Today one of the finest people I ever worked with as a reporter resigned from my former employer, The Chicago Sun-Times. Dave McKinney is a gentleman and an outstanding journalist who I was honored to work with for a decade in Chicago.
Dave didn’t deserve this. Journalism doesn’t deserve this. I mourn the Sun-Times of bygone years. I thought you should see what’s happening in too many quarters of the once great Fourth Estate.
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.
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.
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.”
“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: