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Jewish World Review
January 23, 2009
/27 Teves 5769
Making speeches to the Almighty
Some of our preachers are treating the Divine as if He were a little slow. It's a puzzle. The essence of religious faith - all faiths, big and small - is the unshakable belief that the Lord of the Universe is all-knowing, all-caring and all-powerful. Nothing escapes His eye, which is on the sparrow and all other creatures great and small, including us. Surely He knows as much about what's going on in the world as politicians, professors and even pundits.
But most public prayers, meant to be homage to the divine, hardly suggest that the eminent prayers of public prayer actually believe this. The prayers at public events, such as presidential inaugurations, include a recitation of events ("now pay attention, sir"), like a Christmas letter addressed to heaven with the news of who got married, who got a grandchild and who got hired and fired during the year. Wouldn't the Almighty already know about these things? Here's the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of the megamammoth Saddleback Church in California, giving G-d a booster's description of America in his inaugural invocation, lest the Lord confuse America with Belgium or Zimbabwe:
America is "a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership." And in this passage: "Americans are united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all." All true, up to a point, but surely the Lord of All already knows this.
G-d, as many believers reckon, has an author's keen sense of humor - consider His creation of the elephant, the giraffe, Barney Frank, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi - but the Rev. Joseph Lowery, in his inaugural benediction, sounded not like a supplicant addressing a plea to heaven but a stand-up comic auditioning for a gig on Comedy Central: "... we ask You to help us work for the day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man, and when white will embrace what is right ..."
The flowery Mr. Lowery, like Mr. Warren, had a news bulletin, too, just in case the Heavenly Father hasn't been watching Fox News or CNN and hadn't heard about the wreck on Wall Street: "[President Obama] has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate ..."
Prayers on occasions like these are inevitably addressed to an earthly audience rather than to the Almighty. Showing off is OK, demonstrating the prayee's vast familiarity with current events, but care must be taken not to offend anyone listening besides G-d, assuming He is. Christ was the great unmentionable at the inauguration of '09. Mr. Warren went to considerable lengths to avoid giving offense, offering a seminarian's lecture on the various versions of the name of Jesus - "Yeshua, Isa, Jesus, Jesus (hay-SOOS)" - as an introduction to the Lord's Prayer, steeped in humility, whose simple eloquence translated into the incomparable richness of the King James Bible teaches how to pray.
No one does multi-culti better than Anglican divines, mostly missing this time. Billy Graham raised a few high-church Episcopal eyebrows when he boldly proclaimed the name of Christ in his prayer at the National Cathedral in the wake of 9/11. But on this inaugural the Most Rev. Gene Robinson, the celebrated gay bishop of New Hampshire, relegated to a B-list assignment at the Lincoln Memorial, merely prayed in the name of "the G-d of many understandings." (Should that be a lowercase G-d?)
The Jews got short shrift at the Capitol this year with nary a rabbi in sight. The traditional praying lineup is a preacher, a priest and a rabbi, reflecting the nation's religious origins. This year even the atheists got a call-out, when President Obama described America as "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and nonbelievers." This pleased the atheists trying to organize themselves into something of a new denomination.
We're so multi-culti, in fact, that one of the Muslim speakers at an inaugural prayer meeting has been cited by federal prosecutors as having ties to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorists.
Not so long ago, the selection of inaugural preachers was easy. The incoming president merely asked his pastor for a blessing, to lend divinity to serious purpose. Harry Truman, for example, invited his pastor at the First Baptist Church of Washington, and John F. Kennedy invited the Roman Catholic cardinal of Boston. Ike invited his Presbyterian pastor. Life was simpler then. That was before we imagined that instructing heaven was an earthly duty.
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