Comment: Gay bishop’s eyewitness account of Obama’s inauguration

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Gene Robinson, the Anglican Bishop of New Hampshire, has returned to blogging after a break of several months to share his experiences of the inauguration celebrations in Washington DC.

His latest entry on Canterbury Tales From The Fringe relates a short exchange with controversial preacher Rick Warren, the view from the Presidential Platform and where Oprah was sitting. Not to mention Aretha Franklin’s hat.

Wasn’t yesterday amazing?! A new day — for all of us.

Here’s what it was like from my perspective.

Mark (Bishop Robinson’s civil partner) and I arrived at St. John’s Episcopal Church early in the morning. Waiting in the security line, I greeted Pastor Rick Warren, who couldn’t have been more gracious.

Once inside, we were seated in the fifth row, with a perfect view of the service participants, and eventually, the President-Elect himself. This is not a man who fakes a faith, but one who is clearly motivated by it.

Dr. T. D. Jakes gave a magnificent sermon, based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being thrown into the fiery furnace.

Some of his points, on which he elaborated brilliantly: “there is no light without heat”; the three Hebrew boys were saved because they stood up! it’s time we ALL stood up for what is right and good; King Nebuchadnezzar turns the furnace up to seven times its normal heat, more than the furnace or its contents can bear — pointing out the ways in which the economy, war, health care, etc. have deteriorated beyond what we can bear; and finally, when the King looks into the furnace to see the boys’ destruction, instead, they are intact, and there is a FOURTH figure — the Spirit of God which has seen them through and preserved them.

You can imagine the rest. It was SO powerful.

I met some wonderful people. Sat next to the new Securities and Commodities appointee, who later introduced me to the new Treasury Secretary and his wife. Oprah was there (sitting BEHIND us, I might add!). Most of the cabinet.

Other denominational leaders.

Then, we were bussed to the Capitol.

Mark and I split up, because I had been invited to sit on the Presidential Platform. Through several security checkpoints in the bowels of the Capitol.

Al and Tipper Gore left their entourage specifically to greet me — a real honor, given the magnificent contributions he’s making to our common good. Then, we walked down the series of hallways/steps that the new president would walk down in a few minutes.

I entered into the light of day and the Presidential Platform, just behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Warren. I told Pastor Warren that I would be praying for him. Again, he was most gracious.

Coming out onto the platform was overwhelming. Not only would I be mere feet away from Barack Obama when he took the oath of office, but the view from the platform of the millions of people on the Mall was awe inspiring.

It was a solid mass of humanity for as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Washington Monument, and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, where this weekend’s journey had begun for us. The air was electric, the joy palpable, and the momentousness of the occasion solemn.

I was seated in the sixth row behind the president, beside Federico Pena (who was delightful), directly behind Gov. Warren Dean (chairman of the Democratic National Committee). General Colin Powell was also in the next row in front of me — we greeted each other with the secret Episcopal handshake.

In front of him was Aretha Franklin (you gotta love that hat, eh? it takes a substantial black woman to wear a hat like that!). Senator Judd Gregg (Republican from NH) came over to chat.

I also spoke for a while with Senator Joe Lieberman. Pretty heady stuff for a Kentucky country boy, who grew up in poverty and never thought he’d live to SEE a real president, much less be invited to sit where I was invited to sit.

And then, as you all saw on TV, each of the principals entered. To see the military personnel salute their about-to-be Commander in Chief made me cry.

As always, Obama seemed natural, calm, confident-but-not-cocky and present to the moment. I’ve said it before, but it was never more evident than yesterday — I’ve never seen someone so comfortable in his own skin. And then the oath of office, the moment when America changed.

Leaving the swearing in, and still separated from Mark and Ella, I had some alone time to try to absorb what I had just been a witness to. It is still hard to find words to describe it. But you know what we were all feeling. Waking up this morning felt different somehow, didn’t it?

After the parade, home for a nap. Then off to the lgbt ball at the Mayflower Hotel. When I walked in, Rufus Wainwright was dedicating a song to me. (He’s one of my faves!) He was then joined for a couple of songs onstage by Cyndi Lauper.

Then I was introduced to the crowd of several thousand. I got to introduce Mark and Ella to them, and say a few words. The crowd was overwhelming in their kind and generous response. Then I posed for pictures with, oh, six or seven hundred of them. Nearly exhausted, we left for the live Daily Show broadcast, with Jon Stewart.

(Scroll down to watch video)

It’s always difficult to do such a show from a remote location. I can only hear what is going on in my earpiece, and am talking into a black camera screen. But it went well, I think. He started in with a joke (this IS Comedy Central, after all), and miraculously, I was able to respond with a joke in return. I don’t think he was expecting it, and he nearly fell off his chair laughing. Later, after the show, he told me it was the best line of the show. Amazing praise from a brilliant comedian who is SO good at what he does.

The best part of that was, he had done a joke, and so had I, and then the rest of the interview was serious. I was moved that HE had seen the connection between the inauguration of an African-American and the hopes of the gay community, and asked if it had raised my hopes that one day, perhaps a gay or lesbian person might become president. He had read my thoughts — and I suspect, the hopes of so many of us.

It is a new day in America, thanks be to God! I was overwhelmed all day by the sense that God is still alive and well and working overtime in our great nation, bringing about things that could have never even been dreamt of a few years ago. Join me in giving thanks to our great God for loving us as we are, and loving us too much to make us content with staying as we are.

I have been carrying all of you in my heart these few days. So often during this time, I have reflected on the many, many blessings that are mine. To serve the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire is a holy and awesome gift to me. To feel your love and support during these momentous days calmed my heart and brought me great joy.

In a day or two, once we “break into” Ella’s camera, I will post on this blog a few pictures that you’ve just GOT to see. But thank you for traveling this path with me, and know that I give thanks to God for you every day.

Today, I return to New Hampshire, back to my “day job” which I love. Tonight, life resumes with the ordination of Madelyn Betz at St. Thomas, Hanover. Ordination of someone to the priesthood is one of the most awesome and wonderful tasks assigned to Bishops — and I can’t think of a better way to re-enter the “real world” of my life in the Diocese of New Hampshire. I look forward to seeing you soon!

To read Bishop Robinson’s blog, Canterbury Tales From The Fringe, click here.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM – Th 11p / 10c