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enough to be opened right off, but it did bear aura enough to avoid my gravity stack. The postmark and the return address gave it away. It was from the White House; thus, it cost far less than the usual twenty cents. I knew it was a form letter, but I opened it anyway. Inside was what I expected a form letter requesting me, along with thousands of other so-called religious leaders, to encourage my flock to join President Reagan in a National Day of Prayer. The president’s rationale for proclaiming a particular day as our National Day of Prayer was of more interest to me than the many amenities contained in his letter. His logic struck me as both simplistic and packed with saccharine piety. In Ronald Reagan’s own words, we should pray as a nation because “Prayer unites people.” That’s an interesting as well as undocumented and virtually unsupportable presupposition. It sounds noble enough. And the formula that the president suggested is that the experience of prayer somehow unites a sometimes discordant, always pluralistic, nation of people and carries them for the moment to the threshold of harmony. Pearl Harbor accomplished a certain degree of harmony for a brief four years. I have never discerned in our history or in our national life prayer as a force for consensus. War unites. Prayer doesn’t. But it’s really not all that difficult to come to grips with Reagan’s interest in a “national theology,” if there is such a thing. One nationally prominent television evangelist allegedly informed the president on the eve of his election in 1980 that the Almighty had mandated Ronald Reagan to be the president of these United States. As the story goes, Reagan listened by long-distance telephone to the vision of this Republican prophet and then wagged his head in strong, but modest, affirmation of this word from on high. And keep in mind that this was the same president who informed us on that televised evening of his nomination acceptance speech that in the words of Teddy Roosevelt, “the presidency was a `bully pulpit’ .” Also, it is important to note that some months back, this same president proclaimed to a handclapping and foot-stomping crowd of religious broadcasters that 1983 was forevermore to be regarded as “the Year of the Bible.” \(Here Caesar was rendering unto God what has been God’s all along namely what the Greeks termed chronos, Well, anyway, Ronald Reagan is one president who delivers frequent allusions to religion even if his points are rather vague and even if his premises often sit on sand shifted by the vicissitudes of history. And, now his stated purpose is to unify us through a National Day of Prayer. Richard Nixon employed the same logic fifteen years ago. During his campaign he happened to gaze upon a school girl holding a hand-painted cardboard placard in her small fist which read: “Bring Us Together.” That sweet slogan became Nixon’s battle hymn and his personal homily, at least for the months of the campaign. What was ironic was that his administration was launched on the promise as well as the premise of reconciliation, and instead of effecting some kind of incarnation of that promise of national healing, these same folks rendered to the American people, the likes of the Kent State crisis, the illegal invasion of Cambodia, the Christmas bombings of Hanoi, not to mention that naughty surreptitious little “break-in” dubbed Watergate. Mr. Reagan’s problem seems to be that he believes his own myths. He is not only the “Great Communicator,” he is also the “Great Reifier.” And, why not? After all he is the president, and his perception and the shared perceptions of his administration become by process of pronouncement just the way things are. Under other presidents, ketchup was a table condiment we used to douse on the top side of our broiled ground beef. To Ronald Reagan, ketchup is a vitaminpacked vegetable for school children. In his predecessor’s administration, the MX missile was just that a missile tipped with a deadly nuclear warhead. For this president, however, those same missiles are now “Peacekeepers.” At least he spared us an image borrowed from Jesus’ sermon on the Judean mountain where Christ promised a blessing for those who were “peacemakers.” And what since the beginning of taxation have been regarded as laws designed to aid the rich, are in President Reagan’s administration called “trickled down” benefits for the poor. And, now he gives us not only the “Year of the Bible,” but also a National Day of Prayer as well. Oh, I probably prayed on that spring morning, simply because I try to remember to pray on the beginning of each new day. It is my custom to pray and then to pick up my coffee cup and walk into the dark, cavernous basement of the church I serve in downtown Dallas, where for the past seven years we have operated a soup kitchen for this city’s poor and desperate. I probably did not even remember on that morning that it was the National Day of Prayer. No, I was probably too busy trying to support and to care for the desperate, homeless people that the federal government has forsaken since the beginning of President Reagan’s budget cuts. There was a woman waiting there on that particular Thursday. One winter ago she lost her toes to the horror of frostbite because her poverty forces her to sleep on the streets. She belongs in a state hospital, but the hospital will no longer keep her due to the budget cuts. There was a young black girl hiding in the shadows. She is unemployed and untrained. Once C.E.T.A. made some hope possible in her life, but that opportunity is now gone. There was also a homeless family, just waiting for me to refer them to help in Dallas. The sad news is that there are no longer many, if any, places to refer them. Their children were hungry and squirming in their arms like new worms freshly plucked from the earth. But, all that we could do was to offer them one more soup-kitchen bowl of stew, and nothing else. It is difficult for me to explain to these folks that this country can no longer help them because we’re arming ourselves with even more nuclear weapons. They don’t understand, and I choke on the words. I don’t understand either. President Reagan will be in Dallas next year for the Republican convention. I hope that he will take time to visit this soup kitchen. I would be honored to shake his hand, and I would feel obliged to remind him that it was one of his heroes, Abraham Lincoln, who once wrote “that men are not flattered by being shown that there is a difference of purpose between the almighty and themselves.” I suspect that presidents are even less flattered. CI 20 DECEMBER 9, 1983