27Nov00                                                            HOME
TO: Sunday School Scholars
FROM: Bill Swart
RE: Prayer in School

Mark Twain asserted that truth is a precious commodity, so we should economize it. (Truth is, it was Samual Clemens who asserted that). And we do economize it, don't we? There ought to be a law! Truth is there are laws.

Truth-in-lending laws require interest rates to be expressed in per-annum terms. Some lending institutions which used to charge 3% per month now have to charge 36% per year. The shock value of 36% is good for us. Truth-in-advertising laws prevent a hearing aid maker from claiming that its model will filter out background noise in a restaurant. I have one in each ear (hearing aid, not a restaurant), and, oh my, what they do with a two-year-old's screech at the next table.

And, Lord, we need a truth-in-theology law. Some preachers (in truth, pastors are preachers), say they want prayer in schools. That's not the truth. Any theologian, even a seven year-old Sunday school theologian, knows that it is impossible to prevent prayer in the school, on the playground, on the bus, even in church.

A child who has been paying attention in Sunday School knows that God is quite gifted. He's multi-lingual. He understands all the Chinese dialects, Swahili, English, even Mis-ippi English. And He doesn't need a hearing aid. His acute hearing can pick up a prayer that is merely a thought.

Later, upstairs in the church, the child might learn of Matthew 6.5 and 6.6, where he says that we should not do show-and-tell praying, but should pray in private, and God will hear in private. Matt doesn't see God with rows of angels taking prayer messages to answer when He gets back from fishing. (Could be he fishes for fish as well as for men.)

The truth, as everybody with an IQ greater than 2:00 p.m. knows, is that what those preachers want is for teachers to conduct ritualistic prayers, and to conduct that preacher's particular brand of prayer. Brands of prayer? Apparently so.

No matter that much ritualistic prayer -- at the supper table, before the game, even in church -- is about as genuine as the ritualistic 2.5-second soapless hand-washing seen in gas station rest rooms. No matter that a sophomore's pre-math-test prayer, and a soldier's fox-hole-prayer are more genuine than most preacher-led Sunday morning prayers.

Well, maybe ritualistic prayer can improve behavior. I've never attended a Ku Klux Klan meeting -- wouldn't be caught alive at one -- but I've been told that Klan meetings begin and end with prayer. And I've noticed that Klan members don't seem to use the demeaning labels "spic," "hebe," and "nigger" as much as they used to -- at least not on camera. Some would attribute that to their PR sense, but maybe, just maybe, it's because they pray, and fire up the cross to transmit their message of love.

Some folks, even some theologians, hold that conducting a period, perhaps a minute, of silent prayer at the start of the school day would suffice. Since no one (except God with his acute hearing) could tell whether a child actually prayed during that minute, the policy would prevent embarrassment which might be felt by an atheist or an out-of-grace student who chose not to pray. And, of course, the teacher would welcome a minute of silence any time of day.

Seems to me that all we need to do to solve the prayer-in-school problem is to have all Sunday school teachers, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and scoutmasters make sure that the child knows three things.  One, God is a mind reader. Two, God has a huge landfill (Some think it's on planet Uranus, others think it's in North Dakota.) where insincere prayers are tossed.  And three, God is not fooled by how you bow your head, close your eyes, or hold your hands.

Let us tell them that, no matter what our constitution says, they should go right ahead and pray, in secret, and, as Matthew says, God will hear them in secret.

Big question, though. What should we suggest they pray for?  God has heard the Lord's Prayer often enough that He must be weary of the clutter.

A caution, however: St. Matt doesn't suggest that a student who has not done the homework can expect God to slip him the solution to a quadratic equation during an algebra test. The best bet is that sincere prayer can help the student resist the temptation to peek at a classmate's paper for the solution. That's prayer worthy of a believer, even of an agnostic who is hedging on his philosophy.

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