Between the Lines

Between the Lines By David Lias I'll admit it.

I once fell into that "separation of church and state" trap that seems to be set annually at the end of May as high school, technical school and college and university students prepare to receive their diplomas at graduation.

The debate centers on whether student speakers at commencement exercises can offer a prayer to thank the good Lord for helping them achieve this milestone in their lives.

There was a time, thanks largely to a U. S. Supreme Court decision (and misinterpretation of said decision) when school districts across the country decided to play it safe and ban prayer at graduation exercises.

In retrospect, I can't come up with a good reason today for supporting that theory. Back when I was a bit younger, and bit more foolish than I am today, I believed that prayer had to be restricted to protect the Constitutional rights of all students and other audience members at commencement services.

No more. My former position on this issue, I now realize, falls on its face. While "protecting" the rights of everyone around me by prohibiting prayer, I've realized that I would at the same time be applying this protection at the expense of every student, every parent, and every other person in attendance who would wish to celebrate the occasion with a special, prayerful moment.

I guess I have, over time, developed a low threshold for citizens who whine that something as simple and sincere as prayer offends them.

My reaction today to such sentiments: tough cookies. Whew! Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I'd like to share with you what I likely would say at a graduation ceremony if I was ever asked to speak. Please know that I'm not a religious zealot. But this prayer contains messages that are too important for our young people not to hear.

This prayer was first said by Pastor Joe Wright of the Central Christian Church, as he opened a new session of the Kansas State Senate. Commentator Paul Harvey aired the prayer on the radio and received a larger response to this program than any other. Here goes:

"Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance. We know your word says, "Woe on those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.

We confess that:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word and called it pluralism;

We have worshiped other gods and called it multi-culturalism;

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle;

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery;

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation;

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare;

We have killed our unborn and called it choice;

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable;

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem;

We have abused power and called it political savvy;

We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition;

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression;

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment;

Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be any hurtful way in me; cleanse us from every sin and set us free."

I would amend Wright's prayer to also state, "Guide and bless these men and women who are receiving their diplomas today and soon will be beginning the next stages of their lives. Grant them your wisdom."

I would also pass along something special I learned from my grandfather, who helped start a Lutheran church from scratch. As a very young child, I remember the first church services. They were held in the basement of my grandparents' home, with room to spare.

Today, that church has over 2,000 members. It outgrew its original building in less than a decade.

I asked him how that happened. He said he would walk door-to-door, let people know about the new church, and very politely ask that they come by for worship and fellowship. He never admonished anyone. He respected everyone. I hope graduates of '99 follow that same approach in all of their future encounters.

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