"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics. We remain a young nation, but in the words of scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history...
We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals... our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead... our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint...
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it...
Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
_President Barack Hussein Obama
Barack Obama's speech today (read it here) was one, whether you agree with his policy or not, that will be remembered. It was a speech that I am sure inspired hope in many hearts, especially in the hearts of Americans who have found themselves on the under-side of society, being trampled upon by a government which seems to favor the rich and prosperous. The inspiration of hope and the nobility of humility are things that we can affirm, things that we can raise our heads for. Obama's dreams are dreams we need not fear to make our own, however we might disagree with the methods and policies, if they are indeed dreams to help and to restore and to "to work alongside" the poor.
But one thing is unsettling to me. The attitude around the inauguration was so positive (which is a good thing) that it felt a bit like Christmas morning (a very very unsettling thing). Let us not, as many if not most Americans have done, look to him in our distress for salvation. Let us not place our hope in the American President to bring about the kind of reality we hope to imagine. If we can hope for such salvation in an United States President then one of two things is true, maybe both. Either we have placed the man and the country upon the throne of God, or our imaginations are simply too small to fit the Kingdom of God within them. The real King is "not of this world" (and I'm not talking about a bumper sticker), he comes from outside--from heaven--and brings the outside crashing down on the inside. He makes what's impossible here possible and what's unimaginable here comes alive in him. In the lyrical words of Derek Webb, "So don't hold your breath or your vote until you think you've finally found a savior up on Capitol Hill."
Of all the inspiring words spoken in and around this historic inauguration, those of Rev. Gene Robinson in his prayer two days before rang most profound to me. It's a prayer I hope we remember and a prayer I can only hope that President Obama might follow with action.
“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears – tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.
Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.
And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.
Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.
Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."
_Rev. Gene Robinson
Rev. Joseph Lowery closed the inauguration ceremony with a powerful prayer which, if only we would truly pray it, would call us to remember the least of these. I can only hope that President Obama will remember and pray this prayer with his actions.