1/22/2009

Rick's Bland Prayer

Rev. Joseph Lowery at Obama State BallImage by talkradionews via FlickrHat tip again to Pam who notes on her blog a critique by Daniel Schultz of Street Prophets of Rick Warren's lukewarm and flaccid "prayer" at the Inauguration and why it paled against Dr. Lowery's uplifting, humorous and truly inclusive benediction:
Warren bent over backwards to be inclusive, and that was the trouble. He was so bland and general as to be useless (Rev. 3:16: "because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth").

Rev. Lowery was rich and deep and multivocal: one friend counted no less than four hymns tucked away inside his benediction. But not Warren. He was sunny and bright and had at best half a voice. He has obviously not learned that you have to scratch deeper than the surface to embrace the whole. It's nice that he worked in the Jewish sh'ma and part of an Islamic prayer into his text, it's nice that he name-checked Martin Luther King among the cloud of witnesses. But those are what you learn in Ecumenical and Interfaith Studies 101. I see no evidence that Warren took on a different worldview as he wrote his prayer. There was only the determinedly optimistic vision of Jesus-as-Universal-Nice-Guy. I half expected to see Pat Boone show up in heavy metal gear to help the struggling preacher along.

On such a grand occasion, it takes a daring preacher to hold his or her own. You have to be willing to make the most alarming pronouncements about God and God's intentions to capture the audience's attention and let them know that something important is taking place.

... fumbled through a recitation of variations on the name of Jesus, followed by a clumsy transition to the Lord's Prayer. Any pastor worth his salt knows that you only drag that out when

1. you want to conclude with participation from the congregation, and/or

2. when you don't know what else to say.

I'm guessing that Warren was going for 1., and didn't quite realize that it would fall flat with a very public crowd made up of all faiths and none, leaving him to appear as if 2. were the case.

I was truly moved by the voice of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery ringing out from the Civil Rights movement to the present day. While I didn't catch all the hymn references, the ones I did peg took me back to the times in my life when I've shared the faith of my African-American friends and shared the experience of having the Confederate flag waved in my face by white supremacist "Christians" who hate me as much for being gay as they hate them for being black.

It is that shared experience that allowed me to revel in Dr. Lowery's benediction in a way that left some of my white straight friends scratching their heads in confusion or outright disdain.

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