In Lay Terms

Random Ramblings From a Church Nerd

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Is There Bad Prayer?

I am generally a person who believes that prayer is a good thing. However, I have been a part of bad prayers. I have, for your entertainment, compiled stories of three prayers that went bad. There will probably need to be a little context around these prayers, but I hope you can find the humor in them.

  • Back in college, I worked at a church camp. One summer, we had a young and inexperienced cook working in our kitchen. He was very excited about his new job (and his new power), but the kitchen didn't run very efficiently at all. After a while, the staff knew that there would be problems at mealtime. As we would gather outside the dining hall before dinner, we would sing some silly grace, and then someone would pray. One day, our chaplain (who was a 1st year seminary student at the time) did the prayer. I kid you not, his prayer (out loud to the campers) included the following phrase: "God, we thank you for this food we are about to eat. May it, by your grace, be hot and edible." Not so great.
  • There is a very conservative Lutheran congregation in Minneapolis (actually, there are several, but I'm thinking about on in particular). This was an urban congregation, which made being conservative a little bit of an anomaly. The congregation called a young associate pastor who quickly developed a reputation of saying whatever came into his mind very publicly. Once, a group of clergy were gathering to do text study (or something, I wasn't there...but J was). As they went around to offer prayers, this pastor began to pray. "God, we thank you for Hurricane Katrina. Use it to call our nation to repentance." Of course, all the other pastors are appalled by this, but by being in the prayer circle with him, they are now praying it too.
    • Deeper Analysis: If you are all praying together, does that mean that you are "agreeing" with whatever someone is saying in prayer? That was the conundrum that faced this group. Upon hearing this story, I developed my theory: "Whoever controls the prayer, controls the agenda."
  • Last week, I was coordinating a chapel service. We've been doing a whole series on "Science as Vocation" and having a lot of scientists visit our campus to talk about their calling to work with the sciences. My latest guest was a former manager of the South Pole Station. I'm thinking this is going to be pretty cool. She gets up there and tells us about how she found that she wasn't particularly good at doing science, but she was great at working with and supporting scientists. Then, she told us a lot about the International Polar Year. It's a collaborative effort between countries to study the North and South Pole to look for effects on climate change. Very cool. Following the homily, one of our interns got up to pray. Wanting to pray along the same theme that she had just preached about, he began like this: "God, we thank you for our poles. Help us to take care of our poles. Bless those who will visit our poles. Let everyone take delight in our poles." Luckily, I was not sitting behind him, because I'm cracking up at the liberal use of the word "poles". Maybe I'm just to sophomoric. I didn't see anyone else sniggering in chapel, but when I told people afterward, then they went "there" right away.
The conclusion is that you should be careful what you pray for. It might not be what you wanted to pray for.


Blogger Melissa said...

I have been known to pray silently while a prayer being said aloud is crashing. I believe it was even with the aformentioned pastor that I prayed silently, "No, no, no..."

11:21 AM  
Blogger Diane M. Roth said...

I have had these kinds of experiences although it has been a few years now. Once in church (a loooong time ago) someone prayed for "the contras to get the aid they so richly deserve." It makes me more sensitive to pray in such a way that others CAN agree with me, not a partisan prayer.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Michael Dodd said...

When Angela Davis went on trial back around 1970, one of the novices prayed at the Prayer of the Faithful (in the section where individuals prayed aloud for particular needs), "For Angela Davis, that she receive a fair trial, we pray to the Lord." Everyone responded, "Lord, hear our prayer."

Then one of the older friars prayed, "For Angela Davis, that she gets what she deserves, we pray to the Lord."

3:20 PM  

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