Owen Owen’s Speech at Prayer Breakfast October 16, 2023
E PLURIBUS UNAM
It’s an honor to be here. A few years ago, when I read Alexander Humboldt’s biography, I realized this brilliant German scientist and poet laid the foundation for generations of nature writers who taught me to understand and care about what was happening to nature. Humboldt also identified the crises that we face right now. When he returned from his explorations in South America, he met with Thomas Jefferson in 1800, to whom he said something like:
Mr. Jefferson, America stands on the threshold of a new age. Two changes need to be made in your country. End slavery, and stop the unlimited expansion of European civilization, taking the land from the Native Peoples and developing it for profit. You gave us the Bill of Rights. You wrote the Declaration of Independence. People will listen to you.
Jefferson did not listen to the great scientist. Now over two hundred years later, we face the consequences, as an ever-expanding industrial civilization destroys the very earth on which we stand. We are moving toward an abyss. The Ukrainian and Israel wars deflect us from dealing with the climate change crises, as does what’s going on in Congress.
We are not paying attention to the Source of life. We need to change the way we think and live, turn from the way of death to the way of life—repent. How is that possible? The apostle Paul says something which has shaped my life as a minister. As we face an uncertain future three things abide, last forever—faith, hope, and love.
Faith, hope and love are expressed in the protocol of the National Religious Coalition for Christian Care that Fred Krueger sparked into being. As here today when we listen to each other, with reverence and respect, and then speak out of the depth of our deepest understandings. And the odd thing is, our preaching and
teaching becomes universal, doesn’t it? Like when you, Marz Attar invited me to your home two years ago, and you and your wife entertained me. As we dialogued and prayed together, with all the differences in our lives, it was like the Lord was present in that room. Hospitality, as we know from Abraham, sometimes welcomes angels in disguise.
Faith, hope, and love, carry us into the future. Toward the end of the Civil War a Presbyterian pastor, Phineas Gurley, right here in Washington, DC, visited the Lincolns after their beloved child, Willie, died. We know what it’s like to lose a child that we love. Lincoln mourned the deaths of all the people in that awful war, and he couldn’t stand it. He was often depressed. A man of the people, he shared the racism of his time, but yet he knew he had to hold the Union together and end the slavery system. That Presbyterian pastor said to him, “Mr. Lincoln, Jesus teaches that God is a God of the living and not of the dead. Willie is safe with the Lord.”
Many different faiths are present here in the Willard Hotel today. We share the conviction that when we die, that’s not the end. We’re going to be with One who is steadfast in covenant love. As Psalm 36 says, “With you is the fountain of life, in your light, we see light.” After Gurley, who was also the chaplain of the US Senate, left, Mr. Lincoln remembered what Theodore Parker had written years before. The great pendulum of history swings, swings, swings, and we can’t believe that it could center on liberty and justice for all. Yet Parker saw that as a grandfather clock’s pendulum was drawn by gravity to center on the earth, so God’s providence grounded life in liberty and justice for all.
Gurley’s pastoral counsel and Parker’s vision undergirded Lincoln’s conviction that America could unite with liberty and justice for all. Government of, by, and for the people could and would endure on this earth. E Pluribus Unam was possible. Two warring people’s could come together again as one nation.
No matter what happens to America, Lincoln’s life and his death opens up a door that will never close. Faith, hope and love abide. These three powers are here today. As we share and pray together, the LORD will touch our minds and hearts. Now I’m a Methodist and Baptist minister, so you know I’m going to end with a call. When you leave here, you’re going to remember what the Lord said to Moses, “Go down Moses, go down to Egypt land and set my people free.” In the LORD’s time the ecosystems and nations of Planet Earth will be regenerated. God’s kingdom of loving eco-justice will happen here on earth. The Lord bless you all, and keep you.