Changing of the Guard

Bill Clinton called the inauguration last week a "changing of the guard." And he was right—in more ways than one. The new family in the White House signifies a switch from the cold war generation to the baby boomer generation. A change that is not just political but also cultural. We're seeing the sixties culture go mainstream—with its stress on feelings and experience, and with its New Age multiculturalism. Perhaps the change was represented best on Inaugural Day by the poem read by Maya Angelou, composed for the occasion and lavishly praised by the media. Ms. Angelou was invited to pen the inaugural poem because she's a great writer—no doubt about that. But the fact that she also happens to be black and a woman fit in nicely with the multicultural symbolism the new president wears like a banner. Listen to the multicultural ideology Angelou pounded home in line after line of the poem: . . . the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew, The African, the Native American, the Sioux, The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek, The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh, The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher, The privileged, the homeless, the teacher . . . Notice how the words imply an equivalence of all religions: Being Jewish or Catholic is just like being African or Asian. It's part of your culture, not a set of truth claims you accept. And, of course, notice the obligatory moral equivalence implied between being gay and straight. But the poem contained a lot more than multiculturalism. The entire poem hangs on the symbolism of a rock, a river, and a tree, which stand for our country. And yet they seem to stand for much more than that. The rock and river and tree all speak to us. They tell us who we are; they urge us to face our destiny; they invite us to rest. The poem seems to be inviting us to look to nature for our inspiration, for comfort, for renewal, using words that verge on the deification of nature. The poem does make a passing reference to a Creator, but He is curiously silent. It is the rock that cries out, the river who sings, the tree who speaks. We all "hear the speaking of the tree," Angelou writes. "Come to me, here beside the river, plant yourself beside the river." The imagery is all of nature, and of ourselves as trees who are called to send down our roots—deep down into the earth. These are powerful images, and they will linger in the mind long after the political rhetoric of Inaugural Day has been forgotten. It nudges our culture one more step in the direction of the New Age nature worship that is replacing classic Christian theism. A writer named Andrew Fletcher once said, "Let me write the songs of a nation; I don't care who writes its laws." The point is well taken. It is poetry, with its nuances, its cadences, its ability to bypass the mind and penetrate straight to the heart, that motivates and moves a people—that captures a nation's imagination—far more than any laws a new president might pass. Maya Angelou's lines were not just pretty words to celebrate a coronation. They express a cultural vision that is invading our national heart and spirit.


Chuck Colson



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