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“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.”

~~ Elliott Larson ~~

Octamom asked: Where do your expectations lie? Are they from within or without?

We were seated on the stage after playing patriotic selections as the crowd was gathering and taking their seats. We would remain in our appointed places throughout the ceremony to perform a few more tunes, including my favorite, the Armed Forces Salute. It is a medley of the songs of the various branches of the Armed Forces during which those who have served stand and are recognized. I always enjoy seeing members of the audience pop up proudly, sometimes wearing uniforms that ceased to fit properly many years earlier, shoulders back, smiling broadly.

The Veterans’ Day commemorative celebration is an annual tradition here in the little village of Lodi in which the Lodi Community Band proudly participates. The ceremony also features guest speakers and recognition of local dignitaries. The program begins with an invocation and a benediction signals its conclusion, each offered by a different local religious leader.

On that particular morning, I was seated next to a good friend and fellow flutist who happens to be Jewish. A well-meaning but misguided local Protestant pastor began the invocation with “Let us pray” and then proceeded to ask for blessings upon the assembled crowd, our nation, our leaders, our troops, etc. I held my breath, silently willing him not to say the words I feared he would include. When he said them, I cringed in embarrassment and disgust.

Just before ending with “Amen,” he said: “In Jesus’ name we pray.”

I breathed a heavy sigh as I shook my head in disappointment. My friends’ eyes met mine and I silently mouthed, “I’m sorry.” She just smiled and shrugged her shoulders. Later, she explained, “I’m used to it.” She shouldn’t have to be.

I experienced the same shame, revulsion, and anger during the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I was furious when I learned that he had selected Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation. President Obama’s commitment to civil rights had never come into question and was, in fact, the primary reason I wholeheartedly supported his candidacy. As President, he has outlined an impressive agenda which includes expanding the reach of hate crime statutes, inserting sexual orientation and gender identity protections into the federal laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace (long in place in California law), federal confirmation of the rights of same-sex couples, including the right to adopt, and repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy. So the selection of a notoriously hate-mongering homophobe like Warren was conspicuously at odds with our new President’s ideals.

The text of Warren’s invocation was unremarkable in its request for blessings upon and guidance for our nation’s new leader, including reference to his status as our first African-American President. Warren also stated:

Help us, oh 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.

When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all.

May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

Unfortunately, he added,”I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life,” invoking the name of Jesus Christ and leading the crowd in recitation of The Lord’s Prayer.

At Hebrew Union College in New York, Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman watched the inaugural with his students and offered a generous critique of Warren’s prayer. He told reporters that he appreciated Warren’s “heartfelt attempt” to be inclusive “while remaining true to his own sense of Christian conscience.” Hoffman added, “His reference, therefore, to Jesus as the one who had changed his life was clearly intended to allow non-Christians to feel themselves still included on the ground that this was Pastor Warren’s personal testimony.” But he also noted that when Warren reached the end of the prayer, “there was a quiet in the room because at that moment he lost us.”

In contrast, Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson offered the invocation during the celebration at the Lincoln Memorial the previous Sunday. (Ironically, HBO did not broadcast the prayer he delivered.) He told Belief.net that he was “horrified about how aggressively Christian” past inaugural prayers had been, noting that if he were not a Christian, he would have been “screaming at the TV set, ‘Hey, what about me!’” Robinson’s sensitivity is no doubt born, at least in part, of the fact that he is the Episcopal church’s first openly gay Bishop. In fact, he expressed outrage when Obama selected Warren, calling the choice “a slap in the face” to the GLBT community, especially after Robinson endorsed OBama’s candidacy. After being invited to participate in the festivities, Robinson commended Obama’s commitment to inclusiveness.

As a Christian and civil rights attorney, I was awed by the fact that Obama took the oath of office with his hand upon a Bible once owned by Abraham Lincoln. However, Jessica Gottlieb saw it differently.

As Barack Obama placed his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s bible I shuddered, but not for the reasons you might imagine. Barack Obama pledged his devotion to our country by placing his hand on a book that excludes my family. Barack Obama gave one of the nations most hateful and divisive preachers the largest pulpit a holy man could ever dream of. Barack Obama mentioned other religions, but our nation asked Jesus to bless him. Barack Obama spent the night praying with us all, and woke up and asked for more.

Frankly, I’d forgotten Obama’s blackness until I watched him get sworn into office. . . Obama looked black again only because he was surrounded by whiteness, by middle aged men with more paunch than hair. . .

What I never saw, what I never felt, was me. I’m okay with that, because I think that the person who will save us all is the next president who will take the oath of office and affirm on their honor to do good things in this lifetime, and ask poets and scientists to speak for them. Perhaps our next president will offer me some of the hope I’m looking for; the separation of church and state.

Practicing to take the Oath of Office.

Growing up in Lodi in the 1960’s and 70’s, prayer was simply part of ceremonial occasions including my graduations from local public schools. We enjoyed “Christmas” and “Easter” vacations from those schools without giving another thought to those designations. Thankfully, things are much different now.

Folks hold varying opinions about prayer during public governmental events such as the inauguration of our President. Some believe it is perfectly acceptable to pray and do not place any restrictions upon the individual asked to offer the prayer. Consistent with this outlook, as Rabbi Hoffman suggested, it was fine for Warren to invoke his own professed belief in Jesus. However, even under this theory, Warren went too far when he led the Lord’s Prayer.

Still others hold the opinion that prayer is fine so long as it is a nonspecific, all-inclusive intercession.

Lastly, many Americans are calling for the elimination of prayer at public events. I fall into this group when it comes to any governmental function. It is completely unacceptable for government at any level to become enmeshed in or endorse any religious practice or belief. So I am at a loss to understand why our government has allowed the tradition of including prayer to continue for so long, especially when the prayer specifically targets one religious group to the exclusion of all others as did Warren’s invocation.

My expectation for President Barack Obama’s inaugural ceremony was that it would be an inclusive celebration of the diversity that characterizes the United States. And in many respects, it was just that.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers. 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 is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.

President Barack Obama

I was angry about the inaugural because my expectation — that President Obama would transform that ceremony to a greater degree than he did — was frustrated. However, I appreciate that he must build consensus and could not begin his term of office by divisively casting aside every tradition that Americans expect to be included in that grand spectacle during which we witness the transfer of power. In spite of my disappointment, I have not lost faith in him or his ability to lead.

My expectation is that President Obama will continue reminding Americans of the value of our diversity and, as part of his efforts, refrain from including such overt demonstrations of religious belief and experience in future governmental functions. Expressions of religious belief have no place amid the official functions of a government that is, by definition, of, by and for all the people of this great country, regardless of their religious convictions or lack thereof.

Finally, my hope is that I will never again find myself turning to a friend and colleague to mouth the words “I’m sorry” because that person has been made to feel left out of a commemoration in which we are both participants or observers. Especially when that celebration if of something as distinctly, inclusively, and uniquely American as a tribute to United States veterans or the inauguration of a President.


7 Comments

  1. As an Australian can I start by saying that generally we are less public in our religious beliefs and less concerned about their expression than what Americans appear to be. We are no less a polyglot nation, but we are one that has not known the diviseness of Civil War nor have we had the race problems born in slavery. Our slaves, including some of my ancestors, were convicts who at the end of their term at least ended up with the full rights of citizenship. So your customs seem somewhat alien to us at times.

    I wish your country well. I hope your new President lives up to the expectations that everyone seems to place on him, but even if he doesn’t, that does not mean he will have been a failure.

    Loz´s most recent post: Nerds and DNA

  2. A man is judged not by beliefs, but by his deeds.Give some time to pass and we’ll see (or won’t) the promised magic.

  3. pet snakes

    I don’t see what the big deal is. We have freedom of religious practice in the United States. And while I don’t know why anyone would practice any aside from Christianity we’re given that freedom by both the Constitution, and more importantly by God Himself (though there is a price to be paid).

    What people try to do is bastardize the 1st Amendment into saying that we have to live in a culture entirely free of religion. That’s not what it says. It says we are free to practice our chosen religion, even in a public setting.

    Barack Obama is a born again Christian. It’s a pretty well established fact. Not every Christian may agree with every part of his theology (example his stance on the abortion vs life issue) but he is still a Christian. All the left wing liberals who voted for him bought into this idea that he wasn’t really a Christian. I don’t know if they thought he was a Muslim or something else, but many people were shocked, appalled not only that he invited Warren, but that Obama actually seemed to participate in the prayer.

    I can’t help but wonder how many in the anti-Christian circles who trumpeted Obama are having some second thoughts, or at least a tiny nagging feeling of concern down deep in the pit of their stomachs.

    As for me I think it’s great he had Warren there, and that to some extent he’s actually showing to people he really is a Christian. My concern was that he was going to be a Christian just long enough to get the votes.

  4. computer repair

    I’m no longer phase by the things America does. Many call them selves atheist but have no problem swearing to God. Others believe in heaven, but not the God who created it.
    They aren’t bad people, just different beliefs. In the end I gave up caring. As long as their deeds are good, then let it be. I say give Obama some time and see how things play out.

    computer repair´s most recent post: Basic Computer Care – Computer Cleaning

  5. Ernie Small

    well written article, my friend. hopefully someday we will end this need to act as if there is a consensus amongst everybody as to all things spiritual, and i look forward to the day when we are close enough to that change that we can start to speak out more against it, as opposed to having to so often endure it quietly so as to avoid unnecessary controversy.

  6. George Loughton

    I personally think that the church and the religion should not be behind the state / government / presidential actions. The religion is a private matter of a person. The president’s task is to govern the country, not to get involved in religious polemics. But if he can get us out of the crisis and prove that he’s the man to do the job, I don’t see a bad thing in it.

  7. USA Barstools and Chairs

    I really don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to say a Christ-invoked prayer anymore. Christianity is the religion with the most followers here in America, after all. And besides, what about diversity? Why can’t non-Christians and the non-religious celebrate diversity when it includes something Christian, or religious in general?

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