“A story doesn’t have to be factual to be true.” Andy Irwin, American storyteller.
Arlo and I were fishing for bream on the banks of Wishful Creek not long ago. We had a pretty good string of fish, but Arlo, as usual, wanted to catch one more. Our poles were baited with red wigglers from the worm bed near his barn.
I mentioned a news story about the February 14th school shootings in Parkland, Florida. The article said that the U.S. House of Representatives had postponed the moment of silence they typically observe for such tragedies.
I said, “Arlo, there’s apparently some different opinions as to whether a moment of silence is appropriate. I know it doesn’t resolve the problem, but it seems like a nice way of showing respect.”
It shocked me when Arlo said he didn’t think a moment of silence was the best thing to do.
“Why not?” I asked, wondering if he might be a little confused.
“I don’t think we ought to have moments of silence,” he said. “I think we ought to have minutes of prayer.”
I told Arlo that was a good concept, but that it wouldn’t work. “I think you’re forgetting about separation of church and state,” I said. “You start praying on government owned property and you’re apt to get sued by the ACLU.”
I’m not going to print what Arlo said about the ACLU. He’s a good-hearted sort of fellow, but when he gets riled up sometimes his language is pretty strong.
I reminded him that it wasn’t just the ACLU that would derail his proposal. I figured he had forgotten that the Supreme Court does a remarkable job of keeping church and state as far apart as possible.
Arlo is not a member of the High Court’s fan club either. But after he quit fussing about them, he said something that got my attention. He said, “I don’t have a problem with separating the state from the church. What I have a problem with is separating the state from God.”
I sure didn’t want to make Arlo mad. We hadn’t even talked about who was going to keep the fish. But I wanted to make sure that he understood his minutes of prayer idea would be a violation of law.
Arlo didn’t see how that was much of a problem. “If it’s against the law,” he said, “let’s change the law.”
“But Arlo,” I said, “to change the law you’ll need a consensus of people from many faiths and from people of no faith. How are you going to accommodate the agnostics and the atheists who might be offended by prayer?”
Arlo said, “I don’t think there are many people riding the train who are carrying those tickets. If 50 people are headed to Atlanta but two of them want to stay in Macon, then I’d stop the train just long enough to let those two folks off.”
“Maybe that would work Arlo, but then how would you get the Christians, Jews, and Muslims to agree on changing the law?” I figured he had no idea how to trim the hooves on that horse.
Arlo said, “Those three religions have some very different beliefs, but we all claim to worship the same God, the one that Abraham worshipped. Seems like we could agree that it’s okay to pray to Him, even if it’s not worded just like each one of us prefers.”
I said, “Arlo, sometimes you surprise me by almost making sense. But do you really believe there’s a possibility of America embracing this minutes of prayer idea?”
“Not if we keep sitting on the banks of Wishful Creek,” he said.
“So how do you see this all playing out?” I asked.
“Well,” said Arlo, pausing briefly before he continued, “I figure that one day when it’s late in the fourth quarter, we’re liable to pray desperately for a Hail Mary Pass. God might just say, ‘Let me get back with you on that later. First let’s have a moment of silence.’”