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April 9th, 2009
An Idle Word: Please bow your head

An Idle Word: A Column


Before I begin my first blog, please bow your head for a moment and pray under whatever belief system you follow (and I do hope you follow one) that I won’t blow my first foray into the world of cyber journalism.

You may begin now.

See that didn’t hurt a bit and it at least helps me in thinking a couple of you might be thinking, “Gee, don’t let Cunningham blow it.”

No, I’m not trying to fire a shot across the bow of any fellow columnist and I’ve made it clear to “Charles Foster” Rollins that I’m not accepting his offer in order to become a contributing columnist in a “point/ counter point” venue.

I actually think the discussion of the role of prayer in public meetings is worth talking about. I even agree that the role of public prayer should not be to make any citizen feel ostracized. That is counter productive to the spirit that those of us who consider ourselves religious should have.

For the record, I am part of the 44 per cent of San Marcans cited by my fellow columnist as having a religious affiliation. In a world where many who practice religion choose to shop for the right one to fit their needs, I am what is described as a “cradle Episcopalian.” I entered this world as one and plan to exit it to the strains of the Anglican children’s hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Despite that background, I am a devoted reader of the Trappist monk Thomas Merton (you can register for a weekly reflection by visiting and the closest I’ve come to a spiritual guru is a good ol’ Nebraska Lutheran Pastor Lou Flessner.

Okay they’re all Christians and I’m missing the point about non-Christians feeling excluded

However, Merton actively engaged in dialogs with Asian spiritual leaders, finding common ground in belief systems with the Dalai Lama and others up to his accidental death—ironically at a conference in Bangkok to explore those very issues.

And Pastor Lou once responded to an unusual request from a Jew, who asked if it would be permissible to take communion, in the affirmative after reflecting about it for a few seconds and deciding, “It must be okay. Jesus did it.”

Those of us with belief systems must respect the beliefs or non-beliefs of others or we’re missing the point. I wouldn’t mind it a bit if our local bodies brought in a rabbi or a mullah or a Wiccan earth priestess.

In the world today, if anything can provide some hope—regardless of what belief it follows—we need to be tolerant of that practice. We don’t need to impose a belief system, agreed, but if practiced in the true spirit those belief systems were created, we shouldn’t be missing the opportunity for any help we can get.

Perhaps the happiest person I’ve ever known was a Zoroastrian, who firmly believed the simple dictum that good will triumph and always had a smile on his face about that knowledge. Maybe, I’ll give him a call and see if he can come down and give an invocation.

Well, for what was supposed to be a simple digression, before getting into the fear and trepidation of an old-style newspaper man (one who can actually read linotype) going into the blogosphere, this has certainly turned into a column. Maybe this blogging won’t be so scary after all.

My guidelines are simple enough. Much as I did with the much-missed Chautauquan almost a decade ago, I’m free to write about topics I choose (I promise this will be the last on religion) from public affairs to personal interests dear to my heart—the almost lost joy of real books and bookstores, the relevance of Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, a few 10 best (and occasional 10 worst) lists and whatever else strikes my still-wandering fancy.

I promise not to plug my clients, ex-clients or potential clients. And I hope to keep things interesting, which shouldn’t be a problem in San Marcos.

Having gotten this one under my belt, next time might be an even better opportunity to reflect about this strange new world of journalism.

BILL CUNNINGHAM is a San Marcos public relations and policy consultant. He is a former chair of the Texas State University System board of regents and San Marcos city council member.

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5 thoughts on “An Idle Word: Please bow your head

  1. Bill, good article. I have my own issues with people who want to eliminate religion from public events. But, I have even more serious issues with people who want to insist that Christianity is the only religion pertinent to our nation.

    As Colin Powell said on Meet the Press, when confronted with the fact that many people believed that Obama was a Muslim, “So, what if he were?”

    The founding fathers, contrary to the misguided beliefs of many Americans, did not form a Christian Country. Most were deist. However, they invoked the blessings of God in many instances. They were not irreligious. They just didn’t let religion interfere with the task at hand. John Adams’ father wanted him to be a minister. He chose law, because he believed it to be a more honorable profession. Washington was not a religious man at all. He had no ministers attending his death bed. Jefferson was adamant about separation of church and state, but he was a confirmed deist. Lincoln, in his early years, was described in pamphlets as an “infidel” and,in fact, wrote a an anti-religion treatise. When he began running for office, he ameliorated his beliefs.

    So, Bill, can you get the City Council a prayer wheel from one of your Buddhist buddies.

    Bibb Underwood

  2. Good job, Bill. Glad to see you on the (cyber-) printed page.

    I look forward to your random stream of consciousness about everything from wrestling icons and southern literature. (Ok – so maybe those two subjects are not mutually exclusive.)

  3. Good to see “Pike Bishop” Cunningham back in the saddle. Bill, I’ve been reading your thoughtful musings on and off for decades in the Citizen and then in Chautauquan. Good to see you make the transition here. Look forward to reading more. Is this going to be weekly?

  4. So is the name of your column taken from Matthew 12:36

    But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

    Or from William Butler Yeats

    An idle word is now their glory,

    By the stammering schoolboy said,

    Reading some entangled story:

    The kings of the old time are dead;

    The wandering earth herself may be

    Only a sudden flaming word,

    In clanging space a moment heard,

    Troubling the endless reverie.

    Good read Mr. Cunningham!

  5. To Bibb: Glad to know you’re reading and providing your own comments which mirror my own (my favorite kind of reader). Mandatory spirituality–be it Christianity, Islam or whatever–is not spirituality at all and I don’t see that happening in this controversy de jour.

    To Diana–Sorry, no wrestling this go round. Since Ric Flair retired, there’s no point in it. Southern literature goes on as long as the past is never really dead. I highly recommend William Gay.

    To L.G.–You’ve been reading my notes about the old outlaw Pike Bishop although Deke Thornton is my favorite character in Wild Bunch. As to frequency, I plan for it to be like Peter Chapman aka Memphis Slim described his earliest paychecks in Chicago in his “Blue Memphis Suite”–“weekly, very weekly.”

    To Literati–Yeats although I’m afraid Matthew’s words may also be applicable.

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