Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaugurations, Presidents, Prayers, and People

Although I'm at work today, Fuller has graciously allowed it's staff to watch the Obama inauguration, which I was able to do via Facebook's CNN.com Live link. It was fun to be able to watch the inauguration and "chat" with friends from around the country. The fact that America has maintained a tradition of peaceful transfer of power--not just between people, but often between ideologies--for well over 200 years now, is something to be truly thankful for.

Because I have friends from across the political spectrum, I am by no means surprised to see the diverse reactions to what I expect will be the most controversial aspect of the whole ceremony: Rick Warren's prayer. From practically the time Warren was selected, people were divided on the choice. Leaving Warren's stance on certain issues aside, there were plenty of people asking if Warren would use the name of Jesus in the prayer (thereby making it sectarian, and non-inclusive of other faiths). Well, Warren certainly did... and then some.

Now, I have to be honest, I'm not one of those who thinks that a person in Warren's position has to leave the name of Jesus out of his/her prayer in deference to the fact that Americans come from many faith traditions. Warren is a Christian, and his prayer is, by definition, going to be a Christian prayer. I consider the use of Jesus' name in such a prayer to be appropriate.

But I do feel like Warren may have stepped across some invisible line by using so many names for Jesus, and then by moving into the Lord's prayer. Something felt excessive about that. Almost as though Warren was saying not only "I don't care what all of you think," but "I'm going stick it to all of those folks who think I shouldn't use the name of my savior." The former would be acceptable. After all, we are to follow God before we follow human beings. The latter is just inappropriate. We should hold fast in our belief that Jesus is our savior, but we should nonetheless hold other people in respect. We're certainly not going to win any converts by driving Jesus's name like a stake through their ears.

But enough of that. I'm sure people will be talking about that for quite some time to come, but I'd rather talk about our new President. How about his speech? If there's one thing I really like about Obama, it's his ability to be honest about difficulties, while still motivating people to do what we can, wherever and whenever we can, to do something about those difficulties. I expect that my more conservative friends won't care much for his calls to share prosperity with all Americans (arguing that it sounds like "charity," Obama's clear statement that he's not talking about charity notwithstanding), but he makes as strong a case as I've heard anywhere as to why it's the right thing to do. If ever there was a time for people to join together, and put aside our differences, working together for the good of all, now is the time to do just that, and I'm grateful that our new President seems to understand that.

So, in the spirit of that speech, I'm going to close for now. I've got work to do!

UPDATE: 2:00 pm. A comment on Slacktivist indicates that Warren did include a couple of references to Jewish belief (the Shema, which I should have picked up on at the beginning of the speech, but apparently didn't notice when I was hearing it spoken. Of course, Christians claim that text, too!) and Muslim faith (suffice it to say, I'm not familiar with the phrase "the Merciful, the Compassionate" as being particularly Muslim), which would indicate an attempt at greater inclusivity that I've given him credit for. Suffice it to say, I think the way he re-re-emphasized Jesus' name negated those intentions. Ironically, I found at least one conservative blog calling him to task for the way he emphasized that Jesus was "the One who changed my life" (the idea behind the criticism being that Jesus changed the whole world, even for those who do not accept him as their personal savior). I guess you really can't please everybody!

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