02/20/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Obama Shifts Spiritual Dialogue to Focus on Possibilities

President Barack Hussein Obama has indeed unified a nation with the "audacity of hope." His name is audacious. Being the first bi-racial U.S. president is audacious. Aiming to pull our country out of the quagmire of debt, war and disrepute are audacious undertakings.

The new leader of the free world uses spiritual dialogue in a very different way. This is very hopeful. That much more unites than divides us is the underpinning that swept President Obama into the country's highest office. Controversies will continue and that is healthy between people of faith and the government. As in all good couples therapy there comes a point in the bickering when talks do move to a higher, more insightful level.

Drawing fire have been the Inaugural Invocations assigned to Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson and Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren.

Their public roles have been criticized, painted as governmental endorsements to Bishop Robinson's gay lifestyle or to the evangelistic platform of Christian mega-church leader Pastor Warren.

But in fact both men symbolize universal aspirations: that of equality and acceptance, and that of faith-based service to the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised. Such goals have a place in our government. Such bold invitations give hope.

Yet hope has a very curious character. It is universal, but often we want hope to reflect the (wo)man in the mirror. Each person approaches the "the how-to of hope" uniquely. For example, regarding gay marriage, factions on both sides pin their hopes to either eliminating or allowing legal union.

The 2000 U.S. Census indicated that out of 105.5 million households, about 595,000 were comprised of same-sex couples, that's a projection of 1.2 million gay people living in committed relationships. Four in ten Americans report close friends or relatives who are gay, according to a 2007 Pew Research study. Correspondingly, they are not inclined to vote against people they know and love.

Regarding abortion some argue that there can be no hope as long as it remains a legal alternative. Four in ten births (36.8%) in the U.S. are to unmarried women, according to a 2007 Pew Research study. But unless healthcare, childcare, housing and adoption are more accessible, then many will believe abortion is their only option and act accordingly.

Obama once said, "Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values."

Yes, let's move away from legislated morality and work on quantifiable ways to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless (develop jobs), heal the sick (affordable healthcare) and protect the children (education). Let's find ways to keep our country safe and still promote peace, avert war, stop genocide and end torture. These are audacious, big-ticket items, but they represent human desires that are universal.

It is built into all great religions that service to each other exalts the Creator. There's a wind shift on the national spiritual dialogue front and it's refreshing.

"I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active hope palpable, an active palpable agent in the world as a source of hope," said Obama last year.

He is not our national minister, nor will he be the savior of the world (that job was done quite adequately two thousands years ago). As our country's president, Obama's concerns are secular, first and foremost, and will affect all citizens regardless of religious affiliation or none. Yet there is no doubt that Obama's gift is tapping into the universal resonance of higher good in each of us. His spur is inspiration.

It heartens me that our president's view on faith is not one of lockstep doctrine but of miraculous possibilities.