strength, conviction, and courage. Pray for safety and peace.