You certainly have to admire Judy Noyes for having the temerity to suggest that City Council do away with the practice of opening meetings with a prayer. She must have known that such a Godless Communist Scoundrelly Liberal suggestion would be met with howls of outrage from a certain segment of the community: those who profess Christianity, as opposed to those who practice it.
Two facts. First, of the approximately 85 meetings that council members have to suffer through each year, only 24 are prefaced with prayer; the remainder are simply, and unceremoniously, called to order.
Second, the far more Republican, far more conservative and presumably just as Godly Board of County Commissioners doesn't open any of their meetings with an invocation. Council's policy regarding the opening invocation is pretty clear, and eminently reasonable. The prayer is to be nonsectarian and so worded that no reasonable person, regardless of his or her religious convictions, would be offended.
During my six years on Council, I suppose I heard 150 such invocations. Most of them were pleasant and innocuous, an appeal (often demonstrably futile) to a higher power to endow Council with a modicum of wisdom and humility. A few were genuinely inspirational, and deeply moving. And a few were blatantly sectarian and exclusive, even to the point of being offensive.
It seemed to me that a handful of ministers deliberately ignored the nonsectarian nature of the invocation, knowing that no council member would dare challenge them, for fear of being branded anti-Christian. Like the rest of my colleagues, I bowed my head and held my tongue, knowing what would happen if I spoke up. I'm sorry that I didn't; it might have saved Judy a lot of grief.
But I'm not sure that I agree with her regarding a moment of silence. It might be salutary to remind council members (whose egos tend to be on the bloated side) that there's more to the universe than that day's petty political maneuvering.
There's nothing the matter with a nonsectarian invocation, provided that it's really nonsectarian. And even the most headstrong preacher will tow the line, if the mayor or the city attorney lays down the law prior to the meeting. I know it'll work, because 25 years ago, I attended the marriage of a nonreligious Jew and an Episcopalian, presided over by the fervently evangelical Reverend Shandoo, a Presbyterian of Indian origin.
A little prenuptial negotiation resulted in a graceful ceremony that pleased all of the participants. And it must have worked, since the marriage thus solemnized has lasted, and even thrived, for 25 years. And yes, I was the groom.
Meanwhile, let's look at our own invocation-deprived County Commissioners, who last week approved spending 18 grand to arm the Sheriff's Posse with Glocks (.40 caliber semi-automatic pistols). The soi-disant posse comprises 30-odd volunteers, ranging in age from early 20s to mid-60s, who function as unpaid auxiliaries to the Sheriff's Office. They wear uniforms, they carry guns, and, as long as they're in direct contact with a sworn officer (radio contact is sufficient), they can make arrests and generally fill the functions of a law enforcement officer.
And what do you have to do to qualify for such a position? Submit to a background check, pass a physical and go through 200 hours of training. The posse sounds like a pretty good idea, on the face of it. For very little investment, the County gets help in an area that's stretched pretty thin.
Is 200 hours an appropriate amount of training? I dunno, but it's interesting to compare that number with the hours of training that City Council requires for a city-licensed massage therapist: one thousand! Massage has to do with touching, feeling, and maybe even healing, while law enforcement has to do with restraining, detaining, and maybe even gunfire. Given the disparity in government-mandated training hours between these functions, it looks like we're about five times more comfortable with guns than with healing.
And finally, it certainly looks as if City Manager Jim Mullen, the ultimate survivor, may have avoided the ax for a while. Four council members are ready to give him the boot; four want to keep him, and the ninth, who shall remain nameless, is no fan of Mullen's but lacks the heart to fire him.
Apparently, the mayor has persuaded Council's resident Hamlet, indecisive as always, that there's no one better out there.
"Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought ..."