obama

See the thing is …

Before I went on CNN live this afternoon to talk about the current debate about President Obama’s faith, one of my best friends handed me a cool bottle of water and a copy of Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation, which she had marked with a post-it note on the chapter titled, “Faith.”

I had hoped (alas) that the anchor would ask good questions and that I could, at some point, make reference to the following quotes:

First of all, faith is not an emotion, not a feeling. It is not a blind subconscious urge toward something vaguely supernatural. It is not simply an elemental need in man’s spirit. It is not a feeling that God exists. It is not a conviction that one is somehow saved or ‘justified’ for not special reason except that one happens to feel that way. It is not something entirely interior and subjective, with no reference to any external motive. It is not just ‘soul force.’ It is not something that bubbles up out of the recesses of your soul and fills you with an indefinable ‘sense’ that everything is all right. It is not something so purely yours that its content is incommunicable. It is not some personal myth of your own that you cannot share with anyone else, and the objective validity of which does not matter either to your or God or anybody else.

But also it is not an opinion. It is not a conviction based on rational analysis. It is not the fruit of scientific evidence. You can only believe what you do not know. As soon as you know it, you no longer believe it, at least not in the same way as you know it.

AND

Too often our notion of faith is falsified by our emphasis on the statements about God which faith believes, and by our forgetfulness of the fact that faith is a communion with God’s own light and truth. Actually, the statements, the propositions which faith accepts on the divine authority are simply media through which one passes in order to reach the divine Truth. Faith terminates not in a statement, not in a formula of words, but in God.

GODSTUFF

OK KIDS — TIME TO GROW UP, GET UP AND GET TO WORK

President Obama’s inaugural address might not have been one for the ages.

But it certainly was the right one for the moment.

Somber, sober and almost stern, our new president placed a mantle before the nation — We, the people — and gave us a gentle, but clear, kick in the collective pants.

“Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America,” he said. “What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character than giving our all to a difficult task.

“We remain a young nation,” Obama said, “but, in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things.”

He was quoting from the New Testament — 1 Corinthians 13: 11 — St. Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, Greece.

I was struck by the implications of this choice of Scripture, in a speech in which the president explicitly reached out to the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and non-believing populations as well as to his own Christian community.

Most people, if they are familiar with this particular Bible passage, probably have heard it read at a wedding. This is the “love chapter” — verses that come before and after the one the president quoted — speak eloquently about true love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails,” it says.

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

When St. Paul wrote his letter to the church in Corinth, he began by addressing the problems it faced. The church was beset by infighting and divisions, and threatened by immoral influences from the surrounding community, where, for instance, 1,000 priestesses engaged in prostitution at the Temple of Venus in the name of worship.

Corinth was a young city, and the church there was a young church, just as we are a young nation. Teenagers, if you will.

St. Paul delivered a stern, yet loving, reproach to the Corinthians, telling them, essentially, to quit their bickering, grow up and get busy with what they were called to do in the first place: Love.

Love one another. Love their neighbors. Be God’s love in the world — the light of the world and a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden, as St. Matthew says in his gospel.

Be love with arms and legs — feeding the poor, comforting the sick, visiting the prisoners, sheltering the homeless.

How interesting that the Bible passage about growing up and putting away childish things (in the name of love) was chosen by our 47-year-old president and his 27-year-old chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau — perhaps the youngest team ever to craft a U.S. presidential inaugural address.

I wonder whether they chose the passage from 1 Corinthians in part to evoke another letter written by St. Paul. In 1 Timothy, the apostle Paul writes to his young friend Timothy, an evangelist in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.

“Do not let anyone look down on you because you are young,” St. Paul told Timothy, “but be an example for other believers in your speech, behavior, love, faithfulness, and purity.”

Favreau also helped Obama craft his famous victory speech after the Iowa caucuses where he said, in part:

“You know, they said this day would never come … They said our sights were set too high. They said this country was too divided, too disillusioned to ever come together around a common purpose. But on this January night, at this defining moment in history, you have done what the cynics said we couldn’t do.”

“Years from now,” he said, “you’ll look back, and you’ll say that this was the moment, this was the place where America remembered what it means to hope . . . Hope is the bedrock of this nation. The belief that our destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.”

In his timely inauguration speech, Obama gave us marching orders anchored in a conspiracy of hope and a love that never fails.

This is it, kids. The big show.

This is when we put our American ideals into action.

Today, our ideology meets reality.

So let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

Obama’s first full day in office begins with prayer

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President Obama attended a prayer service for the nation at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. this morning. (Click HERE to watch the service LIVE)

Among those participating in the sevice were:

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III
Dean of Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane
Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC

The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr.
Pastor Emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Cleveland, Ohio

The Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale
Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Decatur, Georgia

The Rev. Andy Stanley
Founding Pastor, North Point Community Church, Alpharetta, Georgia

Rabbi David N. Saperstein
Director and Counsel, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Washington, DC

The Most Rev. Francisco González
Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of Washington, DC

Archbishop Demetrios of America
Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Dr. Ingrid Mattson
President, Islamic Society of North America and Director of Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, Hartford Seminary

Rabbi Haskel Lookstein
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, New York City

The Rev. Jim Wallis
President and Chief Executive Officer, Sojourners, Washington, DC

Dr. Uma Mysorekar
Hindu Temple Society of North America, Queens, New York

The Rev. Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook
Senior Pastor, Believers Christian Fellowship Church, New York City

Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein
Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, New York City

The Rev. Canon Carol L. Wade
Precentor, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell
Senior Pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, Houston, Texas

Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl
Roman Catholic Archibishop of Washington, DC

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church USA

The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary, Reformed Church in America

Into the fire …

President Obama, the First Lady and the Bidens began inauguration day at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House (and literally across the street from the Hay Adams hotel where the Obama family stayed for a time in run-up to the inauguration before moving into Blair House.)

During the 70-minute service, Bishop TD Jakes preached on a passage from the Book of Daniel:

“Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated.”

It’s the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego — three righteous Hebrew young men who angered the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to worship a golden image he had created. So he tossed them in the fire – a really really hot fire. But God preserved them.

An interesting choice of scripture for the incoming president to hear before taking his oath of office.

Here’s what the official pool report from inside St. John’s had to say about the worship service at what has become known as “Church of the Presidents” since President James Madison first attended (the 54th pew is reserved for the president):

After a brief reading from Rabbi David N. Saperstein and a solo singing performance by Yolanda Adams, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell – Pres. George Bush’s spiritual advisor – introduced the speaker: Bishop T.D. Jakes

Jakes read from Daniel 3:19 and used the scripture to offer Obama a series of four lessons for his administration.

1 – “In time of crisis, good men must stand up. God always sends the best men into the worst times.”

2 – “You cannot change what you will not confront. This is a moment of confrontation in this country. There’s no way around it…This is not a time for politeness or correctness, this is a time for people to confront issues and bring about change.”

3 – “You cannot enjoy the light without enduring the heat. The reality is the more brilliant, the more glorious, the more essential the light, the more intense the heat. We cannot separate one from the other.”

4 – “Extraordinary times require extraordinary methods. This is a historical moment for us and our nation and our country, and though we enjoy it and are inspired by it and motivated by it.”

After his four lessons, Jakes turned from the crowd and looked directly at Obama.

“The problems are mighty and the solutions are not simple,” Jakes said, “and everywhere you turn there will be a critic waiting to attack every decision that you make. But you are all fired up, Sir, and you are ready to go. And this nation goes with you. God goes with you.

“I say to you as my son who is here today, my 14-year-old son – he probably would not quote scripture. He probably would use Star Trek instead, and so I say, ‘May the force be with you.”

Monsignor William A. Kerr delivered a brief prayer for Biden and then the Rev. Otis Moss Jr. delivered a blessing for Obama.

Moss Jr. [whose son, Otis Moss III, is pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Obama’s former church home] said: “Give to president Obama a double measure of faith and hope, and the strength to do justice…Give him the sight to see all that needs to be seen and the insight to look beyond the clouds and chaos of the moment and see great joys and possibilities. Let the house where he lives and serves be a house of hope for the nation, a house of joy and affection for his family, and the house of friendship for all nations. We thank you eternal god, for our new president, president elect Obama.”

A beautiful end to a beautiful day.

Loved the gown.

The First Lady’s full-length gown was of ivory silk chiffon embellished with organza and Swarovski crystal rhinestones and silver thread embroidery, CNN reports.

It’s a one-of-a-kind by the 26-year-old designer Jason Wu, a native of Taipei who moved with his family to Vancouver, Canada when he was 9, according to his web site. Wu studied sculpture in Tokyo at the age of 14 and spent his senior year of high school studying design in Paris, where he decided to become a clothing designer. He enrolled in the Parsons School of Design and interned with designer Narcisco Rodriguez. (Mrs. Obama wore a black-and-red Rodriguez dress on Election Night.)

Wu debuted his first collection in 2006 and Michelle Obama reportedly wore one of his designs in a recent interview with Barbara Walters.

GODSTUFF

PRESIDENTIAL PRAY-ERS: OBAMA’S INAUGURAL CHOICES A HARBINGER OF (GOOD) THINGS TO COME


The first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

The first female president of the Disciples of Christ.

The president of the Islamic Society of North America (who also happens to be a woman).

Three rabbis.

Bono.

And one Hawaiian shirt-wearing mega-church pastor.

What do they have in common, besides taking part in the official festivities surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States?

They’re all praying.

All of them.

Sure, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, whose sartorial sense leans more toward Jimmy Buffett than Billy Graham, is giving the official invocation at the inauguration Tuesday. But Obama has invited a number of other prominent religious leaders — from his own Christian tradition and others — to provide spiritual support.

Much was made of Warren’s being chosen to fill the role so often played by Graham in inaugurals past. (Graham, 90, is not in good health and no longer travels far from his home in the mountains above Asheville, N.C.)

A lot of people call Warren a homophobe. Granted, he did support Proposition 8 in California, to outlaw gay marriage, a move I thought was both thoroughly wrongheaded and out of character for him. Homosexuality and gay issues have hardly been the hallmark of Warren’s ministry at Saddleback and his uber-bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.

Like many traditional religious people, Warren believes homosexual acts — if not homosexuality itself — are sinful, per Scripture. But does that make him a homophobe?

I’m still on the semantic fence about that one. Plenty of people saw Warren’s invitation to pray over the newly sworn-in president as a slap in the face of the gay community.

Some of that outrage was tempered when word got out earlier this week that Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church — and the man whose ordination sparked so much tumult in the American church and within the worldwide Anglican community — will lead prayers Sunday at the official kickoff of the inauguration festivities at the Lincoln Memorial.

During the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral on Jan. 21 — the day after the inauguration — Obama has asked the Rev. Sharon Watkins to preach. She is the first female president of the Christian Church, better known as the Disciples of Christ.

Among the artists providing the musical portion of the celebration/service at the Lincoln Memorial are Bono, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, will.i.am. and Garth Brooks.

So . . . I’m not sensing any kind of covert sectarian message in Obama’s ecclesiastical choices for the inauguration.

Still there is a message being conveyed, be it spiritual or political or both.

When I look at the lineup and design of the faith-infused events around Obama’s inaugural, I see a new story — one of radical inclusion that echoes the plurality of our new president’s spiritual and social formation as a child. His mother, a secular humanist for lack of a better no-size-fits-all label, exposed her children to Christianity as well as Islam and other world religions, cultures and philosophies. She was a student of the world and her children were, too.

When Obama embraced Christianity, he did it as an adult. The choice was his, and he chose the historic black church and the United Church of Christ denomination. He also lives next door to a synagogue in Kenwood and knew the rabbi there well enough to call him his own.

If the religious voices involved in celebrating his inauguration are a harbinger of his political style, they say to me that the Obama administration will be one marked by collaboration and cooperation, not coercion or mandate (divine or otherwise).

“I take this to be an indication of how he intends to govern — moving away from the polarization and bitter partisanship of the past,” said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard University in New York and author of God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. “It’s more inclusive. He’s bringing more people around the table and allowing them to express themselves.

“He’s somebody who knows his own mind and yet is willing to entertain differing opinions and points of view, unlike the current president,” Balmer said. “I think it’s an administrative and executive style that represents a dramatic break from the past.”

His choice of Warren may have been motivated by political strategy or it may have been far more pastoral and personal. While they’ve been friendly for a number of years, as Warren and other prominent evangelical leaders began to turn their attention (at last!) to moral issues such as AIDS in Africa, global poverty and the environment, the relationship between the pastor and the president-elect has not been perfect. I’m told there were a few bumps in the road after the so-called “Civil Forum” at Saddleback, where Warren hosted Obama and John McCain. Some folks felt McCain was given an unfair advantage, while Obama was blindsided.

“It shows that he’s a big man,” Balmer said of Obama’s invitation to Warren to pray at the inaugural. “He’s a gracious person. Boy, what a welcome change that’s going to be.”

Can I get an “amen”?

GODSTUFF

PFLEGER ISN’T ALONE IN RHETORICAL MISSTEPS.

St. John the Divine in Silence/17th-century Russian icon

In the face of silence (as in the absence of proof) we are left with theories.

Since Thursday afternoon, when a group of parish leaders from St. Sabina Roman Catholic Church met privately with Cardinal Francis George at the archdiocese’s pastoral center, there has been silence.

No one is talking. Not Sabina’s embattled pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger. Not the parish’s pastoral associate and effective No. 2, Kimberly Lymore. Not the cardinal. Not the archdiocese’s official spokeswomen. Not even off the record.

Most of us can only guess what might happen next.

A hush has fallen over the five-alarm controversy that has roiled religious and political circles from Chicago to Kathmandu (or at least that’s what it’s felt like) since Pfleger let fly a snarky torrent of racially-loaded criticism of Hillary Clinton in a sermon late last month.

The cardinal placed Pfleger on a leave — for a “couple of weeks,” he’s said — so that the longtime activist/rebel-priest can reflect on what he said and did, and maybe achieve some new perspective. Pfleger and his loyal parishioners balked, as did many of us who admire Pfleger for his tireless work on behalf of the least of those among us even if his bombastic style sometimes makes us cringe.

But maybe the cardinal was on to something after all. Maybe we all needed to take a few deep breaths.

I don’t know what transpired at that meeting Thursday between St. Sabina leadership and the cardinal, but whatever it was must have been monumental. (Parish leaders have said they would not speak publicly again until a statement is read to the “parish family” at mass this morning.)

Cardinal George and Mike Pfleger have a long, acrimonious history. They clearly rub each other the wrong way, in much the same way as they both rub a lot of other folks the wrong way.

Both men of God can come across as arrogant and stubborn. And both have had their share of rhetorical missteps.

I wonder whether the cardinal wasn’t in some way acting from his own difficult experiences when he told Pfleger to step away from the parish and let things cool down.

In April 2002, I was standing on an outcropping overlooking Vatican City with George, who was waiting to be interviewed by a TV reporter, when his cell phone rang. It was one of his press people in Chicago calling to inform him that comments he’d made earlier in the day at a press conference with other American bishops about the clergy sex abuse scandal had caused a near riot at home.

“There is a difference between a moral monster like [John] Geoghan, who preys upon little children, and does so in a serial fashion, and to someone who, perhaps, under the influence of alcohol, engages in an action with a 17 or 16-year-old young woman who returns his affection,” George had said.

I was in the audience that day and as soon as the words left George’s mouth, I knew he was in for it. But he didn’t have a clue until hours later when his spokeswoman called from Chicago where the archdiocese’s phone bank had been flooded with calls from angry Catholics.

“But there’s a clinical difference,” I recall the cardinal stammering into the phone.

Yes, there is, but that’s not what people needed to hear at that traumatic time in church history. He should have known better than to make such a comment in public, with cameras rolling. And he caught holy hell for it.

One Sunday in Ocotber 2006, the cardinal was a guest at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, the largest Catholic theological school in the nation. He delivered a homily during a special service for the heavily international student body where he made some keen observations about the way the United States is viewed abroad, remarks for which he quickly felt a lot of heat.

“The world distrusts us not because we are rich and free. Many of us are not rich and some of us aren’t especially free. They distrust us because we are deaf and blind, because too often we don’t understand and make no effort to understand,” he said.

“We have this cultural proclivity that says, ‘We know what is best and if we truly want to do something, whether in church or in society, no one has the right to tell us no.’ That cultural proclivity, which defines us in many ways, has to be surrendered, or we will never be part of God’s kingdom.”

They were unusually forceful words from George, who normally shies away from addressing anything remotely political in public. Some critics howled that he was anti-American, that he’d crossed a line.

I thought his comments were incredibly astute. I agreed with him, in the same way that I agreed with the point Pfleger was trying to make about racial entitlement in his sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ. His crucial point was lost, forever I’m afraid, in the over-the-top dramatics he used to mock the former First Lady.

“I remain hopeful that this could be a grace for [Pfleger] and for everybody,” the Rev. Donald Senior, president of Catholic Theological Union, told me Friday, referring to his force leave of absence. “This must be killing him. I mean, everywhere he turns, people are throwing brickbats and it seems endless. … Just take a deep breath. Why not? He deserves it.”

We all do.

GODSTUFF: Is He Or Isn’t He? Obama’s Evangelical Question

 

While on the presidential campaign trail 30 years ago, someone asked Jimmy Carter a rather indelicate public question:

Are you born again?

Carter said he was. And the next thing he knew, various media creatures were accusing the Southern Baptist peanut farmer of implying that his political aspirations had a divine imprimatur.

“I truthfully answered, ‘Yes,’ assuming all devout Christians were born again, of the Holy Spirit,” Carter wrote in his 2005 book, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis.

In 1976, most reporters didn’t know born-again from over-easy. But times have changed and so has the public conversation about politics and religion. Terms such as “fundamentalist,” “evangelical” and “born-again” are part of the media vernacular.

That doesn’t mean, however, that such terms are particularly helpful by themselves in describing, much less defining, anyone — be they politicians, presidential candidates or private citizens.

Perhaps that’s why, back when I interviewed Barack Obama about his faith in spring 2004 a few days after he’d won the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, I didn’t ask him something I’ve remained curious about since:

Does he consider himself an evangelical?

Nearly three years ago, before his famous keynote address at the Democratic National Convention, before he spoke to the spiritual “progressives” at Call for Renewal or to Rick Warren’s congregation at Saddleback, before he became a household name outside of Illinois, when people who knew him still were whispering about whether — some day — the young state senator from Chicago might run for president, Obama sat with me in public at a cafe on South Michigan Avenue and talked about his faith.

He didn’t hesitate. No one coached him. He didn’t choose his words carefully or tailor his responses. He shot from the hip, giving me candid and complicated answers to my inquiries about his religious history, beliefs and doubts.

At the time, Obama said he was a Christian, that he has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that he reads the Bible regularly and prays constantly. He described his conversion experience in his mid-20s, how he walked the aisle at Trinity United Church of Christ one Sunday in a public affirmation of his private change of heart. But we didn’t talk labels, I didn’t ask him for one, and he didn’t offer.

A few weeks ago, during a visit to the Chicago Sun-Times editorial board, I had a chance to ask Obama that lingering question:

“Are you an evangelical?”

Surrounded by members of the editorial board, editors, our publisher, and a couple of his own aides, this was Obama’s answer:

“Gosh, I’m not sure if labels are helpful here because the definition of an evangelical is so loose and subject to so many different interpretations,” the senator said. “I came to Christianity through the black church tradition where the line between evangelical and non-evangelical is completely blurred. Nobody knows exactly what it means.

“Does it mean that you feel you’ve got a personal relationship with Christ the savior? Then that’s directly part of the black church experience. Does it mean you’re born-again in a classic sense, with all the accoutrements that go along with that, as it’s understood by some other tradition? I’m not sure.”

He continued his answer: “My faith is complicated by the fact that I didn’t grow up in a particular religious tradition. And so what that means is when you come at it as an adult, your brain mediates a lot, and you ask a lot of questions.

“There are aspects of Christian tradition that I’m comfortable with and aspects that I’m not. There are passages of the Bible that make perfect sense to me and others that I go, ‘Ya know, I’m not sure about that,'” he said, shrugging and stammering slightly.

It would have been easier for the senator-cum-president to answer, simply, “Yes,” to the evangelical question.

But for Obama, as for many of us, faith is complicated, messy, a work in progress.

And, if we’re honest about it, the standard labels just don’t fit.

© Copyright 2007 Sun-Times News Group

Ed Note: You can hear more about what Barack has to say about his faith in my profile of him in my book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People.

 

THE AUDACITY OF HOPE: OBAMA ’08?

A few years back, about a week after he’d handily won the Democratic primary in Illinois — long before he gave that famous keynote address at the 2004 DNC and looooooong before the rest of the country knew his “funny” name — I had the opportunity as the religion reporter for the Sun-Times to interview Barack about his spirituality, an interview that eventually made its way as a chapter unto itself in my book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People.

As we left the cafe on Michigan Avenue where we’d had our interview conversation, the soon-to-be US senator walking south, me walking north, I got out my cell phone and called my father in Connecticut and said, simply, “Daddy, I just met the first black president of the United States.”

Here’s one of my favorite things Barack told me from that chapter in The God Factor:

“The most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I’m talking to a group and I’m saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I’m just being glib or clever.

Is that the power of the Holy Spirit? I asked him.
“I think it’s the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and the audience. That’s something you learn watching ministers — what they call the Holy Spirit. They want the Holy Spirit to come down while they’re preaching, right? Not to try to intellectualize it, but what I see there are moments that happen within a sermon where the minister gets out of his ego and is speaking from a different source. And it’s powerful. There are also time when you can see the ego getting in the way, where the minister is performing and clearly straining for applause or an amen. And those are distinct moments. But I think those former moments are sacred.”

Here’s a little of what Barack had to say on CNN last week during an interview with Larry King: