As the government shut-down continues, as the partisan accusations and attacks and counter-attacks have proliferated, as the various news outlets try their darndest to stay bi-partisan and balanced–with a singular lack of success–I think we’d all love to stand up in Congress and give politicians holy heck. Wouldn’t that be satisfying? Just to stand up there and give the United States Congress a scolding. Or at least one house of it. And there is one guy who has that job. Day after day, he stands up in the Senate and tells everyone just what he thinks of them, and even better, what he thinks God thinks of them. And Republicans and Democrats alike have had no choice except just to take it.
That one guy, and my new hero, is Barry C. Black, the 62nd man to serve as Chaplain to the Senate. I’d never heard of him until Friday, when Rachel Maddow did a story about him. He’s a tall, imposing figure, a former Rear Admiral with 27 years experience in the US Navy, and the first African-American, and the first Seventh-day Adventist to serve as Senate Chaplain. The Wikipedia article about him I linked to above reveals an altogether admirable man, a civil rights pioneer, a scholar and a family man. A man of conscience and conviction.
And a man who is deeply, righteously angry over this government shut-down. Here’s the Rachel Maddow clip that introduced me to the guy. I love this guy:to
“Keep us from shackling ourselves from the chains of dysfunction.”
“Deliver us, Lord, from governing by crisis.”
“As our nation stumbles towards a seemingly unavoidable government shut-down, Lord, lead them away from the unfortunate dialectic of Us vs. Them.”
“Be merciful to us, oh God, during this legislative stalemate, help our lawmakers to test all things by their conscience, in these days that try our souls. Strengthen our weakness, replacing cynicism with faith, and cowardice with courage, we pray, in Your Holy name.”
“Have mercy upon us, Oh God, and save us from the madness. We acknowledge our transgressions, our shortcomings, our smugness, our selfishness, and our pride. Deliver us from the hypocrisy of attempting to sound reasonable, while being unreasonable. Remove the burdens from those who are the collateral damage of this government shutdown.”
Pastor Black’s comments have attracted some attention from folks other than Rachel Maddow. Most important of them is Harry Reid, who met with Pastor Black after one of his prayers, and apparently prayed with him afterwards.
I don’t know if we really actually need a Senate Chaplain, or how having a daily prayer in the Senate can be reconciled with the separation of Church and State. Maybe, in a pluralistic society, Senate Chaplain is a position that could be dispensed with. But public prayers are not just directed to God, but also to the congregation. We pray to God, certainly, but we also hope others and listening. It can be an occasion for moral and spiritual unity, and it can also provide an opportunity for moral chastisement. Chaplain Black has done this nation that he loves a great service. A body like the Senate needs a conscience, especially in times of political crisis. Barry Black does his country a great service now, today, when a voice of taut moral reasoning dares speak out. Pastor Black honors us all with his courage.