Once a day when President Barack Obama checks the in-box on his BlackBerry, there’s a devotional from Joshua DuBois.
All of the missives are Christian-based, said DuBois, the former director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, who will be the keynote speaker at a Habitat for Humanity of Greater Chattanooga Area fundraiser on April 11. Many of the notes involve Obama’s interest in history and music, DuBois said.
The first one he sent the then-candidate in 2008 was unsolicited, he said.
“Here’s a guy with a lot of different support,” DuBois said when we talked on the phone recently, “and no one is thinking about his soul. The first [devotional] was on Psalm 23. I had no idea [whether there would be a] response. But he wrote back, said this was exactly what he needed and to send these every day.”
In a private capacity, he has been doing just that.
The apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 2, commands us to pray for our leaders. I admit I don’t pray for President Obama as often as I should. It’s not because I disagree with him on most things, which I do, but because the leaders of the country, state and city are not uppermost in my thoughts as I pray.
But DuBois swerved to that when I asked him to name the most misunderstood thing about the president. He may have thought I meant the presidency, because he said for “a lot of elected officials” there is some “disagreement of policy, some level of disrespect.”
Yet, he said, “we are called to lift them up in prayer, to seek God’s best” for them.
I wondered what, if anything, DuBois knew about President Obama’s prayer life.
He prays with pastors in the Oval Office and has said he prays with first lady Michelle Obama, DuBois said. He walks across the north lawn of the White House to attend services at St. John’s Episcopal Church. On the president’s birthday, Aug. 4, he has a prayer call when a number of pastors convene to offer words for him for the year to come.
“It’s a nice tradition,” DuBois said.
Among those who have been a part of that prayer call, he said, are Vashti McKenzie, a bishop in the Texas district of the African Methodist Episcopal Church who was bishop over the church’s Kentucky and Tennessee district from 2004 to 2012, and W. Antoni Sinkfield, presiding elder of the North Nashville District of the AME Church and DuBois’ stepfather.
Does the president have, I wanted to know, what many Southerners refer to as a life verse, a touchstone passage from the Bible on which they focus their life?
DuBois said one Obama has used several times is Isaiah 40:31: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
“It’s something he has woven into speeches, something that resonated with him,” he said. “He’s quoted it several times.”
DuBois, who grew up in Nashville and has an aunt and uncle in Chattanooga, left the Obama White House a year ago to start a consulting firm, become a religion columnist and write a book of devotionals based on the ones he sends Obama.
The book, “The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama,” was released in October.
Among the emails DuBois sent Obama, he said, involved President Abraham Lincoln forgiving his enemies. Another, he said, concerned Johnny Cash and redemption.
DuBois, who has been to Chattanooga, said he didn’t know that two turning points in the late singer’s life came not too far from the Scenic City.
The first was Cash’s last arrest in 1967, when he was found with a bag of prescription pills after being involved in a car accident in Walker County, Ga. Following a night in jail in LaFayette, he was released after a long talk with Sheriff Ralph Jones, who confronted him on his dangerous behavior and wasted potential.
A year later, Cash had a spiritual epiphany in Nickajack Cave in Marion County, Tenn., after he attempted to commit suicide while under the influence of drugs. After wandering deep in the cave, trying to lose himself and “just die,” he passed out. Once awakened, he felt God’s presence in his heart and managed to struggle out.
DuBois said he doesn’t give much thought anymore to trying to convince people Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim, as some allege.
“I’ve known him for years,” he said. “I’ve prayed with him. I know he’s a confessing believer. He’s been elected and re-elected. I think I would spend more time asking believers why they would question somebody else’s faith.”