In Case You Were Wondering…

I have a former student, Andy Jones, who currently serves as the senior pastor at Peace Presbyterian Church in Cary, North Carolina. While I’m terribly tempted to offer a series of stories regarding his antics as a teenager to his congregation free of charge, I’m also very happy to see that he’s pastoring a church and in his fourth year there.

Well, you can do the math. If I’m in my early 40’s and he was one of my students in Birmingham some 15 years ago…well, that puts you in the age ballpark.

Anyway, he had a post on Facebook after his recent mission trip to Singapore regarding how interested the locals were in his political views. While he’s not an Obama voter, he offered the following as insight into why many in his generation were excited about our new president.

So, in the interest of helping those of my generation and older see with younger eyes, here’s his essay. Reprinted with his permission as well my enthusiasm for his effort to help others understand, here’s “Obama as a Symbol” by Andy Jones.

“In the English-speaking city-state of Singapore, my American citizenship prompted numerous inquiries as to what I thought of our nation’s newly elected president. Since the election, it was a question never asked of me stateside. Having to answer a question for which I was unprepared made me do some quick but worthwhile reflecting. My response to the curious is that Barak Obama is not only a president but a symbol. He was not elected primarily because of past achievements, pedigree, experience, or credentials. Rather, he was elected primarily because of what he represents.

Barak Obama is a symbol in the sense that many people cast their votes for him because he signifies what they believe America to be, a place of opportunity for people of any background who have zealous aspirations for a better future. Many votes were cast not so much to give Obama a chance to prove himself to the world but because people want to prove something about America, that we have matured beyond the limits of white Anglo-Saxon culture.

Barak Obama is a symbol for my generation, who value symbolism as much as we do substance and aesthetics as much as we do accomplishments. My generation likes what they hear and see coming from this President, whose campaign capitalized on my cinematically-reared generation. My generation is willing to consider something worthwhile even if it hasn’t been proven over the course of time. Obama is like the iPhone in this sense, which prompted long lines for its retail debut even though it hadn’t been market-tested.

Barak Obama is global, the political equivalent of Soledad O’Brien and Tiger Woods. Is he Hawaiian, Indonesian, or African? Throughout the campaign, his connection with these locales was frequently referenced alongside his street level roots in Chicago. He is glocal, both from here and readily identifiable with the world out there. First with CNN and now with the internet, the world has become closer and Obama is a symbol of a new breed of Americans who find themselves living in a flat world.

Barak Obama is a symbol of third millennium religiosity. He is not an atheist but neither is he an evangelical. He identifies himself as a Christian who coincidentally has a Muslim name. However, his brand of Christianity lacks the hard edges and defined beliefs that typify evangelicalism, his faith seeming to be more categorical than creedal. His religion is inoffensive, inclusive, and reclusive. In a world that is growing smaller, religion is going to become more, not less, of a hot-button issue. A new generation of religiosity has emerged that wants the comfort of older labels (like Christian) but is stripped of its historical content.

Barak Obama is a symbol of post-individualism in America. It is not coincidental that his campaign slogan chose the first personal pronoun as one of its three words: Yes, “we” can! Individualism, characterized by the hyper-consumerism of Generation-Me, has proven empty and my generation among others desires a new sense of community, as seen by the young professionals who account for much of the new urbanism. Obama’s campaign brought people together as part of a movement, something that hasn’t been seen for quite some time, and did so by making good use of emerging online communities such as Facebook.

Electing a symbol isn’t always bad (nor is it a first for America) and Obama signifies many things that are true of me and I hope are true of our country. There are matters of actual substance where I stand directly opposed to the new president and which kept him from garnering my vote, along with McCain also. I don’t agree with everything he represents, especially his banal religion. Nonetheless, we live in a nation that loves it symbols, both on-screen and off. Over the next four years (at least) we will find out if he has enough political substance to actually advance the very things he represents.”

Have at it, patrons.