Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration of a New President

Here it is the first day of a new presidency. I, along with many, many others (a good number of whom were there!) watched yesterday as Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. More significantly, he became the first African-American person to ascend to that office. (Another historic aspect - he is the first President who is younger than me! - but probably none of the rest of you care about that). I was overcome with emotion at several points during the time I watched. To see the parades, the very squared-away military presence - the ceremony. All that stuff is gratifying to watch - in any inauguration. It's still amazing to think that we experience as routine a smooth, civil, orderly transition of power for the head of the most powerful nation on earth. It seemed even more true today. The Bushes and Obamas not only related to each other politely, cordially, and respectfully; their regard for each other seems to go beyond that. Several commentators commented on it.
I was very moved and impressed by Rick Warren's invocation. I thought it was very well articulated and heartfelt, and captured well the prayer of a people. I found it interesting how he ended his prayer by praying in the name of Jesus, but didn't presume to claim to offer that part of his prayer on behalf of others, but himself. I thought that was appropriate. He didn't have to ignore his own faith position, but neither did he assign or impose it on another. The subtlety of that was lost on some of the commentator/pundits, however. Figures. I was also moved by Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction. It was equally appropriate and articulated and also offered in the style of his own tradition. President Obama's speech was very good, as I expected it to be.
To see a person of color become the President is nothing short of amazing. I can't even presume to imagine (as a white man) what it's like for an African-American person, particularly one of senior age, to see this take place. That fact was also very moving.
I have great hopes for what President Obama might be able to achieve in leading us, and although I'm sure I will disagree with many of the positions he espouses and the decisions he will make, I pledge to support him with my prayers and with my attitude as best I can.
It would be my hope that the advent of this new administration would bring a new sense of real bipartisanship in our government. I don't expect them all to agree, or to abandon their beliefs; but they should endeavor to work together and not just maneuver politically. We as a nation are facing some daunting tasks.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Law and "Awe"

We live in a world in which it is increasingly clear that both morality and worldview are completely up for grabs. There is little we can assume any more. This can be seen in many of the issues, debates, and discussions of our day. Everything is questioned. There's a sense in which this is good, in that blindness to moral issues such as racism that so characterized the past, in many ways are being uncovered. But there's also a sense in which it's troubling; not because it raises uncomfortable questions, but because it looses us from our moorings, both spiritually and morally.

One of the phenomena I found somewhat amusing recently is the campaign recently to promote Christmas from an atheistic perspective, i.e., "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness sake." The question is then raised, can one be good for goodness sake alone? Is it possible to maintain one's moral center when the spiritual foundation on which that morality is based is jettisoned?

C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Problem of Pain, talks about two components of religion, The first is what he calls the "Numinous," the sense of awe at the spiritual reality that cannot be explained or addressed by examination or science. Another way of putting it might be to speak of that which is transcendent. The other is morality - a sense of ought or should, in terms of our behavior. While these can exist without connecting with each other ("...non-moral religion, and non-religous morality, existed and still exist."), it is a perilous place. We are either subject to "the obscenities and barbarities of the unmoralized worship" or to "the cold, sad, self righteousness of sheer moralism." In our day, however, a growing number of folks are so consumed with "tolerance," anything that smacks of moralism is not tolerated. But I digress. Lewis points out that only in biblical religion, beginning with Judaism and culminating in Christianity (with the additional component of the Incarnation), are these these two strands joined together. To rebel against or discard either of these strands, the Numinous or the moral law, is to put oneself in a precarious place. As he says,
[One] can close his spiritual eyes against the Numinous, if he is prepared to part company with half the great poets and prophets of his race, with his own childhood, with the riches and depth of uninhibited experience. He can regard the moral law as an illusion, and so cut himself off from the common ground of humanity. He can refuse to identify the Numinous with the righteous, and remain a barbarian, worshipping sexuality, or the dead, or the lifeforce, or the future. But the cost is heavy.
I would say that a solid moral center is rooted in a strong faith in the "numinous," or a transcendent God. Unfortunately in our culture, both a moral sense and awe of the divine are considered passe. Those of us who seek to live as disciples of Jesus Christ are increasingly "peculiar" people. But these ancient documents we call the New Testament tell us as much. So we ought not be surprised.

(Note: quotations above are from the Introduction of The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. My ruminations are but dim shadows of the blazing light of his thought.)