Monday, June 8, 2009

Faith-Based Initiatives

I just listened to an interview with Joshua Dubois, the head of the retooled White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood partnerships. In general, I liked what he had to say and it made me feel some tentative and hesitant hope about our future, perhaps somewhat tempered from the more emotional faith in change that I experienced during the campaign. I found Dubois to be an uninspiring politician who gushes over Obama and sticks to a script, but maybe I’m just jealous because I’ve finally reached a point in life where powerful public figures can be younger than I am (he is only 26).

According to a White House press release, the Office will focus on four goals:

  • “The Office’s top priority will be making community groups an integral part of our economic recovery and poverty a burden fewer have to bear when recovery is complete.
  • It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion.
  • The Office will strive to support fathers who stand by their families, which involves working to get young men off the streets and into well-paying jobs, and encouraging responsible fatherhood.
  • Finally, beyond American shores this Office will work with the National Security Council to foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world.”

The first goal in particular seems very in line with my goals in Zen ministry and my work at Haley House.The emphasis on partnering with secular organizations and working towards interfaith cooperation is also certainly in line with Zen Peacemaker’s style, but I wonder why the stated goal includes international dialogue and not domestic. The reason that the first goal resonates with my experience is because what came to be known as social enterprise was key in Roshi Bernie’s transition from a simply meditation-focused Zen teacher to becoming an innovative leader in the social sphere when he created the Greyston Bakery and then the Greyston Foundation. The Haley House Bakery Café is also a unique aspect of Haley House, created about three years ago and departing from the organization’s traditional focus as a provider of direct services.

The phrasing of the goals to “reduce the need for abortion” and the goal to “support fathers who stand by their families” have the potential to transcend stale culture war conflict and address pressing needs of low-income communities. One can only hope.

I remember the moment in which I was converted to Obama from Hillary, sitting in a cyber café in Puno, Peru, reading one of his speeches. He talked about the need for fathers to take responsibility for their kids, but he wasn’t speaking in the abstract. He spoke about growing up distant from his own father. As the son of immigrants from different countries, I felt like his background more closely resembled mine than the typical politician.

I also noticed that Dubois mentioned Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus and didn't mention Buddhists. I remember sitting in Roshi Bernie’s house watching Obama’s inauguration, in which he mentioned Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and non-believers. “Are we non-believers?” I asked. Why don’t Obama or Dubois mention Buddhists, when according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, there are more Buddhists in the U.S. then Muslims or Hindus?

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