Family of N

Our Little January Tradition

Posted in Government by Laura on January 15, 2009

Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be unto Zidon. –Genesis 49:13

Sometimes it’s easy to use Scriptures out of context unintentionally, or to settle for a single verse where a paragraph or chapter will do better, but I think you’ll agree with me that some verses are inseparable from the surrounding passage. Genesis 49:13 is pretty clearly one of these.

Imagine attending a public gathering where it was read
. Wouldn’t you be a bit confused? Would you feel like the speakers were just trying to patronize God by reading a Scripture, rather than seeking to learn from or be inspired by God’s word? What’s the point?

I’m afraid you’ll have to ask some of America’s Founding Fathers. Because that is the verse (apparently chosen at random) that was read at George Washington’s first inaugural ceremony.

I’m hearing more about tomorrow’s inauguration than I have about any other inauguration in my lifetime. Maybe it’s because I live near the nation’s capital, or maybe it’s because this is truly a historic inauguration. Or it could be that I’m just more keenly aware of politics than I was last time our country swore in a new President.

Whatever the cause, it seems like inauguration hysteria up here. Surely the whole country can’t be this obsessed. So on the chance that some of my readers are not immersed in inauguration talk, I’d like to share this tidbit that came up on our classical radio station: John Williams is commemorating the occasion with the composition of a new quartet, to immediately precede the swearing in of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States.

Evidently the quartet has a rather unusual instrumentation (violin, cello, clarinet, piano), which happens to be the same instrumentation as Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. This has of course prompted quips about the Obama-Messiaen or the Quartet for the End of a Bad Time; but politics aside, I am looking forward to hearing the piece, which is said to be in classic Williams style. (As if I would expect anything less.)


President Theodore Roosevelt riding in a carriage at his inauguration in Washington, D.C. Chicago Daily News negatives collection, DN-0003451. Courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. Obtained from The Library Of Congress: American Memory

Hearing about that got me interested in our country’s tradition of Presidential inaugurations. I didn’t find much about the musical events of past inaugurations — although the two mezzo-sopranos who sang at George W. Bush’s inauguration are a far cry from Arethra Franklin, who will give the other musical performance at Obama’s — but I did find some cool facts about Inauguration Day over the years.

  • Franklin Pierce was the only President to affirm rather than swear when taking the Presidential Oath.
  • I love the Scripture chosen for Jimmy Carter’s inauguration: Micah 6:8. (I think all politicians should be admonished to follow this Scripture!)
  • Most Presidents these days attend a morning worship service on Inauguration Day, following a tradition started by President Roosevelt.
  • Except for Washington’s second inaugural address (a mere 135 words), all other Presidents have referenced God in their address.

I also found a fascinating article about the inaugural suppers and the first ladies’ wardrobes* for the day.

And I found this, a poem by Robert Frost which he read at JFK’s inauguration in 1961. He had written a different, longer poem specifically for the inauguration, but when the glare of the sun prevented him from seeing it well, he instead recited this one from memory.

The Gift Outright
The land was ours before we were the land’s.
She was our land more than a hundred years
Before we were her people. She was ours
In Massachusetts, in Virginia.
But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak.
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.
Such as we were we gave ourselves outright
(The deed of gift was many deeds of war)
To the land vaguely realizing westward,
But still unstoried, artless, unenhanced,
Such as she was, such as she would become.

~ Robert Frost; 1874-1963

*My family will appreciate the significance of the First Lady dresses. When I was in elementary school, we visited Washington, D.C. and ventured out for a short trip to the Smithsonian. Well, there’s no such thing as a short trip to the Smithsonian, and I have never quite recovered from our leaving halfway through the First Lady dresses exhibit. I very much look forward to taking a longer visit one of these days.

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