Thursday, May 6, 2010

The National Day of Prayer

For those who might not have felt the overwhelming wave of sacredness washing over the country today, May 6th marks the National Day of Prayer. Aside from the day itself, the event has been burning up the news in certain quarters, as a Federal Judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer is in fact unconstitutional. On its face, it seems like a now-brainer, given that the Supreme Court itself established the "Lemon Test" for determining when public displays of religion are allowed. Basically:
  1. The government's action must have a secular legislative purpose;
  2. The government's action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  3. The government's action must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.
So, let's see. 1, check. There is no secular purpose in a National Day of Prayer. 2, check. Prayer by definition advances religion. 3, check. By the government officially advocating, and indeed actively instructing, its citizens to engage in prayer, we have an entanglement with religion.

The case is, naturally, on appeal.

Here's the actual law:
The President shall issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a National Day of Prayer on which the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals.
But a look at the National Day of Prayer website has been quite informative. While there are some who tout the National Day of Prayer as completely ecumenical, it is about as far from neutral on the question of just which God is being prayed to as is possible (the fact that Strom Thurman wrote the bill might be another clue). Here's the money quote:
The National Day of Prayer Task Force’s mission is to communicate with every individual the need for personal repentance and prayer, mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family.
Everywhere, this event is celebrated as a chance for evangelical Christians to get their message out. I'm pretty sure that there has never been a Wiccan or Asatruar giving a benediction at the White House. The law makes reference to "God" explicitly in the singular, and thus cuts out all polytheists (including, naturally, pagans and heathens). In fact, it even mentions churches specifically.

Let us indeed pray to our many, wondrous, and various Gods that this National Day of Prayer, as it is currently constituted, is the last.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sumarmál 2010

I just got back from Arfstoll Thjod's Sumarmál celebration at beautiful Camp Netimus, PA*. It was a blast!

The camp itself was terrific as always; the staff were eager to do anything they could to make our event a success, and the food was terrific.

This event was Theodish, and members of no less than three different Theods were in attendance, as well as many guests and newcomers.

There were four rituals along the course of the weekend. Friday kicked everything off with an offering of cakes and ale to the local land wights in thanks for their hospitality. Friday night, Álfröðull theod put on a Freyja ritual, wherein the Goddess was invoked, offerings were made, and blessings bestowed on the assembled folk.

Saturday saw the kids doing a traditional May Pole dance (with live music, including some completely mediocre drumming by yours truly), and then the presentation of the final ritual drama in our cycle; the Return of Odin, which sees the restoration of Odin as king of the Gods, the death of the winter-king Ullr, and the avenging of Baldr's death as Bui slays Hoder, and is in turn slain. It was a blast, especially considering we had no rehearsals and the cast saw the script about 10 minutes before the play. There followed a very powerful Sigrblót, where weapons and other items of appropriate nature were sacrificed in the fire in exchange for victory and success in the coming year. Finally, we had sumbl, which was unique in that it lasted for three hours, but only felt like one. Nobody was "forced" to take the horn for three rounds, making the toasts that were made all the more significant, and the folks in attendance seemed to appreciate that fact.

In and amongst the rituals, there were many other activities, including classes and discussions, an archery competition, and kid's activities. Whew!

This was an exceedingly non-aggravating weekend, it felt. No drama, no petty whispering behind other folks' backs, no bad injuries, no excessive late starts to anything (the only real late-starting event was sumbl, but even then it was over on time, and folks didn't feel rushed). The kids were a dream, usually taking care of one another (and even the older kids taking turns often with keeping track of the smaller ones), and everybody seemed genuinely glad to see everyone else.

We'll be doing this again next year (same weekend; April 29-May 1, 2011), and I hope we'll see even more friends then.
* If any pagan group in the New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania area is looking for a place to hold an event, this is the place to look. I'd be happy to put you in touch with them, or answer any questions about how they handled our group and our event. Just ask.