Monday, November 11, 2013


  On this Thanksgiving Day, we ask for the humility to recognize all we have is a gift...the courage to admit we cannot earn Your care...the hope You will offer Your love and grace to all.

     Thank you for a year in which more people are working and fewer are in danger of losing their homes and livelihoods.  Gracious God, thank You for national leaders striving for peace and bringing our war machine home.  Thank you for your servant Francis, who witnesses to your message calling on all of us to care for the least of our brothers and sisters.

     On this day of plenty, we remember all those who bring us this bounty...those who grow and produce our food...those who deliver it to us...those who prepare with love and enable us to gather in our homes or in the community to be together and filled with your Spirit...those who tell our stories each year reminding us who we are and why we gather.  Thank you for the love and care contained in each dish.  Thank you for the warm welcome offered to anyone at our table.  We seek to ensure no one feel like a stranger as we open our hearts and homes to all.

     We gather together on this day, at this table, in this time, confident the prayer and concerns we offer, You hear, and committed to listening when you reveal Your will to us.  God bless the families of all separated by bars and restraints.  Do not abandon those devastated by nature in all its fury.  Comfort those who do not have clothes on their backs, a roof over their head, or food on their table.  Inspire everyone here at this moment to reach out to those society labels lepers or outcasts...not just poor in material needs, but also those experiencing a dark night of the soul overwhelmed with loneliness, isolation, sadness and despondency and who need to see, through all of us, the world is alive with the grandeur of God.


  Why do we pray?  More importantly, why do we pray in public?  The Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a case involving the town of  Greece, New York.  The city council starts each meeting with a prayer.   For most of its history, the prayer has been of Christian origin asking, beseeching the Lord Jesus Christ to do one thing or another.  If not Jesus, they invoked the name of His Father.  When objections were inevitably registered, the town tried to cover its collective posteriors by inviting a Wiccan, Moslem and Jewish representative to lead a prayer.  (sounds like the start of bad joke doesn't it?)

     The court has ruled in the past on prayer in front of civic bodies or legislatures saying since this has been a tradition deeply buried in the American culture, it's acceptable.  The ruling makes no sense nor does the practice of the prayers.

     Why do we pray to open Congress or state legislatures or city councils?  What is the hope?  What will it accomplish?  Why do we pray at high school football games or at public school graduations?  Why are prayers offered at the start of a NASCAR race?  Who decides?  Is this one of those things the majority get to control?  If I'm an atheist, what am I supposed to think when my representatives open their meeting with a prayer?  (remember, the purpose of the bill of rights was to protect the minority from the majority by creating certain rights which cannot be voted away)

     Anyone reading this knows the answer to all of the above questions.  The tradition of public prayer at public gatherings was promulgated as a way to proselytize for particular religious views.  (at one time it could only be Protestant prayers, as God didn't listen to Catholics)  By offering a prayer to God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the powers-that-be were letting everyone know they believed in God...acknowledged Jesus as Her Son and God...believed in the Trinity...believed in the Christian God and not Allah or Yahweh...believed the Christian God was a part of civic religion to which you must adhere if you want to be a part of the community.  The public prayer is proof we are a Christian nation...a shining City on a hill...a special people blessed by God...(the whole concept of Manifest Destiny was the belief God wanted all of North America to belong to the white Christians who occupy it).  The public prayer is intended to pump wind into the Christian sails and deflate all others.

     How do I know this?  First, the Supreme Court's own ruling acknowledges this truth.  They ruled opening Congressional sessions with a prayer was constitutional because it's a tradition.  What?  Because Christians have dominated government for most of the nation's history...this despite Jefferson's claim organized religion had ruined Jesus' message...Madison compared organized religion to a dung hill and the called the clergy indolent and lazy...Jefferson and Madison wrote legislation to disestablish religion from the state in the colony of Virginia (from which we get the longest word we knew as children--antidisestablishmentarianism--simply meaning someone who opposed Jefferson and Madison's idea), the public prayers which were offered were Christian prayers.  Tradition should never be an excuse to trample constitutional rights.  Second, the very same people who pushed Christian public prayer, fought hammer and tong to keep any other prayer out of the public square.  Finally, public prayer is nothing more than "gimmee" prayer, the worst form of prayer.  In public prayer, what do we do?  We ask God to look down on this august body with favor.  We plead with God to somehow make public officials like each other or cooperate with each other or work with each other...tolerate each mindful of their civic about what is best for everyone...avoid petty partisan politics and more.  Really?  Does anyone think God is listening to the Greece, New York's city council when it prays they can get through their agenda for the night?

     If all you did was constantly ask your best friend, spouse, or child for favor or help...if all you did was tell them your troubles...if the only time they heard from you was when you wanted something how long do you think they would still be around or would listen?  Yet, this is the nature of all public prayer.

     Prayer is communication with God or nature or goddesses or whatever.  Prayer only makes sense if there is a relationship between two entities.  There cannot be a relationship unless one is willing to listen and not just talk.  Silence, contemplation, meditation and quiet are all part of a good prayer life.  Prayer is meant to be intimate and personal.  Jesus says when you pray do so in a closet where no one else can see or hear you.  Yes, we pray in church, but this action assumes it is an extension of the individual private prayer of each person in attendance.

     If we are honest, the real reason for public prayer is "triumphalism".  It is showing off.  It is proof we are a Christian nation, founded on Christian values, blessed by the Christian god and proof Christianity is the one, true religion.  Every other religion is second rate and atheism is anathema.  You want proof?  Imagine what would happen if President Obama did not end a national address by saying, "...God bless you and God bless America."  He would be excoriated as a non-believer, or closet Muslim or atheist.

     Prayer is the most personal and intimate way we touch God and are touched.  Prayer is where we open ourselves, our soul and are brutally honest about our faults and sins with God.  Prayer can be painful and scary and it can come from deep canyons of loneliness, sadness, as well as from moments of transcendent joy.  Prayer is about listening, not talking.  It involves high emotions and the humility to be grateful for our blessings which we did not earn.  Public prayer is none of these things and serves no other purpose except to advance the agenda of those who pick the prayer. 

     We should hope the Supreme Court finally ends this Pharisaical practice once and for all.  Then each of us can pray in our own way and experience something I guarantee...if you pray consistently, humbly, quietly and listen intently, God will respond.  Now go and celebrate that publically.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


We should not be surprised when we discover our government spies on us.  We should not be naive enough to believe our government doesn't spy on our allies and friends, nor should we be influenced by all the outrage emanating out of International capitals from Berlin to Mexico City.  Perhaps we should be sophisticated enough to understand when anyone in the government answers questions about this activity, they will rarely tell the truth.  Now, however, recent revelations would lead us to believe top officials in the government, including the President of the United States and Senator Dianne Feinstein chair of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, do not even know when they are lying or what the real truth is...C'mon man!!!

     Ever since Edward Snowden committed the treacherous and treasoness act of truth telling, we now know the National Security Agency is a runaway train, and we and our privacy are on the tracks.  With every Snowden reveal, we are inundated with forelock tugging, and sincere earnest pronouncements proclaiming the information to be false, over-hyped, outrageous and above all, totally legal.  President Obama assured Americans, and the world, the U.S. was not collecting phone calls, email, and all Internet activity and we were not spying on foreign leaders.  (of course if we were, it's legal)  Feinstein has consistently defended the shredding of the 4th amendment and violation of international law downplaying the depth and width of our spying efforts.  Now both Obama and Feinstein are forced to admit they have no idea what they are talking about.  The Wall Street Journal reports N.S.A. spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and 20-30 other foreign leaders, has been going on since 2002.  Obama was allegedly informed in 2010 and endorsed this activity.  He now denies he knew anything about this spying and Feinstein now says her committee was never informed.  C'mon man!!!

     What are we to think when these two political heavyweights plead ignorance?  How does either of them explain being duped?  Isn't it much more likely this is an example of Sgt. Schultz Syndrome..."I see nothing...I hear nothing"?  What credibility do either Obama or Feinstein have left on this issue?

     In the United States, right now, there are thousands of laws and regulations which carry prison terms if violated.  Even more frightening is the fact they do not require you to know you are breaking the law to be punished.  Pleading ignorance does not save you.  Yet, the President and the senior Senator from California, despite assuring us for months these activities were not occurring...despite promising us they had checked and had not found any smoking gun...despite telling us this was a tempest in a teapot and we should be grateful the N.S.A. is on duty protecting us from "them" and "their" evil intentions...  now have to admit they were talking through their respective hats and their assurances aren't worth the video tape they were captured on.  C'mon Man !!!

     The picture which Edward Snowden has exposed is of a national intelligence apparatus which is out of control and the scope of its activities is so broad no one knows what they are doing or whom they are doing it to.  We now know the N.S.A. lies to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which is the secret court which is supposed to be exercising oversight and protecting our rights.  We now know their definitions of spying are so ephemeral as to render oversight impossible.  We are told it would be a waste of the President's precious time to inform him of all the ways this country is violating privacy rights in the name of security.  Obama is asked to approve a general outline, but not specifics.  When he answers questions on the N.S.A. and its actions, we now have no way of knowing if he is telling the truth because HE doesn't know if he is telling the truth.  C'mon Man !!!

     Feinstein comes of this looking like a minister for propaganda rather than the chair of an important watchdog committee.  She is now outraged and shocked, shocked I say, to find out we have been spying on our allies.  She is chagrined to discover the F.I.S.A. court has sanctioned the N.S.A. for lying.  She is aghast and agog to discover there are hundreds of operations she has no knowledge of and were never brought before her committee.  She is now the living embodiment of that hoary political cliché that you know a politician is lying if their mouth is moving.  C'mon man !!!

     We are now going to get hearings in Feinstein's committee and a review by the White House of N.S.A. activities.  The result will be to confirm what Snowden so courageously exposed...since 2001, and the passing of the Patriot Act and the illegal orders of the Bush administration, anything you do online...any email or cell phone call...any search request...any topic you read about or discuss...any information you reveal on social media as well as any letter you write or book you buy or borrow are grist for this intelligence machine to grind up and spit out.  C'mon man !!!

     The $64,000 question is who will they spit all this out to?  We know N.S.A. workers were spying on ex's and former lovers.  The F.B.I. illegally used national security letters to target potential political activity.  The I.R.S. has been out of control for at least 75 years.  Who will be tempted to tap into this reservoir of juicy, titillating, personal and private information?  What government agencies will demand access?  Will this information trail be made available to local law enforcement and will it be accessible for use in opposition research in political campaigns?  Will corporations be able to get at this stuff?  What about insurance companies or prospective employers or how about the three big credit rating agencies?  Will your credit score be influenced by all this meta data?

     The age-old question of who watches the watchers has never been more pertinent than today.  Feinstein and Obama assure us they are watching.  The chair of the House Intelligence Committee says he is watching.  The F.I.S.A. court is supposed to be watching.  We now know none of these watchers knows anything and are at the mercy of what the N.S.A. and its cousins choose to tell them.

     Talk of warrants, probable cause, presumption of innocence and constitutionally protected privacy now turns out to be just talk.  The government intrusions prohibited by the 4th amendment now appear to be moot.  What was it Franklin said happens to people who trade security for safety?  C'mon man !!

N.B. If Edward Snowden returned home, is there a jury in the country which would convict him?