Why do we pray?
A strange question, especially if you haven't had your second cup of Velo coffee yet. In a city with more than 560 churches listed in the Yellow Pages, there will be more praying in the hours before noon today than at any other morning in the week.
Do we enjoy it? Need it like water? Believe it changes things?
Are we afraid of what might happen if we don't pray?
The Hamilton County Commission is being sued because of its continued use of prayers -- most ending in "Jesus' name" -- to open meetings. Plaintiffs Tommy Coleman and Brandon Jones want something less imposing and more constitutionally appropriate.
"A moment of silence," said Coleman, 28, on Friday afternoon as we sat outside the locked doors to the County Commission chamber.
Lots of folks feel this is akin to replacing the American flag with a Cuban one. Trading the dollar for the euro. Bush for Obama. Cronkite for Couric. Football for soccer. Well, maybe that's going too far.
The commission should stop praying before its meetings for several reasons, but as someone who prays -- or at least fumbles at it -- one tops my list.
God is not insecure.
God is not threatened by whether the commission prays.
Prayer ought to happen in those still, small places in our lives. Prayer can be profound when it sinks from the head to the heart, and we stumble onto St. Paul's instruction to pray without ceasing, King David's Psalmist honesty or Mohammed's call to be ever mindful of prayers.
But prayer should not be a form of peer pressure or religious bullying or superstition, akin to rubbing an invisible rabbit's foot.
The walls aren't going to crumble down if the commission replaces its prayer with a moment of silence.
God is not scared of that.
In fact, it might send a refreshing, welcoming message. With a nod toward sensitivity and inclusiveness (two things Southern Christianity has rarely had at the top of its calling card), the commission could gently and generously end the lawsuit tomorrow.
Because its blend of prayer isn't the only kind in this town. And plenty of people who don't even pray have just as much standing in that commission room as those that do.
God knows that. The commission should, too.
If the commission wins the lawsuit, it actually loses. By continuing to fight, it has turned a legal setting into a mini-religious skirmish, all the while praying "in Jesus' name."
Win the lawsuit? Congratulations. Now we have more division. All in the name of Jesus, the one who counseled peace-making, loving your enemies and siding with those on the edges of society.
But by losing -- by replacing the prayer with a moment of silence -- the commission wins. Individual prayer can happen during the moment and during every other private moment of the commissioners' lives, plus the Constitution and spirit of religion are both honored.
"All persons are therefore created equal, being entitled to equal treatment under the Constitution and laws of the United States and the State of Tennessee," reads the Hamilton County human rights policy.
"The interests of justice and community harmony demand that these principles and beliefs should be reaffirmed by all governments that desire to promote genuine peace and understanding among its citizens," it says.
Coleman and I read it together.
A copy is posted outside the commission door.
David Cook is the metro columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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