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Tag Archives: invocation

Finally! I Gave My Secular Invocation

As I wrote about almost two years ago, I knew there would come a time when it was my turn to give the invocation at the beginning of my Rotary Club‘s weekly meeting. I won’t say I agonized over it, nor did I obsess over it. I did, however, worry about what I would say when that day rolled around. I have opted out of being the “Ratfink”, which is a role that requires the skills of a stand up comedian. I am not suited for that role. I am suited, in my less than humble opinion, to give an invocation. In fact, I really wanted to do it, as I have some thoughts about who, why, and how we are.

Actually, I became an ordained minister nearly 50 years ago, via The First Church of God The Father. It isn’t much different than the Universal Life Church, though I was actually nominated for the position and went through a very cursory ordination ceremony, as opposed to merely sending in a request. I’m not sure it exists any longer as a recognized entity. In the eyes of the State, a church is a business entity (albeit a tax-exempt one) and I am but an agent – if that – of the organization. Frankly, I did it so I could perform non-sexist, non-religious wedding ceremonies . . . and I’ve done over fifty of them over the years. Some were very interesting, to say the least.

Stellar Evolution

Example of Stellar Evolution and the Creation of Heavier Elements

I never did one that didn’t keep me up a night or two, fretting over whether or not either or both sets of parents might be offended. As far as I can remember, nobody ever was. My brother once told me a particular ceremony I did was too short, his argument being, since people are there for a ritual they want their money’s worth. Walking that thin line between too short and too long is (at least was for me) a harrowing task.

I’m so glad to have this behind me. I know I worry a little too much about pleasing people, but it’s my nature. I don’t think I’ve suffered all that much because of it, though there has been some gnashing of the teeth and beating of the breast, and let’s not forget the aforementioned occasional sleeping difficulties. Thankfully, I slept well last night (a full five hours, which is quite normal for me), but I did a final edit — and made some changes — when I got up. What follows is the text of my invocation. I wrote the first part, though it’s a riff on one of my favorite quotes, “Hydrogen, given enough time, eventually wonders where it came from, and where it’s going.” The rest is partly from other secular invocations I found online, somewhat heavily edited to fit the way I see things. The second question in Rotary’s Four-Way Test is, “Is it fair to all concerned” and to address that in the last paragraph, which also relates to one of Rotary‘s official mottoes, “Service Above Self.”

Let us be mindful of our place in this amazing universe as well as our place on this beautiful planet. As cosmic beings we have developed the extraordinary ability to wonder where we came from and to contemplate where we’re going. We are also capable of reflecting on the circumstance of our existence on this tiny blue dot floating in a vast ocean of near emptiness.

As human beings, let us be thankful for the sustenance and joy we receive from nature’s bounty and, especially, for the hard work and dedication of those who grow, harvest, transport, prepare, and serve its fruits for us. Not to mention cleaning up our mess.

May our efforts be measured through insight, undertaken with compassion, and guided by understanding and wisdom. We seek to serve with respect for all. May our personal faiths give us the strength to act well and honestly in all matters before us.

I have to add it was very well received. I was given kudos be several people, including the Director of Spiritual Care Services at Simi Valley Hospital. I was even asked to email a copy to one of our long-time members. I am both gratified . . . and immensely relieved to put it behind me, though I am sure I will be asked again. It’s a rotating duty. I’m surprised it took this long to get around to me.

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Out of The Final Closet?

Atheism and the Earth

Our Real Common Bond is our Life on Earth . . . in This Cosmos.

In October of last year, I posted about a dilemma I was having with the possibility I would, at some time, be asked to give the pre-meeting invocation at one of my Rotary Club’s weekly meetings. I haven’t been asked yet and, even though there are no comments to the post, I have received a couple of emails from others who have dealt with the problem before.

As I said, I haven’t been asked and I’m not in the lineup for at least another month or so. Neither have I bothered to write anything. I will likely wait until it’s absolutely necessary prior to doing so. I need the actual pressure of a deadline sometimes to get things done. I do, however, think about what to say quite frequently, especially when I come across a story that touches on the issues.

Today, a friend shared a link to an Arizona publication that posted a story about a State Legislator – Juan Mendez, of Tempe – who gave a prayer-less “invocation” before a session of the Arizona House of Representatives. The story pointed out, as well, that he quoted Carl Sagan in closing. Here’s a link and, just in case you don’t bother to go there but would like to know a bit more, here’s an excerpt:

“Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads,” Mendez said. “I would like to ask that you not bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.”

He went on to say:

“This is a room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my secular humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.”

And closed with:

“Carl Sagan once wrote, ‘For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.'”

He said one more thing I think is especially pertinent to what happened yesterday (May 21, 2013) in Arizona. It also reflects how I feel about the importance of “coming out” for those of us who profess no belief in a supreme deity, and it’s something I’ve struggled with for years. It hasn’t shaken the strength of my convictions, but it has been a royal pain in the ass at times.

When I worked on the SSME program at Rocketdyne, I felt it necessary to be very careful about expressing my beliefs for at least a decade. When I first started working there (late 80s) it was practically a shrine to Ronald Reagan, and overtly identifying myself as an atheist I’m pretty sure would have been counter-productive, if not self-destructive :).

As an ordained Minister (in the eyes of the State, a “Church” is a corporation) I have performed somewhere around fifty weddings over the years. All of them have been non-religious, non-sexist ceremonies, using a combination of portions of The Prophet, by Khalil Gibran, descriptions of folklore and customs I had learned about, and the occasional poem written especially for the couple. I was pretty close to a lot of the people I performed the ritual for, including my brother and sister-in-law and my sister and brother-in-law. Crafting something especially for them was pretty easy. I usually worried, however, that someone’s parents would be offended though, of course, no one ever was. Come to think of it, Gibran uses the word “God” a couple of times in one of the pieces I used repeatedly.

Here’s the final quote I think is so important, in light of my experiences and those of so many others:

“I hope today marks the beginning of a new era in which Arizona’s non believers can feel as welcome and valued here as believers.”

The part of me that’s remains Jewish wants to say “from his lips to G-d’s ears”, but that would be just silly, right?


Can I Get an Amen?

Amen Corner at Augusta National Golf Course

The word “Amen” isn’t confined to prayer, though it’s generally closely related.

Yesterday I was inducted into one of several local Rotary clubs here in Simi Valley, CA. The name of this club is Simi Sunrise and, not coincidentally, it meets at 7:00 am every Thursday at the Grand Vista Hotel. I had some trepidations about joining an organization such as Rotary International, best explained by the question a friend asked me when informed of my desire to join; “Aren’t they a really conservative organization?”

Truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely sure they would accept me, especially since this is a fairly conservative city I live in and I’ve made it abundantly clear I am not a conservative – at least not politically. I didn’t really know a lot about Rotary and I knew an awful lot of the people who were in this club. Most of them were quite conservative – politically. At the same time, I live and work with them and know them to be good, decent people. Especially the ones in Rotary 1 and other service organizations.

Fortunately, I got to know a person who ended up convincing – and sponsoring – me to join. Due to an unlikely confluence of events I ended up being the guest who wouldn’t go away, and a process which normally takes a couple of weeks ended up taking a couple of months. Nevertheless, she insisted I continue showing up and, because she had to pay for my breakfast each week, I have offered to do some data input for her at her discretion. It’s the least I can do.

Yesterday was the culmination of two months of meetings and thinking about what I was getting myself into. Now that I’m officially a member I will not only have an ongoing financial obligation and an expectation of service in the form of volunteerism, I will also be expected to perform various duties at the meetings, e.g. greeting members as they arrive, checking attendance, etc. There is one duty I’m somewhat concerned about. Leading the invocation.

I have now heard approximately eight different invocations. I don’t recall any of them being identifiably denominational, though some referenced “our heavenly father”. I believe at least one ended a bit irreverently . . . and comically. They all end with “amen”, a word of Hebrew origin defined by Merriam-Webster online as: “used to express solemn ratification (as of an expression of faith) or hearty approval (as of an assertion).” Although used primarily at the end of a prayer or hymn, it is clearly not limited to religious expression. So it looks like an invocation avoiding the mention of God would most likely be acceptable, even if hard to author.

However, as an atheist I have a lot of experience with people who misunderstand my kind of “faith” and are likely to exhibit one or more of the following traits or attitudes in response to an expression they perceive to be anti-religion: Anger; disgust; defensiveness; dismissiveness; revulsion; incredulity; hatred; need I go on? When you think of invocation, you just don’t think of atheism now, do you?

So . . . my dilemma. I’m going to assume I will, at some point in time, be asked to give the invocation. I suppose I could respectfully decline, but I kind of want to do it. The issue for me is how to do so without offending anyone. Part of me believes that’s a tall order, precisely because of the responses I’ve experienced or observed for so many years, while another part of me believes it isn’t as big an issue as it at first appears. I’ll post the text . . . when I write it!


1 Rotary is very attractive to me as it espouses values I believe are important and progressive. I find it a little ironic so many of the members are staunch conservatives, yet the values they ascribe to can just as easily fit the most progressive agenda. If words are important, and I believe they are, then their foundational writings should matter a lot when determining what kind of an organization they (at the very least) aspire to be. For instance, there’s The Four-Way Test:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Coupled with numerous other writings, which I will not get into now but will surely bring up as I gain more experiences with this new facet of my life, I think Rotary paints itself as an organization dedicated to the same things I am – Peace, Justice, Goodwill, Internationalism, Fairness, etc.

There’s likely an argument lying beneath the surface here as to the role volunteerism plays in an inherently unfair economic system, but – in my opinion – it is more a philosophical one and should in no way minimize the pain alleviated through the actions of Rotary and other organizations like it. More on this some other time.


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