Monthly archives for August, 2008

Review: The Faith of Barack Obama

Upon hearing that I was reading and reviewing The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield, one friend asked, “Faith? What faith?”

I admit that that question was exactly why I chose to participate in Michael Hyatt’s offer to review the book. I wanted to know what made the man and how he would respond to religious issues if he becomes the next president.

I haven’t listened to much of the political debate going on this summer, and sadly, I missed the Saddleback Forum with Rick Warren last weekend. So, essentially, I started reading with an unclouded perspective of Obama’s faith.

Overall I found Mansfield’s treatment of the subject to be objective, seemingly unbiased, and clearly written. The book is easy to read and surprisingly short with 144 pages of text accompanied by substantial notes and a bibliography of additional sources. Mansfield relies heavily on Obama’s own writings about his faith as well as what has been said publicly in order to piece together the history of Obama’s faith.

Mansfield begins the book by explaining the religious atmosphere Obama was reared in – the fuel of many rumors since the beginning of the presidential campaign. “His life was a religious swirl. He lived in a largely Muslim country [Indonesia; 1967-1971; age six when he moved there]. He prayed at the feet of a Catholic Jesus. He attended a mosque with his stepfather and learned Islam in his public school. At home, his mother taught him her atheistic optimism” (p. 14). His mother also “taught him to view religion as ‘a phenomenon to be treated with a suitable respect, but with a suitable detachment as well’” (p. 16).

That “religious swirl” led to times of searching later in life, times of trying to figure out who Barack Obama really was deep down inside. I was surprised to feel pity as I read. Pity for the young man who desperately wanted to fit in, but was neither white nor black, neither Muslim nor Catholic nor atheist nor Christian. As he entered adulthood, he tried to fit in through doing civic duty but still found himself floundering in life.

As a result of his soul-searching, Obama attended Trinity United Church of Christ and listened to messages by the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Through his attendance at Trinity UCC, Obama found his faith.

Obama describes his faith as “a decision to enter a faith by joining a people of faith, to come home to a community and so come home to God…I felt God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will and dedicated myself to discovering His truth” (p. 26-27). In his “faith” Obama found a place where he felt at home. He no longer searched to belong, and instead found his purpose among the people at Trinity UCC. Is finding a place to belong truly a soul-saving faith?

Later he states that he “was relieved that a ‘religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking.’ Rather than ‘renounce the world and its ways’…he was pleased that his faith would not require ‘retreat from the world that I knew and loved’…in conversion he ‘dedicated [himself] to discovering [God’s] truth’” (p. 53).

Mansfield’s dedication of an entire chapter to Trinity UCC and Rev. Wright seemed odd to me at first. Was it important to know the life history of Rev. Wright? As I continued reading, I realized that it is essential for one to understand who Rev. Wright is and what he preached in order to understand the faith of Obama.

Mansfield then raises areas of concern in Obama’s faith including a conversation between Obama and his daughter about the existence of heaven or lack thereof, his denial of the Christian tenement that there is only one way to God, and his doubts about other Christian doctrines (p. 56-58). However, Mansfield concludes that Obama’s views are inline with the majority of young Americans, those who are Obama’s strongest supporters. These are young Americans who either grew up with no church at all or grew up in an overly legalistic atmosphere that upon exiting began to question the foundations and legalism. They believe in a God but question whether all of the doctrines of Christianity are true.

My favorite part of the book is chapter 5 entitled “Four Faces of Faith.” While the obvious focus of the book is Obama’s faith, Mansfield branches out and recaps the faith of the three other major political players in 2008 – John McCain, Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush. Each player has publicly admitted having a faith in God and Mansfield explores how they came to that faith, what their faith means to them, and how the four contrast with each other. The current political atmosphere regarding religion and exactly where the candidates are trying to place themselves in that atmosphere is clearly explained.

If I could recommend this book for no other reason, I would recommend it for chapter 5. Every person considering placing a vote in November needs to read this chapter. As individuals in today’s society, it is our duty to be informed about not only the candidates’ position on political issues but also their inner beliefs as those beliefs are the ones that will shape our nation for the next four years.

Following my favorite part of the book is chapter 6, “A Time to Heal,” and my least favorite part. I felt like this final chapter was a defense or justification of Rev. Wright and his positions. In fact this chapter made me wonder if the book was really about Obama or about Wright.

However, Mansfield’s overall point in the chapter and for the conclusion of the book is valid: Obama, whose faith began to bloom as a result of Wright’s teaching, will be on the political scene for years to come and he potentially offers what this country needs to heal. He is willing to side with those who hold a different faith and offer resolution to long term problems, something many Democrats are unwilling to do (p. 143-144). He appeals to the younger generations because he has been where they are – searching – and is not afraid to tell his story.

So, in answer to the question, “Faith? What faith?” My response has to be “a religious faith.” He is “Christian” in the sense that he follows a religion, attends church, speaks of God, tries to help society and is pursuing God’s truth. But he also believes in other ways to God besides salvation.

In conclusion, I definitely recommend reading The Faith of Barack Obama if you have any interest in the 2008 elections and whether or not you support Obama.

Review: A Daughter’s Inheritance (Broadmoor Legacy Book 1)

A Daughter’s Inheritance
The Broadmoor Legacy #1
Tracie Peterson and Judith Miller

A few weeks ago I promised to review some of the books I’ve read over the summer. First up is Judith Miller and Tracie Peterson’s A Daughter’s Inheritance.

Lose yourself in the history, opulence, and elegance of the Thousand Islands. Cousins Amanda, Sophie, and Fanny Broadmoor are as close as sisters, but when their grandfather dies, the terms of his will just might destroy their bond. Seventeen-year-old Fanny has never put much stock in the conventions of society. In fact, she has given her heart to Michael, the family boat-keeper. But when she receives a surprising inheritance, she discovers just how oppressive society can be… and that she may be trusting the wrong people. Dare she follow her heart and risk going against her family? What if she loses everything she’s ever known? It all comes down to one choice: What does Fanny Broadmoor want her legacy to be? ~ back cover copy

I would give A Daughter’s Inheritance a 4-star rating on a scale of 1 to 5. The storyline focuses on one of three cousins, Fanny Broadmoor, coming of age in the late 1800s. Some elements of the plot are typical – an heiress, a plotting guardian, and a forbidden love – but when woven together, they make an intriguing story.

The first three chapters are told almost exclusively from Fanny’s perspective with a brief excerpt near the end of chapter 3 coming from another character’s perspective. I thought this was an excellent way to “set the stage” and allow the reader to glean Fanny’s opinion of the characters she interacts with. This technique also exposes Fanny’s naïveté as she places her trust in certain characters.

Fanny, the main character, is a very believable character and I felt like she and the Broadmoors actually existed in history. The descriptions of the Broadmoor home and Thousand Islands paint another believable picture of what living in the 1890s was like for a wealthy.

My only dislike of the book is that the plot is very slow to start and at times lacks suspense and/or excitement. While a slow-moving plot is bearable, I felt overwhelmed by the amount of development and lack of forward motion. Finally, in chapter 19 the plot picks up and some additional twists are added.

Because of the slow movement, I considered putting the book down at times, but I’m glad I stuck it out to the final page. The end intrigued me enough to make me want to read the next book coming out this fall. Watch for An Unexpected Love, book 2 in Broadmoor Legacy.