Faith Matters: "In Turning Turning May We Come Round Right"
Pastor, Trinity Church in the Pines,
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Tuesday, as I watched the inauguration of President Barack Obama I could not help but reflect on the huge crowds on the mall in Washington DC. The view was from the Capitol steps down the mall to the Washington Monument and beyond to the Lincoln Memorial.
It was the mirror image of the pictures we saw the day before on TV as we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday. The images of the same mall filled with people as Dr. King spoke of his dream that, one day people would be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. As Sen. Diane Finestien said, Dr. King’s dream has echoed all the way from the Lincoln Memorial to the White House.
It truly was a moment in history for all of us to celebrate. However, I do have a concern that expectations are so high that we are in for disappointment and a “is-that-all-there-is” kind of depression. There seems to be an attitude that President Obama is a magician who will just be able to make everything different and everyone happy and healthy. But even as the festivities were gearing up the stock market was dropping 332 points.
The phenomena of putting such high expectations on the new leader is something we see over and over in scripture. We just came through Christmas celebrations where often we read in church the words of the prophet Isaiah, “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” We read those words today thinking of the birth of Jesus, who fulfilled them. But throughout the history of Israel, those words were used and lifted up every time a new heir to the thrown of Judah was born.
There were always high expectations with each new leader that were repeatedly dashed on the rocky shores of political and historical realities. It brought bitter disappoint to people time and time again. Today we run the risk of setting our nation and our world up for that same bitter disappointment. Some of the hyperbole being used to describe the new president is not very different than the words of Isaiah.
We have many national difficulties to tackle. President Obama referenced them in his inauguration address, everything from wars to climate change, from economic difficulties to education issues. We are a nation that tends to assume the president can just make it all better with a stroke of a pen. No president can possibly meet all these expectations. So it is not surprising that Obama, as a man of faith, continued the tradition of most presidents by adding the phrase “so help me God” to the constitutional oath of office. All presidents are only human with their own unique foibles. Each and every one of them has needed divine assistance and they need to seek God’s assistance as a reminder that they are not God.
We, as people of faith, also need to be in prayer for our new President, whether we agree or disagree with his positions. Paul in his first letter to Timothy says: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life …” Our prayers for Obama, by those who agree with him, will help us lower the expectations and remind us that the president is only a human and not God. For those who disagree with him, it will keep us in a more open and respectful attitude. Who knows, the words to the shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” arranged for the inauguration by John Williams and performed by the quartet that included Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, might come true. The words call us to turn toward God. The refrain goes, “To turn, turn will be our delight, Till by turning, turning we come round right.” After all, isn’t that our prayer, that through all the struggles of our nation, we come round right?
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