Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Pope and a President

It was the best of times. It was the worst of time.

On the one hand, the country had its first Muslim president. On the other hand, there was a papist in the capitol.

Wait, that's not quite right. Let me try this again.

This socialist had taken over the country, and the head of the wealthiest religious organization in the world (current estimates are the Vatican holds $18 billion in wealth) was in town currying favor.

No, wait, how about this one.

President Barack Obama, the first African-American president of the United States of America, is hosting Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope, in an historic meeting. Unfortunately, the delivery of new iPhone 6S and 6S+ in New York will be delayed by the visit.

Argh. I just can't get this right.

In any event, this pope and this president together at this moment in history signals much of what is best on our globe right now. It makes me proud to be an American, to know that we elected a president like Obama. It makes me intrigued by and hopeful for the Roman Catholic church, as the pope leads it in the new evangelization focused on the care of the poor and stewards of the earth.

It also reminds me of our continuing struggles. The pope is a radical in a system in which he is embedded. As a result, his politics and worldview match neither the right nor the left of American partisan politics (thank God!), and likely do not satisfy the ideologies of any particular person.

World leaders are always beholden to the systems they inherit. The mark of leadership is how they manage themselves in the midst of those systems, and periodically transcend them.

Systems, on the other hand, show their symptoms. We've always known our nation has a problem with black bodies and non-Christian faiths. Similarly, we have this strange anti-Catholic bias (the Supreme Court notwithstanding).

43% of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim. Many Protestants believe the Pope is not a Christian either. That's a strange world to inhabit, but that's the world we live in, where our projections on people are truer to us than their testimonies of themselves.

All of that being said, I'm relishing this week. It's a joy to see this visit. I'm thrilled especially for my RC friends, because their pope is here. I'm proud of our government, for the hospitality they have shown thus far on his visit.

And I'm reminded what a long way we have to go, in order to get to where we hope to be. But we have leaders, in spite of their complex relationships to their contexts, who look to have the wherewithal to move us there.

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