Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black has seen the very worst of the partisan politics plaguing the American government for over a decade. Taking office a few months after the start of the Iraq War, he has watched the bitter divide between parties consume two presidencies and grow into an expansive chasm. While the Senate chaplain also teaches bible study groups and holds prayer breakfasts, since the shutdown began a week ago, Black has focused on providing his own insight and perspective in the approximately one minute in which he has the undivided, uninterrupted attention of all members of the Senate: the morning invocation.
Black's morning invocations, which call attention to the absurdity of the squabble between Republicans and Democrats, may be the only words with the power to appeal to whatever rationality remains among them.
Since its inception, the Senate chaplain has been non-partisan, non-political, and non-sectarian. No Senate body has been in session without a chaplain to begin the day with prayer. The chaplain serves as an adviser to the Senate and provides spiritual and moral advice, support, and knowledge when necessary. To this end, Black is active and extremely capable. His career as a chaplain began in 1976, and he holds several advanced degrees including a Doctorate in Ministry and a PhD in Psychology.
Until the shutdown forced their cessation, Black held weekly Bible study classes and prayer breakfasts for Senate members and their families. He knows his job and his congregation very well, and during the shutdown with all its insult hurling, obstinance, and ignorance, he understands that the best advice he can provide is a blunt reality check.
Although thinly veiled as prayers, Black's recent invocations specifically criticize the vices that Senate members employ to excuse their behaviors. He calls out their refusal to admit shortcomings, selfishness, and smugness. Overbearing pride, another machismo mechanism responsible for the lack of sincere communication in the Senate, is also brought to fault. Black directs a scathing criticism towards actions of Senators such as Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell who were recently caught on tape discussing efforts to mislead the public about their sincerity by outlining the hypocrisy of the false reasonability shrouding the political conversation.
Perhaps most importantly, Black reminds the Senators that their actions are neither victimless nor irreversible. Many thousands of Americans (including Black himself) are impacted by the situation Congress has willingly created, causing people to lose the benefits, paychecks, and services they rely upon to get by. This "collateral damage," as Black puts it, should not be the price for the stubborn and truly unreasonable decisions made without any real consideration of their livelihoods.
However, by acknowledging their vices, speaking and acting in sincerity, and working to transform a long stale and negative situation into a productive and positive one, Congress can at any time return to their original mission: improving the lives of the American people. Hopefully Black's words can inspire moments of clarity, and save us, as he says, "from the madness" of a government bent on destroying itself.