Every day, President Obama would receive an email with a few words of wisdom: Some came from the Gospels, others from a diverse crowd including Martin Luther King Jr., Henry David Thoreau and Bob Dylan. The sender, Joshua DuBois, who was executive director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships under Obama, later compiled those readings into "The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama."
DuBois also offers intriguing insights in the book, including a scene at a bar that led to DuBois' start in politics and Obama's penchant for dispensing relationship advice. DuBois recently spoke with U.S. News about the president's faith, Washington and finding inspiration. Excerpts:
How did you go about choosing the readings that you would send to the president each day?
I tried to focus on readings that would illuminate some eternal principle – how to love God; how to love our neighbors, even those who are difficult to love; how to start each day with purpose and joy – rather than readings that focused on any particular crisis or issue in the news cycle on a given day. I really wanted to focus on bigger-picture topics for the president and now, hopefully, for other people as well. In addition to that, I tried to pull from history and culture. The president is a big history buff, and he's a music fan as well, so the devotionals weave together everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Johnny Cash. I wanted to make sure that they were diverse and interesting each day.
What do you think the president's faith means to him in his daily work?
I think the president's Christian faith is a central part of his life. It illuminates certainly how he sees God, but also how he treats his brothers and sisters and the love he feels compelled to show to those around him. He cultivates his faith in careful – even if they're quiet – ways. Obviously, he reads these devotionals every morning. He prays with pastors from time to time in the Oval Office. He attends services as often as he can. But he's not the type of guy to necessarily wear his faith on his sleeve. That said, I'd rather have a leader who actually walks his faith rather than one who just talks about his faith, and I think that's the guy the president is.
Is it difficult to be a person of faith in government, where people are using faith for political purposes?
There are actually more quiet believers than many people would imagine, even in Washington: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists – folks of diverse faith backgrounds for whom their religion is a really central part of their life, even if they don't shout it from the rooftops. I wrote a piece for Newsweek a while back called "The Secret Faith of Washington" where I profiled some of these folks. I think people would be surprised at how many believers there are in Washington, and I think the reason is that those who misuse their faith for political gain are those who get most of the attention.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
I hope people will find inspiration to start each and every day. I think the devotionals weave together Scripture and history and culture in a way that I think is pretty unique, that will help people find a real sense of joy and purpose in their lives. In addition to the devotionals, there are 12 essays to begin each month and, in those essays, I think people will see a different side of our president than they've seen before, a side that's vulnerable, that's empathetic, that's struggled through some tough times, but I think has emerged stronger: everything from grappling with difficult issues on the 2008 campaign to helping me get through some tough moments in my own life. And so I think it's a personal look at President Obama that we haven't seen before, and I hope readers will take that away as well.
Why do you think it will be helpful for people to see that side of the president?
I just think it's really important for us to know our leaders. Not just know their policy positions and their public declarations, but where their hearts lie, what their values are and how they are shaped and molded. And I think that's a central aspect of leadership, and I think this book helps bridge the gap between what we publicly know about President Obama and the private man that he is.
What will surprise readers most about the book?
It's a book that they will come back to. Many people will be coming back every day of the year. That's not necessarily something that you are able to find with most books. [And there is] the funny story in the August essay about how [Obama] hounded me until I proposed to my now wife. I think finding President Obama [serving as] "marriage counselor in chief" is something that may be surprising to some people.
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