Oh Father – Our Right of Prayer?

There was a bit of controversy in our small country town.  One of the public elementary school's staff and students have been starting each school day by reciting the Lord's Prayer - until the school administration received a letter from a mom describing herself as agnostic,  expressing concern that on two separate occasions, her sons returned home after school upset because they were disciplined for not participating in the morning prayer.   After review and searching for solutions in consultation with this parent, the school administration decided that the best course of action was to suspend the daily Lords Prayer in the school community. Upon hearing this, many other parents were offended and set out to defend their rights.  Unfortunately, the debate spilled out of the school and into the community in some ways that seem unhelpful and unhealthy.

A little known tidbit; prayer in our provincial public school system is  protected by law.

I appreciate the value of prayer and in no way am I against prayer, prayer in school or even the Lord's Prayer.  In saying this, I am chewing on a few thoughts:

Our Rights - In a multicultural country, and even in our town, the cultural demographics are changing.  With new cultures, we welcome diversity. We (officially) believe that in our diversity we become a mosaic of people living together in peace. Although, some people fear this is at the expense of their own personal preferences and rights.

Rights and freedoms are wonderful things we enjoy in Canada, but Jesus was not concerned with rights. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, to serve others, to love our enemies and to lay down our lives for our friends whether they deserved it or not.  Jesus calls us to love - not to "our rights".

“To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. ~ Luke 27-30 (Message)

Sitting in the coffee shop, I listened as a lady asked someone to sign her petition to get prayer back in the school. I heard nothing of Jesus or love. She spoke about being tired of "the minority telling the majority how things will be.  The minority is loud, so we need to be louder".   I heard a similar conversation at lunch the next day.  Again, no mention of the Kingdom, of Jesus or love, but "our rights".  This and many other conversations and posts I have come across sadly support the reality that this fight may not have as much to do with "standing up for the Kingdom" and everything to do with our fear, anger and insecurity at a changing country.

Majority is always Right? I am reflecting on some instances where the majority was not always right.  For example, I am thinking about slavery, segregation, women's rights and how at points in our history the majority, those who held the power, upheld views that most of us would hold now as repugnant.  Majority, the force of numbers, does not always guarantee justice, being correct, kindness or love.

Not a Holy War - While the Bible does give some warlike images, Jesus and many of the New Testament writers, continually flip the violent ideas and images of a bloodthirsty worldview on its head!  In Matthew 11, Jesus would lament that the  Kingdom of God suffers violence and how violent men try to take it by force.  So often this text has been misunderstood.  Jesus was not advocating violence to win or defend the Kingdom! In the Kingdom of love, how we go about achieving our goal is every bit as important as the goal itself. The end does not justify the means. Yes, we can believe we are right, champion our truth, and leave a wake of division, anger and bitterness. This is not healthy fruit of the Kingdom of God.  There is a better way, a beautiful way and Jesus embodied that beautiful way. Let us remember that those we disagree with are not enemies to be conquered and crushed, rather they are neighbours in our community who have heartfelt convictions as well.  They go about their life peaceably just like the rest of us.

The fact remains, one of the hallmarks of Christian love is reconciliation.   We can disagree about issues without making it personal, we can look for ways that are gracious and generous.  The bottom line for all of us is that we want our schools to be safe, caring and respectful environments for all students regardless of religion or any other demarcations.  Surely, no matter what side of the issue we are on, we can find common ground on this mutual desire. And regardless of the issue, as followers of Jesus, love is the best response. A response that can find a beautiful answer for all people, an answer that brings a greater sense of healthy community and the Kingdom of God, rather than division and alienation.

Jesus said His Kingdom was not of this world. He understood that the Kingdom of God is one of hearts of people, not institutions.  They can take prayer out of schools but they cannot take God out of the schools.  God doesn't live in a prayer but in the hearts of every student and staff member who follows Jesus.

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