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The Inauguration--Skeel

A few immedate thoughts on the inauguration:

President Obama's speech: I didn't think this was his most memorable, but no one delivers a speech like Obama.  The highlight for me came when he explicitly referred to scripture, and said "The time has come to set aside childish things."  This was the first of two points in the speech where Obama shifted into the cadences of Martin Luther King.  He then shifted out, as if to remind us and himself whose shoulders he stands on, but also to suggest he's another person and this is another time.

Rick Warren's prayer:  I was especially interested to see whether Warren would speak as "we," as if  all Americans share his evangelical views, or as "I," especially given the criticisms he's received of late.  I thought he handled this issue deftly and honestly.  Most of the prayer was addressed to the sovereign God, but he introduced the conclusion by saying "I ask in the name of the one who changed my life"-- not presuming to speak for everyone, but also acknowleding where his hope comes from. 

Elizabeth Alexander's poem: For a literary poet to write a public poem is an almost impossible task.  I didn't think the poem was a great poem, but I thought it had some lovely passages, and I thought the coordinating motif of language as the place where we encounter one another was a nice choice.  There were a few clunker lines, but I liked the early line saying something to the effect that we have
"each one of our ancestors on our tongue."

John Lowery's benediction:  Like Bill, I thought Lowery stole the show (and his humorous rhyming couplets were a pleasing jolt from the seriousness of Alexander's poem).  He verged on irreverence and political incorrectness (if "yellow will just be mellow ...etc"), but added a nice note of warmth and humor-- just the thing a ceremony like this needs.

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Comments ( 4 )

HI David,
I agree, this was certainly one of Obama's better speeches, in my opinion. I plan to show this to my students and have them highlight the number of historical allusions: slavery, independence, the wars, as well as several of the important historical documents. Above all, he exhibited great confidence, offered hope, and at the same time, care for all Americans(something, I believe, FDR did in the 1930's). A great way to start his term of office. George McFarland

I preferred the prayer offered by Barry Black before the luncheon with Congress. I only wish one of them would have prayed for the Holy Spirit to kindle the desire for the American People to pray earnestly for our leaders and our country.

What was also memorable was the childish and petulant way in which our former President and Vice-President were treated by some vocal members of the audience; and by some members of the media. Not inspiring at all, was it?

I found something interesting in today's exercise in civil religion. On the one hand, you had an invocation given that was surprisingly sectarian for civil religion, in the sense that it was unquestionably Christian. On the other hand, when Aretha Franklin sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" (a beautiful song that I feel gets short shrift relative to more popular hymns like America the Beautiful and God Bless America), she changed the song in a way I thought quite interesting.

The song properly ends "Great God our King." But that's not what was sung this time. Instead, we got a repeat of the closing line of the first verse, "Let Freedom Ring." Now, of course, I have no idea who makes these sorts of decisions. Maybe it was Aretha Franklin herself. Maybe it meant nothing. But I found it peculiar, and perhaps telling, in any event. In modern American civil religion, it is still very fashionable to ask God for his favor. It is much less fashionable to ask God for his wisdom, particularly if it might conflict with the speaker's own agenda. When we ask for favor, we offer nothing in return but our good intentions. But when we acknowledge God as King, we acknowledge that what is required of us is obedience. Obedience often implies doing something different from what it is we want to do. And frequently these days, we seem to have decided that we, as humans, are capable of being the ultimate arbiters of right and wrong. We're comfortable abrogating ancient moral taboos, because we know better.

But there is nothing new under the sun. When we ask purely for His favor, we ask that He be on our side. But a far wiser man than myself addressed the proper attitude to this problem nearly 150 years ago. When in the midst of perhaps the darkest days in our nation's history, Lincoln found himself confronted with a "clergyman who ventured to say, in his presence, that he hoped 'the Lord was on our side.' "'I am not at all concerned about that,' replied Mr. Lincoln, 'for I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord's side.'" [Taken from Francis B. Carpenter's, Six Months in the White House with Abraham Lincoln, published in 1867]