Giving Counsel For The President's Soul

Joshua Dubois, the former head of President Obama's Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, has been sending daily inspirational missives to the president since Obama was a senator working on his first presidential campaign. Dubois speaks to host Rachel Martin about the almost-accidental way he got the job.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Every day, President Obama gets a daily brief, a confidential package of intelligence information. For the last six years, he has also been receiving something more like a morning devotional, which includes scripture, poetry and prayer.

Joshua Dubois sends those inspirational notes. He's the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and he's also the author of a new book called "The President's Devotional." Joshua Dubois joins us in here in our Washington studios. Thanks for being here.

JOSHUA DUBOIS: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: You were just 26 years old, right...

DUBOIS: That's right.

MARTIN: ...when you were appointed to head up the president's faith-based initiatives. That's a pretty heady thing to happen to someone that age.

DUBOIS: You know, it was heady. And the devotionals themselves, you know, I never thought I was going to be sending them to the president of the United States. I was, you know, a young staffer on the 2008 campaign, working - like many others - to elect the president, doing outreach. And I saw that he had a lot of other support around him; he had policy advice and political support. But I wondered, who was thinking about his soul?

And so decided I would take a risk and get his email address, and send him an email that would hopefully, encourage him. The first one was based on the 23rd Psalm and a poem that I loved, called "The Faith of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The name of the poem is "The Peace of Wild Things."] And I shot him this note. I didn't know if I was going to get fired for sending a senator an email. But in a few minutes he wrote back and said, you know, Joshua, this is exactly what I was looking for. Could you send this to me every morning?

MARTIN: So that was his idea for you to do that on a regular basis.

DUBOIS: That's right. So six years later, I've been doing it every morning. Yeah.

MARTIN: Some would hear that and say that's rather presumptuous of someone that young - with no theological background, right?

DUBOIS: That's exactly right. And, you know, in some ways I think that, you know, and I had all these doubts in my own head. You know, you're not qualified; you're not the pastor of some big church; you went to public policy school, not seminary. But I think I could use me precisely because I wasn't qualified, because, you know, if this went somewhere and if he did a work through me, it wouldn't be Joshua that got the glory; it would be something bigger than me.

MARTIN: Did the president ever engage you on certain passages, or was it more of a one-way thing?

DUBOIS: No, he did. He's mentioned several times - and I'm honored - that he said that the devotionals have been meaningful. One kind of funny story is that after the 2008 election, I thought I could, unilaterally take a week off from sending them. And I get a call from the White House switchboard. It's the president's assistant, saying he's wondering where his devotionals are. And so it was a little bit embarrassing. (Laughter)

MARTIN: That's when you realized, oh, this is like, a thing I have to do.

DUBOIS: But I knew he was reading them at least. And so that was kind of fun. (Laughter)

MARTIN: That's amazing. Did your communication change over time? You did this for years.

DUBOIS: Yeah. You know, I would say, I came to focus on particular themes in different seasons. And so if it was a moment of heated debate, I would focus a lot on how to love our neighbors or...

MARTIN: So you paid attention to the...

DUBOIS: I did.

MARTIN: ...the politics or world affairs?

DUBOIS: Yeah. You know, I never wanted it to be like, reading his morning clips every morning, though. And so a lot of the devotionals focused on how to find rest and replenishment even in the middle of very, very busy times.

MARTIN: This just kind of came about for you. You were a staffer on Sen. Barack Obama's campaign team and all of the sudden, you're becoming a de facto spiritual adviser. You've since left that job at the White House. I wonder how you envision your faith intersecting with your professional life, moving forward.

DUBOIS: Well, my faith grounds me. It inspires me. Because I know that God loves me, that enables me to do, you know, anything, because when God calls you to something, his purpose is locked in. It's bigger than anything that I could individually desire or control. And so my faith will continue to be a part of my life, moving forward.

MARTIN: You're going to stay in politics. You're not going to the pulpit or anything.

(LAUGHTER)

DUBOIS: I'm not going to the pulpit, no. And, you know, I'm still sending the president a devotional every morning. That's still something that I'm so honored to do. Yeah.

MARTIN: You are?

DUBOIS: Yes.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you what was the last devotional you sent to him, but this is still happening.

DUBOIS: It's still happening. That's right. (Laughter)

MARTIN: Joshua Dubois - he is a former adviser to President Obama, and the author of the new book called "The President's Devotional." He joined us in our studios here in Washington. Joshua, thanks so much for talking with us.

DUBOIS: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And you are listening to WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News.

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