The first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, opened yesterday's inaugural concert with a prayer. The prayer was not included in the HBO broadcast of the event, which included readings by, among others, Jamie Fox, Laura Linney, Tom Hanks, Rosario Dawson, Queen Latifah, Jack Black, and Forrest Whitaker and songs by, among others, Bruce Springsteen, Sheryl Crow, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, U2, Will.i.am, Usher, Beyonce, and Josh Groban (singing "My Country 'Tis of Thee," backed, though unbilled by HBO, by the DC Gay Men's Chorus).
Personally, I would have preferred a less star-studded event, with greater emphasis on community choirs and group dance. The stars could have been there, of course, spotted interspersed in the crowd (the way Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte marched with the people in Martin Luther King Jr's 1963 March on Washington).
I was particularly cheered by the presence of Pete Seeger, singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," with his grandson and Springsteen. Seeger, an American communist folk singer, age 89, wrote "Turn, Turn, Turn," "If I Had a Hammer," and "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" and, along with Joan Baez, helped popularize the spiritual "We Shall Overcome" in the mid-twentieth century.
Here is the complete text of Robinson's prayer, also available at http://www.nhepiscopal.org/:
"O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
"Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
"Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
"Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic 'answers' we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.
"Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be 'fixed' anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
"Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world.
"Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger.
"Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world.
"And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.
"Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people.
"Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times.
"Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.
"Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.
"Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.
"Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods.
"And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.