National Prayer Breakfast Serves Up Laughter, Inspiration
WASHINGTON -- Government leaders mixed with clergy for the 64th National Prayer Breakfast Thursday morning. What's unexpectedly fun is how funny these events can be.
For example, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., co-chair of the Senate's weekly prayer meeting, talked about his time first serving in Washington.
"When I came to the Senate in January 2013, within nine months, the government of the United States shut down," Kaine recalled. "Because I'm Catholic, I tended to blame myself."
Or when co-chair of the House weekly prayer meeting Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., remembered being in law school and asking a fellow student who was "really smart" in the school.
"And he said 'this guy named Barack Obama. He's really, really smart. And he may even become a Supreme Court justice someday,'" Vargas said. "So there's still time, Mr. President. There's still time. You're a young man."
President Obama himself prompted chuckles. He started his time at the prayer podium set-up in the Washington Hilton saying he had a confession.
"I have always felt a tinge of guilt motorcading up here at the heart of D.C.'s rush hour," he admitted. "I suspect that not all the commuters were blessing me."
The Washington prayer event can also be a touching and inspiring time. Co-chair Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., spoke highly of his fellow leader Vargas, despite the fact they are on opposite sides of the aisle politically.
"He is a progressive Democrat. I'm a conservative Republican," Aderholt said of Vargas. "And our voting records are probably about as similar as our hairstyles. But I love him. And I know he loves me because we share a common friend in Jesus."
"We make time to come together every week and pray," Vargas said of his weekly gathering with Aderholt and other praying lawmakers. "Could you do that in your city? Your workplace? Your mission in life? If a leftie Chicano from California and a conservative judge from Alabama can do it, why can't you?"
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., talked about the efficacy of prayer itself.
"When people say we're praying for someone or something, the attitude in some quarters these days is 'don't just pray. Do something about it.' Thing is, when you are praying, you are doing something about it," Ryan explained. "You are revealing the presence of God."
There was some actual prayer at the prayer breakfast.
Julian Castro, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, began his prayer with humility.
"Let us remember that each of us is beloved equally in the eyes of our Lord. And let us serve as instruments of Your mercy to our brothers and our sisters," he prayed.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert Rigsby prayed, "Father, we ask that You'd watch over our president, Barack Obama, as he literally carries the weight of the world on his shoulders."
For the first time ever the keynote address was delivered by a husband and wife, faith-based producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.
Downey inspired the audience when recalling her days starring in the popular TV series "Touched by an Angel."
"Every week I got to deliver a message of God's love on national television to millions of people," Downey recalled. "And as a believer myself, this was such an honor - to share with the audience that there is a God, that He loves us and that He wants to be part of our lives."
President Obama preached about casting out fear, admitting there's plenty to fear for some in our modern world.
"We pray for God's protection for all around the world who are not free to practice their faith, including Christians who are persecuted or who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence," he said.
But he also talked about the antidotes to fear, saying, "Faith is the great cure for fear. Jesus is a good cure for fear."
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson also returned Thursday to the National Prayer Breakfast, a venue that helped launch his Republican presidential campaign.
He served as the keynote speaker three years ago, using the opportunity to talk about the country's national debt, alternatives to Obamacare and tithing.
"When I pick up my Bible, you know what I see? I see the fairest individual in the universe, God, and He's given us a system. It's called tithe," Carson said in his 2013 speech. "There must be something inherently fair about proportionality."
After that speech, Carson, who considered himself a political independent, was persuaded to run for president as a Republican in the 2016 election.