-rewritten by Sebastian Temple Let There Be Peace On Earth -
Sy Miller & Bill Jackson, Modified by Mike Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be. With the Earth as our Mother,
Siblings all are we.
Let me walk with my Sibling
In perfect harmony. Let peace begin with me,
Let this be the moment now.
With ev'ry step I take
Let this be my solemn vow; To take each moment and live
Each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing
I'd like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow-white turtle doves
I'd like to teach the world to sing
In perfect harmony
I'd like to hold it in my arms and keep it company
I'd like to see the world for once
All standing hand in hand
And hear them echo through the hills
"Ah, peace throughout the land"
Id like to build the world a home
And furnish it with love
Grow apple trees and honey bees
and snow-white turtledoves
Book of Freedom
The Challenge of Religious Freedom
William Powell Tuck, First Baptist Church, Lumberton, North Carolina Leviticus 26:12-13, John 8:31-36
I have seen the famous picture of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on numerous occasions, but it was only recently that I noticed that the sun was in the picture. One can see the sun shining through the window. It is uncertain whether the sun was rising or whether the sun was setting on that occasion, and I often wonder which it was. As I reflected on that picture, I began to wonder, even more today, is the sun of liberty setting or is it still rising? Is it coming to an end or just beginning? We hear sounds within our country today, which indicate that many people do not understand freedom very well. In fact, there are many who want to deny freedom to others while ensuring their own freedom. Many do not understand very clearly why our country was founded originally nor what its basic purpose was. We continue to suffer as a nation because of a that lack of awareness. "The American flag is not, " as Henlee Barnett once said, "a blindfold but a bright symbol which inspires true patriots to challenge evil at every level of government." The American flag is a symbol of our country, but it is not a blindfold to keep us from seeing what we as a church should say and do to confront evil in our society. I am a loyal American, but I am Christian first. I do not think I could ever make the statement, "My country right or wrong." The pulpit and we as Christian citizens should always challenge our country to lift its ethical sights higher, to be what God would have this nation be.
In 1976 we celebrated the bicentennial of our country. This was a very momentous occasion, and I dare say, without fear of contradiction, that few here will live to see the next one hundred year celebration. There may be one or two in the nursery who might make it because of heredity or the advancement of medicine, but I think most of us will have to acknowledge that we shall not likely see the next celebration.
In 1976 there was a man who led a parade in Bartow, Florida, who was 134 years of age. Charlie Smith, who was originally from Liberia, was recognized in 1976 by the Social Security Administration as the oldest living American citizen. In 1854, at the age of twelve, he stood on a slave auction block in New Orleans and was sold to a rancher in Texas. When he was nineteen years old, the Civil War broke out. Later, he heard Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. He lived through numerous wars. He saw our country go through good and bad times, and he himself endured personal enslavement and suffering. From Africa to America, from slavery to freedom, from war to peace, here was a man who lived through many generations and who understood something about freedom better, I dare say, than any of us will ever truly understand it.
On this Sunday before the fourth of July, I want us to reflect on freedom -- especially religious freedom. I am aware that there are some voices that say that the church should not get involved at all in this kind of celebration. But the church has always been involved, and the church should continue to have something to say in the affairs of government. We cannot equate church and country. Civil religion is always dangerous. We have too much of that heresy being proclaimed from television and other platforms today. But there is a healthy, legitimate role which religion can play in the celebration of any event in our country.
The first observation I would make is this: freedom really had its birth in the Hebraic-Christian religion. Contrary to what some historians say who try to trace our understanding of democracy back to the free city state of Greece, I believe that freedom goes back far beyond that. It goes back to Moses who stood before the Pharaoh of Egypt and demanded in the name of God, 'Let my people go." It goes back to the time when the God of Israel said to his people, " I will establish my Tabernacle among you and will not spurn you. I will walk to and from among you; I will become your God and you shall become my people. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt and let you be their slaves no longer; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk upright" (Lev. 26: 12-13 NEB.) Even before Moses, there was Abraham who went out looking for a city without foundations, because it was built on the power and presence of God himself.
Some of our forefathers and mothers would not let the slaves they owned read the Bible. Do you know why? They knew very well that reading the Bible often provoked a desire for freedom in its readers. Black slaves were not allowed to read the Bible because slave owners feared they would see revealed in the Old Testament and the New Testament the God who was constantly setting his people free. The Bible resounds with cries for freedom from the God who would move against the oppressors of people, the God who would stand up for the slaves, the God who would stand up for the poor, the despised, the rejected, the imprisoned, the hurting, and the down and out. Someone has said that if he were a dictator and had control of a country, the one book he would not let the people read would be the Bible. Why? The Bible constantly tells us of the God who is the liberating God -- the God who is always seeking to free people.
Wherever there is a government that controls its people and there is no real freedom, there is a radical difference in how the people live, think, and act. Whenever there is a totalitarian church, which tells its people what they must think and must believe, there is no freedom.
In our country we have a free church in a free state. This was a radical dream of our founders. We must not lose that dream. We cannot let those who want to wed church and state be victorious. The state should not support the church nor should the church support the state. One should not dictate to the other. As a Christian we should try to influence the state. We should bear witness to the state, but we should not dictate to the state what it should do nor should it dictate to us. Freedom is born in an awareness of a liberating God. That is one of the reasons some people want to stop the study or practice of liberation theology in certain countries. Liberation theology links God with freeing people.
Secondly, freedom is never finished. It is always in process of becoming. It is always in danger of being lost It is always something that we must work at again and again. You and I are very fortunate to live in a country that is free. There are many countries, which are not, and we must not take our own freedom for granted.
We have numerous symbols for freedom in our country. The Liberty Bell is one of those symbols. That bell was a real bell, which was rung early in the life of our country. Now it is just symbolic. The Statue of Liberty is another such symbol. Several years ago it was repaired. Perhaps the decay, which had occurred, is symbolic of something, which is happening within our own country. As with the Statue of Liberty, our own liberty is being eroded away and is in danger of loss. Freedom is always in danger of being lost when the awareness of its significance slowly fades from our memories or when we are unaware of its value. Freedom is always more than a symbol. We need to remember the reality behind the symbol. Freedom needs to be a reality. Freedom is more than something we think about. It needs to permeate our whole being until we are aware that we must constantly fight to sustain its reality.
Do you remember the story of David? Jesus made a reference once to one of David's experiences. Jesus turned to the Scribes and Pharisees and asked, "Do you remember what David did?" (Matthew 12:3ff.) When he was fleeing from his enemies and was hungry, he went in the Temple and ate the shewbread from the Table of the Lord. This was the bread, which was reserved for the high priests. They would have considered that act a desecration. Then he turned to the priests and asked if they had any weapons of war that he might use to fight his enemies. After thinking for a moment, they responded, "The Sword of Goliath whom you slew in the valley of Elah, behold that is here, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. There is one other save that here." (I Samuel 21:1-10.) The sword of Goliath, of course. It had become only a symbol. It was on display. "There is none like that! Give it to me!" He lifted the sword to take it into battle.
The Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty, the Declaration of Independence, and our American flag are all symbols but they are much more. They are more than something to be put on display. The reality behind these symbols needs to remain clearly in our mind lest our freedom be snatched away when we least expect it. These symbols are reminders for us to remain on guard because the battle for freedom is one that is always being waged. We must remain on alert or lose it.
Baptists have had a significant role in the pilgrimage of our country and its quest for freedom. The hymn, "My Country 'tis of Thee," was written in 1832 by a Baptist minister named Samuel Francis Smith. The pledge of allegiance to the flag was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. Baptists have not been afraid to be involved in our country's quest for freedom. In the early stages in the history of our country, a group of Baptist ministers, John Waller and Lewis Craig and three other dissenters were arrested and put in jail when they tried to preach in Spottsylvania County, Virginia. They were a part of those who said they wanted no part of an established church. Most of us do not know what the established church is since it doesn't exist in this country. The established church is one that is supported by taxes. Just as we pay taxes to maintain our government, we would be likewise taxed to sustain the church. In most countries where the people are taxed to support the church, the institutional church is dying. The established church is not the people's church, it is the government's church. We do not want that in this country.
One of the crowning achievements which Thomas Jefferson gave our country was the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. This particular bill Jefferson considered one of the most significant accomplishments of his life. In fact, it is one of the three, which is listed on his grave. When this bill was finally passed in 1786, it stated, "Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry or whatever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or his goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall be in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." This is a part of the very fabric of our country, and, of all people, Southern Baptists should be at the forefront defending the religious rights of all persons.
In place of separation of church and state, many are substituting a civil religion which has now wed the two. Civil religion has tried to claim that this country is a "Christian" nation which can use the government to support whatever kind of religion a select group wants. This, of course, virtually denies religious freedom to non-Christians. I am a Christian and Baptist and I am proud of both, but I will give a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Moslem, or an atheist his or her right to believe or not believe. That is what religious freedom is -- freedom for all, not freedom just for Christians or Jews, but for all persons.
In 1788 John Leland met with James Madison in Orange County, Virginia, under an oak tree near the first church I ever pastored. James Madison persuaded Leland to vote for him with the understanding that upon his election he would see that a Bill of Rights for religious freedom was enacted. Leland got the support of other Baptists so that Madison was elected, and the Bill of Rights with the article for religious freedom was made the law of our land. This is part of our country's history, and, if we do not know it, we need to understand our past and learn from it.
Freedom is always unfinished, but it is in greater danger of being lost today than ever before. Some television preachers and other ministers are trying to persuade us that separation of church and state is a myth. Baptists, of all people, need to fight to be certain that religious freedom will continue to be a reality. The signers of the Declaration of Independence put more than words on a piece of paper when they signed their names to that document. The names of John Hancock and John Adams, who did not sign until August 2, were not revealed for six months in hopes that they could get back safely from New Hampshire to their homes in Georgia. The four signers of the Declaration of Independence from the state of New York were very wealthy men who owned fleets of ocean sailing ships. They lost everything they had so our country might be free. How can anyone dare suggest that we deny this kind of freedom today? We as Baptists need to stand tall in this struggle and remember that freedom is always an unfinished battle.
Remember, thirdly, that with freedom there always goes responsibility. I think it was Bishop Fulton Sheen who once said that we have a Statue of Liberty off our East Coast and we need a Statue of Responsibility off our West Coast. He is correct. There is no true freedom without responsibility. With our freedom, responsibility is essential to maintain that freedom. With freedom, there needs to be the responsibility to understand what freedom is. Freedom requires the responsibility of its believers to perpetuate it.
Freedom is not easy. It is much easier to be enslaved. Do you remember when Jesus told the Pharisees that he had come to set them free? "What do you mean set us free?" They wondered. "We have always been free. We are Abraham's children." In a sense that was true. To be Abraham's sons they realized that God was the liberating God who had freed them from Egypt. In a spiritual sense, they were always free. But... they had been in bondage to Babylon, Persia, and other countries. At the moment when Jesus was speaking to them, they were in bondage to Rome and had been in bondage to Greece. Jesus said, "I will make you free indeed," because the freedom he was giving them was internal. It was a relationship.
His freedom was relational. This is the freedom we have with the Father, and that kind of freedom no one can ever take away from us. We have the freedom of a son or a daughter of God. We are God's children and this relationship is so vital and real that nobody can snatch it away from us even if we are their slaves. In bondage we can still have the kind of freedom, which Christ gives. As God's children we are challenged to remember that with our religious freedom goes the responsibility to pass it on to others. We who are free are obliged to teach, preach, and sustain this freedom. If we are not vigilant, we may lose the liberty we cherish so much.
Several years ago an Italian film entitled General Della Rovere depicted the work of a resistance movement. The Nazi leaders arrested numerous persons -- some of whom were only innocent victims. Unable to identify the resistance leaders, the officer in charge ordered the execution of all those who had been captured. As the time of the execution drew near, one of those captured cried, "I'm innocent. I did not do anything." "You did not do anything? A resistance leader asked. 'No, I did not do anything." "I do not understand," the resistance leader continued. "Our whole way of life was being destroyed. Minds were being warped; institutions were being subverted; and you did not do anything?" "No," he said. "I did not do anything." "Then you deserve to be punished," he responded.
Too many of us want to be like the man Flip Wilson told about who said that he was a Jehovah's Bystander. He wanted to be a witness, but he did not want to get involved. Too many of us are members of the Jehovah's Bystanders and the Baptist Association of Spectators. We stay in the bleachers. We do not want to get involved. Too many of us stand aloof -- stand apart when God has called for involvement. We are challenged to stand up for freedom, to stand up for those who are oppressed, and to stand up for those who do not agree with us. Jehovah's Witnesses have their freedom today because at some point in the past there were Baptists in our country who were willing to say that although this group differs from us, we will give them the freedom to believe as they will and permit them to worship as they desire.
Freedom is always dangerous. Freedom allows for various viewpoints and different perspectives. It does not call for uniformity but respects diversity. We may not always like or agree with some of the views or ideas that differ from our own. But when real freedom exists, we allow other people to differ with us.
Freedom is always dangerous. When we have freedom that means we can have a Ku Klux Klan within our country. They have the freedom to hate Catholics and Jews. In order to have freedom, individuals have the liberty to hate. But at the same time, others can be loving and strive for ways to care for the needs of those who are oppressed in this country and around the world. Freedom gives room for a Moral Majority, a John Birch Society, or the Salvation Army. It allows for a group to protest the draft. Freedom permitted individuals to protest the Vietnam War or roll bandages to assist those in combat.
There is no true freedom without the opportunity to make choices. Freedom requires us to take a stand or a position on an issue. We have to give others the freedom and right to do the same. Did you know that the results of a recent survey indicate that fifty percent of the citizens in this country to not believe that people who have different religious beliefs from their own should be given freedom to practice their beliefs? That is frightening! It means that we have not taught the principle of freedom very well to our children.
The Vietnam War was one of the most divisive wars in our country's recent history. Good people were on both sides of that conflict. Gene Owens, a former pastor of Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, opposed the involvement of our country in the Vietnam War. He felt the war effort was unjust. So he decided to join others across the states that were protesting the war by ringing their church bells. The afternoon after he rang the church bell, a deacon came storming into his study saying, "You had no right to ring our church bell. That is "our" church bell -- not "your" bell." The next Sunday morning Gene Owens stood up in his pulpit and told the congregation about ringing the church bell and the deacon who had protested his act. "That deacon was right," he declared. "That was not my bell, I did not have any right to ring it. It is the church's bell." Then he reached under the pulpit and pulled out a bell. "But this is my bell," he exclaimed, "and I am going to ring it now." He then rang it as loudly as he could. The congregation gave him a standing ovation. He said that week dozens of people gave him bells. The bell became a symbol of his right to take a position and state his own opinion.
Thomas Jefferson once said that the Baptist church is the purest form of democracy. Each person in a Baptist church is a priest before God. The minister cannot tell you exactly what you have to believe. You are a priest before God as I am. Freedom of the pulpit carries with it the responsibility of the pew. In each arena there is a demand for both freedom and responsibility.
Religious freedom has always had high priests in its hair. Established religion has stayed on the back of religious liberty. It has always had to wage battle against the tyranny of those in power, whether they were Kings, Queens, lords or presidents. Religious freedom has constantly fought for its survival against established religion, established government, widespread prejudice, and mass ignorance. If freedom is ever lost, we will be losing one of our most precious possessions. It is always worth the battle to maintain it.
In Hartnett County, North Carolina, there is a small church called Barbecue Presbyterian Church. A pistol and a round ball are kept in a small glass case in the church. An interesting story goes with the pistol and ball. Right before the Declaration of Independence was signed, a young Presbyterian minister came from Scotland to serve as pastor of the Barbecue Presbyterian Church. One Sunday he prayed for England, but he also prayed for those in our country who we involved in the revolution and asked God to bless them as well as England. After the service was over, he was met by three loyalists from England. One of them put a pistol against his head and said, "You see this pistol? If you dare stand in that pulpit and say one more word in support of the revolution, I will put this round ball in your head." He immediately went to the Presbytery and resigned. "I am not a complete fool," he said.
Later in the afternoon, he was walking down the main street of the town and one of his former church members came out of a store cursing. She had not been pleased with her bill. He overheard her and reprimanded her for this offense. She turned to him and said, "Well, preacher, why in the world would you not expect that the devil could do something to a poor little old woman like me if he could make you resign your pulpit in the face of opposition?" He was so shaken by her remarks that the next Sunday he went back to his pulpit and preached a fiery sermon in support of the revolution. After church the three loyalists were waiting for him and sure enough they put a ball in his head and killed him. But to this day in Barbecue Presbyterian Church, there is a ball and a pistol lying in a glass case to remind persons about freedom. They stand as a symbolic reminder, no, as a realistic and concrete image of one man who dared to stand up and lift his voice for freedom.
I hope that we will not lose our freedom as citizens of this country. Let us hold on to our religious freedom. It is a precious heritage. I pray to God that we will always remember its cost, always remember its author, and always remember our own responsibility in maintaining its light. The battle for freedom is always an unending, unfinished battle. Do your part to keep freedom alive.
Prayer: It Ain't That Complicated
Anne G. Cohen, A sermon preached January 22, 1995.
Proverbs 8:1-11, Matthew 6:7-15
Over the holidays, my father and stepmother were in Brazil visiting relatives. In their absence I spent several hours a day in the garage behind their house serving as mail order/shipping clerk for their Christian book company, Hope Publishing Inc. One rare sunny afternoon as I finished up an order for 25 copies of The Way of A Pilgrim, I noticed that I had left the door open and a swallow had accidentally flown inside. It was fluttering in panic against the upper windows, high above my head. With my heart pounding, I climbed up onto a desk, reached up and on the second try, managed to hold the bird lightly cupped between both hands - as I tried not to injure its wings or feet.
I climbed down without the use of my hands, holding what felt like air between my fingers. I could sense a tiny, fast little heartbeat and the slightest brush of feathery softness against my palms. That was all. I stepped outside, knelt on the grass and opened my hands. With a flash of color and a flutter of air, the tiny bird was gone. I felt as if I had prayed.
Last Sunday, after I left the church and headed back up to Pilgrim Pines, I came up on an accident on the 10 freeway in Fontana. It was a fatal accident, three bodies on the center median covered with tarps - one the size of an older child or young teen. As traffic slowed and stopped and crawled around the blocked lanes, there was a hush on the road around the scene. There was a presence of recently departed souls, of lives just lost. People paused to stare, but also - it seemed - to show care and caution and respect. That hush, for me, was a prayer.
Last Monday after another storm had rolled through, a double rainbow appeared over this valley. The colors were translucent and neon at the same time. It reminded me of the way Amy Barkley glowed and shimmered from within a watery world of tears and suffering. I dropped some mail off at Roger's house and made him come out to look at the colors reaching to heaven. He began to cry. The colors and his tears were a prayer to me.
On Friday, December 30th at 3:30p.m., Carl and I stood in Wilcox's Nursery in the plaza across form the courthouse in Avalon on Catalina Island. A fountain bubbled behind us, potted plants and trees surrounded us, a tourist family walked by smiling and their little girl waved at us. Carl and I put rings on each other's fingers and said the ancient words, "With this ring, I thee wed." I felt as if we had prayed.
I used to think prayer was a pretty involved process - a particular creation of mood and atmosphere - a formulation of thoughts translated into elaborate sentences which included archaic terms like "Thee" and "Thou" and "Wast" and "Shalt" are more exult." I thought I was messing things up when phrases like, "all that stuff" and "well, you know what I mean..." crept into my prayers.
But now I am beginning to understand that it "ain't that complicated." I'm beginning to believe that prayer is as many things as there are people in the world and moments in their lives. Prayer is many things to each person. And, for me, the most profound form of prayer is essentially noticing the presence of God in a particular moment.
Prayer is noticing God in whatever way is natural to a person.
Prayer is noticing God in the flutter of air which is the miracle of a tiny bird set free.
Prayer is noticing God in the aftermath of a recent fatality and the hush that falls upon the living.
Prayer is noticing God in the way that light is refracted between clouds and drops of water on a sad and glorious afternoon.
Prayer is noticing God at the same moment two people recognize that their lives are intertwined in a familiar, yet deeply miraculous way.
It is not all that complicated, after all.
Two thousand years ago, someone named Jesus told us something similar. The scholars’ translation from the Jesus seminar goes like this:
When you pray, go into a room by yourself and shut the door behind you. When you pray to your Father, the hidden one. And your Father, with his eye for the hidden, will applaud you. And when you pray, you should not babble on as the pagans do. They imagine that the length of their prayers will command attention. So don't imitate them.
A lot of words, any words, are not really the main point. Because, God already "knows what you need before you ask."
The early church took Jesus' suggestion and added something of their own that made the prayer more meaningful to them. When we Protestants came along a few years back, we decided to get back to basics - to drop all the sacraments except the two Jesus participated in - Baptism and Communion - and to include in our worship the prayer Jesus suggested - plus that addition from the early church.
These things were not legislated. In fact, these things went contrary to the established church. These were choices made by our ancestors in faith who wanted to make prayer and worship more meaningful to them. They wanted direct conversation with God. They wanted something less complicated and elaborate, and in their own language.
If you wonder why in other churches you will hear different versions of the Lord's Prayer - some people saying "trespasses" or "sins," some people using inclusive versions calling God "Parent" or "Creator," it is because we continue in the wonderful Protestant way to remake prayer and worship so that it is meaningful to us. We Congregationalists resent being told how to pray, how to worship. That's why our fore-families came to this country.
This is one of the reasons that I am made very nervous by our newly elected Congress when they press for legislation instituting prayer in the public schools. People, kids included, notice God in their own way, in their own time - all the time. People, including kids, are always in conversation with God -
as they notice the warmth of the sun as they ride their bikes to school in the morning...
as they are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude to learn that the math test was postponed to Tuesday...
as they run over to tell their friends something great that happened over the weekend...
as they deliberate the concerns of fellow students in the student senate...
as they daydream recklessly in the middle of history class...
as the mysterious boy who has the locker next to yours quietly shows you one of his amazing pencil drawings...
as the girl with the red hair slips you a note asking you what you thought about the Faulkner story for English class...
These are the prayers of our children and young people. To legislate a formal moment in the midst of the school environment is to separate God out from their natural and constant prayer life. It tells our kids that their own way of being in conversation with God isn't really right or good enough. It imposes an adult structure - an adult expectation - onto the natural prayers of our kids.
One seemingly benign suggestion is to legislate a moment of silence. But knowing people and, especially passionate people, silence can be manipulated as powerfully as words. The way a silence is introduced has a large influence on how that silence is experienced.
The silence I leave between sermon and pastoral prayer is as unregulated as I can make it - "Let us be together - in silence and in prayer." Not all of us use that silence for what we have been taught is formal prayer. Some of us think ahead on what we have to do today. Some of us sort out our feelings and responses to the sermon. Some of us try to remember what the sermon was about. Some of us recklessly daydream. Some of us say the Lord's Prayer like a mantra. Some of us sleep. Some of us just get our jumbled thoughts to settle down as the silence ends. I know, I've done all of those things. And sometimes I just count to make sure the silence is long enough for some and not so long that it drives others crazy. But all of these are prayers - petitions and hopes, doubts and praise.
If I were to tell you what to do with your silence a number of you would resent the heck out of it. There is too much room for that in the public schools.
Prayer is a voluntary act, as the church is a voluntary organization. School is not a voluntary organization. Kids have to attend. If school begins to regulate their conversations with God - along with the information they get about world history and mathematics - something very fragile and natural and holy will be lost.
The best way to diminish a child's desire for a relationship with God is to force one upon them. In the environment of the school, it will feel like an assignment rather than a natural awareness of the soul. It is this kind of spiritual control that drives kids to claim atheism before they have even come to a conscious awareness of God. It complicates the conversation.
Those who wrote the Constitution were trying to ensure that no government here would establish religion for the people, as it had done so controllingly in England and other European countries. The idea was a separation of the necessary enforcements of government for our common life together - and the voluntary nature of the spiritual practice of religion.
In 1963 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government-mandated prayer, Bible-reading and other religious exercises are inappropriate in public schools, Justice Tom Clark very carefully stated it this way - so that the court could not be accused of being anti-religious:
"The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the state is firmly committed to a position of neutrality."
This country does not need a narrowing down of the concept of what prayer or religion or faith is. We need a broadening of mind and heart, an openness to the millions of ways that God simply and profoundly works in the world - the billions of ways people experience God, notice God, are in conversation with God - even when they are unconscious of the fact.
They say when a person is desperate to find a mate, it never happens. It is when one stops looking and focuses on making their own life and spirit and heart healthy and happy that the right relationship comes along.
They say if you want a baby too much, it never happens. It is when you give up and start adoption proceedings and relax that you get pregnant.
So too, the presence of God is never more powerful that when we are surprised by it...in the airy heartbeat of a bird or the sudden hush on the freeway. That is not to devalue the voluntary practice of worship or regular meditation and other forms of prayer. These practices - if voluntary in nature - help us in our awareness skills, keep us limber in the exercise of noticing God, remind us - when we have grown to be dull and forgetful responsible adults - that all of life is a conversation with God. Religious and Biblical Arguments for Church-state Separation