April 17, 2008

Operation Nice Hat

Mollie in the comments asked for a report on "Operation Nice Hat." (I have been laughing audibly--and for awhile, uncontrollably--about Cwirla's "Nice Hat" sign idea.) The first thing to note was that the Holy Father was wearing his customary white zuchetto, and not this, this, or this. (And it was much too hot to wear this.)

The morning started early - Mrs. Father Esget and I set out for the Metro at 7 a.m. We should have left earlier - after walking about a block along Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House from the Federal Triangle station, we could see a long line of people stretching north. Since we were to enter at the southeast gate, I hoped they were lining up for a different entrance. They were - but the line for our gate stretched all the way down 16th St. and then around Constitution Ave. for more than a block. We were to enter between 8 and 8:45 a.m., but were still waiting in line until we finally got in a little after 9 a.m. Along the way, street peddlers were hawking "Pope pennants" and t-shirts. I thought it would have been fun to have set up a cart selling relics and indulgences. Why do I always think of the best ideas too late?

Since the ceremony wasn't to start until 10:30, I was looking forward to resting my legs a bit, since we had tickets for the central seating area (thanks, Tim!). They must overbook that, though, for the seats were all taken. So we stood, and the slight chill in the morning air was banished by a brilliant sun. It truly was a lovely morning to be out (although by the time it was over, my black clothes had soaked in far too much heat, and I felt sick).

We asked one of the staff about how many were there - she said around 12,000, which seems about right. I don't know what they're called, but this is the second time I've seen at the WH a drum-and-fife corps decked out in 18th century uniforms - I absolutely love it. I'm also a sucker for the cannons firing off the twenty-one gun salute, and the military trumpets heralding the arrival of our leader. Sometimes I wish I'd stuck with the trombone a little longer, and tried to get one of those gigs in the band.

After "Ruffles and Flourishes" and "Hail to the Chief," the President was driven in, followed by B16. The Vatican anthem was played, followed by the United States' National Anthem. No one sang at first, but a few people joined in at the second line, and by "Whose broad stripes," nearly everyone was singing. It was an odd experience - the crowd seemed to need permission to sing, but once they felt they had it, there was a release of patriotic fervor in the singing. There are little opportunities for public singing anymore. We are used to singing in church - but in general society, it has almost disappeared. The sporting events I've attended in the last few years, few people sing the national anthem. It has become the domain of stars and would-be stars, who depart from the melody to such an extent that it becomes all about the singer's narcissism. But I digress. It was good to sing the anthem with others who seemed to care.

Somewhere along the way - I think it was after the "Star-spangled Banner" - the crowd began to sing "Happy Birthday" to the Pope, but it fell apart with the uncertainty as to what to call him: "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear pope-benedict-the-sixteenth-ratzinger-holy-father, happy birthday to you."

Why, oh why do we always have to hear that schmaltzy version of the "Our Father"? Even when it's done well, it's disgusting. Yuck.

Bush then began by saying "Pax tecum" to the Pope, and I had to giggle a bit hearing the Latin through Bush's drawl. Bush's short speech was actually quite good - he gave a vigorous affirmation of the need to protect the weakest in our society, fight tyranny, and protect a free society from "fanaticism and terrorism." He was interrupted several times with applause.

Then, the pope had a very good speech - I appreciated his references to our "founding documents" and their emphasis that the rights of man are given by God. I was most taken with this line: "Freedom is a gift but also a summons to personal responsibility." It would be interesting to apply that not only to our political and social life, but also to our life in the LCMS: how much is done in the name of "freedom" that is really an abuse, threatening the unity of the synod and abandoning all sense of pastoral responsibility!

After the speeches, the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was sung by a men's choir, with some of the crowd joining in. It seems to get sung quite a bit at state gatherings these days; it's something else I could do without. During that time, I kept thinking, "If I was president, I'd fly the Tallis Scholars in and get them to sing some Palestrina. THAT would be classy, and I bet the Pope would like it too."

All in all, we're both glad that we went, though it made for a long day. (After lunch, we had to dash back to church for Vespers, a meeting, Evening Prayer, and another meeting. Somewhere in all of that, I managed to write a sermon for tonight's service.)

My pictures aren't great (our camera lacks oomph in the zoom dept.), but here's a few to give you the sense of things. Perhaps if you buy me some beer, I'll show you the one where we unfurled the sign. ;)

Benedict XVI and President Bush next to the podium.

Benedict XVI and President Bush on the balcony above the south lawn.

The Representative of the Reformation, with Kassie, the embodiment of AC XXIII


Mollie said...

Nice report. I thought the Battle Hymn was completely inappropriate. I mean really -- we can do better than that.

Petersen said...

Wow. I am totally jealous. I am an American history fanatic and I have never been to DC. To hear Bush and Benedict at the white house: very, very cool.

Thanks for the report.

Christopher Esget said...

Mollie: What really troubles me is the messianic way the nation is viewed: "As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free." I wonder if that doesn't capture Bush's philosophy on the use of force? Someone who pays far more attention than I do would have to answer that question.

Petersen: Being here has its crosses, but I'm amazed at what an ordinary preacher like me has gotten to do and see simply by being in Washington's orbit.

Elizabeth said...

For the history fanatic: It is ironic they sung this hymn in light of the fact that the Papal States was (and I use the singular deliberately) the only European government to openly support the Confederacy during the Civil War. Pius Number 9 (who promulgated the dogma of infallibility) even went so far as to weave, and send, a crown of thorns for CSA President Jefferson Davis after the war during Davis's imprisonment. Because of the Bishop of Rome's approbation for the CSA, rumours abounded after Lincoln's assassination that the Jesuits did it. History is oft stranger than fiction.

wmc said...

Manifest Destiny is embedded in the political thought of this country from day one. Study the inaugural speeches. We have this implicit notion that we are God's chosen nation set apart for a specific purpose.

Bridget said...

Sounds like a good time. That would have been a neat thing to write about for my Christian Life class or World Religions class (I had to do a project on Roman Catholicism).

I want to see how the sign turned out. Picture? I totally voted for Nice hat. That cracked me up. Totally wanna see it, but I can't legally get you that beer for another 2 months. :-D

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I'm also a sucker for the canons firing

To quote Shakespeare, "There's a double meaning in that...."

"It would be interesting to apply that not only to our political and social life, but also to our life in the LCMS: how much is done in the name of "freedom" that is really an abuse, threatening the unity of the synod and abandoning all sense of pastoral responsibility!"

With our synod being modeled after our government, and both being created forsimilar reasons, it is no accident that the legal errors, crises, abuses, and ignorances mimic each other as well.

Christopher Esget said...

Re: "canons" - Ach du lieber! I offer up the time of my post as a defense, as well as my musical background. Shoot.

Pr. Scott Klemsz said...

Man, I didn't know priests could get married? What a wonderful looking couple! Enjoyed the entry. Scott

Rev. James Leistico said...

Letterman just showed a clip of the Vatican's Anthem. Who woulda thunk that it would be "Funky Town"