The title comes from Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugral poem. You can find the transcript here.
What to say about today ….
Last night I walked in the Muskogee Ministerial Alliance annual MLK march, which culminated in a service at a local African American church. It was an enormous God-Party, because King deserves no less, but also because of the momentousness of the holiday falling on inauguration eve. I bought three over-priced Obama buttons from a teenage girl raising money for the local NAACP youth group. One moment that crystalizes it for me happened in the opening minutes. We sang a praise chorus that I’d sung before at my parents’ church, but had always dismissed as another kind of lame “Yay Jesus” song. But listen:
“Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!
Lord you are good and your mercy endureth forever!”
I can’t even express the impact of singing these words on that night, the night before this day, and for the first time realizing a fraction of what they meant to the sisters and brothers standing next to me. It’s one thing to read those words from Scripture for the thousandth time, it’s another to sing them on the night before the culmination of a promise of God to an oppressed people.
Am I waxing too poetic, too dewy-eyed, glossing over the racism that still endures, that will continue to endure, in our culture. Perhaps. Am I spiritualizing? Undoubtedly. I’ve tended more towards that lately. I blame it on Shane Claiborne, whom I started reading after Obama got elected, when I decided that it might possibly be possible to change the world. So actually, I blame it on Obama.
Now, about Rick Warren. I’m no great fan of Rick, but I’ve known of him for years, and he used to pal around with my uncles at youth retreats. My grandma remembers him sitting at their kitchen table eating Oreos. I’ve admired his stand against poverty, racism, global warming and AIDS, even as I’ve been hurt by his homophobic rhetoric. The fact is though, if you’re looking at it from the outside, you don’t realize that Warren is quite moderate by current evangelical standards. If you were to imagine a spectrum of evangelical folks, from conservative to liberal, Rick Warren is quite a bit to the left of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, and only slightly to the right of people like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis. I see in people like Warren a bridge that can bring evangelicals away from asshole Christianity and towards a more Jesus-like faith. Is he wrong about a lot of things? Yes, I believe so. But perhaps this reaching across lines, this breaking down of categories (Conservative Christians: “All Christians must be Republicans! Democrats are evil! Democrats hate God!” Progressive Christians: “All Evangeicals are Republicans! Keep them away from us!”) can be transformative not only for those of us on the left, but also for Warren and others like him, evangelicals who realize (and there have always been evangelicals who realized this) that following Jesus is not about a political agenda, but about compassion and justice. So, yes, to sum up, I’m not a big Warren fan, but I’m not all bent out of shape about Obama choosing him.
Enough with the defense o’Warren. Here’s a link to Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation from the concert yesterday.
And here’s a link to an article that highlights one of the things that makes Obama most awesome: his bookishness.