Inauguration Day Photos

I finally got a few pictures put together on how I spent Inauguration Day 2009. Let me preface any and all pictures by saying: It was 19 degrees on Tuesday in D.C. and the wind was blowing.

I didn’t have tickets to any official events. I tried but failed to get a press pass for the day. I didn’t go to any balls–but watched folks in tuxes and gowns who were riding the subway downtown.

If you click on the photo below it should take you to the album of my Inauguration Day photos. I suggest you play them as a slideshow.

Inauguration Day Photos

“Harmonies of Liberty” by Rev. Sharon E. Watkins

Rev. Sharon Watkins is the general minister (top dog) of the Disciples of Christ denomination and a Sojourners board member.  She was the first woman ever to offer the homily at the National Prayer Service. She sharon-watkinswebpreached yesterday at the National Cathedral on biblical passages Isaiah 58:6-12 and Matthew 22:6-40.  I emailed with Sharon last week and she was hard at work on her sermon. I think she hit exactly the right note for the moment and let the prophetic and liberating voice of the biblical passages have their power in our present times—she let Isaiah and Jesus have their say.

Additionally, Sharon referred to Jill Biden as “Doctor” Biden, rather than “Mrs.” A nice touch. She was personal, warm, funny. She brought in Muslim voices by mentioning “A Common Word Between Us” and Jewish voices with Emma Lazarus. She referenced Wellesly English professor Katherine Lee Bates, author of “America the Beautiful,” who was in a long-term relationship with Katherine Corman. She built her reflection around a Cherokee parable that, I suggest, communicates to all regardless of religious tradition. She made room for Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the triumphant poem of James Weldon Johnson. She quoted President Obama back to himself, which is a magnificent and simple rhetorical dynamic that can keep him rooted in his best nature.

I think she did a fantastic job – and contributed to the great oratory tradition to which we are returning. Thanks, Sharon.

Read Rev. Watkins sermon below:

Mr. President and Mrs. Obama, Mr. Vice President and Dr. Biden, and your families, what an inaugural celebration you have hosted! Train ride, opening concert, service to neighbor, dancing till dawn . . . And yesterday . . . With your inauguration, Mr. President, the flame of America’s promise burns just a little brighter for every child of this land! There is still a lot of work to do, and today the nation turns its full attention to that work. As we do, it is good that we pause to take a deep spiritual breath. It is good that we center for a moment.

What you are entering now, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President, will tend to draw you away from your ethical center. But we, the nation that you serve, need you to hold the ground of your deepest values, of our deepest values. Beyond this moment of high hopes, we need you to stay focused on our shared hopes, so that we can continue to hope, too. We will follow your lead.

Continue reading ““Harmonies of Liberty” by Rev. Sharon E. Watkins”

Watching the Inaugural Concert at Busboys & Poets

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On Sunday, I went to Busboys and Poets restaurant to hear Joe Ross read his poem “Imagine the Shock” from the new collection Poetic Voices Beyond Borders. Robert Giron (publisher) and Melissa Tuckey (Split this Rock organizer) decided on a change of plans and rescheduled the poetry reading because the Inaugural concert was playing live on the big screen TV in the Langston Hughes Room where the reading was to be held. It was packed with rapt enthusiasts watching the concert and singing along.

The photo above is of the room. Barack Obama was giving his speech at the concert. A joyful roomful cheered him on. The wall on the right side of the Langston Room is a collage mural called The Peace and Struggle wall.

Creek Art: Stone Bees Build Hive

I took this photo on Friday of this week in Rock Creek Park in D.C. Inspired by Joe Ross’s wonderful winter picture on his blog header, I thought I’d take a walk in the sparse woods. Something caught my eye down in the creek. Stunning. I drive the same route on Broad Branch Road through the Park every Friday morning and pass this spot each time. I’ve never seen this object before. Maybe the frozen white creek water made it stand out. But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there last Friday.

Stone bees by Rose Marie Berger Jan 2009
Stone bees by Rose Marie Berger Jan 2009

Apparently, someone has been busy creating amid the long stark shadows of the maples and oaks. It’s either a winter hive made by stone bees or the little people from the Emerald Isle are practicing their corbeling to make a monastic hut. Blessings on the artist practicing creek art. I think there are some other random acts of art happening in the woods of Rock Creek. If you spot them, send me a photo.

Rev. King: Christian Radical

I loved reading Joseph Ross’s blog post Dr. King in 2009. It’s an excellent reminder for us all. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. King saw America’s economic system creating a nearly permanent under-class. This, he saw, as a gross injustice, this willingness to allow whole segments of our population to remain poorly educated, badly treated in the social realm, and unfairly treated as consumers, all resulting in a horribly unequal economic state. Many of us forget that the reason he was in Memphis in April of 1968, when he was killed, was not to rally for racial equality, but to support the sanitation workers’ strike and their “I Am A Man” campaign.

If non-violence and poverty reduction were the twin centers of his social strategy, what would Dr. King say to America in 2009?

Read the whole post here.

And I’d add to Joe’s reflections the quote in The Washington Post from King colleague Rev. Joseph Lowery:

They have made Martin a glorified social worker, and they have almost made our young folks believe that all Martin did was go around dreaming. He was a nonviolent militant. He was a Christian radical.

And for a great video to lift your spirits, watch Lowery’s address at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Prophetic, funny, brave, and eloquent. (I love when he “critiques” President Bush, who is sitting right behind him.)

A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.

Gandhi to Israel: ‘Adopt the Matchless Weapon of Nonviolence’

In a 1946 editorial in the Indian newspaper Harijan, Mohandas Gandhi wrote about the complicated situation of Israel and Palestine. Jews had just been systematically decimated in the Holocaust. Many of those who survived fled to Palestine. In 1942, Zionist leaders made plans to found a Jewish state after the war. gandhiIn 1945, Palestinians receive representation in the newly formed League of Arab States. In 1947, the U.N. passed a resolution that would partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and establish Jerusalem as an international city. In 1948, war broke out in Palestine. 700,000 Palestinians were forced to leave their homes. Israel declared itself a state. Into this context Gandhi spoke:

Hitherto I have refrained practically from saying anything public regarding the Jew-Arab controversy. I have done so for good reasons. That does not mean any want of interest in the question, but it does mean that I do not consider myself sufficiently equipped with knowledge of the purpose. … I do believe that the Jews have been cruelly wronged by the world. “Ghetto” is, so far as I am aware, the name given to Jewish locations in many parts of Europe. But for their heartless persecution, probably no question of return to Palestine would ever have arisen. The world should have been their home, if only for the sake of their distinguished contribution to it

But, in my opinion, they have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain and now with the aid of naked terrorism. Their citizenship of the world should have and would have made them honored guests of any country. Their thrift, their varied talent, their great industry should have made them welcome anywhere. It is a blot on the Christian world that they have been singled out, owing to a wrong reading of the New Testament, for prejudice against them. “If an individual Jew does a wrong, the whole Jewish world is to blame for it.” If an individual Jew like Einstein makes a great discovery or another composes unsurpassable music, the merit goes to the authors and not to the community to which they belong.

No wonder that my sympathy goes out to the Jews in their unenviably sad plight. But one would have thought, adversity would teach them lessons of peace. Why should they depend upon American money or British arms for forcing themselves on an unwelcome land? Why should they resort to terrorism to make good their forcible landing in Palestine? If they were to adopt the matchless weapon of non-violence whose use their best prophets have taught and which Jesus the Jew who gladly wore the crown of thorns bequeathed to a groaning world, their case would be the world’s, and I have no doubt that among the many things that the Jews have given to the world, this would be the best and the brightest. It is twice blessed. It will make them happy and rich in the true sense of the word and it will be a soothing balm to the aching world.

The fighting is still going on. Hamas is lobbing rockets. Iran et al are smuggling them better ones. The world’s second best military, the Israeli Defense Force, is indiscriminately bombing Gazans back to the Stone Age. And simple flesh and blood people – disproportionately Palestinians, disproportionately children – are getting blown to bits.

What can we do to inaugurate a cease-fire and pray for peace unceasingly?

The Gandhi Reader: A Source Book of His Life and Writings Edited by Homer A. Jack AMS Press, New York, 1956; pp. 324-326

Elizabeth Alexander’s Prep for Inaugural Poem

Yale poet Elizabeth Alexander will give the inaugural poem at President Obama’s swearing in. She spoke on the Lehrer NewsHour about her preparation:15-alexanderforweb

“My parents were very committed to civil rights, worked their whole lives toward the goals of the civil rights movement. And, so, of course, they took me when I was a baby to the March on Washington.

And to think that here, in — in that same space in Washington, D.C., we’re going to be at a quite different moment, that in some ways is the civil rights movement coming not to total fruition, but at least coming to a moment where we can stop and say that some remarkable progress has been made, is a beautiful circle.”

Watch the video here.

“I think that poetry, cross-culturally, is one of the ways that people tell the story of who we are, of who they are. So, if you look at praise songs in various African countries, if you look at “The Canterbury Tales,” if you look at “The Odyssey,” these are all ways that people have said in verse: This is who we are. This is our story. This is how we came to this moment.

So, I think that’s one of the eternal purposes of poetry. And I think, also, hopefully, what poetry does is distill language with a kind of precision that reminds us what it means to take care with the word, that the word has tremendous power, that each word matters, and that we — if we are mindful with our language to speak to each other across the many differences between us, that that is the way that I think we’re more able to communicate precisely with one another.”

Revoking Blagojevich’s Poetic License?

I have to say that I admire Rod Blagojevich’s steadfastness as a patron of the arts. His deft use of poetry in all things political is a shining example of how a strong liberal arts education can serve one well in positions of responsibility and leadership.

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Following his impeachment this week by the Illinois House of Representatives (114-1), Governor  Blagojevich concluded his near-messianic final press conference with another flash of poetic insight. (Last year he recited the opening lines of “If” by that manly Colonialist curmudgeon Rudyard Kipling, who also, by way of reminder wrote “The White Man’s Burden,” which Blagojevich did not even need to recite aloud.) Blagojevich ended his stint this week as Illinois governor with lines from Alfred Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” concluding:

And though we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Comparing himself to the epic hero Ulysses is not out of character for the governor. (In fact, he had is own Greek chorus standing at his side.) And attempting to sell a senate seat, shaking down children’s hospitals, gagging a newspaper’s editorial board must indeed have felt like waging a war against the gods of fate. It makes sense that former Gov. Blagojevich concluded with the end of Tennyson’s poem. The beginning of it might have cut a little too close to home:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an agèd wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I like Jon Stewart’s idea of a Senior Poetry Advisor. I think President Obama should appoint one. There’s definitely a poem out there for every political occasion and no one wants to make a poetical faux paux on their first–or last–day of political office.

“Be Still and Know” contemplative prayer video

One of the great things about working at Sojourners is always getting to do something new. Here’s a video made by our assistant editor Jeannie Choi and our interactive media producer Matt Hildreth interviewing me about contemplative prayer.

I had just come back from accompanying a friend at “Divorce Court” when I made this video – so the chance to “breath in and breath out” was greatly appreciated! Hope you like it. (Read Ruth Haley Barton’s article on contemplative prayer here.)