Book Review: “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama

One of the best things about finishing grad school is getting to catch up on books that I’ve wanted to read for 3 years!  I just finished Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama.

It’s refreshing to read his words from before he received national fame.  The book outlines his childhood, from being born in Hawaii, to his 3 years in Indonesia when his mom remarried, to high school years in Hawaii, and then his attempts to make it in NYC before going to Chicago to become a community organizer on the South Side, primarily with residents in a public housing complex.

The book has raw honesty, from various lifestyle choices that he made along the way, mistakes and victories in his personal and professional life, and the beginnings of consciousness of having dark skin in America and Chicago.  The story concludes with meeting relatives for the first time in his father’s homeland of Kenya, where more puzzle pieces in his life seem to contradict rather than fit together – perhaps a prelude to how it is to live and relate to all the diverse needs in the United States.
Perhaps one of the most illuminating parts of the book are Obama’s firsthand accounts of the first time he heard of and then met Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.  Of course, Rev. Wright now has the claim to fame of causing so much political unrest for Obama with his controversial statements.  However, from the outset in conversations between the two, Wright made it clear to Obama that the congregation was not just about him as the pastor.  It was about facilitating leadership among the congregation’s members, with all the various opinions and interests that make up such a large congregation.

I figure it’s great to read the firsthand words and accounts from anyone who is running in this election.  His first book, written just out of law school, is a bit long-winded but it’s great to learn how one presidential candidate came of age and formed his consciousness.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Dreams from My Father” by Barack Obama

  1. How interesting that Obama (and Wright) talked about the leadership of many in a parish, not just the pastor’s, way before this came out on the campaign trail. Confirms for me that this was a part of their theology for a long time, not just recently. And very common with congregational model churches.

    Today in churches we are doing mostly “inreach” rather than training leaders to do “outreach”. Ministry in parishes is done by the leaders for the parishoners. Its exciting to see when a person claims their leadership role as a Christian (not meaning he or she has to go out and become a pastor as well) and is sent out from the church to live out their faith in the rest of the world.

  2. Thanks, Mike. Good review. The way the whole Rev. Wright / Fr. Pflager thing has played out in recent months has made me reflect on an issue that, until that happened, I thought of only in “inner Catholic terms,” but now I see is really ecumenical and interreligious. It is the fact that those who mount the pulpit in a public ministry have enormous power and those who preach well have an even greater power to influence others.
    Even in this era of the written Word, what we hear still has a pretty big influence on us. Which is why I am attentively critical to preachers who are either so poor at their craft as to be death-dealing dullards or those who forget that not everyone in the pews necessarily agrees with their most prophetic statements. They, of course, should be prophetic when they genuinely feel that it is called for, but ministers in public always need to be aware of the way they wield the sword of the Word — for it does indeed (as Paul said) pierce bone and marrow and lay bare the thoughts of many.

    Anyway, my thoughts on that point. And the book is indeed a good portrait of the type of person Obama is, as is his “Audacity of Hope.”

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