Whatever happened to a
sense of humor? Here’s how Representative Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri
(who happens to be a United Methodist Church pastor) ended the
traditional prayer to open the 117th Congress last week:
Now may the God who created the world and
everything in it bless us and keep us. May the Lord make his face to
shine upon us and be gracious unto us. May the Lord lift up the light
of his countenance upon us and give us peace — peace in our
families, peace across this land and, dare I ask, oh Lord — peace
even in this chamber, now and ever more. We ask it in the name of the
monotheistic god, Brahma, and god known by many names by many
different faiths. Amen and A-Woman.
The backlash was immediate and sadly predictable from such worthies as Donald Trump Jr. and Newt Gingrich. Representative Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, tweeted, “The prayer to open the 117th Congress ended with ‘amen and a-women.’ Amen is Latin for ‘so be it.’ It’s not a gendered word. Unfortunately, facts are irrelevant to progressives. Unbelievable.”
Speaking of facts: Amen isn’t Latin, it’s Hebrew, goes back to Deuteronomy, probably at least 3,000 years, well before Latin emerged. With the meaning “truth” or “certainty,” used adverbially “as an expression of agreement.” OK, it’s not gendered, but no adverb is. If you’re into Helena Blavatsky’s mystical religion of Theosophy, you may believe that “amen” derived from one of Egypt’s main gods, Amun. (Amun-Ra appeared when Amun was conflated with the sun god, Ra, and to whom the great Karnak temple is dedicated.)
Cleaver later explained his “a-women” play on words. “I concluded with a light-hearted pun in recognition of the record number of women who will be representing the American people in Congress during this term.” Indeed, we now have 144 women in the House and Senate; the previous high was 129.
So it was a pun, a
deadpan joke. Obviously. Look, I understand deadpan humor. I’m a
Brit married to an American, I know what it’s like to say something
daft as if total earnestness and be taken seriously. My theory is
that, over in Blighty, you assume someone’s joking unless it’s
clear they’re not…vice versa over here. “It was a joke,” I’ll
say to Louisa. “It didn’t sound like a joke,” she’ll say, and
we’ll wonder yet again how we have managed to survive nearly 50 years
in each others company.
So c’mon! It wasn’t the greatest pun in the world. Wasn’t even a pun, strictly speaking. But Emanuel Cleaver meant no harm in his shout-out to those 144 female legislators, you know that guys. There are more important things to worry about right now. Seriously.