The Strength of the American Soul

My daughter, Bethany, was at President Obama’s inauguration.  With a ticket.  We sent her a text message during the festivities:  “I see the dignitaries, I hear the band, but I can’t see you.  Wave for me!”, and later, “They’re taking a satellite picture of the Mall.  Be sure to smile!” (Check her blog for all her adventures!  View her Flickr inauguration slide show here.)

Satellite Image of the Capital Mall Crowd at Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

Satellite Image of the Capital Mall Crowd at Barack Obama's Presidential Inauguration

Photo Credit: GeoEye and MSNBC.com

Yes, it has been a joyous day.  A joyous day!

Welcome, President Barack Obama.  This man most improbable!

The largest crowd in inaugural history.  One estimate says 1.9 million in the Mall.  The National Park Service is going to make an exception about not counting and crowds and count the crowd.

I looked at the crowd.  I thought about the crowd.  Humor me, here.  Think about the crowd for a moment.  Think hard.  What was distinctive about this crowd? Not its historical presence.  That’s obvious.  We’ll all remember the pictures of the crowd, along with where we were on this day.

Look closely:

Obama Inauguration Crowd and U.S. Capital Building

Obama Inauguration Crowd and U.S. Capital Building

Photo Credit: AP & BBC.com

Here’s what I see.  1.9 million individuals who each made a decision to attend.  Not one person was there because he or she was forced to attend to support the regime or the politburo or to create an illusion of unanimity for the global television audience.

They came because they could.  They came because they wanted to.  They came driven by a personal odyssey with a million different reasons.  They came because to ignore the call to stand there at that time would diminish them for the rest of their lives.  And for those of us who did not walk onto the Capital Mall?  Were we diminished?  Not in the least, for they were our proxy.  E pluribus Unum.  One out of many.  We are the Union.

The strength of the American soul is not our Constitution, our laws, or our branches of government.  They are all essential tools.  The strength of the American soul, the very genius of the American experiment, is that we do not fear to gather. Yes, I know, we are not perfect at that, although on this day we proved the walls of racism are crumbling.   And on this day, when Barack Obama took the oath of office, those walls mortared by fear seemed to be dissolving before our very eyes.

How many millions around the world, fearing for their lives or to avoid arrest, secretly watched or listened to our moment in history, aching for just one moment of that freedom of decision, of will, of assembly?

We gathered without fear. No one feared for their lives.  No one was even arrested.

Our soul as a nation is stronger today.  We should not be altogether surprised, for we gather every four years for the great Presidential Inauguration rituals.  But our world is so different than it was even eight years ago.  We face tyrants who use brutality and fear all over the world to weaken us, who strike from the shade, who love the rule of death to divide, isolate, and frighten us from gathering at all.

Today they failed.  They failed by underestimating the strength of the American soul.  Our will to gather is so strong, that we prepared to defeat the most nefarious action they could imagine.  We gathered.  Prepared.  In a peaceable assembly of millions.  Without fear.

Our soul as a nation is stronger today.  The world knows it.  Most importantly, we know it.

My Take: Why Rick Warren is Praying at Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Back before the election, I wrote that Americans were going to have to get used to having a smart president, a man who thinks out of a complex frame of reference. He is unlike the current Occupant of the White House, whose thinking is at the best of times unidimensional. The past eight years clearly illustrate him at the worst of times.

Don’t expect President Barack Obama to think or make decisions like George W. Bush. The Neo-con Republicans are already gnashing their teeth over having to deal with a president who can out-think them on just about any topic. But those of us who supported Obama must also change our perspective about what to expect from this president, the president. He will think and do things that surprise us. It will take a while to adjust, but soon, I hope our unease will return to the confidence and enthusiasm we felt so strongly when we elected him to the highest office in the land.

When I heard that president-elect Obama had chosen the well-known evangelical pastor, Rick Warren, to pray the invocation at the inauguration, I was, for a moment, stunned. During the campaign Republicans had a field-day with Obama’s answers at the Saddleback Forum. No one will doubt that Warren and Obama are ideologically distant in a multitude of ways. It’s a safe bet that Warren didn’t vote for Obama.

But in one extremely important respect they are alike: they are both Christians. Why is this important? It’s the whole Barack HUSSEIN Obama issue. The Far Right fabricated accusations that Obama is an undercover jihadist Muslim, ready to lead the country down the road into the arms of al Qaeda. Through the course of the campaign they hammered on this falsehood ad nauseum, and still do, for that matter. Reality is not the issue here. Their paranoid delusion is based on the same kind of fallacious reasoning that kept the world “flat” for several millennia. Millions of Americans still believe Obama is a follower of Mohammad (with my apologies to all Muslims of good faith), even though Obama has repeatedly denied it and stated unequivocally that he is a practicing Christian .

Enter Rick Warren. First of all, Obama has said repeatedly–REPEATEDLY–he would work to bring all Americans back together, that includes those who opposed him politically–and theologically. Warren is the face of a huge body of evangelical Christians, and though he has his critics from the Far Right (and the Left, of course), none of them can legitimately dispute that he is a born-again Christian by their own definition. By itself, that could be Obama’s reason to invite Warren, and it would be consistent with what he promised to do. And it is not intended to be a slap in any of his supportive constituents’ faces.

But Warren’s presence on the inaugural platform is also a repudiation of the Far-Right’s unfounded lies. The man who will be praying for the new president of the United States is a clear signal to them: Christian Rick Warren praying for Christian Barack Obama.

Jesus said, “To him who has ears, let him hear.” Actually he said it a whole bunch of times. It is sad how many in the Far Right, who profess to believe in that Jesus, have plugged their ears so their world will stay flat.

For the rest of us: Obama promised us change. This is one of them. Get used to it.

ADDENDUM: My colleague, M.S., over at Greeningwood correctly points out that although Rick Warren is giving the invocation at Obama’s and Biden’s inauguration, the benediction will be pronounced by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery (b 1921), who along with MLK founded the SCLC. He is a beloved and much-honored leader of the American Civil Rights Movement.