When we feel powerless, we project “power” onto Obama. As much as we celebrate a savior — being one, or looking for one — is a delusion
BY DAVID RICKEY — For many of us, (I’ll admit myself into this group) our great hope was pinned on Barack Obama winning this presidential election.
The scale and depth of the victory points to what political strategists and CNN analysts, who are stuck in their heads and the obvious, are missing about elections: they’re driven by a chemistry between a leader and voters that runs far deeper than a linear series of tactics, the financial crisis or rational or wedge issues.
Where does the Hope about Obama come from? As with Jesus, we the people who look to Obama see him as the embodiment of a “solution,” to a “problem.” Obama is the Great (Black) Hope — or as the McCain campaign mockingly put it this summer, “The One.”
The question about Hope is another way of asking why we feel we know public figures, whom we rarely meet in person, so intimately. If it’s that we project our secret fears and desires onto them, then in 2008 our collective projections are based on an overwhelming sense of powerlessness.
We project power onto this presidential figure, hoping he will do what we feel incapable of accomplishing ourselves.
As with Jesus, it is possible that Obama’s history as a black man, raised by a virtually-single mom , helped develop in him a sense of “calling” to reach out in empathy to others who were outcasts from the system. Probably all politicians have a modicum of “Messiah-complex” — the sense of being Savior to the people.
Who they seek to serve depends on which tribe, caste or class they have personally identified with — through the binary prism of what has become Election 2008, either the poor and disenfranchised, or the wealthy and tax-threatened.
Being a Savior is always a delusion. No single person can save others.
However, in the case of Jesus, and perhaps Obama (whose image, above, is cast as a saint on votive candles on a San Francisco street vendor’s sidewalk kiosk), a deep awareness of inner struggle with identity can lead to a sense of divine calling. And it can morph into a deeper awareness of a power to empower others.
Jesus didn’t say:
Follow me and I’ll make it better.
Rather, he said:
You are the salt of the Earth, the Light of the world.
The Buddha, Lao Tsu, even Eckhart Tolle call others to find within themselves the power to transform life.
If we are indeed seeing Obama as a Messiah, may we be inspired by him to live better, more self-offering lives. John Kennedy, the Messiah for many of us in the 60’s, uttered one of the iconic mantras of “the American Century”:
Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.
The actual meaning of “messiah” isn’t “savior,” but “anointed”. Anointed with Spirit means awakened to the spirit that is within each of us, the true identity of all of us. An awakened one inspires the rest of us to awaken — and to then awaken each other. This is how true, valuable change happens.
I hope that the upshot of America’s presidential drama is that we as humans around the world will look, not to another to save us, but reach within to find that truth. And reach to the deeper truth of those around us, so that they, too, may awaken. May we each be in-spired — Latin for finding the spirit “in” us.
That is the Truth that can save us — the Truth that is already in us.
David Rickey is an Episcopal priest, Soul’s Code co-founder and counselor in San Francisco who does a weekly ministry at a residence for the elderly in northern California. Follow David on Twitter.
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