Was Joseph Lowery’s Benediction at Barack Obama’s Inauguration Racist?

Rev. Lowery to the left of MLK in Ithaca, NY during the civil rights era (cornell photo)

Rev. Lowery to the left of MLK in Ithaca, NY during the civil rights era (cornell photo)

A long time civil rights leader and companion of Martin Luther King, Jr.,   Reverend Joseph Lowery, stirred up a little controversy in some circles due to the benediction he gave at President Obama’s inauguration on Tuesday.  The benediction which lasted a little over 5 minutes asked for God’s guidance and forgiveness, expressed thanks for our 44th president and ended on what some are calling a racist note.  What?!  Rev. Joseph Lowery racist?    Here’s an excerpt:

Rev. Joseph Lowery

Rev. Joseph Lowery

God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee . . . .We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other . . . .Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.

(Full transcript of Lowery’s Benediction here)

Or if you prefer to watch/listen to it again:

The closing words of the prayer have gotten a few people’s dander up.  What do you think?   Was the reference to black, brown, yellow, red, and white going too far?  “Red man” certainly seems to be a pejorative these days.  Is asking for the day “white will embrace what is right” a racist comment?  Some have also pointed out that the phrases were reflective of common thinking in the civil rights era and that he was giving a nod to that time.  The phrasing about black brown and white might have been inspired  by his blues song back in the late 1950s (not sure where the yellow and red references come from):

What do you think?  Was the benediction racist or offensive to you personally?  If so, please tell us why.  If not, tell us why you think it was ok.

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Barack Obama at the Western Wall

With all our final preparations to move to the Middle East I haven’t had much time to post anything of late.  Which is unfortunate, because a lot has gone on of late that is comment-worthy.  Particularly Barack Obama’s tour of the Middle East.  I’m hoping to get the local scuttle-butt on his time in Jordan when we arrive there next week.  In the meantime, I found the TIME report that Obama’s prayer at the Western/Wailing Wall had been stolen and leaked to the press to be interesting.

Western Wall with Pilgrims and Dome of the Rock at Top

Western Wall with Pilgrims and Dome of the Rock at Top

For those who do not know the Western Wall is what remains of the Jewish temple complex that is mentioned in the Gospels.  It served as a retaining wall, and was not part of the Temple itself.  Over the centuries it has been customary for Jews to pray at the wall, often loudly mourning the loss of the Temple, hence the wall’s other appellation “The Wailing Wall.”  Pilgrims of all sorts (Jew and Gentile) stand at the wall to pray, often stuffing handwritten prayers on small pieces of paper into the cracks in the wall.

Back in the summers of ’97 and ’98 I stood and prayed and stuffed a small note in the wall along with 100s of other pilgrims.   I’m not really sure what’s up with stuffing a handwritten note to God in an ancient retaining wall, but it was a very tangible, meaningful and spiritually significant act for me in that moment.  Honestly, I don’t remember what I wrote on either occasion, but I do remember the sense of renewal that I had as I prayed in this location. I never really thought about what would happen to my note after.  It seemed like a sacred place and I guess I just assumed the note would be left alone or disposed of appropriately. (Apparently the million or so notes are usually collected 2x per year and burned on the Mount of Olives).

TIME image of Obama at Western Wall

Fast forward to 2008 and enter Barack Obama into this sacred, yet very public space.  On any given day/night the square around the Western Wall might be nearly deserted or packed with throngs of pilgrims.  On Obama’s visit I’ve got to imagine there were a ton of people there observing one of the most interesting US presidential candidates in years offer his prayers to God.  I’m sure many were curious about the contents of his prayers.  I know I would have been.  The temptation to find out was too great for one man, who retrieved Obama’s paper and leaked it to the press.   This is apparently what Obama had penned:

Lord, protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

So what do you make of all this?  Would you have stolen Obama’s prayer, too?  What do you make of the prayer? What if someone stole your prayer – would it be publishable and/or newsworthy?

Palestinian Holocaust and one Family’s Grief

I’ve been trying to stick to updating once every Friday – but today I saw two articles on another blog that absolutely had to be posted ASAP. I cannot believe the insanity of both of these items!

Part 1 – Israeli Defense Minister Warns of a Palestinian Holocaust

One article is about a Deputy Israeli Defense Minister who made big waves this morning by issuing the following warning:

“The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger ’shoah’ because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.”

The Hebrew term “shoah” that is used here is almost exclusively reserved for discussing the Nazi’s genocide of European Jews during World War II. In Israeli/Jewish circles it is extremely unpopular for the term to be used of any current events, even though it does have the literal meaning of “disaster” This statement made some diplomatic shockwaves and there seems to have been some official backpedaling. In his blog post Liam Bailey even notes that the Yahoo! News article that he originally found this information in was re-worded later in the day. His full take on the situation is linked to here – please take a moment to read it.

Part 2 – One Family’s Grief

Liam Bailey also posts an important behind-the-scenes report of a Gazan family who lost their 6-month old baby to a shrapnel wound to the head during an Israeli airstrike on the Department of the Interior headquarters in Gaza. The young family lived across the street and became “collateral damage” in this sickening conflict. The mother had just finished nursing her baby when the missile slammed into the building across the street causing damage in the neighborhood and tragically destroying this young life. Click here to see Liam’s article including a YouTube video of al-Jazeerah’s reporting. (Be warned the footage shows the dead infant). BTW this happened Wednesday night. Did anyone hear about it in the news? I am deeply saddened by this report and hope you will join me in praying for peace in Gaza and especially for this family.