Separation of Church and State is central to American identity, law and politics.
But you’d never know it from the intimate, perhaps even obscene embrace of religion and politics in almost every elections cycle, every issue, and perhaps most glaringly in political, I mean religious events like the National Prayer Breakfast.
Collective, cultural and national prayer gatherings across history, and certainly as expressed in the Bible, have always been about repentance, restoration and, almost always at the core of their purpose, reorientation.
A national day of prayer, almost by definition, is a day of somber reflection, reconciliation and, perhaps most of all, a recognition of a higher, better and more divinely infused future.
I’ve been to a few of the local versions of these prayer breakfasts, and I must admit that I have found them unsatisfying in almost every way. The food is as bland, predictable and bloated as the message. The tone, far from being redemptive and restorative is overwhelmingly self-congratulatory with a level of glad-handing and smirking self-righteousness that would shame a First Century Pharisee.
Rather than clarifying the roles, duties and specific characteristics of Church and State, the prayer breakfasts I have attended have been more like a cheer-leading infomercial celebrating religious and political imperialism.
But they don’t need to be this way.
We could, in a moment or two of national reflection actually face our fears and distortions, our own demonizing and religiously justified inertia.
We could actually address some of the social ills our ignorance and denial have cultivated for so long.
We could act, or speak, of our deeply rooted connection and need for each other.
We could stir each other, and ourselves, out of our large and small screen induced daze.
We could look into the eyes of those around us and put down our slogans and defenses a see, if only for a moment, the humanity, the made in God’s image of humanity, that stands before us, waiting, as we all might be, for that door, that opportunity, that conversation to open up, and for that freedom that has been gone so long that we have forgotten what it feels like, finally splashes us in the face with its invigorating spirit and reminds us who we are.
It can be done.
And this is what a real national day of prayer could look like. Perhaps even the day of prayer can be reborn.