In 1990 some students at a school in Texas gathered before their day began around the flagpole to pray. The idea grew and spread and now “Prayer At the Pole” or “Meet Me At the Pole” has become an annual event. It’s a nice way for Christian students and staff members to publicly announce and practice their beliefs.
Today is Prayer at the Pole. Although I used to go to Prayer at the Pole, I don’t anymore, but it’s probably not why you think. I’m not one of those people who wants absolute separation of church and state to the point of chasing off a few disciples. I’m not agnostic or athiest or any other religion – I am a Christian. But I’m not going to the pole.
I grew up in the Missouri Lutheran Church. If you know Lutheranism, you know that there is a distinction between the Lutheran denominations…the Missouri ones are right in the middle…not the most liberal, not the most conservative. This denomination doesn’t believe you’ll go to hell if you don’t attend church, but my mom would have sent me to the afterlife if I tried to skip it. We attended church every Sunday. During Advent (the 4 weeks before Christmas) and Lent (the 40 days before Easter) we attended on Wednesday nights. There was church on Thanksgiving Day, New Year’s Eve, and both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. Holy Week, though, won hands down for piety. There was Maundy Thursday church, Good Friday services (from 12-3 and at 7pm), Holy Saturday service and, of course, Easter Sunday – Sunrise, 9, and 11. (Fortunately we only had to go to the 9 OR the 11) It’s safe to say I’ve been churched.
Interestingly this much church didn’t turn me off of religion. I attended a Lutheran college (although it was the wrong synod), met a nice Lutheran boy, we got married in a nice Lutheran church and had nice Lutheran babies.
But over the years I’ve had quite a few ugly experiences in the church. My current pastor would tell you that nothing will kill your faith quicker than religion. I found that to be true as experiences in the church and with church people nearly did me in.
But as the Bible says (and I do believe) that “All things work for the good of those that love God” (I think that’s in Romans or something. I should look it up on my cool iphone Bible app, but I’m on a roll here), I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit from those unpleasant experiences. For one thing, it’s helped me understand what I really believe.
One of the things I’ve learned is that for many people religion, christianity, faith – whatever you want to call it – is a soothing series of activities. The repetition of rituals makes them feel better about themselves: holy, pious, good. I suppose that’s ok.
Some people feel that because they have a strong sense of faith and joy in the assurance of their salvation that they must make a public spectacle of it and collect as many converts as possible. I guess that’s ok, too. Except, personally, I run far and fast away from these folks. I’m good. My soul is saved. Trust me.
But for me, religion has become more personal. It’s about my personal relationship with God. If someone wants to know about it I’d be happy to sit down with a cup of coffee and talk. But I’m not about to walk up to a stranger and ask them “Do you know Jesus?” I hope that people see my actions and my attitudes and they know that I’m a Christian. If they don’t, well then that’s my bad. I’ve got to keep working on that. But, I am uncomfortable with the idea of making a public spectacle of my faith.
I said I used to pray at the pole. It was awkward. They wanted to hold hands. I don’t hold hands with strangers. Everyone looks around to see who is there (and who isn’t). People pray outloud, and I can’t help but feel like with some of them (not all) there’s a sense of wanting to best the next guy with better material. I’m not about that stuff.
So this morning, while my students and colleagues pray at the pole, I’m going to sit here in my room and quietly thank God for all the blessings in my life.
PS – “Farm Girl” (those of you who knew me as brainvomit know who this is) just came in from Prayer at the Pole. She announced as she walked by my room, “I said a prayer for the Science department this morning. Lord, help the sinful ways of the Science department.” Jeanday and I just looked at each other. Can you say irony?