GENE ROBINSON

Bishop Robinson on “The Daily Show”: Priceless!

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GODSTUFF

BISHOP ROBINSON’S LOST PRAYER

Sunday afternoon, I sat in front of the TV with a box of tissues and watched every second of the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial live on HBO.

It was a glorious, moving event that had me in tears from start to finish. There were so many highlights — Denzel Washington’s stirring opening remarks; Tom Hanks’ monologue about Abraham Lincoln as the orchestra played Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”; James Taylor’s soaring rendition of “Shower the People”; U2 singing “Pride” on the spot where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech; Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen leading the crowd in “This Land is Your Land” (with ALL the verses, even the politically edgy ones most people leave out.)

The “We Are One” concert was fabulous, but as the live broadcast drew to a close, with Barack and Michelle Obama making their way across the stage, stopping to thank each of the celebrities that had participated in the event, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.

It wasn’t until I flipped to continued coverage of the event on CNN and spotted the bespectacled man with a clerical collar standing a few people away from Bono in the star-studded receiving line that I realized what it was:

Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

Last week, a big deal was made of the announcement that Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, would give the invocation at the concert. A lot of folks saw it as a salvo to the gay community (and its supporters), who were angered by Obama’s earlier announcement that Pastor Rick Warren would offer the prayer at his inauguration. (Warren was a supporter of California’s Proposition 8 to outlaw gay marriage and believes homosexual acts are sinful.)

Robinson was there, but where was his prayer?

HBO, which had exclusive rights to air the nearly two-hour concert, didn’t broadcast Robinson’s invocation, saying it was the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s call to keep it in the “pre-show.”

PIC spokesman Josh Earnest’s explanation to me via email late Monday afternoon: “We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson’s invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday’s program. We regret the error in executing this plan — but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event.”

A source confirmed that highlights from the concert — including Robinson’s invocation — will be shown on jumbo screens on the Washington mall during today’s inauguration. HBO said late Monday that future rebroadcasts of the concert would include footage of Robinson’s invocation.

Whether it was an unfortunate mistake (one that was curiously repeated when the concert was re-aired Sunday night) or a bone-headed misstep by cowardly political wonks afraid to let the controversial Robinson talk to God on national TV, silencing the bishop’s voice was a great loss.

Obama’s loss.

Our loss.

Fortunately, Sarah Pulliam, a reporter for Christianity Today magazine, was in the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial with a video camera and taped the invocation.

This is what Robinson prayed:

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears — tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger — 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 our 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.

Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

And bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words — we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

Amen.”

It’s a beautiful prayer.

Powerful and inclusive. At once humble and bold.

I only wish more of us could have heard it — and joined Robinson — when he said it.

But the nice thing about prayer is it’s never too late.

GODSTUFF

PRESIDENTIAL PRAY-ERS: OBAMA’S INAUGURAL CHOICES A HARBINGER OF (GOOD) THINGS TO COME


The first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

The first female president of the Disciples of Christ.

The president of the Islamic Society of North America (who also happens to be a woman).

Three rabbis.

Bono.

And one Hawaiian shirt-wearing mega-church pastor.

What do they have in common, besides taking part in the official festivities surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States?

They’re all praying.

All of them.

Sure, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, whose sartorial sense leans more toward Jimmy Buffett than Billy Graham, is giving the official invocation at the inauguration Tuesday. But Obama has invited a number of other prominent religious leaders — from his own Christian tradition and others — to provide spiritual support.

Much was made of Warren’s being chosen to fill the role so often played by Graham in inaugurals past. (Graham, 90, is not in good health and no longer travels far from his home in the mountains above Asheville, N.C.)

A lot of people call Warren a homophobe. Granted, he did support Proposition 8 in California, to outlaw gay marriage, a move I thought was both thoroughly wrongheaded and out of character for him. Homosexuality and gay issues have hardly been the hallmark of Warren’s ministry at Saddleback and his uber-bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.

Like many traditional religious people, Warren believes homosexual acts — if not homosexuality itself — are sinful, per Scripture. But does that make him a homophobe?

I’m still on the semantic fence about that one. Plenty of people saw Warren’s invitation to pray over the newly sworn-in president as a slap in the face of the gay community.

Some of that outrage was tempered when word got out earlier this week that Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church — and the man whose ordination sparked so much tumult in the American church and within the worldwide Anglican community — will lead prayers Sunday at the official kickoff of the inauguration festivities at the Lincoln Memorial.

During the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral on Jan. 21 — the day after the inauguration — Obama has asked the Rev. Sharon Watkins to preach. She is the first female president of the Christian Church, better known as the Disciples of Christ.

Among the artists providing the musical portion of the celebration/service at the Lincoln Memorial are Bono, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, will.i.am. and Garth Brooks.

So . . . I’m not sensing any kind of covert sectarian message in Obama’s ecclesiastical choices for the inauguration.

Still there is a message being conveyed, be it spiritual or political or both.

When I look at the lineup and design of the faith-infused events around Obama’s inaugural, I see a new story — one of radical inclusion that echoes the plurality of our new president’s spiritual and social formation as a child. His mother, a secular humanist for lack of a better no-size-fits-all label, exposed her children to Christianity as well as Islam and other world religions, cultures and philosophies. She was a student of the world and her children were, too.

When Obama embraced Christianity, he did it as an adult. The choice was his, and he chose the historic black church and the United Church of Christ denomination. He also lives next door to a synagogue in Kenwood and knew the rabbi there well enough to call him his own.

If the religious voices involved in celebrating his inauguration are a harbinger of his political style, they say to me that the Obama administration will be one marked by collaboration and cooperation, not coercion or mandate (divine or otherwise).

“I take this to be an indication of how he intends to govern — moving away from the polarization and bitter partisanship of the past,” said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard University in New York and author of God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. “It’s more inclusive. He’s bringing more people around the table and allowing them to express themselves.

“He’s somebody who knows his own mind and yet is willing to entertain differing opinions and points of view, unlike the current president,” Balmer said. “I think it’s an administrative and executive style that represents a dramatic break from the past.”

His choice of Warren may have been motivated by political strategy or it may have been far more pastoral and personal. While they’ve been friendly for a number of years, as Warren and other prominent evangelical leaders began to turn their attention (at last!) to moral issues such as AIDS in Africa, global poverty and the environment, the relationship between the pastor and the president-elect has not been perfect. I’m told there were a few bumps in the road after the so-called “Civil Forum” at Saddleback, where Warren hosted Obama and John McCain. Some folks felt McCain was given an unfair advantage, while Obama was blindsided.

“It shows that he’s a big man,” Balmer said of Obama’s invitation to Warren to pray at the inaugural. “He’s a gracious person. Boy, what a welcome change that’s going to be.”

Can I get an “amen”?