What do our holidays mean to us?KEN LARSON
With Memorial Day and July 4th fast approaching I found myself thinking over the weekend about the recent past.
Several years ago we moved to a tony neighborhood in Orange County, California. At the time it was easily eligible for the term "Reagan Country" but in the last election Obama out polled McCain in our Congressional District. A neighbor had a Hillary fundraiser at her home a few years ago. There's a lot of soccer on Sunday but our family always opted for church.
Around 1996 I was asked to chair the neighborhood's July 4th parade. It was one of those tasks that occur in small communities where many folks pitch in to help from time to time and I was flattered at the invitation. But as is the case with lots of things we have the opportunity to participate in, I noticed this parade and the accompanying festivities -- a barbecue and day at the beach with food and drinks available -- were missing what I knew they needed. They were missing an invocation.
I ran the idea of having a local pastor from the church at the edge of the community where our family worshiped deliver that invocation and the denizen who had tabbed me as chairmen thought it a splendid contribution. Plans went forward with the same old "same old stuff" and I extended an invitation to the cleric. He was available.
The structure of the parade was to have the local fire truck lead with the Boy Scout troop as color guard. Behind them were a high school band and then representatives of the community's many clubs and small organizations, among them neighbors who were veterans, some of whom were in uniform, then kids on decorated bikes and skateboards. It's not the parade they have in Bristol, Rhode Island but it's a very neat Independence Day event.
And my idea for an invocation was well received. But as the time approached to begin, the denizen rushed up to the man wearing the collar and reminded him not to "use the J word."
I was aghast but he whispered as we approached the podium that it was not uncommon to get that request. "Not to worry," he told me in a rehearsed and compliant tone.
Following the 9/11 attack in 2001, there was a day of mourning and a prayer service at National Cathedral in Washington D.C. It was very ecumenical and included a Cardinal, Rabbi, Muslim cleric and a fellow from a Methodist church in Houston, Texas -- Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell. They all read from texts in an attempt at the liturgical order that informs, or is meant to help inform, our lives.
I recall that Pastor Caldwell read a Psalm but it's what he said at its conclusion that caught my attention. First he recognized that there were many of different faith traditions in the assembly, but nevertheless was asking their permission to make the preceding prayer in the name of his personal Savior -- the words stretched out -- Jesus Christ. His vernacular was a bit more colorful but that's what he asked from the crowd. And they did not withhold their permission.
About a week later, after viewing the televised ceremony, I contacted Pastor Caldwell's office and eventually was able to get a FAXed, hand written and greatly abridged version of his phrases used that day together with an explanation that he had found them well received by many groups -- Rotary, and other secular organizations at which he speaks.
And so was birthed my answer to warnings about using the J word.
As we became more entrenched in our new community I found myself on committees helping out with other events. For the 2002 opening day of our sailing club I volunteered to give the benediction. Using the Anglican prayer book -- a trove of prayers for almost any occasion -- I cobbled together an appropriate message at the end of which I added:
Respecting all who worship God in their own way, I request your permission to ask his blessing on this day in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
That morning as I read I glanced up from the text and saw a six or seven year old girl sitting on the edge of the bulkhead cross herself in cadence to the words. It was one of those moments when you almost lose it.
I'm happy to report that my prayer contribution has been institutionalized in the word processor which stores the script for Opening Day and has been repeated by other volunteers, and applauded by a wide range of neighbors including a religious Jew who will become commodore in 2011, God willing.
With all the talk of Christianity being under attack I felt it worthwhile to relate this anecdote. The denizen is a nice person but was willing to allow some bully to persuade her that "Jesus" shouldn't be named at a community event. And there's no question but that I did back off from Pastor Caldwell's flowery language; but not out of keeping with whom I am in my expressions of faith. We should never back off that much.
So to all Christians I repeat, "be not afraid." Especially now.
Ken Larson, "What do our holidays mean to us?" Acton Institute PowerBlog (May 13, 2009).
Reprinted with permission of the Acton Institute.
Copyright © 2009 Acton Institute PowerBlog
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