Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration - Part 3

What pomp and circumstance surrounds today. The powerful, the educated, the rulers, all stand arrayed on the platform like the planets of some strange system waiting to welcome a new sun. -- Except for Dick Cheney. He looking decrepit in his wheelchair (He injured his back trying to move boxes for the big move-out from the admiralty residence), mopes in a corner. Al Gore is also there, reliving his disappointment -- The marine corps bands lets loose a burst of fanfare.

Obama descends the Capitol's marble steps with measured steps, right behind the Speaker of the House. His face is pleased, grave, inscrutable. The world is his today. The crowd waves half a million American flags, dancing pink pixels from this distance, while sharpshooters survey them with binoculars. Every few hundred yards sits a box capable of detecting biological and chemical weapons.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California delivers opening comments; Rick Warren delivers the invocation in the name of Jesus, enough to make a great may in that crowd greatly uncomfortable.

I cannot help but think today of another king who came - into another capital - riding not in a limousine with three-inch steel, but on an ass, cheered for an afternoon and put to death the next.

To be a believer in Christ puts one in a strange position. We honor authorities. We cheer the triumph of justice and the exercise of wise leadership. But we withold from it our hopes. Instead we pin them to the cross, that symbol, lest we forget, of rejection and humiliation, believing that He who game Himself for all is made greater than all, and those who take their oath today are nothing more than stewards until He comes again.

Inauguration Post - Part 2

You may remember when 200,000 Germans cheered Obama while he gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate. While many questioned Obama's bravado in playing the international statesmen even before the election, there is no doubt that many in the world have embraced the president-elect as though he would be their own leader. They warmly predict a sea-change in American foreign policy.

You can see the international interest in the composition of the crowd. French television is interviewing Miss France 2009. Bermudans are shivering beneath a leafless tree, almost delirious in their happiness. I spent most of this past weekend in the emergency room/hospital. The little boy in the next room, whose parents spoke with thick African accents, had flown from London for the inauguration. He was sick with scarlet fever.

Everywhere, the crowds stretch infrastructure to its limits, but no-one feels it more than the doctors and nurses manning the hospitals this weekend. Lines are long. People are far from home, confused, hoping their insurance will cover out-of-state services.

Bush's face flashes briefly on the screen, then pans quicky to Barbara Bush, a less contraversial face for the cameras to focus on. Today, the media are happy to forget their cynicism. They are eager to be pleased.

Live from Arlington

Inauguration coverage from your faithful Washington correspondent . . .

Okay, so I'm sitting on my couch in north Arlington, approximately four miles from the National Mall, but I'm still a darn site closer than most of you.

For most of the country, the inauguration of President-Elect Barack Obama is an event of much-anticipated historical significance. The people who live in and around Washington, however, waited for it like the approach of a Category 4 hurricane. Imagine if you heard that millions of out-of-towners were going to descend on your city, take up all the hotel rooms (even churches are renting out cots in their Sunday school classrooms), and crush into your public transportation. For weeks, we have talked of little else. Many local residents have either headed out of town or holed up at home.

I just heard that a 68-year-old woman was pushed off a platform on the red line and struck by a train, and a child was crushed against a barrier on the Mall. Four people have collapsed from hypothermia. It's 23 degrees and feels like ten. Many have stood behind the barriers since four in the morning.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thoughts for the Day

"To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being ever realized in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is accounted such by all churches and sects - the maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament. These are considered sacred, and accepted as law, by all professing Christians. Yet is is scarecely too much to say that not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual contduct by reference to those laws. The standard to which he does refer it, is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession. He has thus, on the one hand, a collection of ethical maxims, which he believes to have been vouchasafed to him by infallible wisdom as rules for his government; and on the other hand, a set of everyday judgments and practices, which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not so great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to some, and are, on the whole, a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests and suggestions of wordly life. To the first of these standards he gives his homage; to the other his real allegiance. All Christians believe that blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by this world, that is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbor as themselves; that if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also, that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. They are not insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed . . .

The doctrimes have no hold on ordinary believers - are not a power in their minds. They have a habitual respect for the sounds of them, but no feeling which spreads from the words to the things signified, and forces the mind to take them in, and make them conform to the formula. Whenever conduct is concerned, they look round for Mr. A and B. to direct them how far to go in obeying Christ.

Now we may be well assured that the case was not thus, but far otherwise, with the early Christians. Had it been thus, Christianity never would have expanded for an obscure set of the despised Hebrews into the religion of the Roman empire. When their enemies said, 'See how these Christians love one another' (a remark not likely to be made by anybody now), they assuredly had a much livelier feeling of the meaning of their creed than they have ever had since." - On Liberty of Thought and Discussion by John Stuart Mill, 19th century sociologist