My wife and I looked at each other in rather stunned disbelief. What had just happened? No, we weren't at our parish (which doesn't have a choir and doesn't announce prayers), nor were we moonlighting at an Evangelical gathering. But it certainly had something of an Evangelical feel to it. Very much so.
Which is why it was so surreal.
We were at the annual Christmas tree lighting in north Eugene, right next to Borders and Starbucks, not far from the Nike store.
I've seen a lot of strange and wild things in Eugene, which has a well-deserved reputation for wackiness (anarchy conventions), weirdness (the "Eugene celebration"; the "Country Fair"), smelliness (the Saturday Market), crudeness (topless women drummers and dancers; UO football fans), and even lewdness (nudist bicycle rides). But, honestly, this was quite stunning: unapologetic, direct Christian language—and prayer!—at a fairly substantial public event in the middle of a large shopping complex parking lot. I half expected a SWAT team to arrive within moments of the prayer.
We attended last year's tree lighting ceremony and it was pleasant and agreeable and mildly bland, with plenty of "holiday music," hot chocolate and cider, and a pen of real reindeer. There was no prayer. Believe me, if there had been, I'd remember; I would have posted about it, just as I'm posting this now. I'm not even sure there was much use of the word "Christmas" at last year's event. After all, Eugene has a history of shutting down anything Christmas when it comes to government buildings and a rather open disdain for anything smacking of real Christianity (that is, actual belief in the birth and person of Jesus Christ) when it comes to The Holidays.
A few years ago the city manager refused to allow Christmas trees in government buildings; there was even talk of city employees not being allowed to have green and red decorations in their work cubicles. Too offensive. Too Christmas-y. Too religious. Why, there are some citizens of this fair community who think Christmas songs in a grocery store desecrate the sacred (for secularists) separation of church and state. Well, sure, they probably teach at the University of Oregon and think ill of anything they deem Euro-centric, traditional, and Christian. But they also seem to have had a stranglehold on much of the public life in this town for many years now.
Has the tide turned? Even just a little bit? Are people finally sick enough of politically-correct silliness, elitist bullies, brain-dead technocrats, and faux tolerance to do things—however small or seemingly minor—to take back bits and pieces of the public square? I'm not sure. But I sense that Christmas in Eugene, Oregon, is going to be a wee bit more exhilarating and enjoyable than usual this year.