Tag Archives: Michelle Obama

Your Thursday morning inspiration

“The only means of strengthening the intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing–to let the mind be a thoroughfare for thought.”  -John Keats, 1819

My husband and I don’t really understand the hullabaloo around the RNC and the DNC.  As he snarkily commented, “Are these the same people who enjoyed pep rallies in high school?”  I love that people are getting excited about something, especially when the world has been so dark as of late, when our problems seem so immense.

But to me, it’s mostly just rhetoric.  Is that maybe all it is?

Even when I listen to inspiring words from the likes of Cory Booker and Michelle Obama (and as a preacher love her line about “when they go low, we go high,” and Booker’s reprise of “we will rise”), I can’t help but think that they’re merely performing the words of another (exceptionally and with permission, of course).  I worry that if all America has at this point in time are great words written by great speech writers, we might just be papering over our problems and our misunderstandings of our differences with lofty lines and grand gestures, feeling so surprised when they return and rear their ugly heads.

Our country seems caught in this wild rhetoric of hyperbole that I’ve never been the least bit comfortable with.  If one candidate says that we’re making “America great again,” the other outwits him by saying “America is already great,” if another suggests we ostracize Muslims and foreigners, another purports to invite them to join us (which is not all that much better).  It becomes a war of words and all the important nuances, perhaps the real things that make America who she is and potentially really great, get lost and buried in the crossfire.

Our responses to all this are not much better: we either seem to rally around the least offensive rhetoric or cry cynicism because the politics is truly so off-putting.  But cynicism really is the height of laziness because it’s fully dependent, accusatory, and glib (and most definitely not an agent for change), and vapid enthusiasm isn’t much better, because it doesn’t teach us anything about who we really are, it doesn’t heal wounds, it doesn’t create solutions.

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Michelle Obama speaking before the DNC 2016.

So where’s the inspiration this morning?  Well, I think it begins with us.  

As I’ve been hearing all these great words these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking, let us not wait for someone to inspire us, America, because what we need is less of politics and more of real life.  Let us do the inspiring by telling our everyday stories to one another, by sharing our problems, our triumphs, our solutions.

A few nights ago I had to run out to Walmart to grab a few things.  I actually love going to Walmart because whatever your politics, it is one of the most diverse places around here.  I hate going to Walmart though because it always takes so damn long.  But I noticed something on that extra warm evening–people who didn’t look anything like each other, who don’t speak each other’s languages, and who come from very different cultural backgrounds, were going out of their way to be kind to one another.  The young black guy behind the counter, so deferential to the Spanish-speaking family in front of me, the woman with the headscarf behind me, and to me, the young white woman.  The lines were jammed up against the registers but people were patient; I watched a couple young black men let an Indian family with a full cart go in front of them in line.

I thought to myself, not bad, New Jersey, not bad.

This kind of stuff that we do everyday in America goes unnoticed but it needs to be celebrated.  It’s not going to make the papers, it’s not going to make the speeches, but it’s inspiring and it’s life well lived.  By sharing such a simple story, I don’t mean to paper over the real differences and the real problems in our country either–but I guess when I think in terms of inspiration, I’d rather find something concrete that I see in front of me, in my backyard, that’s real and right and true.  I’d rather take my cues from the diverse group of students in my classroom that cultivate meaningful but respectful conversation everyday as points of inspiration rather than the words of a few.  I’d rather think critically with folks in my congregation about how to build community rather than watch someone else pontificate about who or what America is or will be.

I guess my plea for inspiration this morning is for us to take heart and hold of the good things around us that often go unnoticed–to report them to somebody and to someone, and to talk together, to begin to share and pave real community solutions where rhetoric may fall short.  I’m not saying that we can’t watch the RNC or the DNC and we can’t have passion for the candidates that inspire us, but I guess I’m saying that I think, we the people, need to do the real work of inspiring.  

And if we look around, even in the most seemingly ordinary places, we just might find it.

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On gratitude and sacrifice

I finally listened to the speech Michelle Obama’s gave at the DNC this morning.  

My husband and I have been largely hiding behind a rock this election season, avoiding politics talk, genuinely overwhelmed by the spars, the divisions, and the pettiness when just a month ago we were living in a nation with five times as many people as this one, and where poverty, human rights, and children’s lives hang in the balance.

But, perhaps predictably, (and don’t worry, I’m not about to really get political here), the First Lady’s speech did strike a chord with me today.  Ironically, the narrative of sacrifice and commitment that she and President Obama expressed in regards to their parents reminded me of some of the culture of filial piety, once so vibrant and pervasive, that is beginning to erode in China today.

But her words about gratitude and sacrifice and humility, about learning from their parents that “so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us, to the janitors who kept our school clean” also reminded me of my own family.

My Grandfather and I this past November.

The story she told about her father struggling to walk with MS and shifting uncomfortably out of bed each morning reminded me of my grandfather who prayed everyday on his knees despite the paralysis in his own legs.  My mother has MS, so she not only knew what it was like to watch her father struggle with his paralysis, but I know what it is like to know and be inspired by someone who does not let her physical disabilities hold her back from serving others.

The sacrifice Mrs. Obama mentioned that her parents made to send her to college reminds me of my own father’s years of getting up before the sun came up and coming home after it went down, all so my sisters and I didn’t have to struggle to pay for school.  It, this gift of education, was my parents’ ultimate gift to their children and only later in life do I relish what a sacrifice it meant and what devotion it took.

My parents on Thanksgiving, 2011.

Mrs. Obama’s stories remind me of the way my dad’s parents’ scraped together during the Great Depression, their determination to live and make do with what they had, and the money my maternal grandparents left to me as they passed on, despite the fact that they always lived with so little themselves.

As Mrs. Obama spoke I realized why these stories are so powerful: they bind us to one another.  They express the gratitude to those who came before us for the lives we live today.  They recognize that the strength of humanity, not just Americans, but of all people, is this willingness to submit that perhaps their dreams won’t come true in their lifetime, but they can come true in the lives of others.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, Gramma and Grandpa, Grandma and Grandad, for loving me so unconditionally, for giving me a life full of possibility and joy, despite what your own lives may have lacked.  Your love inspires me everyday, and I hope when people compliment me on my successes, I remember the people, you, who made them possible.

Who inspires you today?  Who do you thank for your successes?  Who taught you about gratitude, and humility, and sacrifice?