Sunday, January 18, 2009

"O God Of Our Many Understandings"

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson's prayer at the beginning of today's inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial:

O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

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.

Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.

Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.

Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. Amen.

The photo above wasn't easy to find. No sign of Bishop Robinson so far at the New York Times or MSNBC. The first openly gay bishop, praying from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the official commencement of Presidential inaugural festivities, is a big story. But HBO didn't broadcast the prayer or even an excerpt in its concert coverage. Fox News reports that HBO, having bought the rights to the event, won't release the video and audio of +Gene's prayer.

Why are the media virtually muzzling him? (The Rev. Susan Russell recaps some print and on-line coverage here.) Perhaps it's because the only Christians the secular media want to lift up are the ones with whom they disagree or who are easily parodied or discounted. Whatever you think about +Gene or the controversies in the Episcopal Church over gay and lesbian people, a progressive Christian with a gentle spirit and a prayer-full of inoffensive and practical advice for us and the President-elect -- a pastor who could give faith a good name in a faith-skeptical elite culture -- evidently doesn't fit the media profile.

Many criticized Bishop Robinson for choosing not to mention Christ and invoking the "God of many understandings." It's a difficult call for anyone praying in a public setting outside of church who wants to be true to his or her faith tradition without being offensive to those who don't share it. How many thousands of Jews, Muslims, Hindi, and Buddhists were listening from the Washington mall, how many tens of millions watching on television? No one praying in such a setting wants to exclude anyone.

Of course the bishop could have injected a Christian element his prayer by speaking of God's forgiving, redeeming, sanctifying work. That he chose not to was a little disappointing. Yet what will Pastor Rick Warren choose to do on Tuesday? He faces the same challenge Bishop Robinson did: Honoring his beliefs without leaving out any faithful persons. In Southern Baptist style, will Pastor Rick use his national prayer as an altar call to those who have not accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior, or will he find a way to include a grace note about those who believe but aren't Christians?

As for videos such as this, which accuses +Gene of being satanic for honoring other faiths, I'd say this: If there is a being called Satan (which I definitely don't rule out), and if that being wanted people to think a certain way about Christians in order ultimately to destroy the faith, he would cause such videos to be produced and identified as Christian.

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