I know inaugural news and commentary are already passé. But I could not find one report this past week that caught what I believe was the most subtle, strategic and possibly subversive moment of the inauguration ceremony. Did you catch it?
Like most news agencies, U.S. News & World Report reported that the Rev. Rick Warren’s invocation "clearly opted for a conciliatory tone that eschewed any mention of culture-war issues." But Warren hardly was pacifying the elites or anyone else — if you truly understand what he prayed. The invocation seemed like a rather benign blessing that even his most ardent foes could have interpreted as inclusive. But the real portrait of his prayer was quite to the contrary.
First of all, Warren’s prayer was nearly five minutes long — about 486 words. He certainly didn’t cower to typical audience intolerance for long prayers and opt for a short grace before meals.
Second, Warren embarked on what theologians call a Mars Hill apologetic, which is a biblical approach and deductive line of reasoning that the apostle Paul used in teaching about a Creator God, with whom all can identify at first: "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."
Third, Warren then narrowed his focus by identifying the Creator as the one true Hebrew (or Jewish) God of the Old Testament — something that sounds inclusive of Judaism but also serves as the basis and narrowing of his Christian logic. At the same time, he was culturally relative and sensitive to (but not necessarily endorsing of) Islam by extolling God as "the compassionate and merciful one," a descriptive line that opens all but one chapter of the Quran. Warren prayed: "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."
Fourth, Warren then covered the gamut in compassionate petitions — thanking God for racial freedom and equality, praying a blessing on Obama and his Cabinet, and asking God to help us all unite in freedom, forgive us of our presumption and pride, and share with and serve all humanity.
Fifth, Warren turned on a dime by calling on God to help us remember this universal religious truth (in all Middle Eastern religions, I might add): God will judge all nations and all peoples. Then, for clarity’s sake, the name of Warren’s Supreme Judge was given. He referred to this transforming agent, who changed his own life, in four different languages: "I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life — Yeshua (Hebrew), Isa (Arabic), Jesus (Spanish pronunciation), Jesus (English pronuncation)."
Sixth and last, just when you thought the "amen" was imminent, Warren gave a coup de grâce to any political or earthly power — a possibly subversive chess move to subtly call Obama’s regime into checkmate. He called upon the global Christian community to invoke God’s power against any and all human strongholds by collectively praying the Lord’s Prayer. Warren rallied all branches, traditions and denominations of the universal church by triggering a prayer response through his words "who taught us to pray, saying …" Proof came as cameras immediately panned across the people in the Washington crowd, many of whom found themselves suddenly reciting the prayer with Warren. (It was interesting to watch how Obama chose not to join in.)
What everyone needs to understand is that the Lord’s Prayer is no trite religious repetition to Warren. He once explained in one of his teachings: "’Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ Why do we pray that ‘Thy will be done as it is in heaven’? Because in heaven, God’s will is done perfectly. Is God’s will done perfectly on earth? Absolutely not. In fact, most of the things that happen on earth are not God’s will. God’s will is not always done. … But when you pray, ‘Thy will be done,’ you’re saying … ‘I accept your plan, and I surrender to God’s control.’"
Reciting the Lord’s Prayer is pleading with God to erect his kingdom and execute his desires on earth as they are in heaven. It is calling upon the one true God, asking for his nature to overrun ours, his wishes to be fulfilled (not ours), and his rule and reign to be established (not ours). On the flip side, it is the most "dangerous" prayer one can pray if one wants to continue to live selfishly, misuse power and maintain control over others.
The Lord’s Prayer is, in reality, the most invasive and subversive prayer to human selfishness that one can say. It’s able to break down strongholds within us, within others and even within political structures. As Warren again said, praying the Lord’s Prayer is ideal "when your circumstances are uncontrollable, when people around you won’t change (they’re unchangeable), and when problems are unexplainable."
Now you tell me: Why would Warren, who thoroughly understands the Scriptures, pray that particular prayer at the transference of new political powers with whom he largely disagrees? The answer is obvious.
Like millions of others, I repeated this relatively short prayer by rote for most of my life without thinking twice about its meaning. But then I learned about its powerful truths from my pastor, who teaches its principles and encourages its daily recitation through a simple acronym. (You can listen to his Lord’s Prayer message series on his Web site, www.NationalTreasures.org.) The Lord’s Prayer has revolutionized my prayers and my life, and I believe (as I know Warren does) it can change all of our lives, government and the world if we sincerely and regularly pray it. That’s exactly why Warren’s invocation included it.
For most, Warren was reinforcing his image as "a unifying, post-Christian-right figure rather than as a divisive culture warrior." But reality is, as Jesus called his apostles to do, Warren was being as "shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove." And most never even caught it.
Say what you will about this purpose-driven pastor, but when you parse it, the Rev. Rick Warren’s inaugural invocation was about as purpose-driven as prayers come.