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.