Yesterday was the “National Day of Prayer.” It’s become a tradition for Christians in the Cedar Rapids area to gather at noon across from City Hall on Mays Island for a time of corporate worship and prayer. This year something amazing happened.
As a reaction against the NDOP, atheists recently instituted what they call the “National Day of Reason.” We heard a group of them were coming to Mays Island and there was more than a bit of concern about what might transpire between the groups. I didn’t know if the atheists were coming to protest or ridicule or cause a disruption, but my real concern wasn’t about them at all–personally I was more concerned that the Christians would overreact and go into “attack mode.” I talked to Charles Daugherty, the leader of our rally, and volunteered to go on “atheist duty” (to basically protect them from us!)
When I arrived at the park, the atheists were already there, about 8 of them. They had established themselves on the lawn near the sound table, about 3/4 of the way back from the stage. I noticed they had several cardboard signs, a rubbermaid tub full of unknown items, and a few personal belongings. The signs said things like “Day of Reason,” “Act Now,” “Please Donate to Help Veterans,” and “They Served You, Let’s Serve Them Back.”
They were very respectful and non-obtrusive so fortunately, there was no need for me to diffuse any over-zealous over-reactions from Christians. So instead, Pastor Tye Male and I simultaneously decided to use this opportunity to show them the love of Jesus.
It was easy to talk with them. There were several Kirkwood and U of Iowa students there, most holding signs, one videotaping. Their leader was Dr. Lydia H, professor of Humanities and Philosophy from Kirkwood — a delightful person. I asked her about the causes they were supporting (veterans relief and Waypoint), which led to some great discussion of what community needs we can meet by taking action. I was glad to share that our church has done service projects at Waypoint as well as serving breakfast to homeless veterans at the HD Youth Center. She seemed happy when I talked about the new emphasis I see in the church community to do a better job of addressing issues of injustice and poverty in the world.
I also talked to Jordan, a college student, who had the words “Invisible Children” on his shirt. We had a great discussion on the movie he had seen which depicts the horrid conditions in Sudan. It made me want to find out more about what can be done to help there.
Meanwhile, Tye connected with the group using his involvement in the Kirkwood Jazz Ensemble as a bridge to friendly dialoge. His life stories and winsome personality endeared them to him. I think they were surprised when we finally told them we were pastors!
During all this time, the prayer rally was going on around us. Almost a dozen prayer leaders took turns at the stage, each focusing on a different topic. The atheists were occasionally paying attention (when Tye and I weren’t talking)! When we got to the “Pray for our Military” section, I noticed that one of the college students picked up the “Please Donate to Support Our Veterans” sign and held it up as he done earlier. At that moment, I felt compelled to do something unsual. I walked up to the guy and said, “Why don’t you let me hold that sign for you–a lot of people here know me and it might help bring in more funds.” So for the remaining 20 minutes of the rally, I stood there holding that sign over my head. Me and the atheists standing together to make a difference in the world. What a sight! By the time the rally dispersed, $71 had been donated, which pleased and even overwhelmed Dr. Lydia.
Two more things happened that I saw as amazing. One college girl who was carrying a sign reading: “Act Now–Day of Reason” did something shocking about half-way through the rally. I watched her find a sharpie marker and add two words at the top of her sign. “Pray then…” What a significant change of disposition for an atheist to encourage Christians to pray before acting!
After the rally ended we were tearing down the stage and sound system and loading them into a trailer. That’s when the other amazing thing happened: the atheist college students came over to help us load! I was blown away! And to think we were expecting a rumble!
I was actually sad to say goodbye to my new atheist friends. Before we left we all thanked each other for being there, reaffirmed a commitment to work together in our areas of common interest, and expressed the hope that we’ll see each other at the next Day of Prayer/Day of Reason–if not before!