Pretty Sure There's a Simple Answer to This...

Frederick County, MarylandLancaster City, CaliforniaChesterfield County, VirginiaLodi, CaliforniaHouston, Texas

All of the above-mentioned municipalities have something in common:  they have all struggled with the issue of prayer at formal government meetings (City Council, County Board of Supervisors, etc).  There have been lawsuits and nonbinding resolutions and voter initiatives in support, and above all, much semantic tap-dancing around the core issue of "We want to establish overtly-Christian prayer as the norm but we don't want to be noticed as doing so outright."  Chesterfield came up with the so-called "Wiccan-proof invocation policy", which specifies that prayers must be nonsectarian, but those who offer prayers at meetings "must be ordained and affiliated with a monotheistic religion with an established congregation in Frederick County."  There have been attempts at compromise, at "allowing" those of non-Christian faith to offer the opening prayers occasionally. 

I have to wonder how much time, money, and energy is being spent on this issue in municipalities across the country, between litigation, drafting new policies, debating the policies, putting voter initiatives on the ballot, etc. 

And having wondered that, I have to ask, am I the only person to have hit upon the obvious solution in my mental meanderings?  Cause here's what I'd recommend...wait for it...


There.  Was that so damn hard?  Take a moment of silence in your office before the meeting, or at your seat in the meeting room, and pray for yourself if you so choose.  No one can or will stop you in such a personal matter.  But why, for the love of all that is, why is it so vital that it be done out loud in a group in front of everyone?  For that matter, I'm pretty sure Jesus would have been less than pleased about this whole public-group-prayer-in-government phenomenon - Matthew 6:5-7, anyone*? 

If you feel the need to be brought together and dedicated to your task together - for I can actually see the value in redeclaring one's dedication and purpose, to focus the group as a whole before undertaking serious communal tasks - then have a statement of purpose read or spoken before each meeting.  Something that reminds the members of the ruling body why they are there, for whom they do their work, etc.  Like, "As we begin this meeting, let us all be reminded of what we stand for and why we are here: to do the best we can for those people who have placed their trust in us.  To work for the greatest good for the greatest number of our people.  Let us keep this in mind as we go about our business."  Simple, secular, nothing for anyone to be excluded by or harmed by.

I genuinely don't understand why the whole idea of pre-meeting prayer is so important.  Why people cling to it so desperately.  Why it's absolutely scandalous to suggest just NOT DOING IT ANYMORE, why people instead prefer to twist the rules into pretzels to try to allow it to continue without being open to lawsuits about it.  Pre-meeting prayers serve no purpose that I can see, offer no concrete benefit that would make them worth fighting for like this.

Just LET IT GO already, and go about the business of governing, without wasting taxpayer time or money defending a practice that is both superfluous and oppressive.

*5“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.



"Just have it and give it up for adoption."  Because pregnancy and childbirth are totally safe and easy and free of cost, and don't totally change your body and life forever no matter what happens to the child after you give birth, right?

"Just stop taking everything so personally/expecting perfection from yourself/thinking about things so much."  I wish I could, but see, I have this brain that kinda doesn't let me stop doing those things.  What, you think I *like* being obsessively miserable and hating myself for every tiny failure in my entire lifetime?  Does that sound like fun to you or something?

"Just eat healthier and exercise more."  I've never thought of that before!  How incredibly simple!  Except that I can't afford much produce, don't like or know how to cook more than the couple meals I eat all the time, can't force myself to enjoy vegetables despite trying and trying, and dislike the taste of water.  Oh, also I have chronic back problems and low energy and am cripplingly self-conscious about exercising in front of other people, so any exercise I have to do has to be low-to-no-impact, easy, and something I can do in my house while my partner is at work, without boring the crap out of me.

JUST: (adv.) merely, simply.

I hate this word.  It minimizes.  It trivializes.  "Just" do this, or that.  It tells me the person speaking thinks the action should be easy.  It ignores circumstances and individual capabilities in favor of a normative narrative of what "everyone" should be able to do.  It also implies a moral judgment - the speaker obviously believes the course of action is not only easy, by their own arbitrary standards (usually heavily influenced by society's standards, of course), but the *right* thing to do.  It erases conflicting emotions and tells you the choice should be easy, and therefore being conflicted about it is wrong.  It invalidates peoples' feelings and experiences. 

From a stranger or ideological opponent, it's sneering, condescending.  From a loved one, it's even more damaging, a slap in the face.  It is the worst word, a metric fuckton of condescension, patronization, minimization, trivialization, all wrapped up in four innocent letters.

So please.  If you are ever tempted to 'splain someone's situation and the course of action you think they should take by saying "just do X", DON'T.  No matter how obvious the solution seems to you.  Just don't.  Step back, think about why they might not have done that yet, and find a way to offer advice - IF they asked for it in the first place, which in my experience the object of this unfortunate phrase usually didn't - that doesn't imply that the person is stupid for how they've handled themselves and their situation so far.  Respect their decisionmaking process.  Try giving them the benefit of the doubt - try assuming that they *do* know what they're doing, and that they *do* have reasons for handling things the way they have. 

But for the love of all that was, is, and ever will be..."Just" stop.

Feel free to add and vent about other "just" experiences you've had to deal with in comments.


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