Saturday, October 10, 2009

President Obama's Nobel Award

I've been doing some research into the make up of the Nobel Institute after hearing about the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama. Here's what I have learned:

1. The Nobel Institute is not in Nobel, Ontario, Canada, as many people might have assumed, but is rather in Oslo, Norway, which is somewhere in . . . Norway.

2. The entire staff and nominating committee of the Nobel Institute are very, very, very white, which is apparently what happens to you if you live for a long time in Norway.

3. Norway is actually considered to be part of Europe, which means that the people associated with the Nobel Institute are probably European. And Norwegian.

That's why this whole award to a first-term, first-year American president is a puzzle to those of us who actually live in the country over which he presides. We Americans are, they say, industrious, pragmatic, and all about results. How can the Nobel committee award the Peace Prize to someone who hasn't accomplished some things that have measurable results? If that's how it works, then maybe I can get the Nobel Prize for Literature because I'm thinking about writing a world-changing book. Somebody needs to suggest that to the Norwegians.

The GOP is mocking the president by claiming that he is receiving the prize just "for awesomeness." We Americans believe in having potential, but we generally don't give prizes for it.

Since I heard the news yesterday I've been thinking about this on two levels. First, why would a group of European intellectuals agree on this award? Second, Do I reflect on this as an American who has some particular political affiliation or as a follower of Jesus?

First, the Nobel committee claims that it awarded the prize to Mr. Obama for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons." We haven't see the accomplishment of full international diplomacy or the cooperation between peoples, but maybe the committee sees it as a foretaste of what could be. Perhaps they also see Mr. Obama's efforts as a change in the way the US has been perceived by the rest of the world. So it could be that the award was given because of what the President represents to the world. Maybe that's a European perspective contrasted to a USAmerican perspective.

Second, as a follower of Jesus, how do I reflect on this? It won't do to just pick political sides and christianize our rhetoric (although, in spite of the head-scratching that some may have over the logic of the award, I really don't understand why we wouldn't consider it somewhat of an honor that the President of our country just got the Nobel Peace Prize. Why we want our national leaders to crash and burn--as though that would be a good thing for the nation--remains a puzzle to me). Without turning anyone into a 21st century messiah (which I am not trying to do), are we able to reflect eschatalogically about this event?

To think eschatalogically is to consider how the intentions and purposes of God, which will be fully realized one day, are given in the here-and-now as a foretaste of what will come. What God gives in sign and wonder offers a deposit on the fullness that he will one day bring in the new heaven and new earth. In the continuum of Israel, Jesus and the church, we find a representative community that gives evidence that the kingdom of God is breaking into human history. We should be the ones who understand the value and meaning of something that is already, but not yet.

Maybe that group of Norwegians were having an eschatalogical moment when they made their decision. Maybe they were thinking about what might be.

I'm not qualified to say whether this award was given appropriately or not. However, I was in Europe in 2004 and got a taste of what it's like to be from a country that no one else seems to like. That America would be seen in a different light appeals to me. But no matter how we view this award, we might be better served (and be better servers) if we see it through the eyes of those who live in the expectancy of what we hope will one day be--not in political or military maneuverings, but in the reality of the kingdom of God.

1 comment:

Jill Ashlock said...

Interesting perspective, as usual Mike. It would be such a refreshing change of pace to have more people in the rest of the world view Americans with a little less disdain. Hopefully, gaining a bit of favor doesn't gain us a bit of dangerous vulnerability at the same time. Its a tough balancing act that thus far, we haven't excelled at doing. But, maybe this is a change for the good -- this peace prize for our president. I just would have liked it to have been decided after he had more time serving as president (I heard he was nominated for the peace prize in mid February 2009). But I like your point!