Well, I tried to ignore this:
But it keeps coming back. On YouTube, on Twitter, on Facebook, and today on Shaun Groves’ blog. Shaun posted it without comment, a sly and savvy move, and the reaction was predictably mixed.
I find this “prayer” deeply troubling and offensive. Here’s what I said over on Shaun’s blog:
It was funny in the context of Rickey Bobby because it was a deliberate offense. This doesn’t even have originality going for it. Line this up with the Psalms. With how Jesus taught us to pray. Any similarities? No? Probably because the idea of hawking corporate sponsors and celebrating the shallowest impulses of our lives in the context of communion with our God is a complete non sequitur. That’s precisely what makes it funny in the movie and offensive in real life. The pretext is bad enough: a supposed prayer for safety before deliberately doing something dangerous and unnecessary. The execution is a mockery.
This is not about God not having a sense of humor, nor about me or other people duly offended by this self-indulgent tripe needing to lighten up. This is on par with “Jesus is my Homeboy” t-shirts. It’s not our place to reduce our Creator and Redeemer to a punch line or a signpost directing attention to our own cleverness.
I’m reminded of that uber popular video from a year ago or so where that wedding party danced into the church. The problem isn’t necessarily content, but context. The wedding dance thing was awful and offensive because it was in a sanctuary in the context of a worship service. (We do know that’s what a wedding ceremony is, right? It’s a worship service.) That video was ass-shaking and look-at-me-I’m-so-clever solipsism in front of and on the alter of the sanctuary of a church. That’s not what a sanctuary or worship service is for. That very same dance entrance at the reception? Hilarious. But it wasn’t at the reception; it was at the service.
Similarly with this “prayer,” the substance isn’t the problem. It was hilarious in Rickey Bobby. It was hilarious there because it was a movie. Situational irony, folks. But in the context of a prayer in real life? It begs the question, “What is prayer?”
Rather than answer that question myself explicitly here, I invite you to think about it. And ponder this: if you were this instant brought into the presence of God, do you think the Rickey Bobby “prayer” is what you’d say? Because prayer is supposed to be just that: being in the presence of God.
So what is prayer? What is it for? And if you can offer up a definition of prayer that squares with what this pastor did, I’d love to hear a defense of it offered from Scripture or Church tradition.
Similarly, I’d love to hear what you think about my assertion that the pre-race prayer is a bad pretext. What is our understanding of prayer that we see the need to offer it up before indulging in an entertainment that is deliberately dangerous under the guise of asking for safety? Are we unaware of the risks of driving that fast with all those other cars? What is our understanding of prayer that we should willingly engage in that but at the same time ask God to protect us from our behavior? Isn’t that like asking a blessing over a fast food meal? Why should God bless our bad decisions?
Predictably, the discussion devolved into ad hominem and adventures in missing the point, as it invariably does on the interwebs. To my comment above, the following was posted:
Scott, as a Christian and a NASCAR fan, I can’t describe how offensive I’m finding your comments in this thread. You obviously harbor ill will toward the people who follow this sport and also those of us who feel our relationship with Christ is secure enough that He would actually laugh and enjoy with us a situation that was not aimed at you, intended to be aimed at you and from your comments appears to have you thinking it’s beneath you.
If I was asked to lead a prayer before a race, I’d probably do the same thing. Why? Because God would see my heart, He would know my motives and a prayer like that would be an outpouring of the loving relationship between the two of us where I can thank Him for providing something I really enjoy like a night at the races.
“It’s not our place to reduce our Creator and Redeemer to a punch line or a signpost directing attention to our own cleverness.”
I would say it’s not our place to reduce our Creator to a humorless, cold, harsh judge who sits on high waiting to slap us down if we say or do something that might possibly be considered irreverent. This prayer wasn’t in a church during a service. It was at a NASCAR race. It was bringing our Father into a night of our fun and festivities.
Honestly, Scott, attitudes like you’re showing here are part of the reason I didn’t accept Christ until I was 24. I didn’t want to have anything to do with a Savior that didn’t want us to laugh or enjoy our lives with Him. I had to get past the people standing on high condemning anyone who dared to step outside of a heavily lined and very tiny box.
So, to recap: I harbor ill will towards NASCAR fans; I think it’s beneath me; I think God is humorless, cold, and a harsh judge, etc.; I’m the reason people don’t want to be Christians; and I keep God in a box. Wow.
I think the commenter is more upset that he thinks I’m not a NASCAR fan, (which he couldn’t possibly know based on my words), than that I assert that what the pastor in the video did is neither how Jesus taught us to pray nor can it be found modeled anywhere in Scripture or in the history of the Church.
I say again: the issue here is not whether or not God has a sense of humor, nor if Talladega Nights was funny, nor if NASCAR is great or not. The issue here is prayer.
What is prayer?