Most underrated part of inauguration
Posted: January 26, 2009
1:00 am Eastern
I know inaugural news and commentary is already passé. But I could not find one news report or pundit this past week that caught what I believe was the most subtle, strategic and possibly subversive moment of the inauguration ceremony. Did you catch it?
Forget for a moment the parade of presidents sashaying down the Capitol steps. Forget U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts' blundering recitation of the oath of office. Forget that Obama's speech wasn't exactly the Lincoln memorial most expected. The two who subtly stole the show were the Protestant ministers who sandwiched the ceremony with their invocation and benediction.
Pre-inaugural chatter speculated what each of the ministers would say. Would the Rev. Rick Warren use the opportunity to pray against the maladies of abortion or homosexuality? Would he end his prayer in the nonpolitically correct and exclusive "in Jesus' name"? Would the Rev. Joseph Lowery resurrect a civil right spirit in his ecumenical prayer? Would he slide in a pro-gay comment within the final entreaty of the inauguration?
Rev. Lowery seems like a good man, and I have no doubt his prayer was heartfelt. And the closing rhymes to his petitions were funny and quaint. But I thought his racial wit was a bit out of place for an alleged unifying event that sought to tie the symmetry of Lincoln and Obama in a nice social bow. Nevertheless, Lowery's verbal cleverness earned him a rousing round of applause from the throngs, a standing ovation from the stage and an affirming smile and hug from the new president.
The reception for Pastor Warren was far less enthusiastic. He was welcomed to the podium by a murmuring and spattering of claps throughout the 2 million on the National Mall. And he ended with almost less fanfare and approbation from his onlookers. Even Obama seemed to respond with a mere token acknowledgment. That is one reason most news agencies and pundits barely brushed over the alleged insignificant nature of Warren's words.
U.S. News, for example, said that he "clearly opted for a conciliatory tone that eschewed any mention of culture-war issues." But Warren was hardly pacifying the elites or anyone else – if you truly understand what he prayed. The invocation seemed like a rather benign blessing that even his most ardent foes could have interpreted as inclusive. But the real portrait of his prayer was quite to the contrary.
Personally, I wasn't expecting any sort of controversial catechism from Warren. If he ended his prayer like Franklin Graham, who closed his invocation at Bush's 2001 inauguration "in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ" and was lambasted by the politically left for doing so, I would have been pleasantly surprised. Well, in my estimation, Rick Warren was Franklin Graham on spiritual steroids. He should win the clergy-of-the-year award for prayer creativity, cultural relativity and subtle subversive submissions.
First of all, Warren's prayer was nearly five minutes – about 486 words. He certainly didn't cower to typical audience intolerance for long prayers and opt for a short grace before meals.
Second, Warren embarks on what theologians call a Mars Hill (Greek) apologetic, which is a biblical approach and deductive line of reason that the Apostle Paul used in teaching about a Creator God, with whom all can at first identify. No God-fearing individual could object to Warren's wide appeal in the words:
Almighty God, our Father, everything we see, and everything we can't see, exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory. History is your story.
Third, Warren then narrows his focus by identifying the Creator as the one true Hebrew (or Jewish) God of the Old Testament – something that sounds inclusive of Judaism but also serves as the basis and narrowing of his Christian logic. At the same time, he was culturally relative and sensitive to (but not necessarily endorsing of) Islam, by extolling God as "the compassionate and merciful one," a descriptive line that opens all but one chapter of the Koran. All of that is contained in his few words:
The Scripture tells us, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one." And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
Fourth, Warren then covers the gamut in compassionate petitions: thanking God for racial freedom and equality, praying a blessing on Obama and his cabinet, asking God to help us all unite in freedom, forgive us of our presumption and pride and share and serve all humanity – not just ourselves or our own. Got you hooked yet? Now for the part that would have earned him nothing but jeers and disdain, were it not couched in those preceding four points.
Fifth, Warren turns on a dime by calling on God to help us remember this universal religious truth (in all Middle Eastern religions, I might add): that God will judge all nations and all peoples. Then, for clarity sake, the name of Warren's Supreme Judge is given. He refers to this transforming agent, who changed his own life, in four different languages: "I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life – Yeshua (Hebrew), Isa (Arabic), Jesus (English), Jesus (Spanish pronunciation) …"
Sixth and last, just when you think the "amen" is imminent, Warren gives a coup de grace to any political or earthly power – a possible subversive chess move to subtly call Obama's regime into checkmate. He called upon the global Christian community to invoke God's power against any and all human strongholds by collectively praying the Lord's Prayer. Warren rallies all branches, traditions and denominations of the universal church by triggering a prayer response through his words, "who taught us to pray saying …" Proof came as cameras immediately panned the Washington crowds, many of whom found themselves suddenly reciting the prayer with Warren. (It was interesting to watch how Obama chose not to publicly follow or join in.)
So why did Warren close his invocation with the Lord's Prayer? The simple answers could include it is universal, well known and both relatively inclusive of the majority and yet exclusive to the band of Jesus' loyalists. But the truth is the Lord's Prayer is no trite meaningless religious repetition to Warren. He once explained in one of his teachings, "'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' Why do we pray that, 'Thy will be done as it is in heaven'? Because in heaven God's will is done perfectly. Is God's will done perfectly on earth? Absolutely not. In fact most of the things that happen on earth are not God's will. God's will is not always done. … But when you pray, 'Thy will be done,' you're saying first, I accept Your plan and [second] I surrender to God's control."
Reciting the Lord's Prayer is pleading with God to do nothing short of erecting His Kingdom and executing His desires on earth as they are in heaven. It is calling upon the one true God, asking for his nature to overrun ours, his wishes to be fulfilled (not ours) and his rule and reign to be established (not ours). On the flip side, it is the most "dangerous" prayer one can pray if one wants to continue to live selfishly, misuse power and maintain control over others.
The Lord's Prayer is, in reality, the most invasive and subversive prayer to human selfishness that one can say, able to breakdown strongholds within us, within others, and even within political structures. As Warren once said, praying the Lord's prayer is ideal "when your circumstances are uncontrollable, when people around you won't change (they're unchangeable), and when problems are unexplainable."
Now you tell me: Why would Warren, who thoroughly understands the Scriptures, pray that particular prayer at the transference of new political powers with whom he largely disagrees? The answer is obvious.
Like millions of others, I repeated this relatively short prayer in rote for most of my life, without thinking twice about its meaning. But then I learned about its powerful truths from my pastor, who teaches its principles and encourages its daily recitation through a simple acronym. (You can listen to his Lord's Prayer message series on his website at NationalTreasures.org.) The Lord's Prayer has revolutionized my prayers and my life, and I believe (as I know Warren does) it can change all of our lives, government and world, if we sincerely and regularly pray it. That's exactly why Warren's invocation included it.
For most, Warren was reinforcing his image as "a unifying, post-Christian-right figure rather than as a divisive culture warrior." But reality is, as Jesus called His Apostles to do, Warren was being as "shrewd as a serpent, and innocent as a dove." And most never even caught it.
Say what you will about this purpose-driven pastor, but, when you parse it out, Rev. Rick Warren's inaugural invocation was about as purpose-driven as prayers come.