A couple reactions, first, before some more gathered thoughts (I'm preaching and presiding in chapel tomorrow at Luther so that will focus my thoughts, too).
First, the moment belongs so deeply to the civil rights leaders who helped our nation come to this moment--a moment they never thought they'd see. So many African Americans from all over the nation went to Washington because they needed to be there, to see if for themselves in order to really know that it had come to pass. On NPR a reporter said she'd talked with three associates of Dr. King, all there in Washington, and she said, despite themselves, they all cried. It was just so profoundly healing, reaching back into the depths of their memories of oppression, segregation, and struggle. As Wil-i-am says in his fabulous election night song and video, It's A New Day, "Well I went to sleep last night, tired from the fight, I've been fighting for tomorrow all my life, I woke up this mornin' feeling alright, cause the dreams I've been dreaming is finally come true."
Second, Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery both did a great job. They were, in a way, both so representative of the traditions they represent. However, it was not surprising or controversial to have a civil rights veteran such as Rev. Lowery play this prestigious role, especially from the perspective of the left. I cried as he began with the powerful words of the great hymn Lift Every Voice and Sing. I laughed as he ended with the corny 1970s rhyme about not keeping brown down, yellow being mellow and white doing right. Warren didn't make me laugh or cry, but the expansive vision of his prayer shocked me since he choice was so loudly condemned by many as a bigot. He did close with the Lord's prayer, and it would be unusual for an evangelical pastor not to name-check his Lord and Savior somehow. This would be a broadly ecumenical way to do it, and the prayer itself, even if taught by Jesus, focuses on God. So I liked it, and was surprised by it in a good way, as I hoped, because he reached out to consider care for the least of these, and of the earth, themes he's been working on the last decade. The guy is hugely important for the conservative block of Christianity and is a thought leader who is moving gradually. . I've blogged about his selection being a positive (here) and encourage you to read this amazing Washington Post article by Sally Quinn who makes the case very eloquently for Warren's development.
Third, the moment. I loved the stumble between Chief justice Roberts and President Obama as they started with the oath. A stumble that fits his own admission that the work ahead will include mistakes. But the oath went on, and then his speech. Reactions are mixed including this interesting observation from prominent Bush speech writer David Gergen:
"It was not as lofty as I would have anticipated," said Gergen, noting that Obama had visited sites such as the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration. He said that while previous presidents had given inaugural speeches "speaking to the ages," Obama's speech "was speaking to this generation. It was very rooted in the here and now."
I love that, actually, because the great challenge is not 'for the ages' but as President Obama said, "with this generation of Americans." His speech didn't seem his best, on first hearing, and yet he hit notes were powerful, even unprecedented. He in a sense called us to grow up and give ourselves away for the good of others. He quoted part (set aside childish things) of this verse from St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:11
"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me."
Lots of amazing lines, including
--calls to remember those who 'endured the lash of the whip'
--the sobering challenge to corrupt leaders around the world whose people 'will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy,'
--the acknowledgment of our diversity as a strength, including religious diversity that includes 'Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers'
--to the people of poor nations with whom he pledged to work side-by-side "to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow,'
--the powerful evoking of those in the military whose service is a model for us all.
Here, he got me, as I was thinking this was the usual 'props to the troops' moment but then, saying these soldiers 'embody the spirit of service,' turned to say it is 'this spirit that must inhabit us all'. That commitment to the spirit of service is 'the price and the promise of citizenship.'
Finally, he said the source of our confidence is 'the knowledge that God calls on us.'
I say in response: President Obama, to answer that call we need to get on our boots and, as Martin Luther put it, 'feel . . . all the unjust suffering of the innocent, with which the world is everywhere filled to overflowing. [We] must fight, work, pray, and --if [we] cannot do more--have heartfelt sympathy.'