Please Pray for Me, I'm in D.C.
The annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., is not for the easily annoyed or enochlophobic. Nor is it a place where you can save a seat for a friend.
After interviewing Dina Dwyer-Owens for a story on values to run in the March issue, I asked the co-chair of The Dwyer Group if I’d see her at the Prayer Breakfast the next weekend. It seemed plausible at the time that we might run into each other, but once you’ve rolled out of bed at 4:15 a.m. in order to catch a ride across town before police closed off streets, showed your ID and trudged through a metal detector along with 4,000 other people, you realize table hopping isn’t on the menu.
Getting to the Washington Hilton from the JW Marriott (a sentimental favorite because of the many IFA events I’ve attended there over the years) was equally eventful. First, I put a toe through my tights (I wish it was as easy to run a 5K as it is to run a pair of tights). Then my liquid foundation spit up, staining my suit. My Plan B attire caused me to look somewhat underdressed. Not cool, because this was a crowd that looked like they were going to a religious prom.
Fortunately, our hired car was outside the hotel at 5 a.m. But so was the policeman who had pulled him over. The bellman advised us to take a taxi—something we had assumed would be hard to do when we ordered the car. Later we found out the reason the driver had been pulled over was because he wasn’t licensed for the city of D.C. I was hoping for the sake of this blog it was something more exciting, like murder.
We arrived at the hotel at 5:10; the breakfast started at 7:30. After killing some time at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in the hotel lobby, we went downstairs to wait in line, wearing our nametags. Several men were named Usher, but to my disappointment, not a one of them was the handsome singer on "The Voice."
Phones were allowed inside the banquet room, but we were warned several times not to take photos. Of course, no one paid any attention because the need to take selfies, and thus relegate our life experiences to the background, behind our smiling faces, is too strong.
This annual prayer breakfast was founded 64 years ago by Seattle businessmen as a means to set aside their differences and a way to deal with the tensions and pressures of the public life for business leaders. They took a page from Jesus’ book, and shared a meal. I bet both the businessmen and Jesus didn’t have cold bagels and congealed quiche at their meal. A man we met while waiting for the metal detectors to open told us the overflow room had better food as the reward for giving up a seat in the main dining room. But being in the same room, albeit far away, with the President of the United States was worth forgoing a four-star meal.
The event is now a by-invitation-only Congressional event. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave a brief introduction and Minority Leader of the House Nancy Pelosi did the scripture reading. The angelic tenor, Andrea Bocelli, performed both the opening and closing songs. While President Obama was the true keynoter, husband-and-wife TV producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey talked about their faith and the making of "The Bible" for television. They also produce "The Voice" (so maybe Usher really was there), and Downey played the angel with an Irish brogue in "Touched by an Angel."
“I’m the only man here who can say he really has been touched by an angel,” Burnett quipped.
This was Obama’s final breakfast as commander in chief. His message was that faith is a great cure for fear. The United States has always faced turbulent times and dealt with our fear in courageous ways. There’s a need, he said, for us all to stand up not only to our enemies, but sometimes to our friends and do what’s right.
Republicans, no doubt, liked the prayer expressed by Obama: “Less of me; more of God.”