Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

What inspires?

A friend of mine wrote to me today, someone I have been doing some theological exploration with on the topic of inspiration.  Just what inspires someone?  How is it that some people can inspire thousands to wonderful works in the world, while others spend their lives in activism that reaches only a few? 

She wrote to me that, as she listened to Barack Obama’s victory speech in Iowa, she felt inspired.   Was it his words, how they were designed?  Was it the activism and commitments that led to his running for office?  Was it that we know the communities, the Church (Trinity UCC here in Chicago) the organizations and the causes that he is a part of? 

What comes to me is that it is all of those things…and it is none of them.  For what truly inspires others is not what we say, not what we do, not who we are associated with… what truly inspires others is who we are.  Or, at least, who those people believe that we are. 

My mind goes back to the last African American leader in American Politics who I think had a realistic chance of eventually becoming President of the United States… the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  Yes, people were inspired by his speeches, by his courage, by his willingness to speak truth to power… but was it really those things that brought about the inspiration?  I don’t think so. 

Dr. King gave those speeches, he marched, he stood before injustice without flinching not because he sought to inspire anyone, but because doing those things came from deep inside his soul, deep inside who he was as a human being.  He had connected with and understood what was deep inside of himself because of his life long spiritual practice of prayer. 

People responded to Dr. King not because of what he said, but because they connected deeply with who he was.  He knew himself deeply enough to share himself publically… even though it killed him.  Because I believe that inspiration is only one reaction to this kind of prophetic life… the other most common reaction is fear. 

Dr. King was a flawed human being, as we all are… but the image of him that is burned into our lives and culture has achieved mythic proportions.  If he had lived, he might have fallen from grace.  Perhaps this is why so many of our prophets, why so many of those who so deeply inspire us have died early, and by violence. 

In a politician, such as Barack Obama, handlers are very careful to craft an image, because they know it is not what one says or does that inspires people, but rather who someone is. Or rather, who they can convince people someone is.  We have seen what happens when the image of someone who inspires us turns out to be manufactured… look at what happened with Jim and Tammy Fay Baker, or how many times Al Gore re-invented his image in the 2000 election. 

Just as I think that what inspires people today about Al Gore is that he now seems deeply committed to something, something he has dedicated himself to, something he has found rests deeply within his own soul.  Now that he has found himself, it is not what he says or does that inspires, but who he is. 

It was not what Gandhi said or did that inspired, but who he was. 

It was not what Jesus said or did that inspired, but who he was.

It was not what Clara Barton said or did that inspired, but who she was. 

And, in probably the most profound example, it was not what Gautama Sidhartha said or did that inspired, but who he was.  Upon discovering what lay at the core of his being, his transformation was so great humanity re-named him.  We called him “awake”, or Buddha. 

Come to think of it, we renamed Jesus too… we called him “The Christ”, which means, “The Annointed One”. 

To inspire others to change the world, it is far more important who you are than what you say, think, or do.  What you say, what you think, and what you do will come naturally from the core of who you are… once you find it. 

Yours in Faith,


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