Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
If you’re not a regular of TIME’s Swampland blog and are a political junkie, then I suggest you subscribe to their RSS feed (or at least bookmark the site). Our previous guest, Amy Sullivan, posted an insightful recap of yesterday’s prayer service to launch President Obama’s first day in office.
From (left to right) First Lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, former President Bill Clinton, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pray at the 56th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral.
Here are a few excised lines from Sullivan’s observations that resonated with me:
…I urge you to watch the service if you have the time. I’ve sat through a lot of these things and this was first time I was struck by the useful secular purposes that civil religion can hold.
This president is unusually grounded, but after a week of parties and concerts and celebrations and fanfare that would explode even the smallest ego, it seemed right to send Obama off to his first day of work on that note. “We need you to listen to the better angels of your nature,” Watkins [Reverend Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ denomination] preached to an audience of one, “and by your example encourage us to do the same.”
What made the sermon such a useful model of civil religion is that Watkins rooted it in secular ideas as well as Scripture. “This is the Biblical way,” she said. “It is also the American way—to look beyond ourselves.” She quoted Emma Lazarus, a Cherokee legend, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Obama’s own 2004 DNC speech: “It’s that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper—that makes this country work.” It was a perfect complement to Obama’s address yesterday, letting him know that those were nice words, but he’d better stick to them. Because religious communities, the nation as a whole, and the world will be watching to hold him accountable.
The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins gave the sermon at the prayer service.
And further down:
Democratic interfaith events can sometimes be so packed with participants in an effort not to leave anyone out that they are not inclusive so much as exercises in box-checking. But the procession of religious leaders at the start of the service—Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Episcopal, Evangelical—had the feel instead of a celebration of the religious diversity that thrives more in the U.S. than any other country in the world.
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, Jr., the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III singing.
The Most Rev. Francisco González, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, and Dr. Ingrid Mattson (president of the Islamic Society of North America).
Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Church in America
President Barack Obama signing the guestbook at Washington National Cathedral.
President Barack Obama signed the Cathedral guestbook: “Thank you for your prayers and support in the days ahead!”
(All photos taken by Donovan Marks and courtesy of Washington National Cathedral, with more photos here.)