The Day Has Arrived

Listening on MSNBC, I’ve now heard the words “present” (from Michelle Obama to Laura Bush), “precedent,” “presence” and “President” beautifully confused with each other.

The new President has a presence that sets precedent.  We hope. Oh, we hope.

Lincoln’s 200th birthday next month.  Land of Lincoln.  Lincoln who freed the slaves.  Taking the oath of office on the Lincoln Bible.  Rev. Martin Luther King’s 80th birthday yesterday.  King who spoke from the steps of the Lincoln memorial 41 years ago … and said in a 1964 interview that there could be a black president within the next 40 years.  He wasn’t far wrong.  Michelle Obama’s birthday.  Barack Obama’s grandmother dying the day before his election. Ceasefire in Gaza by noon Eastern Standard time today — a note of cynicism, I’m afraid, in the middle of all this nobility, yet still a tribute to the importance of almost-President Obama.  An old-fashioned whistle-stop train tour in a 1930’s train car.  FDR.

The third president to have a poet write a poem for his election — Robert Frost for JFK and Maya Angelou for Bill Clinton (and someone else for his second inauguration).  Can’t wait to hear what it will be.  I remember listening to Maya Angenou in awe.

Booing the outgoing President?  “Nah-nah-nah-nah, Hey hey, Good-by”?  Bad manners.  I hope that the incoming President will say something about that.  That was rude.

Sasha and Malia with Grandma in tow.  How amazing is that?!  Their ancestors (actual or symbolic, probably no way to tell) helped BUILD that Capitol … as slaves.  A triumphant return.


The closing benediction from Rev. Lowery — what a difference from the opening invocation. I was weeping while he spoke.  He put in SO MUCH, included so many.  He was so real.  Beginning with the third verse of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” the Black National Anthem (which I learned the first verse of way back as a school kid).  That would have been enough.  Just that: Dayyenu.

PRESIDENT (!!!!!  It’s nearly 1pm) Obama’s speech sounded at times more like a State of the Union speech; but as my partner pointed out, he’s been acting as President for some time now.  Though I loved his line about “picking cotton and picking lettuce” — again, another quiet bit of inclusion.

The opening invocation wasn’t too bad, the pastor’s attitude toward gay people like me notwithstanding … UNTIL he decided at the end that he had to ask it all in Jesus’s name and recite the Lord’s Prayer.

You don’t get to do that when you are representing the whole country, I’m sorry.  We’ve had this conversation in Troy over and over around the interfaith Martin Luther King celebration: Asking Baptist preachers not to do things “in Jesus’s name” is really hard.  They understand that there are non-Christians there, but they also feel compelled to speak from and testify to their faith.  And perhaps because it feels un-gractious to kvetch about the way that a black pastor in a black church celebrates a black hero (who was also a minister), those of us who are a little uncomfortable with the invocation of Jesus just deal with it.

It was striking to me, therefore, that a few years ago, when I had the honor of addressing the New York State MLK celebration, that Dr. Ben Hooks, who was part of the Civil Rights movement from way back, clearly was comfortable expressing himself without references to Jesus — even though he’s a black Baptist preacher, too.  Though he did sneak in an “in Jesus’s name!” at the end, if I do remember — and because he had, so to speak, established his interfaith credentials with me, it didn’t trouble me, in fact I could appreciate it as being authentic to him.

The difference between Rev. Lowery, who is of the same generation as Dr. Hooks, and Rev. Warren was just was phenomenal.  I hope that inviting Rev. Warren does indeed bear good fruit for President Obama, in terms of reaching out and offering a hand to some of those who may have been his mose ardent opponents.  But after I had spent his invocation mentally congratulating him for the positive tone of what he said and for his intelligence in including the Sh’ma, suddenly he turned around and as much as said, “This is a Christian nation, all you Christians join me and the rest of you can just watch.”

So I did.  And I felt left out.

Rev. Lowery, on the other hand… He said so many of the things that I really was waiting for and hoping that someone would say.  Even the biblical texts he quoted were mostly ones that Rev. King made so resonant from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  I had tears running down my face as he spoke.  If I can find the text posted somewhere I’ll comment on what I really loved about it.  (Here’s a quick bit of writing about it, followed by a lot of offense taken by some white listeners at being singled out for needing to “embrace what is right.”  I wasn’t offended; I know the original sayings, which used to be current in the black community, establishing a heirarchy based on skin color, with lighter = better.  It’s ok for us to be on the bottom for a moment.  And the fact is that, at least in my generation, there’s still a lot of ignorance in white folks about black life.  I can’t speak for folks younger than me.  But consider that wonderful comment made last night by Melissa Harris-Lacewell on the Rachel Maddow Show: Black people already cut white people a lot of slack (about our ignorance).  And, she said, you know that with First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House, it’s just a matter of time “until we start getting questions about our hair.”

In other words, white people still have lots to learn.  I don’t mind being reminded of that.  Just try to raise black children as a white woman and you will, hopefully, come to realize this fact very quickly!  For the sake of your children, you need to know that there’s lots you don’t know.)