King's Dream, Gene's Nightmare and Prayer on Flight 1549
Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Tuesday is Inauguration Day. Much has been made of the two days and their connectedness and for good cause. Americans of every race and political persuasion have reason to celebrate.
King ended his famous "I Have a Dream" speech (why not take some time this weekend to listen to the entire oration) with these lines:
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!
King's dream is of a country that does not obliterate differences, but that insists on equality and justice for all, no matter what our differences. It is a noble dream and I pray that Inauguration Day will be one more step towards its fulfillment.
Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist pastor and a Christian theologian. His life's work, and certainly his greatest speeches, were Biblically informed and nothing but a Biblical worldview could have empowered his vision.
King's dream did not envision a nation of no differences, but a nation of many differences. Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, joining hands and singing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last! is a dream of differences acknowledged, conversation engaged, disagreements debated and truth honestly sought. It flows from a uniquely Biblical understanding of reality.
I believe it is altogether appropriate, then, for President-elect Obama to have invited Christians, Jews and Muslims to pray at the various inaugural events. And I hope the invited pastors and priests pray Christian prayers, that the rabbis pray Jewish prayers and that the Muslim leaders pray Islamic prayers.
Inauguration day will not be the day to sort out the competing truth claims of the various prayers, and it is not the work of the government to do so. But truth claims compete. The Biblical and the Koranic visions of justice, for instance, are not the same and at points are mutually exclusive. King's Biblically-inspired dream is not an easy one to live by.
Enter Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, one of the invited Christian pastors who apparently would be anything but a Christian. Bishop Robinson is quoted in a New York Times story as saying that he had been reading inaugural prayers through history and was "horrified" at how "specifically and aggressively Christian they were."
Referring to the prayer he will give at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, he said, "I am very clear that this will not be a Christian prayer, and I won't be quoting Scripture or anything like that. The texts that I hold as sacred are not sacred texts for all Americans, and I want all people to feel that this is their prayer."
Robinson said he might address the prayer to "the God of our many understandings." A God, of course, of no understanding. Virtually no one will feel that it is their prayer. I hope none of the rabbis or imams surrender to such foolishness.
One of the passengers on US Airways Flight 1549 tells how as the plane was making its eerily silent glide towards the Hudson River he could hear some of his fellow passengers praying out loud.
Fortunately, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson wasn't on the flight. He would have scolded anyone who prayed in Jesus' name.
By the way, if you read the CNN story, you'll hear the same passenger say that after impact people began to panic, but then a couple of passengers "kind of took charge and just started yelling to calm down, just to get everybody out." Along with the pilot, I wonder if those couple of passengers aren't high on the list of the heroes of the day.