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Southern Religion

My brother’s keeper

In her message to the National Prayer Service, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins called the president and the nation to greet the worst of times with loving generosity of spirit:

America’s true character, the source of our national wisdom and strength, is rooted in a generous and hopeful spirit.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, . . .
Send these, the homeless, tempest‐tost to me, …”

Emma Lazarus’ poetry is spelled out further by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:

“As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty‐eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy . . . I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made.”

Often addressing President Barack Obama directly, she ranged across native American myth, Biblical prophets, Muslim scholarship and historic values. She called upon the president to lead us on the right path, and cast these as times that can teach us what we really are as a nation:

A land of abundance guided by a God of abundance, generosity, and hope – This is our heritage. This is America’s promise which we fulfill when we reach out to each other.

The entire sermon is here (.pdf).

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January 21, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Religion | 3 Comments

Let us pray, together

Inaugural invocation and benediction were as stark in contrast as they could be, without breaking the civil peace of the occasion.

Southern Baptist pastor Rick Warren made his aggressively Christian evangelical conclusion palatable by opening with clear references to both Judaism and Islam. He then went, wrote Professor of Law Emeritus University of Toledo Howard M. Friedman at Religion Clause, “well beyond the usual half dozen words at the end invoking Jesus. Warren ended his invocation (full text) with:”

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Essa (ph), Jesus, Jesus, who taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.” Amen.

By thus seeking to fulfill his obligations to President Barack Obama, Warren won the approval of his politically and theologically conservative evangelical Christian constituency.

The Rev. Joseph Lowery’s benediction was fiery, poetic and the unmistakable voice of the dean of the civil rights movement (full text).

Yet it was accessible to Christians and non-Christians alike while delighting the left, infuriating the right and apparently leaving almost everyone else inspired.

All without transgressing the bounds of properly practiced civil religion.

The inaugural poem, (text here), perhaps not a prayer, was nonetheless lovely, moving, telling us as it concluded:

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.
In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

Helping, we believe, all of us and a new president face what may for a time be an unremitting series of crises we all must overcome.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Politics, Religion | 1 Comment