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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

What Makes a Prayer a Prayer?

The US Supreme Court has really insulted religions this time. In ruling that a town can began its council meetings in prayer (always Christian prayer, but that's another issue), it gives the opinion that such an act is ceremonial. I'm pretty sure the God of Amos and Jesus of Nazareth would be OK if no prayers from that council were offered towards Them. A ceremonial "prayer" is no prayer at all. It's just a ceremony...

Prayer is a conversation. Prayer is a listening. Prayer is a sharing. Prayer is trying to be in relationship with God, not trying to grab a quick blessing for a sewer repair project. What that town council in Greece, New York fails to see is that when they talk those kind of words before a council meeting they are not praying to God, but rather trying to manipulate a political process. I think, that's what this article is about (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-schweitzer/the-supreme-court-rules-t_b_5268488.html). Mr. Schweitzer is not a theologian, so his argument is all about the politics...I'm interested in why these council people think God would care about their meeting?

God cares about the world, that is for sure.  But how does that mean that God cares about all the town council meetings held throughout the world, even the ones not invoking the name of God? Or, does God care only about the meetings that invoke the name of God? Or does God, like a busy "soccer mom," pick and choose what to pay attention to depending upon the schedule? What are you really saying if you think that invoking the presence of God is going to make a difference in your town council meeting? (In a backhanded slap, the US Supreme Court said, it makes no difference, it's just ceremonial.)

It seems to me that the only sure way God knows if the town council fulfills the will of God is if they fulfill the will of God. In other words, it's not the ceremonial words that allow the town council to participate in the mission of God for Greece, NY; it's the actions of the council that God judges on how well they participate in the world. So, for example, invoking Jesus' name, but not taking care of those outside of Christianity, probably won't mean God loves the council more. God may love them less for that kind of segregation.

Twenty years of having conversations about the place of LGBT persons in the Christian church has led me to believe that we have no idea what it means when we say "God creates the world." All the talk about gays and lesbians, just as the words the town council of Greece, NY has before its meetings, all fail to adequately understand what it means to say "God creates." For example, why are there Atheists in Greece, NY? Did God make them atheist? Christians, presumably the ones in Greece, NY (although I cannot say for sure) argue that No, God did not create them atheist. Atheists go against God, go against how they were made by God, and it is their culpability (usually called sin) that makes them atheistic. Possibly.

The other answer is: God made them atheist. This is the answer that is much more interesting. This answer to the question of God's creation, now goes to how we can learn to live together in spite of our differences. How can we share when we do not care? Or, how can we care when we do not share? Christians often use politics as a reason not to think about their relationship with God. What's so surprising is the US Supreme Court actually picked up on that, and said go right ahead...don't think about your relationship with God in actually prayer, just do ceremonies, and you'll feel better...you won't get better, but you'll feel better.

What makes prayer, prayer is the same thing that makes God, God: the inability to be captured in words.

May your tables be full, and your conversations be true.

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