Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Prayers of Invocation

Obama is President. Over the past couple days a lot of prominent clergy have prayed publicly on his behalf. One in particular, Rick Warren, is the subject of our first Podcast which Nick is going to post in this space very soon. We recorded the podcast the night before the inauguration so we hadn't heard Warren's prayer yet. The invocation turned out to be pretty subdued, even bland, and was quickly forgotten by most of the media. The controversy had the wind sucked out of it. In a week no one will remember it at all.

After some intense searching I finally found one good piece of commentary that says what I would say about Warren's prayer. Essentially I want to give the guy props for praying an intelligent inclusive prayer, while claiming his Christian, and even conservative evangelical roots. It wasn't flashy or special. He didn't call attention to himself or his pet causes. I don't think he could have done any better.

It's an interesting contrast with some of the other praying that was going on. Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire prayed an awkward prayer to "the God of our many understandings" - which is not as bad as I feared it was going to be when he announced in an interview that he was shocked how explicitly "christian" inaugural prayers had historically been and that he would pray a "non-Christian prayer". It disappoints me when progressives trip over themselves in a well-intentioned but idiotic rush to be so inclusive that they end up being parodies of themselves. Warren did a better job respecting people of other faiths (and no faith) by simply being himself, subtly including the words of other traditions which he could affirm in his prayer, and emphasizing his personal faith, rather than presuming to pray for the whole world.

TD Jakes was also on the scene and managed to make a fool of himself by saying he was going to give the president a benediction the way his 14-year-old son would do quoting Star Trek and saying "May the Force be with you." Yes, the famous health-and-wealth preacher actually confused Star Wars and Star Trek in his benediction of the President Elect on Inauguration Day.

Fortunately Rev. Joseph Lowery, who gave the benediction at the Inauguration ceremony, didn't try to include any pop-culture references, he didn't try to stake some kind of invisible middle-ground or pray any kind of prayer but the one he knows how to pray well. His prayer came across as more natural than Warren's, who seemed somewhat out of his element. Lowery was at moments inspirational, at moments light-hearted, and on the whole profoundly biblical. It may not be the right kind of prayer for a supposedly secular nation-state, but it was the right kind of prayer for Lowery and I liked it a lot.

The one thing about all of this praying that really concerns me is the conspicuous absence of anyone but protestants. There were no Catholic priests, no Rabbis, no Imams, or Swamis, or anyone else. Obama's selections were inclusive politically (conservative Warren, liberal Robinson), but represented a narrow selection of the populace religiously. Of course, perhaps the real problem here is that atheist critics are correct - and religion shouldn't be invoked at all in a secular political ceremony. One certainly has to question why so many pastors rush to bless the machinery of the state, but then I lean toward Covenantal Anarchy.

1 comment:

Jodie said...

I liked Rev Lowery's prayer quite a bit. I loved him turning the Isaiah passage about swords and plowshares into tanks and tractors. and I say amen to his closing words:

"we ask you to help us work for that day when black
will not be asked to get in back,
when brown can stick around ...
when yellow will be mellow ...
when the red man can get ahead, man;

and when white will embrace what is right"

The truth is that culture, art, and literature, Western civilization is deeply rooted in the imagery and values of the Judeo Christian Scriptures. The Muslims too, truth be told. So while I agree that our secular government should remain secular, the liturgy for the anointing of our elected king (the founding fathers may role in their graves) has nowhere else to come from. We were born out of empire and religion. Might as well embrace our nature. Harness it, find the good in it, but embrace its liturgy nonetheless.

And of course, Obama's inspirational call for all of us to work together, abandon greed and put away childish things. As he said:

"people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy"

Of course, as an engineer, I resonate with that. But also as a student of the Prince of Peace.

So as the apostle Paul once said,

"you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, " You shall love your neighbor as yourself"

But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."