Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In the midst of adulation, Truth from Pastor Warren

As the nation gathered on the National Mall and around television and computer screens for its quadrennial self-renewal, it was easy to get caught up in a sense of history and destiny.

After all, whether one agrees or (as I do) disagrees with the policies advocated by President Obama, it is difficult not to see his election as a sign of progress for our nation: that an African American man can be elected to lead us, when the very Constitution he swore to uphold and defend would once have counted him as three-fifths of a person.

But despite the pomp and circumstance, there was also a great proclamation of Truth from the Inaugural Rostrum just before the historic moment when Barack Obama became the forty-fourth American President. It was then that the Rev. Rick Warren, D. Min., pastor of Saddleback Church in California, stepped to the microphone and delivered the invocation.

His prayer:

Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you. It all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory.

History is your story. The Scripture tells us, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God. The Lord is One.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now, today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hingepoint of history with the inauguration of our first African American president of the United States. We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Give to our new President, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, O God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race, or religion, or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all. When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us. And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you. We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesus [Spanish pronunciation], Jesus, who taught us to pray:

"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tennessee's very own Saruman

This past Tuesday, the One Hundred Sixth General Assembly of the State of Tennessee was set to convene in organizational session, and it was to be an historic occasion.

History-making, because for the first time since 1969, a Republican was presumed to be sworn as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Assembled in the historic Capitol in Nashville were countless Republican state officials and dignitaries, including former governors and the only Republican to hold the Speakership in the Twentieth Century, former Judge and former U.S. Congressman Bill Jenkins (R-Rogersville).

When the time came for the election of the Speaker, disaster struck: the Democrats in the chamber voted en masse for a Republican, Rep. Kent Williams ("R"-Elizabethton).

In a chamber split 50-49, the deciding vote would come down to a Republican. In the end, it would come down to Williams himself.

This wasn't the first time that Tennessee Democrats had tried to persuade a Tennessee "Republican" to abandon his party and keep the Democrats in power for just a little bit longer.

Indeed, another East Tennessean, former Senator Mike Williams (I-Maynardville), had been elected as a Republican, only to defect to the Democrats to keep Lieutenant Governor Wilder in office for one more term when the Senate had been divided 17-16 (for his trouble, former Sen. Williams was elected Speaker Pro Tempore and was a pariah among both Republicans and Democrats for the rest of his time in Nashville).

The House Republicans, after defeating enough Democrats in the November 2008 elections to take a tenuous 50-49 advantage in the House, knew that the Democrats would try again.

And so, immediately after it became clear that their party would have an advantage, the Republican caucus met with their leader, Rep. Jason Mumpower (R-Bristol), and the fifty GOPers agreed to stick together this time and avoid a repeat of the Senate debacle.

Besides giving their word to Rep. Mumpower that they would vote for him to be Speaker, all 50 signed a letter stating that they would vote "for a Republican" for both Speaker and Speaker Pro Tempore.

But what about Rep. Williams? The Carter County-native signed the document, pledging to vote for a Republican. But he also made statements to Johnson City news radio -- less than a week before the opening session of the House -- that he'd given his commitment to Rep. Mumpower that Rep. Williams would vote for the GOP leader.

That's why so many Republicans were gathered in the historic chamber of the Tennessee House of Representatives -- where the slaves were freed, where Tennessee rejoined the Union, and where Tennessee became the ratifying vote of the Constitutional amendment giving women the franchise -- to see their leader, the man who had led them back into power for the first time in 40 years, become Speaker of the Tennessee House.

And that's also why every breath was held as the Clerk of the House called the roll for the election of the Speaker.

"Surely," Republicans had to be thinking, "this cannot happen again. Surely, no one would so blatantly lust for power to go back on his signature, his public statements, and his word."

But Kent Williams was that blatant.

As he said his own name, voting to abandon his principles and his honesty and the vast majority of his own constituents (who're 83% Republican), Williams voted to complete the quid pro quo: vote for yourself, attain the Speakership, and be our puppet.

As boos and calls of "Traitor!" and "Sellout!" rained down around him, Kent Williams shuffled to the rostrum and feebly attempted to calm the chamber.

But he was only a marionette, moving as directed by "former" Speaker Naifeh (D-Covington) and the other Tennessee Democrats who had managed, once again, to cling, kicking, biting, and scratching, to power, and no one paid him heed as he desperately struck the gavel.

Instead, every heart in the chamber knew that this session was lost. Partisan warfare had been declared that day.

And the people of Tennessee can only be grateful that the One Hundred Sixth General Assembly will give way to the One Hundred Seventh in January 2011.