Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Find the Religion! Inauguration Edition

And now, it's time for everyone's favorite game: Find the Religion!

1. Rick Warren gave the opening prayer, as his usual self: bombastically humble, mostly inoffensive and slightly smug. Despite concerns about his some of his "anti-change" politics, he played nice; he referenced Martin Luther King, and didn't drop any Bush-style Evangelical "code words." (Then again, my Evangel-dar isn't that well-honed.) He closed, Protestant-style, with the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:5-13).

2. Aretha Franklin sang a couple verses of "My Country Tis of Thee," written by New England Baptist pastor and poet Samuel F. Smith in 1843. Although intended purely as a "patriotic hymn," the song is a fixture in many American church hymnals. (It does use more religious imagery in the later verses.)

3. An all-star classical quartet performed a moving John Williams arrangement of "Simple Gifts," a Shaker hymn from 1848. The Shakers, of course, were a British sect of Quakerism who came to America in 1774 to flee persecution, practice celibacy, dance and make furniture.

4. In the opening lines of his speech, now-President Barack Obama referenced 1 Corinthians 13, as both a metaphor for our troubled times:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And a call to service:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

5. Later on, in what must surely be an inaugural first, Obama acknowledged American followers of the four major world religions, as well as (gasp!) nonbelievers:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

This seemed to me to deliberately evoke Paul's great words in Galatians 3:28, applying them to the body of America, rather than the body of Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

6. Finally, there was Reverend Joseph Lowery's heartfelt benediction, which does not seem to appear on CNN. (Come on, CNN! Keep up!). Lowery, a civil rights activist since the 1950s, opened with the words to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a civil rights anthem and church standard, which appears in the Congressional record as the official African American National Hymn:

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

So... did I miss anything?


MelindaG said...

i liked this post a lot. i keep writing responses and then deleting them - so i'll just leave it at that :)

Denver said...

This was awesome and totally fascinating.

Gabriel Mckee said...

*Four* major world religions? What's Obama got against Buddhists, I'd like to know? :)