As I was watching President Obama speak Tuesday night, I couldn’t help but think of Doug Pagitt’s new book, “Church in the Inventive Age.” Like Pagitt, the president pounded home his conviction that the world has changed and we need to adapt to it. The road ahead may be difficult to navigate, but America’s history shows that we have what it takes.

Key words from the speech were “educate” and “innovate.” This is because the jobs of tomorrow, unlike the jobs of yesterday, require education. The only way we can compete with China and India is if we educate and innovate.

The president noted that in proportional numbers, the United States has fallen to ninth in college graduates. In terms of Internet access, we’re well behind a number of other countries. There is the severe problem that 25 percent of high school seniors fail to graduate; and this is a time when it is next to impossible to get a job without a high school diploma at the very least.

As I listened to the president, I heard a sober analysis and a centrist solution. He said enough to make the partisans, left and right, upset. But what I heard was a president who gets it. He’s not the prime minister, who represents a party. He’s the president who represents a nation.

He gave the GOP a few bones and basically said, “OK, now since we have divided government, let’s see what we can do to solve problems in a centrist mode. I’ll come part way, but you have to come part way.”

I heard this strongly stated in the brief but important word about health care. Obama said if there are areas that don’t work, let’s fix them. But let’s not redo the legislation so that a person with a pre-existing condition can’t get health care coverage, and let’s not take away the opportunity for families to cover their children as they enter the work force or continue their education. He made clear he would not let us slip backwards.

While the pundits (along with some of my progressive friends) were poking holes, my sense is that the American people liked what they heard. While Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) may have made a nice defense of small government in his response, is this really what the American people want?

What the American people want is a strong, efficient, effective government that solves problems and protects us from threats both external and internal, that delivers services on time and keeps the roads fixed.

Consider my story for a moment. I’m driving down Long Lake Road, a major thoroughfare here in Troy, Mich. – what was once a rather affluent city. I’m amazed at all the potholes. And it’s only getting worse.

Is this the America we really want to live in? Yes, the deficit is a problem, but maybe we need to be willing to pay a bit more money for things. Maybe here in Michigan we could pay 10 cents a gallon more so we could have good and safe roads and bridges.

So, did I like the speech? Yes, I thought Obama did what he needed to do to reframe the debate and get us moving forward.

So, let’s go out and innovate and educate!

But one thing, Mr. President: While I agree we need math and science teachers, let’s not forget the humanities. One of the big problems today is people don’t know their history.

Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Mich. He blogs at Ponderings on a Faith Journey. This column is adapted from his blog and used by permission.

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