Observations on Theology, Culture and the Hosier family

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

THE POWER OF WORDS


So, what did you think?

President Obama's inaugural speech seems to have been met with a generally positive response. The two poles of the Guardian, and the Telegraph both write glowingly of what was said, while recognizing the challenges of what lies ahead.

For me though it fell a little flat. From Aretha Franklin struggling to sing in the icy Washington cold (it was amusing to watch the TV commentators almost frozen to their seats and shivering through their comments) to the sombre lunch time address, no doubt impacted by the collapse of two senators (for those of superstitious bent this can hardly have been a good omen). While Obama's speech was solid and serious, highlighting the challenges that need to be tackled, I didn't feel it gripped the heart in the way some of his campaign speeches did. Perhaps this was deliberate - as the Telegraph puts it, 'a serious speech for serious times'. But I was waiting for the punchline equivalent of JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you but what can you do for your country." After two months of work, I thought Obama and his speech writing team would pull it off.

Anyway, now is the time for action, as well as words. Let's see what this presidency can deliver.

I did think that Rick Warren did well though. For all the flack that has surrounded the public prayers said over the past few days, the pastor from Orange County, California rose to the occasion, didn't compromise, and set an example in how we should pray for our leaders. (Mark Driscoll sums it up well here.) This is the prayer:

Almighty God, our Father:
Everything we see, and everything we can’t see, exists because of you alone.
It all comes from you, it all belongs to you, it all exists for your glory.
History is your story.
The Scripture tells us, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.
Now today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time, we celebrate a hinge point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States.
We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where a son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.
Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity.
Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.
Help us, O 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.
We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.
I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life—Yeshua, 'Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus—who taught us to pray:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"What did you think?"

I think, perhaps, Robert Fisk summed it up well some time ago: "Same stage, different actor." I hope he's wrong, that some genuine change can come - but the institutional backdrop; US intellectual culture; long-term policies going back to at least WWII; and other issues going back to the country's founding are all so entrenched it's hard to see what even a man with Obama's unusual (for a man in his position) outlook on life can achieve, even if he really wanted to.

And I keep reminding myself that while half his family may have ties to so-called humble origins, Obama himself is decidedly the product of an American education, including elite contributions from Columbia-Harvard, and has lived in the US his whole life.

On the style side, I agree with you that the speech was disappointingly flat.

"Anyway, now is the time for action, as well as words. Let's see what this presidency can deliver."

Wise words indeed, and congratulations to him and Americans on their first Black president. When will we see our first Black or Asian Prime Minister? I'm not holding my breath.

Matthew Hosier said...

One slight correction - he did spend part of his childhood in Indonesia.

Anonymous said...

Did I ever tell you about my scaling the heights of yoghurt- and muesli-eating wonderousness? Yes, I got a letter in the hallowed Grauniad last year. I can surely now die a happy Leftist.

Thanks for your small correction, correction is simply the least pleasant way to learn. That said, I'm certain you knew that I was only testing... Heh =)