Weekly e-newsletter for members and friends of the Dublin Community Church
January 23, 2009
Stony the Road We Trod
Permit me to offer a non-political/minister’s close up of the Invocation and Benediction at the Obama Inauguration. I am talking about Pastor Rick Warren who gave the Invocation and Rev. Joseph Lowery who offered the Benediction.
Rick Warren’s credentials are impressive as he leads one of the nation’s largest churches and is a best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life. When he was tapped by Obama to give the Invocation it caused a great debate as to whether he was acceptable because of his stance on certain issues. Nevertheless, Pastor Warren took the stage and offered a heartfelt prayer to God, which was nuanced in its references.
Rick Warren first acknowledged that all things belong to God and went on to quote from Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Our God loves all. I take at face value and believe Pastor Warren was addressing our understanding that there is one God over all people and that this God loves all. While I cannot be certain that Warren’s intent was to say that all faiths look to the same God, I will interpret it that way and am comforted that all faiths were certainly given respect in this opening.
I was grateful for his acknowledgement of this nations “peaceful transfer of power.” More than any other thing during the day was the overriding example of two men sitting near one another, who shook hands, who only an hour before shared coffee together…now seated in the cold as one took the oath and the other began a peaceful, dignified and well-deserved retirement. It was peaceful. I am grateful for that.
Pastor Warren harkened back to Dr. King and a “great cloud of witnesses” shouting their approval from heaven for this African American who reached the White House in this “hinge point of history.” He prayed that Obama would have wisdom, courage and compassion. He prayed for his family and all elected leaders.
The most surprising thing (for me) that Pastor Warren said is that Americans are not united by race, religion or blood, but by a commitment to freedom and justice for all. I have no argument here. I guess I would have expected him to say that we are united by race, religion and blood. Perhaps Warren was steering away from the rocky shores of limited bonds (race, religion and blood) and seeking those overarching bonds of Americans (freedom, justice). Intentionally or not, Pastor Warren was acknowledging a diverse America woven from a fabric of many races, many religions. This is something I think is our great strength. It increases our gene pool as I like to say, and I applaud Warren for seeking our common ideals of freedom and justice.
He went on by praying for forgiveness for those things we have neglected and called for civility even when we differ. I have heard Pastor Warren speak of civility before. I have heard the same from Obama and Bush (perhaps that is a mantra, which Americans might try for awhile).
As he neared the end of his invocation, Pastor Warren prayed in the name of Jesus “who changed my life” and proceeded to pronounce the name Jesus in four languages, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish and English. It was a creative way to move into his conclusive Lord’s Prayer.
Rev. Joseph Lowery is 87 and a veteran of the earliest Civil Rights days as part of the Montgomery Bus Boycott after the Rosa Parks incident. He marched with Dr. King and led the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965. Rev. Lowery offered the Benediction by reading the third verse of the James Weldon Johnson anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” We have it our hymnals in the sanctuary. Look at it…#593…it begins (and Lowery read…) “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, God who has brought us thus far on the way…”
It was a moving beginning, and those lines would be instantly recognizable to every African American and to many other Americans as well. Like Pastor Warren, Rev. Lowery acknowledged that our God is the God of all by quoting another hymn and saying that our God has “the whole world in your hands.” He prayed for all nations.
Like any veteran of the Civil Rights Era, Rev. Lowery focused on the struggle of the poor and that they be “delivered from exploitation.” He made reference to the Obama campaign slogan of “Yes, we can” work together and prayed that we would find a way out of the worldwide economic plight. Rev. Lowery prayed for love, inclusion and tolerance. Pastor Warren used similar themes.
The echoes of Dr. Martin Luther King were heard in his mention of “this mountain top experience” (Pastor Warren referred to Dr. King). And then Rev. Lowery prayed that the “power of oneness” would be “taken back to churches, temples and mosques; wherever we seek Your will.” Here was an acknowledgement again of the diversity of religions of this nation and this world and yet there is something common… “the power of oneness.” While I know what I think Lowery meant for that phrase, it could be interpreted in various ways. I understand it as a prayer for all people seeking one God in the midst of our religious diversity.
A Biblical reference was used by Rev. Lowery (Isaiah 2:4, Joel and Micah) “when nation shall not lift up sword against nation.” He then referred to sitting under the vine or fig tree…a reference to sitting and studying the word of God. And he ended his strong Biblical references when he prayed, “justice would roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)
In conclusion, we heard Rev. Lowery reference a hymn concerning “those saints who from their labors rest.”
And after a very cold yet very dignified hour or so of speeches, oaths, nervousness and forced smiles on the part of all on the Washington Mall…Rev. Lowery offered an earnest prayer of hope (and a bit of whimsy), which only a veteran of the Civil Rights movement could offer. Neither Pastor Warren nor myself could get away with a final rhyming benediction lines for “black, brown, yellows, red and whites.” It was heartfelt and I think understood by all…that this patchwork of ethnicities is what and who we are and that the problems and the promises are great.
Pastor Warren and Rev. Lowery embody a bit of the diversity of this nation both for who they are and whom they represent in religious constituencies. Their common purpose, common themes and common use of the Bible are consistent with a secular and religious nation struggling to invoke the name of God within our moments of national celebration. Some will be satisfied with what they said or did not say in their prayers. Some will not. Some never will be satisfied. But in the end, Rev. Lowery prayed, “and all the people said, Amen, Amen, Amen!”
And I think I noticed that nearly all 1.8 million people present did say, “Amen!”
Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing