This post is written by my friend and graduate assistant, Chris Ridgeway, a student at North Park Theological Seminary, and an active worker in the Great Commission Ministries. He was at the Inauguration; I asked him if he’d think of writing something for us; his thoughts lead us to reflection on unity. Very nice.
Anyone have a story to tell? Any other experiences you’d like to talk about at the Inauguration?
Both the lines and the smiles started at the Dunkin Donuts. Sunrise found us sleepy but wide awake, sporting extra layers, and ready to walk two miles through closed city streets, intimidated but hardly deterred by online CNN views of the already busy Capital Mall. Pink-faced National guardsmen stomped in clusters at the intersection of Q and New Jersey Ave, and we shuffled with coffees in hand, silent but wide-eyed as we joined increasingly apparent foot-traffic toward an invisible center.
I held back to snap a picture of Justin walking into the massive
concrete tunnel and heard the first “yes we can!” in loud voices ahead,
sound dancing off the walls like light off water. Cheers ahead were
spontaneous and warm and all around us–whoops with attached grins,
“here we go!,” “Ye-es!” in two syllables. The crowd-swell added
happiness, not chaos, and I exchanged smiles with perfect strangers,
holding my breath for an impending collapse of built-up spirits. It
There’s something about humans in crowds. We reached the blue gate staging area at 7:55am, now pressed shoulder to shoulder, losing sight of the ground except for the spent foil wrappers of hastily activated warm-packs. Big, lofted banners marked security gates ahead and we set a collective goal. A black woman behind me wore a leather coat and clutched her husband’s gloved hand chanting softly, “here we go… here we go…” A tall German accent praised his train from New York; a gay man in a wheelchair was pushed by his partner, and nobody complained about the metal wheels forced tight between bodies. Jokes and hometowns and stories hummed, and Jake and Chris, buddies from Milwaukee, grinned and turned their attention person to person in our packed family, naming a new friend “Coach,” and yelling cheerful warnings when they spied a queue advance coming across heads like waves. A shy girl with curly hair whispered to a friend just within earshot, “Everyone’s so nice!”
And then there’s something about a crowd that it becomes human. Metal detectors separated us only for a moment, but tickets held high, the draw of distant music, and we were In together, hurrying up steps to our grassed area, the Capital face suddenly visible in white and red glory, causing a collective pause in spite of ourselves, tasting the shared view. And I was part of it, aware and unified as the announcements began and dignitaries took their seats and our many faces whispered simple mantras… here we are… this is it… here we are… this is it…
Together we prayed with Rick Warren, his voice booming out from the center dais, and I was certain my neighbors affirmed my emphatic request… thy kingdom come! We absorbed Aretha’s signature scratch with a common ear, the convergence of gospel sevens and orchestral strings. And as Barack Obama raised his hand and took the oath (us dismissing the flubs as a sound system mistake), I felt as if we too were shedding tears with the stocking-capped 40-ish woman motionless behind me.
What is it about this experience where we remain ourselves but we become One? Individuals but together? Singular but plural? A news writer for the Guardian shifted the weight of her shoulder-bag and wondered to me about an exceptional mood that fifteen years of Washington coverage had never seen before. I haven’t seen the article she went to write, but I’m sure it’s not far from TIME’s Joe Klein, who I read today on the flight back, citing Obama’s “sheer inspirational power.” He’s got it partly right–a force that originates outside us has intensity that we can’t muster without it. I’m certain this is part of How We Are Made–this ability to join hearts only if we are not lifting up ourselves, but another. Isn’t this part of the signature of God on the human soul?
I’m proud to have supported Barack Obama since his Senate race, recently in-person for his acceptance speech in Chicago’s brilliant Grant Park, and now his inauguration from the West Lawn. Yet I think my expectations are not inflated by a false sense of political euphoria. Despite quips, Barack isn’t Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He will not hold the world in his hands. He will not live above sin. He will not trace a Truly Human life as only God can.
My prayers go with my new President, but my Hope goes with my King; and a future coronation that I anticipate will outshine this February morning soul-touch a hundred times. My imagination visions a crowded lawn, pressed-in with loyalty and passion, strength and commitment, honor, grace, restoration, and an I-Didn’t-Know-It-Could-Be-This-Way gasp that extracts worship, vivid silence, and a collective smile across billions at rise of a new day.
~ Chris Ridgeway