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The Rev. Dr. Kimberleigh Buchanan The Rev. Dr. Kimberleigh Buchanan

The Rev. Dr. Kimberleigh Buchanan is senior pastor of First Congregational Church (UCC) in Asheville, NC.

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First Congregational United Church of Christ, Asheville, NC

Obama's Nobel Peace Prize

October 09, 2009


When my husband told me there was a surprise in the newspaper this morning, I braced myself.  What natural disaster had occurred?  Which world government was about to dissolve?  Which Fortune 500 company had declared bankruptcy?

But it was none of those things.  Like Allen said, it was a surprise.  Stunning everyone, Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize.  "The Nobel Peace Prize?"  I asked.  "Yes.  The Nobel Peace Prize."

Once I got over being stunned, I felt proud...Finally!  Our country is being seen in the world as a proponent of peace, something that hasn't been the case for a while.  The United States' image is improving in the world, largely, because of our president.  When I first learned the news, I was proud, very proud to be an American.

But then I read the rest of the article.  Did you know that nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize were due February 1?  That was only 12 days after Obama took office.  And now he's received the Nobel Peace Prize a mere nine months into his term as president.  (How long did Jimmy Carter have to wait to receive the same prize, after a lifetime of efforts toward peace?)   When I began thinking about the timeline, something didn't compute.  Perhaps this year we should call it the Nobel Potential Peace Prize.

I read on.  Here's how one article described the reason for the committee's decision.  "The Nobel Committee lauded the change in global mood wrought by Obama's calls for peace and cooperation, but recognized initiatives that have yet to bear fruit: reducing the world stock of nuclear arms, easing American conflicts with Muslim nations and strengthening the U.S. role in combating climate change."  Selection committee chair, Thorbjoern Jagland, said this:  "Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future."  (Associated Press)

After some reflection, here's what I've decided.  Rhetoric matters.  The words we speak shape the actions we take.  Like the biblical prophets of old, Barack Obama's language of dialogue, working together, being nuclear-free, and caring well for the earth is helping to create the world of which he dreams.  In so many ways, we are what we speak.  Though few of his initiatives have had time to bear fruit, Mr. Obama's words are bearing fruit.  With his words, he is helping us all to imagine a better world, one where we work together, not against each other, a world moving together toward hope, rather splintering apart out of fear.

Because rhetoric is real, because it goes a long way in shaping who we are becoming, I withdraw my suggestion that this year's award should be called the potential peace prize.  Mr. Obama's vision for and words on the world stage are themselves acts of peace.  How grateful I am to have so visionary and brave a man as my country's president.

Even as I applaud Mr. Obama's vision and courage, though, I wonder...what reality am I creating with my own words?

Peace, true peace, for your journey.


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