It was only a matter of time before we commented on the ‘credit crunch’ and general financial meltdown that seems to be afflicting countries all around the world. And appropriate that we should do so in the week when the 44th president of the USA was inaugurated. It must be a long time since the hopes of so many were resting on one man – and that seems to be just the rest of the world who are not Americans!
The events of the inauguration sent out some challenging messages, quite apart from any words that were spoken. There was an interesting choice of church leaders who were invited to pray, with three characters who might be regarded as controversial, but for different reasons. On account of his sexual orientation, Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson is no stranger to negative publicity , some of it stirred up by the likes of Rick Warren who, in spite of his nod in the direction of environmental concerns, is still very firmly positioned on the religious right. Then there was Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist with a fiery past as a leading light in the civil rights movement. No doubt others did as we did and put these prayers and their pray-ers in order of preference – which, if we told you what it was, would tell you more about us than them. Some commentators have been scandalized by one or other of them, but many more people are seeing this as a no-nonsense masterstroke by the new president – telling them all that the partisan bickering of the past is now firmly in the past, and these different strands of belief need to learn to work together and respect one another.
If they manage to live up to that expectation, it can only be good news. The questions that people around the world are now pondering in their financial and family lives are not going to be addressed by in-house arguments among Christians (or the followers of other faiths, for that matter). President Obama argued that the questions we face today need entirely new thinking, because not only is the old thinking incapable of resolving them, but in most ways it is what created them in the first place. When all the dust has settled, these are essentially spiritual questions. Those faced with unemployment, or diminished pensions, or just uncertainty, are trying to figure out what it means to live a life that is at least worthy, if not wealthy. And we are all wondering who and what we can now trust in, and why? Not to mention how we can personally respond to the laying waste of social and individual life, to take us forward into a better place. The spiritual traditions that engage honestly and openly with the big questions of our age are the only ones that will be part of the new future that so many of us now seem to be searching for. It’s enough to send you back to the stories of Jesus, another one who called for a radical rethink of how we live and who we are becoming. History repeating itself?