Prayer Where?

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I’ve had some downtime from writing. Blips in my personal life interfered with my creative endeavors. It’s been hard to put the words on the page. During this time I’ve scrolled and read many posts about needing to put God back in schools. This old person has other ideas. You might not agree but different opinions posed constructively lead us to examine our beliefs if we keep an open mind. And on some occasions great conversation.

I don’t remember prayer being in my public school when I attended classes in the 60s. Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance was said when appropriate, and there were religious songs sung and played at concerts. Christmas programs were Christmas programs, not religious programs but church songs were not excluded. I have no idea what all the complaining is when it comes to God in our public schools, except it’s a great mem on Facebook and other Social Media platforms that get our ire up. We pass it along without actually thinking it through.

What I do remember is prayer at mealtime in our home when the family would sit down together. The same happened in my friend’s homes. I remember attending church every Sunday because our parents made us and they went too. I remember religion classes on Saturday and Wednesday nights. I remember prayer at bedtime with my parents. i remember my Grandmother sitting in her wheelchair by the window with her rosary in her hand praying every day. I remember my Aunt Mary with her Bible on her lap in prayer after supper. I remember holidays where our schedule was built around the church. There was no choice between attending school activities or church activities. School activities lost every time if there was a conflict.

The same happened when my kids were growing up. No matter what activities they were in we always sat down for a meal together almost every night. It might not always have been at the same time but we found some time. Church activities came first and so did church on Sunday plus Sunday School and confirmation Wednesday nights and Saturdays. I remember when my daughter was in high school and we had tickets to the Broadway show Phantom of the Opera and it coincided with a confirmation trip. Yup, she went on the confirmation trip, and guess what, she survived missing the musical. Were my kids ever upset with us because of the choices we made when it came to church activities…all the time, yet they’re still speaking to us.

Parents are blaming schools for the lack of God in the school but perhaps they need to take responsibility for the choices that are being made for the lives of their families also. Churches have changed the way they teach because Sunday School, Confirmation, and prayer aren’t a priority in families lives anymore. It takes a backseat to whatever fun activity is happening in the community. Thirty minutes a week is not much for churches to teach kids about the role of God in their life. The churches have caved to societies worldly pressures.

Here’s what I don’t understand. I hear you when you complain that you don’t have a choice because all these activities in schools are planned for nights and weekends that used to be reserved for church. You ask, “What is a parent to do?” Parents don’t want their kids to be left out of the game or miss good times with their friends. They don’t want their kids penalized because they made them take part in church activities instead of practices or games. Parents want their kids to be well-rounded with activities that will take them into the future. They don’t want them bored and the church is occasionally boring. Somehow I think learning about God has been taken out of the phrase well-rounded.

School boards are under fire because people are protesting mask mandates and vaccine mandates. Does that say where priorities are? I haven’t heard any protests of parents being upset because of all the activities that take away from their kids learning about God in their homes and their churches. Yet the complaints of God not being in school are all over social media but it doesn’t seem to translate to the source of the problem. I would say that is a choice that has been made by families all over the United States. It’s time to own it and quit blaming schools for taking God out of the schools. We did it to ourselves when we let schools take our church time or made the choice to prioritize fun time over church time. We did it to ourselves when we quit praying as a family at mealtime or at bedtime or when we quit having faith conversations with our kids.

You might think I/m passing the buck but I’m not. I have to own my own mistakes. I’m a believer in prayer. I pray, sometimes it’s conversation but it’s a prayer. I’ve lost my desire to attend church the past year, not the church’s fault, but my own quest for examining what I believe and somewhat laziness, but I will go back. I didn’t quit praying. It was ingrained in me by my parents, by my relatives, and by my different churches. I can’t imagine a life without prayer. Prayer has saved me many times when I haven’t had anywhere else to turn.

Covid has left me finding so many online resources for my faith. We all struggle and have our ups and downs and my family is no different. I have fallen back as a parent encouraging my adult children and my grandchildren in faith and I see the results. Recently my eyes were opened when a family member told me they didn’t pray. That is a concept I totally didn’t understand. My heart dropped when I heard it. That brought me back to the kind of role model I’ve been the last few years. I may not have been in church but I didn’t leave God or prayer, but we didn’t talk about it. I haven’t had those conversations with the people I love. The role of a parent in teaching our families about God doesn’t end when they turn 18.

I also admit I was shocked a few years ago when directing a Christmas Program in church and a couple of the children that only came to be in the Christmas Program had never heard the story of the birth of Jesus. Recently, a friend told me of another young person who had never heard of the creation story or the Garden of Eden. Somewhere there is a disconnect and I have to feel it starts with us as Grandparents and parents and yes churches.

As for churches, it’s not a competition or it shouldn’t be. I never wanted my kids to learn about God in school. I felt it wasn’t the schools or the teachers’ responsibilities. It was ours as parents. I also believe it’s time for churches to teach and set the bar higher for expectations for the kids. Stop being afraid people will leave or people will get mad and do what churches are supposed to do. Be a respite for the weary, Kids are weary too. Take care of the ones that are there, and help them know what they believe and why they believe it, so they can go forward and take that knowledge to teach the next generation. Prayer will be with us for a lifetime. History has shown us prayer has kept people alive and given them hope in the most dire conditions. Don’t we want that for our children?

The next time you pass along the mem of putting prayer back in schools, examine what that means and if it was ever there. Maybe change it to “Put Prayer Back In The Home.”

Peaceful Thoughts On A Sunday Morning

This morning I sat outside and listened to the birds sing and watched the squirrels scamper down the street. Afterwards I settled in for my morning readings. I wrote five things I was grateful for in my gratitude journal. I then turned to my Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much by Anne Wilson Schaef. Next up was the next chapter in Opening Windows written by many Christian authors. Today was Chapter Eleven by John Guest. The title…Open to Life Changing Prayer.

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I am in the time of my life where I seek peace. Drama is high in my house on some days with the life changing memory loss of a family member. Each day is different but what I have come to realize is the day is easier depending on my reaction to events. That’s where God and prayer help me. Taking the time to pray feeds my spirit and calms my brain.

Sunday mornings used to be a “go to church no matter what morning.” Part of that was my Catholic upbringing and it was what I had hoped to instill in my children. You went to church on Sunday morning no matter what. Strange phrase but I heard it constantly growing up. Maybe it’s a Minnesota thing. Leaving church on many Sundays I didn’t always feel peaceful. Church politics and the expectations of some congregation members left me feeling unsettled. There were days I didn’t feel I measured up to the rules of dress, proper protocol and even praying right. It was never the Pastor which made me feel that way and we’ve had many Pastors. It might not even be a true representation of the members. It might possibly just have been me, feeling the way I felt about myself, and blaming it on to the church.

During the pandemic I attended more church services online then I have been to in person in years. I have shared my faith and had faith conversations online, in private bible studies, and in person during this time. I feel the peace of not having to lose that peace because of church politics.

It’s Sunday morning. Soon I will listen online to my church. Our Pastor is leaving. I want to hear her sermon and then I am going to church to the going away shindig. Yes, you heard that right, I am not going to church in person but going to the after party.

One of the reasons I love listening online is there are no distractions during the sermon. There are no distractions with my prayers. I can sing or sit back and listen to the beautiful music. I can open the Bible app on my phone to follow along or look things up without criticism of using my phone during the church service. It also allows me to read various interpretations of the verses during worship. I find peace at home during church.

The argument we hear the most is that we need our church family and we do. I have realized church family doesn’t always mean those people that are in your home church. It can mean those in your Bible Study, your next door neighbors, friends, and yes, even strangers you meet when you share your faith.

We need churches. They are pivotal to our lives. However, does the old form of church still work in 2021? Could the people be the church and the building take second place when it comes to worship priority, expanding church services to other places in the community? Think of the money we spend beautifying our church buildings. What would happen if we put that money into staff and outreach instead, and the building be well kept but not a shrine. A church home should be a comfortable place which feels like home to everyone.

I must admit I have questioned over the years why we can’t always get along and share the outreach with all the congregations in the community. It shouldn’t be a contest as to who has the best church but each church setting the others up to success, even if we believe different doctrine. Don’t we believe in one God? It’s the doctrine and divide over correctness in denominations that divide us. It’s our way or the highway. yet we all have one common denominator and that is our belief in God.

In my old age I have been influenced by my Catholic upbringing, my dad’s EUB and Methodist religion and the religion of my cousins and ancestors which have roots in the Assembly of God church and the Jehovah Witnesses. I also had good friends whose roots were Mormon and I learned from them too. Because of this I have a hard time escribing to what I was brought up with, and that is each church believing their church was the one true church, and the way they worshipped God was the only right way. That might account for my thoughts concluding a church isn’t the building, the way we dress, the way we line up the spoons in the silverware drawer or even the rules for prayer which dominate each denominations church services.

Maybe it’s time we let go of that belief that we have to have the perfect and beautiful building to be our church, to hold our services. Wouldn’t it be great if our buildings were well kept but not so perfect that they welcome strangers, let us be casual, accept us as we are and take that church out in the community, worship services taking many different forms?

I am past the age where I care if people will talk about me because I just showed up at the party but not for the service. I am past the age where I care if people talk about me because they think I’m not doing enough volunteering in church. I have fifty years of volunteering under my belt. It’s time to volunteer to be kind to others, pray with others and feed the birds and be in background volunteering for church things that no one knows about, and that might include just being a friend to someone who needs one.

This week in a backyard in my hometown, sitting with a young mother and watching her kids splash in their kiddie pool, I had a beautiful, spiritual experience. She turned to me and asked if she could pray with me and pray for me. The birds were singing, the kids were splashing, the breeze was blowing through the trees and we prayed, right there in her backyard. I was in church, God’s church of nature. What more could I ask for?

The pandemic may have changed how we view worshipping God. Some need that in church moment. For others they need the peace and quiet of home to hear the word or the. connection of prayer in the most unexpected places such as the streets we walk everyday. Recently I told my Grandchild that God doesn’t live in a building. He’s with us all the time. I hope he remembers that throughout his life.

I’m rambling with thoughts today. Over my lifetime the place where I’ve felt the most judgment from others for things that don’t matter, such as being on tune when you sing or you can’t belong to a choir, fighting over what group is appropriate to use our church for meetings, making sure the floors are spit polished were in the organized church. We weren’t arguing about spiritual subjects such as the Bible or the Ten Commandments but material matters. And at times we were fighting about exclusion of who has the right to worship God with us. Who was welcome.

Perhaps one thing we’ve learned this past year is that things don’t have to be perfect when we worship. We aren’t perfect and we shouldn’t expect others to be.

I long for the day where it doesn’t matter how you dress, how much money you have or the color of your skin to be able to walk into a church and be accepted as who we are, all sinners and all in need of caring, having a place to take a breath without being judged by each other, leaving that to God. He sees us and he is the one who will change what needs to be changed if we have faith. I am guilty in the past for also being part of the problem with my judgment. I hope that is one thing God helps me change in me.

Yes we all need church family. What does that look like in your place of worship?

To Pray or Not to Pray?

person holding bible with cross

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I have a granddaughter that will be confirmed this weekend. We will all be there to celebrate this milestone in her life.

I remember my confirmation. It was a moment in my life that I do remember and treasure. I know what I wore and I remember the day and what I chose for my confirmation name. We had to do that in my church at that time. Usually, it was a Saint’s name.

As much as I have written about my days growing up Catholic and telling you the tales of things that unsettled me about my religion, there were many positives too. As a young child, you don’t appreciate all the prayers you need to remember or the religion classes, but those are the very things that get me through my life.

I changed religions for a couple of reasons. I wanted to attend church as a family and I was impressed with the faith of my new nieces and nephews and their religious instruction in the Lutheran Church. I was impressed with their knowledge of the Bible. I was impressed with their confirmation programs that encompassed many hours of study. I was impressed with their Sunday Schools. I was impressed with their knowledge of other religions.

Today I use some things from my upbringing still, and I use things I learned as a Lutheran and from other relatives of other religions. But forming my faith started as a young child.

I have fallen away from church time to time when I was lost and searching, but I was always drawn back because of prayer and what I learned from both religions.

One day I was at a baseball game with my grandson. They were losing by over ten points and it was getting worse by the minute. Before the game I asked him if he prayed for help to do his best, not win, just to do his best. He told me no and gave me a funny look. I decided I would pray for his team, not to win, but to do their best and possibly bring the score up so it was a little closer and they wouldn’t feel so defeated. I did and I have to admit, I was amazed they scored over ten points and brought the game to a tie that inning. They did lose but not the terrible loss they would have had. I told my grandson I did that, and again I got the funny look. I was convinced it helped, but he wasn’t convinced.

Another time when chatting with another grandson who was about to play in a basketball game I again inquired if he asked God to help him do his best. His funny look appeared and he said no. I told him he should. I asked him later if he took my advice and he didn’t because he thought it was a strange request.

Both these boys go to church and Sunday School. I was taught to pray without ceasing no matter how little or unimportant my needs seemed. We’ve all heard the “someone needs it more than I do” speech.

Sunday School was more intense when I was growing up, and I know this even though I was not in a protestant Sunday School. We Catholics in our school had to go to church every day during the school year. Sunday School for people my age in protestant churches, and for my kids was every Sunday morning for an hour. Going to church was a requirement. It didn’t matter what was happening in the community with sports, church and Sunday School came first.

Confirmation was another matter. Saturday mornings for my Protestant friends and for my children were for two to three hours and Wednesday nights were church time. There were memorization and work that had to be done, and if it wasn’t, you were not allowed to be confirmed. Some might argue that this is too harsh for the young ones of today, but I argue it is why I have a foundation to hold on to at my lowest times; even the times I shy away from my church community.

John McCain tells of how his faith was strengthened, restored and tested as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. One of his prayers was to be given another minute to keep living. Orson Swindle was a Marine Captain who spent six years in captivity. He and his fellow prisoners would cough the letter C for church and tap a code so they knew it was time to pray together, and they would say their prayers on their own, but at the same time. The prayers were the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm. Prayer was their sustenance. Had they not learned that at their parent’s knees and in their Sunday Schools and churches they would not have had those memorized prayers in their darkest hours or been able to whisper their personal words of prayer.

Our churches today have changed in what they expect of our youth. Sunday School classes are shortened. After confirmation teenagers disappear from their churches because they are given the option by their parents and society to not be a part of a community where their faith will be sustained. Many teenagers, even Confirmation age have a hard time reciting any rote prayer such as the Lord’s prayer or the 23rd Psalm. We have dumbed down the teaching of our children to conform to society’s expectations, rather than keeping the expectation of what our children should be learning to be able to withstand the world today. Sunday school and education programs, along with youth events, are among the first cut when trying to save money. We seem to lower our standards for our youth to keep people in our churches yet churches are emptier. We expect less and we are getting less. How is that working for us?

I know people are falling away from the church communities for many different reasons. There is a lack of trust in the old church establishment. Yes, fragile leaders have let us down. Judgment has driven us away. The politics of churches have driven us away. Yet we still need that “old time religion” to grow up those kids so that if they are in situations they cannot handle they know prayer and faith will help. They can turn to a common prayer together as those prisoners did or if they cannot eke out a prayer of their own because of their situation. Our children today need a foundation and we are failing if we don’t give that to them.

If I can leave one moment of wisdom for my grandchildren, it is to never quit praying in all instances, no matter how small the request might be. Memorize those prayers; there will be times you can’t find your own words for prayer but your heart will pull up that which is memorized embedded in your heart.

There are thoughts which are prayers. There are moments when, whatever the posture of the body, the soul is on its knees. — Victor Hugo