Friday, September 16, 2005

How I Know I'm Not in Berkeley

We had a short service at the hospital this morning, for the survivors of Katrina. My CPE supervisor spoke first, on the thought that God is not absent in this tragic event, but profoundly present, especially in our response and service to those who are hurting and displaced. There was nothing that jarred my sense of place in this speech. But through the next two speakers I quickly came to realize that I was not in Berkeley.

The next speaker, standing between an American flag and a California flag, prayed charismatically to "God our heavenly Father," in "the name of Jesus." I have no particular problem with this, to be sure, though I would have been more comfortable if other religious groups were equally represented. But the absence of any other religious group, and the way the preacher prayed, made it very clear that I was no longer where I used to be, just weeks ago. No public religious event would have proceeded like this in Berkeley! Berkeley's sin would have been different. There the Christians would shamedly pray like a Unitarian, with no reference to Christ or any Trinitarian relation of persons. It would have been just a vanilla-flavored prayer to a generic "god."

The next speaker had us close in singing "God Bless America." I have never sung this before, but as the camera panned across the audience for the local news (me sitting there in my bright white clerical collar), I figured I should at least look like I was singing. So I mumbled along, "God bless America, da-dum, dum-dee-dum . . . "

I can't imagine that we would have sung this in Berkeley either, because the song is so closely associated with a kind of religious patriotism that is frowned upon. But as I thought about this petition to God for a blessing, I began to wonder if it is more appropriate than we might think. After all, we are asking God for a blessing, and God's blessing upon America would not be to leave this country as it is. God's blessing would surely look more like the leveling that Mary asks for in the Magnificat, or what Elijah prophesied to Israel. God's blessing would be the humbling of the proud, and the lifting up of the lowly. Blessings are to ask for God to change what is, not to keep things as they are.

So there I was, not far at all from my old home, but in a culture that was not ashamed of civil religion or of publicly asking for a blessing from God. This would have been different in Berkeley. But, like I said, I am not in Berkeley anymore.



Blogger Preston said...

Ok, I'm being hard on folks from Berkeley.

Many of them, not all, would pray in a public setting without referring to God in Trinity.

And this trend is not, of course, limited to Berkeley.

Friday, September 16, 2005 10:05:00 PM  

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