Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thoughts on the prayers

Three inaugural prayers, to be specific: Gene Robinson's prayer at the Inaugural Concert, Rick Warren's invocation, and Joseph Lowery's benediction.

I realized something commenting on someone else's blog. I felt uncomfortable both with Gene Robinson's and Rick Warren's prayers, and I wonder if this is because each was trying to prove something. I felt +Robinson's prayer was trying to overcompensate for the perceived (and real!) exclusivity of Warren's selection, and that Warren was trying hard to speak from an inclusive position that doesn't come naturally to him. Joseph Lowery didn't have anything to prove; he was just happy. And as a result, his prayer sounded like a genuine prayer and not a performance. That's my personal reaction to it; I'm sure other people feel differently.

I was VERY uncomfortable with the nationalism I sensed in Warren's prayer, as in "Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all." I understand why he did it; it echoes Obama's call that 'there's not a red America and a blue America," but I'm not sure God is interested in having us remember that we're Americans. I'm fairly certain God doesn't care if we're Americans or not.

Equally, however, I didn't enjoy the screechy preachiness of +Robinson's prayer: "Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future." First of all, as a public speaker, nothing with quotes around it is going to carry. Second, I have never appreciated prayers that claim and blame a "we" when it is clearly pointing a finger at "you," and which lay out an agenda for what "we" need to do and give it to God. The sentence is also WAAAAAY too long. I say that as a person who has a habit of writing long, complex sentences.

Of all of them, Joseph Lowery seemed most comfortable drawing specifically from his own church tradition without apologies: using a voice from "Lift Every Voice and Sing," referring to "the mountaintop," turning an old racist slogan on its head, and prompting the crowd to say Amen.

As far as I'm concerned, Obama placed the prayers in the right order: OK, better, and the best for last.

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