Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Prayers

Tomorrow we will be discussing the prayers from today's Inauguration as well as Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer from the night before. As our professor Mark Douglas reminded us, these prayers represent three different faces of Christianity in America. First there is the voice of liberal Christianity (Gene Robinson0, the voice of evangelical Christianity (Rick Warren), and the voice of the historic black church (Joseph Lowery).

Quite honestly, I had a hard time both praying with them and paying attention to what they were saying theologically and politically. So this afternoon, I am re-reading the prayers in order to analyze them. I am also reading Obama's inauguration address because he also referenced God and made faith claims.

In case, you too want to revisit them, here are the texts:
Eugene Robinson's prayer
Rick Warren's Prayer
Obama's Inaugural Address
Joseph Lowery's Benediction

I do wonder how others felt about Lowery's use of humor at the end of his prayer. I do at times use humor in prayers, but I was a bit uncomfortable with it in this instance. On the other hand, I heard someone else talking about how it was the best prayer he had ever heard.

As for the Inauguration itself, I was deeply moved, not because of the partisan aspect of it, but because of the historic significance of the moment. As I watched an African-American take the oath of office, I was reminded of Ida Pearl Reynolds--my first black acquaintance whom I only met when our school was desegregated--and of my college friend, Bill, who wouldn't come to my wedding because he said, "No one wants to see my black face!" And I am struck by how much change has occurred in my life time and also of how little has changed (I was deeply saddened by the bank sign in Grant which read, "Closed on January 19th for a federal holiday." The same bank that had pumpkins and witches on its sign for Halloween!).

But I was also struck by my cynicism and pragmatism which kept me from thinking that this President will make that much difference. Now that we have a new administration, the economy will not magically be better, there will not suddenly be peace in the Middle East, race relations will not automatically be better, nor will the whole country fall apart. Democracies simply don't work that way nor is life that easy. But I was sitting next to some young (20ish) seminary students and they were so excited, so pumped with hope and possibility. Some would say they "drank the kool-aid," I would say they still have hope that things can be different--here and now.

Granted, I don't believe any person, nation, economic or political system will ever bring about the Kingdom of God--that will only happen by the power of God and I believe when Christ returns. However, in the meantime, we are called to work toward the day when as Lowery reminds us: "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream." And it was wonderful to sit beside young people who believe firmly in that hope and are willing to work for it.

In the meantime, I need to take each of these prayers apart theologically (actually a strange thing to do with a prayer--but something perhaps all pastors should do with their own!). And I do find as I delve into what I believe theologically about the end to which God is drawing his world, I am having to rethink some of my beliefs about politics and the role of the church in them.

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