On a tiny peninsula in Washington, inside a domed temple, there is an awesome statue of Thomas Jefferson. He is on a high pedestal, standing calm and tall in a long coat with a gaze that seems fixed somewhere far beyond “today”. Some of Jefferson's most famous words are set in the great stone panels that surround the statue. They are Jefferson’s words of freedom, gifts to future vistors. These words have expanded the vision and compassion of generations of freedom-loving people across the globe.
Jefferson believed that church and state should remain separate. He never, however, imagined that spirit and state could ever be separate. To remove spirit from state is to divorce wisdom, imagination and compassion from a nation’s vision. Without spirit, a nation will die a colorless death.
Much has been said about the selection of Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Pastor, to do the Inauguration Invocation. The progressive world is divided between those who support his selection on the grounds of bridge building, and those who think his selection is an offense to the LGBT community. It feels pointless to add my opinion to those already offered. Too much has been said about a decision that is already made.
Warren will give the invocation. His judgment, as well as the judgment of Obama, will be tested by the spirit in which he offers his words. He would do well to visit Jefferson’s Memorial before writing his invocation. If he catches the spirit of the founding fathers, his prayer will be part of the healing.
Let’s face it. In a few short sentences, Warren can’t possibly say what all parties want him to say. But he can catch the spirit of the occasion. Obama is banking on Warren catching this spirit.
All sides will have to give a little ground to Warren. For my part, I will have to accept that he will probably invoke a more defined, personal God than I care to relate to. Evangelicals will have to accept that he probably won’t take the opportunity to push any family values agenda.
He can’t say everything, but if he catches the spirit of Jefferson, he can say something that unites people. This is a great opportunity for Warren, and because I believe in the power of spirit, I believe Warren can still catch it. He can say something that affirms all people, especially those who have been marginalized by a government that brought religion too close and moved spirit too far away.
Warren has said some ignorant and hateful things about sexuality. Now is his chance to transcend his religious perspective in the interest of healing. If he catches the spirit of Thomas Jefferson, he will weep in wonder at the miracle of human diversity. His invocation will follow suit.
Warren can invoke a God so generous and wondrous that people fall to their knees, imagining the possibilities. He need not put too much definition on the God he invokes, lest he divide the nation further. He can touch the human longing for healing that is so strong at this point in history. He can point us all to our power and purpose that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We elected Obama. Obama takes responsibility for his appointments and decisions. We all create our future.
When Einstein said these words, I can only imagine he was gazing at something like The Jefferson Memorial-
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
I wonder if Warren can help the nation to stand rapt in awe with his words. Obama has done it often enough. The whole inauguration will be an event of such wonder, and transformation. I’m prepared to give Warren a chance. Are you? I expect him to catch the spirit of mysterious connectedness; that our destiny is one, and that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.