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"When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  -- First Corinthians 13:11.

"We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things." -- U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama.

I love good sermons. I appreciate good sermons as high social art. Solo spoken oration is dying out. It still exists in its best sense as a sermon. When you give a sermon you're casting your fate to the wind. There's no middle ground. You either hit the bulls-eye or flail around hoping someone puts you out of your misery. As does the congregation. Giving a sermon takes cojones. It is not for the meek or the easily slighted. Most sermons suck.

[Crossposted from The Motley Moose.]

The cadence and pauses and diminuendo and crescendo and largo and rubato of a good sermon are as well defined as any orchestral score. The spoken voice has definite pitch; and good sermons have a pitched melody that you can score. They have rests and whole notes and dotted eighths and triplets. The spoken human voice is more like a pitched drum than an oboe. It is mostly percussion with a dash of pitch. It's all about timing and negative space. A good sermon is alive with alliteration.  Praise the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from whom the English language obtained the alliterative. Beowulf the change you believe in.

Lots of folks were hoping Barack would give us an ethereal balls to the walls Wagnerian Robesonian whoop de doop Sermon on the Mall.

But M.C. Hussein did us all one better and for the better-- he played against expectation, caught us by surprise and in doing so, pulled off a true and real performance win.

Obama started out with a somewhat clunky, warty and unpolished tone, as if to say: "All this pomp and Aretha's propellor are the shizzle, no question, but have you all checked to see how fucked this jackass over here has left us?"

Obama refused to give the crowd what it wanted -- the soaring, sky high, Blue Angels, majestic ObamaVision version of "Secular Humanist Mission Accomplished" -- because as he said in quoting First Corinthians -- it is time to put away such childish things. No analog to codpiece. No flight jacket. No aircraft carrier. No insipid self-unaware Alfred E. Neuman spewing smirk and false sincerity over acres of dead and maimed and crippled human bodies. No string section, fake or real. No applause lines. No shit.

No. Obama hid his Solomonic sermonic virtuosity under a bushel and gave the assembled 2 billion parishioners a dry and hard dose of Olde Time Calvinism that would make Increase Mather, William Bradford and Daniel Gookins proud of the big-eared kid from the big-shouldered city along the lake the Ojibwa call Michigan:

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

Pass the ice cold shower, hard tack and hair shirts !!!

Pennsylvania Ave. pain sticks at Zero Dark Thirty !!!

Your Toughness Groove Awaits !!!

This ain't no Country Club Presleydency.

This train is bound for glory.

Amen.

Originally posted to Pometacom on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 05:49 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

    •  Mission accomplished. n/t (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra77
      •  What mission? (0+ / 0-)

        It looks like 'a hard row to hoe' ahead to me.  "Beware the early gloat" is what many a game of chance has taught me.

        I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

        by SERMCAP on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:20:18 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The speech as road map... (6+ / 0-)

          This diary is about the speech, obviously, and what President Obama set out to do with it. Thus, imo, he accomplished his mission, which is what I meant in the terse comment that you responded to. No question that he sugar coated nothing about the tough times we are in. He expressed optimism and can do as elements of the American character, but made it clear we are facing tough times going forward.

          It was intensely interesting to listen to the analysis of the speech afterwards. Some thought it was good-not-great, apparently because there were no "purple mountains majesty" memorable moments, while others like Doris Kearns Goodwin appreciated the richness of his messages to different audiences, especially to the "world" outside the U.S.

          This diary captures the brilliance of the speech, thus, imo, "mission accomplished."

          Obama refused to give the crowd what it wanted -- the soaring, sky high, Blue Angels, majestic ObamaVision version of "Secular Humanist Mission Accomplished" -- because as he said in quoting First Corinthians -- it is time to put away such childish things. No analog to codpiece. No flight jacket. No aircraft carrier. No insipid self-unaware Alfred E. Neuman spewing smirk and false sincerity over acres of dead and maimed and crippled human bodies. No string section, fake or real. No applause lines. No shit.

          No. Obama hid his Solomonic sermonic virtuosity under a bushel and gave the assembled 2 billion parishioners a dry and hard dose of Olde Time Calvinism...

          •  You're right, Dorothy. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DorothyT, Cofit

            Obama and his speechwriters are prescient. They are great writing team because they understand the words are like coins -- if you spend them too freely and loosely you devalue them.

            This is an address that rewards repeated study.

            It's good.

          •  Cool! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            DorothyT

            I was just checking.  Nice exegesis.  I'd say that a lot of folks were a bit perplexed that they didn't get more 'rah-rah' moments.  I thought I saw it in reaction shots of the crowd now and again.

            Overall, very sobering, to say the least.

            I bow to those who seek the truth; I flee from those who have 'found' it.

            by SERMCAP on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 02:03:12 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  I believe you understand yesterday's speech (9+ / 0-)

      better than those who were paid to understand it and tell us what to think.

      I've been obsessive watching tv coverage and reading analysis--today I hear clips from the speech and realize that I missed parts of it.  It appears that President Obama didn't waste one word.  It'll take a few readings, hearings, before all of the messages are revealed.

      As an aside, Jon Stewart made me laugh last night--showing clips where Obama took Bush to task with Stewart stage-whispering 'He's sitting right behind you!'

      •  could well be... I have done something (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        DorothyT, St Louis Woman

        I usually never do and have listened to the speech a few times... and each time I am a little bit more impressed with it. Very little fat in it, and there is only one or two small lines that I personally wouldn't have said or included.

        Looking back on the primary and the GE the pundits have been flat out wrong so often I'm surprised they have jobs left (remember the initial pundit reaction to the debates, ha), so why should they stop being wrong now?

        "Biden's tears did more for the equality Of the sexes than Palin's presence" - Leah Renna

        by edgeways on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 08:22:35 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  That Jackass over there............. (11+ / 0-)

    "All this pomp and Aretha's propellor are the shizzle, no question, but have you all checked to see how fucked this jackass over here has left us?"

    I loved that line.  Gave you a rec and a tip just because it was the best line I'd read here in a few days.

    "I am my own forerunner"

    by Cassandra77 on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:05:44 AM PST

  •  Great speech (6+ / 0-)

    The speech gets better and better the more times you hear it.

    The more you listen to it, the better it gets. Kind of like a song that has no obvious pop "hook", but the more you listen to it the more you grow to appreciate the greatness of it.

    No soaring rhetoric, a serious, sobering call to action by a very serious man.

    Same guy, he's just shifting gears.

    Perfect.

    "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!"

    by jkay on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:05:49 AM PST

  •  Exactly (5+ / 0-)

    He spoke to the people, not the talking heads, not the speech critics, and not the non-believers.  He spoke to the people.

    Second time I've said it, but the speech was a repudiation of past policies stretching as far back as Reagan and called out Bush and his cronies for their misdeeds.  My only regret is the cameras did not show the Shrub squirming.

    "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

    by JFinNe on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:12:04 AM PST

  •  I think this is code for (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hotdamn

    "Buy Adult Things".

  •  We have to get to work (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    athensga, mysticlaker

    We have a new President. But now we have to get to work. Help our communities and businesses become the best, most caring, most innovative, and most competitive. It takes a lot of masonry and carpentry to make that city on the hill...so we better get a move on!

    Chimp free for 21 hours!

    by Bobs Telecaster on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 06:18:30 AM PST

  •  He did exactly what I wanted him to. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trs

    He attacked the complacent mediocrity that has infected our elites in economics, military affairs and our social discourse.

    The worst thing for me regarding bV$H will always be the stench of total failure.

    Obama just told our Masters in Wall Street and the Pentagon that we now expect much better from them.

    In other words:  Get Your Shit In Order Or Else

    "Return the Egg to Mothra Island!": The Singing Mothra Twins

    by jds1978 on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 07:25:15 AM PST

  •  I, too saw music in Obama's speech (0+ / 0-)

    The musical analogies were especially apt. Most good sermons flow like a well-written Sonata-form movement(and I have heard many hundreds of sermons, a few good and most, as the diarist rightly points out, fairly shabby). But a very musical cadence Obama had indeed, and like the very best and most elegant music, he employed what my undergraduate (music) composition mentor Stanley Hollingsworth used to call "economy of craft". It is much easier to write music which is thick with bombast and heavy orchestration than to write a trio. The more exposed the musical voices, the greater your craft must be. Stanley used to say "flair and talent are not enough, you must have craft", and craft Obama has in spades.

    Like that hypothetical trio, Obama employs that economy and exposes his considerable craft in communication. All of this is true of good preachers as well--and some of the best sermons I have ever heard have been fairly brief, like Obama's.

    Compare Obama's "Sermon" with the inelegant and lumbering efforts of Dr. Warren and you have a lesson in sermonizing as well as in musical form.

    "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American people"--H.L.Mencken

    by commonmass on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 07:51:37 AM PST

  •  Nice antidote for those complaining ... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DorothyT, commonmass

    ... about the lack of quotable moments.  I've heard several complaints like "where was the equivalent to JFK's 'Ask not'", etc.  It was a grown-up talking with people who he chose to treat as fellow grown-ups, and the quote you cited is the best possible example of that.

    I also liked this one:  sure, it's not a single sentence, and won't easily get distilled into a JFK-style sound-bite.  But it's brilliant:

    Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

    Others have cited it on this blog too, but it bears repeating.

  •  Maybe it was a speech for writers, (0+ / 0-)

    and those who love them, but I found it absolutely marvelous.  The concision, the structure, the beautiful peroration at the close ... it was masterful.

    It's incredibly dense and rich with allusion.  And my favorite part is that while there were frequent echoes of Lincoln ("the lines of tribe," etc) when he chose to close with the peroration of Washington at Valley Forge, he leapt nimbly over the question of race, of the likening to Lincoln, and placed himself firmly in line, a line that begins with Washington and ends, now, with Obama.

    That was what this speech had to do:  turn Obama into the rightful President.  In the same way that Lincoln's speech at the cemetery in Pennsylvania had to turn the Civil War into a righteous war.

    Terrified to find myself in the majority.

    by Kevvboy on Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 03:47:53 PM PST

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