Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times interviewed Barack Obama in 2004 on his faith and spirituality. She's now published the entire interview. Here are some highlights.
Do you pray often?
Uh, yeah, I guess I do.
Its' not formal, me getting on my knees. I think I have an ongoing conversation with God. I think throughout the day, I'm constantly asking myself questions about what I'm doing, why am I doing it.
One of the interesting things about being in public life is there are constantly these pressures being placed on you from different sides. To be effective, you have to be able to listen to a variety of points of view, synthesize viewpoints. You also have to know when to be just a strong advocate, and push back against certain people or views that you think aren't right or don't serve your constituents.
And so, the biggest challenge, I think, is always maintaining your moral compass. Those are the conversations I'm having internally. I'm measuring my actions against that inner voice that for me at least is audible, is active, it tells me where I think I'm on track and where I think I'm off track. ...
Looking for, ... It's interesting, the most powerful political moments for me come when I feel like my actions are aligned with a certain truth. I can feel it. When I'm talking to a group and I'm saying something truthful, I can feel a power that comes out of those statements that is different than when I'm just being glib or clever.
What's that power? Is it the holy spirit? God?
Well, I think it's the power of the recognition of God, or the recognition of a larger truth that is being shared between me and an audience.
On spiritual leaders:
Do you have people in your life that you look to for guidance?
Well, my pastor [Jeremiah Wright] is certainly someone who I have an enormous amount of respect for.
I have a number of friends who are ministers. Reverend Meeks is a close friend and colleague of mine in the state Senate. Father Michael Pfleger is a dear friend, and somebody I interact with closely.
Those two will keep you on your toes.
And theyr'e good friends. Because both of them are in the public eye, there are ways we can all reflect on what's happening to each of us in ways that are useful.
I think they can help me, they can appreciate certain specific challenges that I go through as a public figure.
On his church:
Do you get questions about your faith?
Obviously as an African American politician rooted in the African American community, I spend a lot of time in the black church. I have no qualms in those settings in participating fully in those services and celebrating my God in that wonderful community that is the black church.
But I also try to be . . . Rarely in those settings do people come up to me and say, what are your beliefs. They are going to presume, and rightly so. Although they may presume a set of doctrines that I subscribe to that I don't necessarily subscribe to.
But I don't think that's unique to me. I think that each of us when we walk into our church or mosque or synagogue are interpreting that experience in different ways, are reading scriptures in different ways and are arriving at our own understanding at different ways and in different phases. ...
Nothing is more powerful than the black church experience. A good choir and a good sermon in the black church, it's pretty hard not to be move and be transported.
On spiritual inspiration:
OBAMA: As I said before, in my own sort of mental library, the Civil Rights movement has a powerful hold on me. It's a point in time where I think heaven and earth meet. Because it's a moment in which a collective faith transforms everything. So when I read Gandhi or I read King or I read certain passages of Abraham Lincoln and I think about those times where people's values are tested, I think those inspire me.
I can be transported by watching a good performance of Hamlet, or reading Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, or listening to Miles Davis.
OBAMA: What I believe in is that if I live my life as well as I can, that I will be rewarded. I don't presume to have knowledge of what happens after I die. But I feel very strongly that whether the reward is in the here and now or in the hereafter, the aligning myself to my faith and my values is a good thing.
When I tuck in my daughters at night and I feel like I've been a good father to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values that I got from my mother and that they're kind people and that they're honest people, and they're curious people, that's a little piece of heaven.
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