Probably my oddest thought of the morning, brought on by the (for me) early hour and the kind of research I’ve done these past few years: I find it interesting that while there were about five padded wooden seats for the key participants of the ceremony, everybody else up there was on plastic folding chairs of a type you might find anywhere. It’s a marked contrast with the physical splendor once considered de rigeur for, say, coronations. There’s no sense that the rest of the First Family are now too special for plastic folding chairs, and no particular glitz for the President himself.
In general, I know there was a lot of pomp and celebration leading up to and following the event, but fundamentally speaking, the inauguration itself is remarkably simple (in its performance as well as its furniture). As I said to kniedzw, the oath felt almost like an anticlimax: the handover of power had slipped by a couple of minutes previously, when the clock struck noon. The quartet finished playing, Obama stood up, and a couple of sentences later it’s done. As rituals go, that’s not much.
Rick Warren: I’m still not happy with that. But I am happy with Joseph Lowery (a civil rights activist whose take on gay marriage apparently boils down to “what in God’s name are you doing wasting your time on the private behavior of loving adults when there are starving children who need your help?”), and also with Gene Robinson, a gay bishop whose invocation on Sunday struck me as very poignant:
Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president. …
Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah. …
That’s a radical sort of prayer — by which I mean it makes me think, not of Christianity, but of Christ, and the pretty radical message he preached, which has been sanded down and made more comfortable over the centuries. Anyway, yes: Warren is something to be angry and disappointed about. But he shouldn’t be allowed to eclipse all the other clerical choices; their voices deserve to be heard, too.
Can anybody tell me what happened to Cheney? I caught some comment about an accident, that’s put him temporarily in a wheelchair.
And finally, the speech. If I were given it to critique, I could find things I would have done a little differently, but overall it was beautiful in both form and content. I love the rhetorical devices that elevate Obama’s words to a kind of poetry, and I love the fact that the hope he preaches isn’t an empty thing of “let’s cross our fingers and hope things get better,” but a call to arms, to roll up our sleeves and make it reality. He managed to criticize past action while maintaining a positive tone, which is a pretty deft trick, and one that I think will serve him well.
The only dark note: I breathed a sigh of relief once it was over, that everything went off safely. I’m going to spend the next four (or eight) years perpetually afraid for that man’s life, and the lives of those around him — sad, but also true. Pray to any divine power you think might be listening, and also to the good men and women of the Secret Service, that this historic change doesn’t end in tragedy.