Church, Women and a Young Evangelist

My seventeen-year-old son, mostly a reluctant church-goer, is very good friends with a teenage boy who is not a reluctant church goer, but instead an eager one. This friend attends a local Southern Baptist church (though it is not at all obvious that that’s what it is, as they call themselves a “community church”), which also happens to be one of the very rare growing churches in the area.

My son attended worship with this friend one Sunday last summer, and came home perplexed by the whole experience. “They don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer,” was one of the first observations my son shared. He also noticed that the worship featured a lot of rock-style music (that he described as “cheesy”), along with a very long sermon by the preacher, and then more rock music. And, not much else. My son found it odd that there was not much for the congregation to do, other than listen and nod their heads. My son went on to critique the sermon, which seemed to be all about how the preacher was led, by God, to buy a certain minivan and that God helped him get a great deal.

As he told me the story, my son couldn’t help but shake his head in bewilderment. In our household, and in my ministry, I’m not much of a “particular providence” sort of person. I was gratified that my son had absorbed that message, as he was disconcerted by the pastor’s notion that God would get so directly involved in the buying of a minivan, yet seem not to care about things like mass shootings and famine.

It turns out that my son has been absorbing a few other things as well. Since November’s presidential election, I’ve not only written about, but have also preached on sexism—the sexism that I perceive as a significant component of the result of the election, and the Christian Church’s role in preaching and supporting (obviously, and less obviously) the subordination of women. And, I’ve made it clear that I’m concerned not just about men in this situation, but also women, who so often seem to go along with second class status, even when they claim not to like it.

My son has been paying attention.

Part of my Easter sermon this year highlighted the profound significance of the role of women in the Easter story and at the very beginning of the Christian story, as reported by Matthew, and the evangelism of Mary Magdalene in particular. I observed that even in the 21st century, most Christians attending worship on Easter went to churches and denominations that prohibit the preaching of women—from Roman Catholics to Orthodox to Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. In the days after Easter, my son contacted his friend and asked him a simple question, “Doesn’t it bother you that your church doesn’t allow women to preach?”

I hadn’t asked him to contact his friend, or ask the question. It wasn’t even until at least a day later than he told me that he had asked the question at all. And, also added that he offered his own answer to the question, “Doesn’t it bother you that your church doesn’t allow women to preach?” And, that answer was, “It should.”

Who knew that my son had been listening for so long and not only absorbing information, but willing to say something, to point to the ugly tendency for some—many —Christian churches to deny women a significant role in preaching and teaching the good news, even though if it hadn’t been for women, we might not have Christianity at all—as the men had locked themselves away on that first Easter.

When I ask women who attend these sorts of churches if it bothers them that women are excluded from the pulpit, just because of their gender, I almost always get a response something along the lines, “Well . . . I don’t like it, but . . . the church is doing so many good things, I guess I’m willing to live with it.”

I’m glad to know that, even though lots of women are willing to put up with second class status (not actually well supported by scripture, by the way), my son has felt the call to speak up. As the parent of both a male and a female, I often encourage and support the feminism of my daughter. I’ve learned a valuable lesson: I shouldn’t expect less from my son.

So far, John hasn’t made any headway in changing his friend’s mind (they have met in person to talk, as well as keeping up a texting dialogue). But, I trust that he will continue to explore the role of women in his life and perhaps will be the sort of person who will not put up with what so many women seem willing to accept. After all, Mary Magdalene was not simply an evangelist for women, but for all Christians—willing to see, willing to appreciate, willing to believe the unbelievable, and willing to speak, willing to share the good news for all.

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Thank You, Ross Douthat

Now, there’s a string of words that I never thought I would type, let alone choose as a title for a blog post. But, in an Easter surprise, I find myself in complete agreement with Mr. Douthat, conservative columnist for the New York Times.

If you didn’t see it, Mr. Douthat wrote a column (as he does most Sundays) on Easter Sunday entitled, “Save the Mainline.” [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/15/opinion/sunday/save-the-mainline.html  In the column, Douthat—not only a conservative but also a Roman Catholic—argued, “For the sake of their country, their culture and their very selves, liberal post-Protestants should find a mainline congregation and starting attending every week.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Douthat’s column goes on to say, “The wider experience of American politics suggests that as liberalism de-churches it struggles to find a nontransactional organizing principle, a persuasive language of the common good.” Or, as I might put it, liberalism begins to lose its sense of common humanity. Away from church, liberalism, in its seemingly unquestioned claim to be “inclusive,” actually displays the tendency to build a wall around its “inclusivity,” denying the basic and essential humanity of those with whom it disagrees.

I experienced one tiny example of this sort of trend last week, during a tour of colleges with my son, who is a high school junior. At most of the colleges we visited I asked, of an admissions counselor or tour guide, about free speech on campus, and whether or not the college we were visiting had engaged in any organized discussion of what recently took place at Middlebury College, where a talk by Charles Murray (a conservative fellow at the American Enterprise Institute) was shut down by violent student protestors.

In response to my question, I got an array of answers, with at least a couple of college representatives having no idea what I was talking about. At one college, though, the tour guide was indeed knowledgeable about the incident and reported that on that particular campus vigorous conversation had taken place. He assured me that the college of which he is part is truly committed to free speech, and a diversity of views and perspectives. As an example, he pointed to an upcoming presentation from one of the founders of “Black Lives Matter.” While such a presentation certainly seemed worthwhile to me, I went on to say that it seemed unlikely that there would be any sort of organized protest for such an event on that campus. But, what if a conservative speaker, like Charles Murray, were to be invited? What might happen? The student looked at me in complete and utter bafflement, his face displaying a sort of shocked lack of understanding, as if to say, “Why would we do that?”

This little incident is just one tiny example, I realize, but I experienced similar exchanges on the various college campuses we toured, mostly northeastern liberal arts colleges. For almost every campus we visited, the decline of liberal Protestantism is on full display, with at best, limited understanding of what a “liberal Protestant” even is. More often, the simple raising of the subject of Christianity in general is to conjure images of closed-minded enemies to the mission of a good liberal education.

The young people I met voiced their commitment to “inclusion” and “community,” with great and impassioned enthusiasm. Yet, it was clear that “inclusion” was limited, and anything outside of their particular view (and those of their professors) was not simply a different, if wayward, view. It was to be actively protested, shut down, and denied. Common humanity, it turns out, has its limits.

Religion, while certainly not without its own issues and problems, often offers just the antidote to the idea that “inclusion” is only “inclusive” so long as the parties within agree with each other. Protestant Christianity, in particular, preaches many of the very same goals of those liberals and progressives in places like college campuses. But, it also offers a critical and vital difference: the recognition of our common humanity, even for those whose views and solutions to the ills of society are different.

The simple notion, grounded in the Hebrew Scriptures, and highlighted by Jesus, known as the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do to you), is actually very important to our ability to share this planet, as well as our communities. Somehow, liberalism without religion has lost this ethical anchor.

Good old Mainline Protestantism offers a relatively easy path back to some of what liberalism needs. But, it isn’t going to be available much longer, if people continue to stay away.

As Douthat notes, entry into the Mainline shouldn’t be too difficult: “You say you’re spiritual but not religious because you associate ‘religion’ with hierarchies and dogmas and strict rules about sex. But the Protestant mainline has gone well out of its way to accommodate you on all these points.”

Very true.

In the small, aging church I serve, we seek to be welcoming, inclusive and accommodating—we even have a couple of people who really don’t consider themselves Christian at all. At Old South, we seek to be a community of faith, supporting and encouraging each other in this journey of life. We (most of us anyway) identify as Christian, and seek to follow the teachings of Jesus, yet we also—though I know this might sound shocking—struggle with certain theological concepts like resurrection. We do our best to welcome strangers and to share the love of God that we experience. And, we also try very hard to live out the Golden Rule. This isn’t always easy. Old South is a community of different kinds of people, including people with differing political views. Without our faith at the core, it would be relatively easy for one to dismiss another, when disagreements arise. But, that doesn’t happen. While it can be a challenge, we recognize the significance of our common humanity.

We do something, often without ever even thinking about it, that those students at Middlebury College were not willing to do—we listen to each other; we recognize that not one of us is perfect nor has the perfect solution to a problem. We do unto others as we would have them do to us—even when we think they are wrong.

Mainline Protestant churches have a lot to offer, for individuals, families and communities—and for the country. But, we aren’t going to be around forever, just because we have something worthwhile. We need you. And, may I be so bold to suggest, that you need us as well.

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In Search of a Different Easter

There’s something about the two major Christian holidays that have become, well, something of a drag for me, in my role as pastor of a small church. Easter, especially, has become difficult, in the reality of what I experience at my small church in the middle of Maine. Now that I’ve served Old South for over a decade, I’ve learned a lot about the rhythms and textures of the year, and it’s hard to escape the notion that there’s something about our holy days that feels not so holy.

At Old South, Easter is, by far, the best attended Sunday worship service of the year. The choir will sing. The bell choir will perform. People will wear spring clothes. Some of the women will wear hats. I’ll say, “He is Risen!” And, the response will come, “He is Risen indeed!” And I’ll get to preach to the largest audience of the year.

I know that there are at least a few people who regularly attend Old South who look at Easter as a great opportunity to lure some people into more regular attendance and commitment—perhaps someone we’ve never seen before or maybe someone who once was active at Old South but has become a CEO (Christmas and Easter Only). There’s a lot of pressure. Somehow, it’s all up to how I lead worship that will lure, or not.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that Easter doesn’t work that way. Even on an Easter when CEOs tell me that my sermon was great and the service wonderful, it doesn’t mean that they will come again—before Christmas. The CEOs of Old South are an interesting group. They genuinely like coming on Christmas (Eve) and Easter. But, only on for those two services. There’s even a few who play in the bell choir—for Christmas Eve and Easter. It’s what they like; it fits in with whatever church experience they are looking for.

My lack of “feeling it” this year likely has a little to do with the pressure of the day and the expectations. But, it has a lot more to do with what Easter has come to mean to me, which doesn’t line up well with the big worship service full of unfamiliar faces.

Year after year, I find myself increasingly drawn to the thoughts of Henri Nouwen, who reflected that Easter was really for Jesus’ closest followers. Easter is an intimate event—small, quiet, life-altering and life-affirming.

In The Road to Daybreak, Nouwen writes the following after a simple Eucharist on an Easter morning:

[Easter] was not a spectacular event forcing people to believe. Rather, it was an event for the friends of Jesus, for those who had known him, listened to him, and believed in him. It was a very intimate event: a word here, a gesture there, and a gradual awareness that something new was being born—small, hardly noticed, but with the potential to change the face of the earth.

I think if I could have it my way, I’d tell all of the CEOs to take the day off. No offense meant, but Easter is for those of us who are in church almost every Sunday. It’s for the small group of friends, those who do the work, who struggle with their faith, who show up when hardly anybody does. Easter is for those who hear their name being called, and answer by becoming a part of a community of faith, through the ups and downs, through the doubts and certainties, through the joys and the fears, through good times and bad.

Easter is for the friends, the close followers. What I’d like to be able to do on Sunday is to gather up my small flock and talk about what Easter means, what the resurrection means, not in general terms, but what it means this year for this church, and not just for Easter day, but for next Sunday and the next and the next, and for the committees and teams, for the choir, etc.

Christmas has room for a crowd—a crowd that includes a lot of “extras,” those who show up for the big moment, but then are gone. Easter doesn’t really have that space. It doesn’t lend itself to a group of varying degrees of interest and commitment.

Easter is for the friends, for the followers, those who stay close, those who know Jesus so well that they recognize his voice when he speaks to them in the darkness and the heartbreak of life. Easter isn’t really about a bell choir, or loud alleluias, or spring hats. It’s about a moment when you open yourself to transformation, when you look at something completely unbelievable and, while you may struggle with believing, you find a renewal of trust and a compelling story that you can’t help but follow—not alone, but with a ragtag group, gathered together to live out the good news.

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An Unaccustomed Silence

Holy Week has begun and for the first time in many years, I feel completely unprepared.

Usually, by the time Palm/Passion Sunday (we observe both at Old South) rolls around, I have at least a good idea (in my head, if nowhere else) of what the week will look like. By the week before Easter, I almost always have an outline of an Easter sermon. Sometimes, I manage to have most of that sermon written down in phrases and paragraphs. I have a good idea of what I want Easter worship to feel like, what I feel is important to convey for my flock, extended as they typically are for Easter morning.

This year, I begin the week with hardly a notion at all of some even of the basics of the week ahead. The special service times have been posted, as have the “sign ups” (a now ever-present aspect of how we gather ourselves at Old South, with opportunities for anyone to sign up for just about anything—readings, prayers, serving communion, etc.). But, I don’t have a clue what the readings will be, or the shape of the communion service for Maundy Thursday, or the structure of the prayer service for Good Friday. And, I don’t have even a phrase or a concept for the start of the sermon on Easter.

The little bits that I gather over Lent (and before), usually come to me at odd moments—when I’m in my car, when I’m working out at the gym, when I’m at the grocery store, when I’m making dinner or baking, etc. It’s not uncommon for me, especially during Lent, to find myself in some weird place grasping for a piece of scrap paper, or now more commonly the note-taking app on my smart phone, to scribble down a random, holy week related thought. They are like little stray gifts.

By the time Holy Week arrives, I usually have at least a handful of pieces of scrap paper. Sometimes, those scrap paper ideas have already found their way into some development in a document on my computer. I rarely face Holy Week with the dread that I need to come up with everything, and there’s not much time.

This year is one of those years when the beginning of Holy Week is looking rather stressful and challenging, when the note-taking app is empty and there’s nothing in the “stray gift” basket. If it’s an especially silent season, I know there are previous years (lots of them, at this point in my ministry) that offer at least something of a safety net. Yet, I’m hoping that I won’t need to rely on the safety net too much, and that a new insight or two will make itself known, and soon.

I begin this most holy of weeks trying hard not to panic. Instead, I’m attempting to allow the silence to be what it is, hoping that it’s in the silence I need to be for the moment. And, trusting that something will come that will guide this year’s holy week in a new way, and will open up the wonder and awe of these holy observances—for me and the congregation.

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Prayer as Echo Chamber

For reasons that are entirely a mystery to me, I receive regular emails from the “Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation.” When the emails started appearing in my busy inbox, I was tempted to figure out a way to unsubscribe—as, by a brief scan of the first few, I realized that I was not in agreement with much of anything that appeared to concern them. On second thought, I decided not to unsubscribe and that it would be more interesting to read the emails from time to time.

And it has been very interesting.

In a recent e-newsletter, the CPCF listed a series of links to longer stories on a range of topics ranging from the Supreme Court confirmation process to Christian (referred to mostly as “religious”) practice in the armed forces to the hostility toward “religion” in the U.S. (again, all of the examples shown were all Christian). Most of the topics that appear in the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation’s emails have something to do with attacks on (Christian) prayer in various public spaces and/or gatherings and with the organization’s efforts to encourage those who read their materials to pray for various issues: certain outcomes in particular judicial cases or legislative bills; for others on the “religious liberty front”; and, for “those that oppose us.”

The emails I receive from the CPCF leave me puzzled, and even alarmed, at the sense of prayer that exists in a sort of a vacuum or worse, as an echo chamber. There’s little care or consideration for prayer as religious and spiritual practice, as sacred space through which one opens oneself to the presence of God. Instead, prayer seems only to be one more weapon in the culture wars of the present day.

For the CPCF, prayer is synonymous with “Christian.” The CPCF advises its readers to “continue praying consistently and fervently for the successful passage of legislation that effectively protects our Judeo-Christian heritage and religious liberty.” Is it possible to claim that prayer belongs only to Christians? And, more than that, is the CPCF endeavoring to do the work of God or is it the other way around?

I’m certainly not opposed to prayer, but I wonder about the sorts of prayers, and attitudes toward prayer, that the CPCF is promoting. Prayer, it seems to me, should not be a catalog of requests from the petitioner, a litany of wants and desires to fulfill one’s personal, political and/or cultural yearnings or aspirations. Prayer ought not be a sort of religious sounding “one-way” street, where one’s own views and perspectives conveniently become God’s desires for creation.

Prayer is a sacred place for dialogue with one’s Creator, a place not only to lift up gratitude and praise as well as the burdens that one carries, reaching out for assistance and assurance. Prayer is also where one discovers the grace to open one’s heart for that still, small voice of God. Prayer is a pathway for re-acquainting ourselves with the unknowable aspects of faith and of the God we worship.

Jesus offered simple, yet profound, guidance when it comes to prayer. The CPCF could probably use a refresher course:

Matthew 6:6-7: “But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words.”

Luke 6:12-13: “Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles . . . “

Prayer ought not be a path through which our own work be done, but God’s, and this is a much trickier thing than I think the CPCF appreciates. God’s outlook on matters of politics and public policy is not as simple and clear as the CPCF suggests. Otherwise, to whom are we praying—God or  or ourselves?

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My Life in Exile

Maine can be a challenging place to live, and work, especially for those of us “from away,” and sometimes even more so for those from Massachusetts. Perhaps owing to complications from their past of once being one state, Maine and Massachusetts do not always play very well together. People from Massachusetts tend to view Maine as something of a playground, from the coastal beaches to quiet lakes to mountains for skiing, full of people and places whose primary worth is to cater to their vacation whims. Mainers tend to view people from Massachusetts as obnoxious know-it-alls who don’t drive well, referring to them as “flatlanders,” or even more contemptuously, “massholes.”

I was born in Massachusetts, not far from Boston, and grew up there. I went to graduate school there, was ordained there, and began my ministry career there. Massachusetts is an especially good place to be part of the United Church of Christ, as the Massachusetts Conference is a large and active Conference.

Whenever I find myself despairing of my exile to the north, I think of a class that I took at Harvard Divinity School. It wasn’t so much a lecture I remember, but an off-hand sort of comment that was made by the teacher, Ron Thiemann, who was Dean of the Divinity School at the time. He made a remark that suggested his dismay at the tendency of graduates of places like HDS to cluster in certain, specific places—the Cambridge/Boston area, sections of New York City, certain suburbs of major metropolitan cities, etc. He went on to say that it seemed to him that graduates of these institutions should endeavor to live not so close together and instead, to spread by their mere existence their knowledge and experience to far flung places.

Central Maine is not exactly far flung, at least in terms of its geographic relationship to Massachusetts, but there are certainly times when it feels very far away and very different from the land of my childhood and young adulthood, particularly the latter. Where I live and work now is a far cry from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While I don’t miss the traffic and the inconveniences of living in a crowded place, I loved living in Cambridge for the time I was at the Div School and then after, almost ten years altogether. I probably remember that casual remark by Dean Thiemann because just as he said it, I likely started to feel a twinge of shame, as I was hoping to find a way to stay and live in one of those clusters of the privileged and well educated myself.

Over the almost twenty years I’ve lived in Central Maine, I’ve come to like very much many aspects of living in this little corner of the United States. It’s been a great place to raise our children and we have a wonderful community of friends. And, there’s not a lot of traffic.

Still, from time to time, I wistfully wonder how life would be if I still lived in or near Cambridge. There are moments when I’ll admit that I can’t help but feel a little in the way of uncharitable derision for some of the ways of Central Mainers. A good remedy to those moments is the thought that, even though it wasn’t my plan, I’ve done my own small part to fulfill the expectations of the former Dean of the Div School. Though it hadn’t been the plan that I had had for myself, I recognized its merit from the moment he said it.

Now, I hold onto it.

It’s not that only people with degrees from elite places are smarter and cleverer than everyone else (in fact, many of them are not so much), but I learned a great deal from receiving an education from a place like Harvard Divinity School. I gained important knowledge and experience that prepared me for the work that I do. I also learned quite a lot about religious experiences and traditions very different from my own. Perhaps most important of all, though, was the environment, the community, at HDS and Harvard in general—full of smart and engaging minds asking hard questions and considering, on a regular basis, complicated matters of human life.

I’m still fortunate to have plenty of smart people in my life, but most of them are not among my colleagues in ministry. While there are a few minister friends with whom I can wrestle with deep and unanswerable questions, there aren’t a lot of them. I miss that. There is no broad community, no real “environment,” where my ministry colleagues and I engage deeply with significant questions and matters of life and faith on a regular basis.  Occasionally, I try to insert some sort of question or discussion topic that might lead to somewhere beyond the normal small talk, but it never seems to get very far.

I don’t know if, by my mere existence here, that I’m doing anything constructive to raise the level of debate, discussion or dialogue.  But, I hope that I am.  It may not feel like much, but I continue to plant those seeds and do the best I can not to despair of my professional exile, but to embrace the challenge it presents.

 

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My Struggle with Public Prayer

I serve on the board of a local homeless shelter. We recently developed new program space and hosted a ribbon cutting and open house to celebrate. During the planning of the ribbon cutting ceremony, I sent out to the planning committee a draft of the “line up” of speakers. One person responded by informing me that I had forgotten to include an invocation.

And, thus a new chapter opened in my long struggle with public prayer.

I have, on a number of occasions, been invited to offer prayer at various public events—inaugurations of local officials, the state senate, the state house of representatives, etc. I go, I pray, but I never like it. The instructions almost always include some kind of directive to make the prayer acceptable to all (or as many as possible). For me, it’s an impossible task, yet I go mostly because it feels impolite to say no and in order to contribute to a diversity of voices offering such “prayer.”

At one local inauguration, I got a good sense of how my prayer fit into the program when I was shuffled off to the side and told to offer my prayer from the floor, where there was no microphone. With the city council assembled on the stage, I was told, there wouldn’t be room for anyone else. And, then in the course of the proceedings, every other participant was welcomed onto the stage, with the mayor herself stepping aside so that each one could speak into the microphone. When I complained, the mayor apologized and invited me back the following year. I was invited onto the stage, but only just barely. I was told to offer my invocation from the top of the stairs. Still, no microphone. That was the last time I did that.

Then there is the state house, where leaders of various religious communities (almost entirely Christian) are welcomed warmly and eagerly. When I’ve accepted an invitation to offer prayer (with those instructions to keep my prayer from being too obviously religious) at the beginning of a session of the state senate or legislature, I’m introduced and given a prime spot to offer my prayer, and with a microphone so that all can hear. And, then, I receive a warm thank you and I’m escorted to the back, where I can exit or stay and watch the business of the day unfold.

Public prayer is a strange and complicated thing, at least for me. Personal prayers and prayers at church are particular; they are connected to my particular faith. To “water down” the prayer so that it might be more acceptable, or more tolerable, to those who don’t share my faith seems not only strange and odd, but also not very prayerful.

At the homeless shelter, the question about having an invocation is tied to our roots, as the shelter was founded by the local interfaith council (which no longer exists) 25 year ago. Although the shelter is not affiliated with any particular religious organization or group, beginning our board meetings with prayer is a tradition. Most of those who serve on the board are Christian, as is the current executive director. Prayers at the start of board meetings are overwhelmingly Christian in tone and content.

In organizing our most recent ribbon cutting ceremony, I shouldn’t have been surprised that someone mentioned that we should include an invocation. But, I was surprised at what happened next. In response, I shared some of my own concerns regarding our tradition of prayer and argued that it not a good idea to have a prayer at such a public event. I went on to share the observation that our prayers at board meetings tend to be Christian, although the board is not made up entirely of Christians. The non-Christians don’t complain, but shouldn’t we at least attempt to be sensitive to the diversity of faith traditions on the board, and even more so at a public event?

The debate, though, didn’t end there. In response to my response, a couple of people suggested that we should offer thanks to God for the “miracle” of completing our project (a problematic theology, in my humble opinion). Another person offered that surely we could find someone to offer a prayer that would be acceptable to everyone. Etc.

Clearly, I hadn’t convinced anyone of my point, but as the chair of the board, I made the decision not to have an invocation and everyone went along.

I wonder how they would feel if we lived in a place or a circumstance where the dominant religion was not Christian. Would they be so insistent regarding a public prayer if the one praying chose to offer a prayer in the language of another faith tradition, even if “watered down” for more public consumption?

For me, prayer is religious—deeply, inherently and unavoidably religious. If we are to have public prayer, I would rather it be religious, openly and honestly. And, to endeavor to invite other religious prayers and devotion at public events, allowing not only a brief religious observance but also a way of educating those in attendance of the variety of voices of faith. We could use a little more awareness and understanding, instead of assumptions or the grandstanding, even if unwitting, of one particular religious expression over others.

It would also be a good thing to rid ourselves to the notion that we can “water down” prayer and somehow have it both truly palatable and meaningful at the same time. Because we really can’t.

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