It might have been a scandalous moment — a high government official standing in front of television cameras, his image being broadcast live to the entire world. There, in front of everyone, he broke what has been the law of the land for a long time. He stood at a podium in a school and led everyone present, including the children, first in a moment of silence, then in actual prayer. It happened at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, 9:30 AM, September 11, 2001. The high official was President George W. Bush. He began by saying, "Today, we have had a national tragedy." He told the few facts then known about that day's terrorist attack, and promised justice to "those folks" who perpetrated the act. Then he said, "And now if you will join me in a moment of silence."
A moment of silence might not seem so bad, but courts sometimes equate it with public prayer, something many view as a kind blasphemy against the secular state.
There can be no doubt about what came next — actual in-school prayer. After the moment of silence, the President said, "May God bless the victims, their families, and America."
A few hours later, members of Congress stood together on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. In a moment of spontaneity, they began to sing. They sang "God bless America" — a prayer.
There are stark moments in our lives when we face an extraordinary fact — for adults, there are no adults. It's just us.
Some conspiracy theorists find comfort in their theories. Someone's in control. Someone has a plan. The Illuminati may be evil, but surely they won't let things fall apart completely. The international bankers may capriciously decide which wars we'll fight and when we'll have economic downturns, but at least someone's in charge.
In truth, if any of the various groups who call themselves "Illuminati" think they're running the world, they're deluded. A few weeks ago, some international bankers may have believed they were running the world. Not anymore.
We want to feel that in the basement of the White House or the vaults of the Vatican — somewhere — someone holds humanity's master plan. Surely there are people who are wiser and smarter than the rest of us, and who have things figured out. But no. It's just us.
Human institutions are at a loss because they've never been here before. We're always riding the infinitely thin razor edge called now, and now always changes. It's always new. Sometimes, though, the precariousness of our position is more clear than others.
This is one of those times.
Perry Mason and Eternal Verities
I have a fondness for Perry Mason, particularly the Erle Stanley Gardner books and the original television series. Even with my affection, though, I recognize their weaknesses. When my kids were young, we would read the books aloud together, and break up laughing at Perry's superciliousness.
A few years ago, watching one of the television shows being rerun, the Mason character said something profound that has stayed with me. On the internet, I found the show's title — "The Case of the Cheating Chancellor" — and date it first aired, October 3, 1965. But I was not able to find the quote, so we're left with my oh-so- fallible memories.
1965 was a time of strife in America. The young generation seemed as different from the old as night from day. The summer of love was less than three years away, Woodstock less than four. Perry is talking to a college student. The young man laments that his generation "got a lousy deal." He and his peers grew up as no generation before them, under the threat of nuclear annihilation. Truth, beauty, and honor are things he tells Perry he has heard about, but never experienced.
Mason tells him, [not an exact quote] "Your generation will survive as did the ones before you, by embracing those same verities."
Since no master plan awaits us in the White House basement, maybe the answer can be found in eternal verities like truth, beauty, and honor. But today, as in 1965, those verities seem in short supply. Where can they be found?
Seeking the Source
At the beginning of the Gulf War we asked God's help. When our overwhelming victory became clear, we were thankful . . . to our superior technology.
We prayed in the aftermath of 9-11 . . . and when we had gone years without a successful terrorist assault on our homeland, we forgot. If judgment begins at the House of God . . . if God waits for His people, those called by His name, to humble themselves and pray . . . then maybe this mess is about us.
In 2000, conservative Christians prayed for an election as never before. We got the man most of us wanted, but much of the prayer then stopped. In 2003, as our nation went to war, we again fell to our knees beseeching the Lord of the Universe to give us a swift and just victory. The military triumph came with unprecedented speed, and then we went about our lives, wondering at the news from Iraq, forgetting again that the real battle is spiritual.
Ultimately . . . we're not alone . . . there is a master plan . . . and we adults have an Adult looking out for us.
It's time we looked to the Source of all good things. It's time for prayer.
Praying in Front of God and Everybody
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