Yesterday was a day to remember. Yesterday I was granted an opportunity I am unlikely to be presented again. Yesterday, while standing next to the second most powerful individual in Pennsylvania politics and before the representatives of the Pennsylvania State House I offered a prayer of truth and repentance.
Before each session of the General Assembly, a member of the clergy is invited to offer an invocation. In most cases, the prayers offered in these circumstances are bland quotations of relatively unoffensive scripture followed by ecumenical requests for divine wisdom and guidance over the legislation to take place that day.
In my years of service as a chaplain in the Air Force, I offered numerous prayers like them before many official government functions. In those days I was bound by the threat of official reprisal from my chain of command if the words of my prayer included anything even remotely divisive, questionable, or offensive. If the words I offered as a government sanctioned clergyman made even a single person uncomfortable, especially those who out ranked me, my career would officially be over.
I no longer wear a state-sanctioned uniform. I am no longer bound by threats of official reprisal for ruffling a few feathers. I am now free to speak words of truth in a room chock full of lies.
By just about every measurable standard, the government of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is among the most ineffective, dysfunctional, and corrupt governments in the nation. The volume and intensity of backroom dealing special interest lobbyists rival that of DC. The mafia-like culture of “do as I say or you’re dead to me” politics resembles that of 1920’s Chicago. The tax and regulatory environment of our state rivals the Eastern Bloc protecting the connected and inhibiting undesirable market competition. And, just to put the cherry on top of it all, the self awarded salary and benefits package for the great job our state representatives do is more than triple the median income of those they represent and is eclipsed only by the representatives of California.
(Sidebar – Last year I willingly placed my name on the ballot to replace my current state representative. My entire campaign was founded on the principle of complete and total reform of “politics as usual.” Needless to say, even the leadership of the party with which I ran wouldn’t come near my campaign, let alone offer a dime of support to replace a weak incumbent. Yet, still, 40% of the voters supported me without the hundreds of thousands of dollars of the state party.)
When asked to offer a word of prayer in this environment, I leaped at the opportunity. I leaped at the opportunity not because I love spending time in Harrisburg, but because it was an opportunity to speak truth in an institution riddled with lies. It was a relatively short prayer, but its words were poignant and carefully chosen. According to those who viewed it via live stream online, the Speaker of the House, who’s been playing the game in Harrisburg for 15 years, was visibly uncomfortable and displeased with my offering. I received none of the usual “atta boys” from the good ol’ boy crowd. In fact, only few representatives, other than my host, even spoke to me afterwards.
As Dr. Ron Paul infamously stated, “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.”
Below is a transcript of the prayer I offered before the House of Representatives today as well as a few pictures from the event.
We who gather here today are blessed. We are blessed with the sacred privilege of serving those who call Pennsylvania home. We are blessed with the sacred responsibility to lead the people and communities of our Commonwealth towards a free and prosperous future.
However, before any of us can effectively lead, we each must recognize our own failings and plead for your mercy. Your word commands us to “Do nothing from rivalry or selfish ambition, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves.”
We confess to you this day that we have failed you and those we claim to serve:
We have put selfish ambitions ahead of the needs of our constituents.
We have made promises we have no intentions to keep.
We have exploited those in need in the name of protecting our jobs.
We have burdened those striving to build a better tomorrow in order that we may appear generous.
We have abused the privileges and power of our office and called it politics as usual.
We have restricted freedom of choice, calling it a vulnerability on our society, while failing to protect the most vulnerable of our society, calling them nothing more than a free choice.
Your mercies are new every morning and your compassion never fails. We cling to your grace and pray that your wisdom would guide us in this new day. May we choose this day to put your will and the will of those we serve before our vain rivalries and selfish ambitions. May we leave this place today with the peace that comes from knowing Pennsylvania is a better place because of all we have selflessly offered here today.
Thank you, Father, for your wisdom which guides us, your grace which carries us, and your love which never fails us. It’s in your name we pray, Amen.