Graduation Prayers

At the big graduation ceremony last night, my family and I were sitting behind the cross lady, who was wearing one on every piece of clothing and accessory she had on, even her sunglasses. That’s a huge cross ring she sports on her finger. The big (stupid) question I had in my mind as I sat in one of DFW’s biggest Baptist churches was, “Were they or were they not going to start this thing off with a prayer?” I know. Dumb question. It’s like asking, “Do Christians like crosses?”

The way our district gets around the whole prayer thing is simply by having a student say one. As I was looking around at all the bowed heads, listening to the prayer, I wondered how would I feel if I were Jewish or Muslim? I know how it feels to be a non-believer. It feels a lot like I’m watching a Disney movie. It feels somewhat surreal to be seemingly the only person who doesn’t believe. You know those scenes in movies where time stops and the main character walks around checks everyone out? That’s how it feels. It feels like you’re not even part of the show. But if I were part of this movie where God is the leading character, I wouldn’t be offended by prayer anyway. God is God. He’s the same no matter the flavor of religion you like, no matter what you call “Him.”

I wondered how many people in the vast audience were wondering the same thing as me, though: How can so many people believe this sh*t. You’ve got to think in a crowd that big that there must be other nonconformists. Was I offended? Not at all. These people don’t know any different; they don’t know any better. No prayer? It doesn’t even make sense to them. My brother, of course, knowing my stance, let out a loud “Amen” at the end. (sigh)

The next speaker was the class president. I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes through her speech. Her entire 4 minutes or so was dedicated to God and to her reading of the Bible. She quoted scripture. She talked about Bible stories. David never gave up. David never disconnected from God. God showed me this. God taught me that. Let God lead the way for you, too, she told her peers. Blah, blah, blah. I hope each of you believes and has faith as I do (because, of course, her way is the one true way). I am so wonderful. I love all my friends. (She took the time to individually thank six or eight friends.) Because, you see, being trained all her life to think that God has a special plan for her, she was now living out that special plan and letting the world know how special she was. She couldn’t help herself. The student body stood up and applauded her (the only speaker to receive such accolades), and I waited expectantly for her to receive her academy award.

The next two speakers, who also happened to be the number one and two graduates in their class, did not mention God once, and in fact, though they briefly thanked their parents, that was the extent of the personal nature of their speeches. They spoke to the audience as they should: let me share with you what I’ve learned and how it can apply to you. You have to wonder if intelligence gives people an awareness that not everyone likes vanilla ice cream, that some don’t like ice cream at all. And you have to wonder if intelligence gives people an awareness that they are part of a really big production that includes the entire world and not the only character in a one-man show.

So the moral of my story is this. If you want a standing ovation, just talk about God, the celebrity nearly everyone can relate to. But don’t let the applause be a gauge of the quality of your speech. A really good speech, with insights that apply to many, not just one, may just be too lofty for others to understand.

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76 responses to “Graduation Prayers

  1. I don’t miss the Dallas Protestant bs at all. I found it overbearing and intrusive when I lived there as a Catholic; now, as a non-believer, I don’t know how I would sit through such an event. I might have to adorn myself with anti-theist jewelry to act as a foil to the cross lady. Who am I kidding? I’d hide my unbelief in terror.

  2. They have their churches,mosques,temples to go to to pray. They can pray ALL day in their homes, they can pray silently at work why do they have to make us listen to their beliefs??They do not want to listen to mine. As a matter of fact they would like to punish me for not believing in their god.

  3. Funny you should comment on this today. This morning, I got a link to a story about a valedictorian who tore up his speech and said a Christian prayer instead. He was being praised and applauded for this act of defiance in the name of his god. All I could think was that this kid may be smart enough to be valedictorian, but he does not have the emotional intelligence to be a leader in a modern world. A commencement speech is for all the students, not just the ones with the speaker’s narrow view. It’s a time for inclusion, not division. He had a great opportunity to speak to hundreds of people, and he missed it.

  4. I really enjoy reading your posts. It is so nice to know I am not the only one in the church counting ceiling tiles!

  5. It really is such a given in this country for prayers before … stuff. From the presidential inauguration to Thanksgiving dinner. I would imagine the Jews and Muslims (and Buddhists, etc.) have done just as you are now doing, looking around, perhaps bemused, perhaps irritated. Unless they are in their own homes or gathering places and can pray their own prayers, free from dirty looks and “turr-ist” comments.

    Now when I’m in the situation of being witness to a group prayer, I look around, etc. I no longer bow my head, which I used to do more out of not wanting to call myself out rather than being reverent or respectful. And if I’m feeling particularly ornery, I’ll hope someone will ask why I didn’t bow my head. Heh.

  6. How timely! My daughter graduated last night and (amazingly), we didn’t hear the word God once except for in the Pledge of Allegiance. But there was an earlier Baccalaureate ceremony last Sunday that was more of a supposed “non-denominational” blessing to the graduating class. My daughter went to one rehearsal and decided not to attend the ceremony because she felt it was too religious, filled with hymns and prayers and she said the word “Lord” was used a few times. A few days later, when people asked why we weren’t there, I told them about my daughter’s perception of it and they were surprised because didn’t think it was too religious at all. So what IS too religious then? I’m just really happy they kept the two ceremonies separate.

    • @Lorraine Then I’ll say your district is more progressive than ours! If they have a separate “non-denominational” blessing and then a secular graduation, that sounds pretty fair.

  7. The brat in South Carolina was told not to make the speech a religious one, and he did it anyway, with his father’s blessing. And people applauded him for it. What are we teaching our kids when we applaud someone breaking the rules and tell them that it’s the right thing to do? Sign me disgusted.

  8. I really enjoy your posts. thank you.

    • @etmoore I appreciate you writing and letting me know you’re out there! And, oh my, Salt Lake City? That must be hard….Have you heard it said that if you think you’re crazy, you’re not. The ones who are really crazy have no clue!

  9. trying to raise three freethinking, thoughtFULL kids in the suburbs of Salt Lake City. Mormon churches literally every other block. I know exactly how it feels to feel like the only sane one in a room of crazies. irony, they think I’m crazy. anyway, I read all of your posts but don’t comment. thought I would let you know that I really enjoy your blog. thank you.

  10. Through your keen insights, you make the same mistake other non-believers do. You mistake God for those who claim him as theirs. Of course, it’s an understandable confusion, but as you wrote God is God no matter what. If He exists, believers can’t make Him into their mold any more than non-believers can wish Him away.

    • Well said, sir. It’s refreshing to hear a Christian *not* attempt to employ logic to justify their irrational beliefs, and instead employ condescension and straw man arguments.

    • @Matthew Acton Not so keen, you mean?

      I meant Mickey Mouse is Mickey Mouse. The Devil is the Devil. President Obama is President Obama. I’m not claiming god as mine–and I’m not confused. I don’t even recognize god as real.

  11. When I attended church in the later years of my childhood I was always reminded of the Borg when we recited the Nicene Creed … in unity of both thought and word. Now, looking back, I wonder how many people just went along with it because it was easier than causing a stir with their parents or other family members.

    I find it fitting that the top two performers in the class gave practical speeches with potentially useful advice for the student body, while the class politician just handed them all red meat. Given the response she got, I guess she learned something useful too.

    • @Senator Good point: “I find it fitting that the top two performers in the class gave practical speeches with potentially useful advice for the student body, while the class politician just handed them all red meat. Given the response she got, I guess she learned something useful too.”

  12. This is why I dislike graduations from “Bible-belt” states.

  13. @Lorraine: I always omit the words “under God” when saying the pledge, as they weren’t in the text when it was first adopted by Congress. It reads, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    See the Wikipedia page for the various revisions:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pledge_of_Allegiance

    • LanceThruster

      I left it out at an opening session of the Senate, and Strom Thurmond gave me such a look because I was out of sync (which I did loudly and proudly) that I thought to Capitol police would have escorted me out. I would have said that *I* was reciting it in its original form.

      I also like to modify it to, “One nation, under the Constitution, indivisible…”

    • @Diana Yes!! Thanks for the reminder and the link.

  14. @etmoore, I know exactly how you feel. It’s like being “Marilyn” in “The Munsters.”

    • Kathy, best comparison ever! I especially feel this way living in west Tennessee, bordering Arkansas and Mississippi.

  15. Thank you for this post Debbie, and congratulations to you and your son on his graduation from high school. I hope he will find a talent, career or job that he absolutely loves.

    BTW you’re not confused, you know exactly what your talking about. Maybe you can invent a rhinestone pin of the words “common sense” or “logic”.

  16. I watched the live stream of graduation last night, and was thinking exactly the same thing as the little class president was giving her speech. Fortunately, I was in my living room, surrounded by my like-minded kids, and could say just what I was thinking. :) When my older boys graduated, they had no desire to go to baccalaureate – in their words, “meh – it’s just school-church.” If I’m not mistaken, last year’s valedictorian, a real holy-roller, mentioned alot of god/jesus stuff in his speech, though not nearly as much as this year. Oh, and we refer to that church as “6-Flags over Jesus” in our house. Or the Bapt-a-Dome…

  17. Hahaha…Deb you had me laughing with, “How can so many people believe this sh*t.” The cross people and the god/Jesus thankers are just like you said…a surreal movie of the Disney variety. I’m so thankful someone else understands what it’s like. I am taking care of my dear neighbor’s dogs right now and the 50 crosses and the Christian music channel almost make me convulse in a Tourette’s kind of way each time I enter her beautiful house. Other than that she is just lovely…I’m glad she lets me overlook it for the most part instead of bating me to disagree :)

  18. I always try to suppress thoughts like “they don’t know any better” or “how can otherwise intelligent people believe this stuff?” because that makes me feel like I’m being arrogant and judgmental. Doesn’t stop the thoughts, however. What I really resent, though, is their assumption that everyone believes what they believe, and that those who don’t are somehow to be pitied or disdained. Oh, wait… that’s what I just said about them …

  19. @Charity, I used to live in Germantown, and they say there are more churches in Memphis than gas stations. I believe it.

  20. As usual, I’m nodding my head and sighing with some sense of irritation as I read your experience. I will never understand why we have to sit through a ceremony peppered with religion – when we don’t believe the same. I’m not so much offended, more so, I feel out of place in those situations. I shouldn’t feel out of place. I shouldn’t be made to feel ‘ashamed’ for different beliefs – yet that’s what always happens.

  21. When I’m in situations like that I find myself having several different thoughts. Part of me agrees with your assessment of time standing still; I feel like I’ve stepped through the looking glass into some kind of altered reality. Another part of me feels a sense of freedom that comes from knowing I’m not shackled to those superstitions and that my choices are driven by independent thought. But at at the end I feel discouraged that so many people blindly follow their religious beliefs and that they feel compelled to impose their beliefs on the rest of us. I’m so glad that you’ve created this forum.

    • @David Anderson–Yes, I agree with you: “Another part of me feels a sense of freedom that comes from knowing I’m not shackled to those superstitions and that my choices are driven by independent thought. But at the end I feel discouraged that so many people blindly follow their religious beliefs and that they feel compelled to impose their beliefs on the rest of us.”

  22. Hi Deborah – this was a very funny piece! I literally laughed out loud. I could see you being a comedic writer or satirist, like a Dave Barry, PJ O’Rourke or Stephen Colbert type of writer.

  23. I can’t tell you how much I love your blog. It is an oasis of sanity in this southern, bible-belt desert of conformism where I live. My husband believes in god but thankfully does not like to go to church and is not a religious zealot so we just agree to disagree and it’s worked out well. My 14 yr-old daughter “came out” of the religious closet last year and now at least I don’t feel so alone. She’s very headstrong and it’s difficult for her because she wants to take issue with the leaking of religion into her school (which is really more of a flood here in the south), but we don’t want her to be ostracized for it. She did make an intelligent, respectful argument at school regarding the FCA meetings that were being held before school in the cafeteria where all students had to wait, no choice. She argued that, because she could hear the prayers, and could not leave the cafeteria, she was a captive audience. Unfortunately and expectedly, nothing was done. She wonders if the human race will ever “evolve out of the need for religion”? *sigh*
    We patiently await that day. At least we have each other!

    • @Tracy That was really clever of your daughter to argue that…..I bet she could make a case of it with the school board. The difficult part is that you don’t want to be labeled a troublemaker. On the other hand, she may also find others who feel as she does. Like we found each other! :)

  24. Ironically, I knew *exactly* the church and the high school you referred to, as I attended the same graduation ceremony for a family member Friday night! I thought the same thing about the class president, and the other two students’ speeches. *sigh*

  25. Thank you! This blog post articulates everything I’ve always felt about people who use God in their speeches or other public acts in order to get instant approval and attention. It never fails that if a child mentions God during any school event, that child will get a standing ovation. I personally find it appalling and a discredit to all the children who worked ten times harder to actually bring something to the table. Parents don’t want unique, individual leaders….they want obedient sheep. I’m not sure whether or not to be angry at these smug products of ignorance or pity them. Here in NC, it’s all over the news that a student ignored instructions, did not read the speech that was approved, and gave a long speech about how great God was during his graduation, of course to a standing ovation. It sickens me that the same people who gave him a standing ovation would have beaten him in the parking lot if he had been Muslim and done the same.

  26. @Amanda: “It sickens me that the same people who gave him a standing ovation would have beaten him in the parking lot if he had been Muslim and done the same.” You hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly my issue with this. If that kid had been Jewish, or Muslim, or anything but mainstream Christian, there would have been outrage and condemnation. So hypocritical.

  27. What a timely and funny post! Thanks Deborah!! I too had seen the NC graduation speech and couldn’t believe how much the kid was congratulated for breaking the rules! I think what has happened is that some mainstream believers have misinterpreted the progressive thinking that asks people to avoid forcing their own beliefs on others as an attempt to undermine those beliefs. That’s the only theory I can come up with that explains the unwarranted applause when one of their own does come out and parade their views so publicly. I absolutely love your take on the “special” arrogance of the Class President who believes that god has a “special” plan for her. Personally, I’d like a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for religious views in public settings!

    • @Anne Wallman Hi, Anne. I agree. Religion should just be kept private. It would just make things so much easier. There are people that comment on this forum from other countries, and they can’t believe how polarized we are here–and that religion even an issue.

  28. Ironically, as the senior class reporter/historian, it was my job to give the opening prayer. I had stopped attending church that year, once my deacons cornered me for attending prom and wearing a gold, strapless dress…I may as well have been a prostitute, I was told. (I was brought up Church of Christ. They don’t like dancing. Or women. Or thinking. Or asking questions.) So, here it is, graduation day and I’m supposed to say a prayer to a god I was questioning. My prayer went something like this: “Please guide us into the future and help us as new graduates make smart choices. Let us use the brain, you gave us.” Amen. LOL It was the most generic and unholy prayer ever.

  29. I always enjoy your posts, but this one was really great. I especially loved that next to last paragraph — very insightful!

  30. I want to chime in too with a Spot ON! Very thoughtfully written. From a Southern Utah mom

  31. I feel so distant reading your discussions. NOTHING like that ever takes place in here.

  32. Debbie, I think what made this graduation so upsetting is the sheer manipulation of it all. From my understanding, your oldest son attended either a public school or a non religious private school. If that’s the case, this event should have never taken place at a church. It seems as though school administration made sure that their religious backsides were covered by using this venue to assure that they could say and do whatever they want.

    Trust me, this school and church did not do all of this under the assumption that everyone is religious, more specifically, Christian. I have read comments on this blog over time where this has been stated about Christians in the United States. Though it may be true once in a while, such blatant evangelism is often due to months of strategic planning on their part. They have poured their time, money (obviously, some of ours as well), and prayer into the graduation as an evangelical outreach for Jesus.

    As far as I’m concerned, manipulation is just glorified bullying.

    • LanceThruster

      @Charity

      manipulation is just glorified bullying.

      And that is the MO of the dominant culture. They feel that since ‘most’ people fall into this category, those that don’t do not count. Aside from the incessant bullying, it shows a remarkable insecurity to need this constant reassurance at every level.

      • LT, I would be highly upset if I knew that my children were trying to intimidate anyone, even more if I realized they were just simply imitating my behavior! How horrible would I be?! Yet, it’s perfectly okay for a group of several people to thousands of people at one time to flex their muscle against as few as one person! Where is the reasoning and common courtesy in that? Seriously, I have seen since childhood this mob mentality within Christianity. So much so, I have to wonder if they’re the ones who invented it.

        If people gather in their places of worship to follow Christ, fine. If they pray, read their bibles, and talk about Jesus in their homes, well, alright then. I don’t even mind if they have their own clubs, and meetings, even at public schools and secular universities as long as they meet privately behind closed doors (Unlike that scenario of that poor teenage girl mentioned in the comments above.).

        It just infuriates me when the religious knock on my door, force public school activities at churches or have meetings within those same schools that are full of prayer and scripture. It’s upsetting that they try to con the public with their manipulative evangelistic methods. I don’t hog their blogs, try to de-convert their kids, knock on their doors, nor do I hip bump the preacher out from behind the pulpit so that I may enlighten the congregation with ideas of a godless life.

        I swear, I’m starting to understand why my fellow non believers are so fond of the word “fuck”. Though I passionately want to be a “nice atheist”, I find myself more and more apt to saying such colorful words when dealing with the religious elite.

        • LanceThruster

          @Charity – Your frustration is indeed understandable. I find the most exasperating xians are the followers of what I term “Republican Jesus.” There is a complete disconnect from any of the compassionate teachings of Jesus in favor of the Gospel of “I’ve got mine!”

          Those are the types for whom “Bless you” or “I’ll pray for you” is more accurately translated as “Fuck you.”

        • @Charity I do agree with a lot of what you say, as you know. But I also think we’re a nation in transition, and we’re pushing against the status quo. For a long time, most people in this country have been Christian. This was the norm. Things are changing, though perhaps not as quickly as we’d like. As for the graduation in the church…it was the largest, low-cost venue available. As for prayers disguised as “opening remarks” (on the program), that sucked. But it also means that the school district is aware that they are supposed to be secular. As more of us grow kids who are nonbelievers, as more of us come out of the closet, there will be more pressure to make more significant changes.

        • Charity, you’re not alone. Many of my Christian friends don’t understand why I get upset or frustrated about this. Their attitude is, “just ignore it if you don’t like it.” They just can’t comprehend why it makes me angry.

  33. Kathy, Debbie, and LT,

    Thank you for understanding me, and for your wonderful responses to my crazy rant.

    I do think the tide is turning. Maybe it’s time for me to ride a wave.

  34. LT, “I’ll pray for you” makes me want to commit hari kari.

    • LanceThruster

      What, and miss all the fireworks?

      xD

      I tried but failed to find the old copier gag that goes something like, I’ve been used, abused, lied to, beaten, kicked….(etc., etc., etc.,)…and the only reason I stick around is to see what will happen next.

      Our numbers are small but mighty and we can’t afford to lose a single one. I’ll hold a good thought for you.

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