Sunday, March 24, 2013

Prayer in Digital Media

              (Baby Jesus Prayer-Talladega Nights, clean version in case anyone is easily offended)

I am pretty sure that I am not the only person who immediately went to thinking about the Prayer to Baby Jesus in the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights when we started talking about the representation of prayer in digital medai, and in particular  Joe Nelms' prayer as referenced on the IC2643 course site.  I'm not convinced that Nelms' prayer is really a prayer at all, it seems more like an advertisement/shout-out to sponsors and a joke referencing the Talladega nights video.  Enjoy!

Moving along, there seems to be three major representations of prayer in digital media.

First, the sort of prayer that desires to be as inclusive as possible, such as Gene Robinson's prayer at 2009 Inauguration.  Gene Robinson is a retired Episcopal Bishop, and the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, and his appointment in 2003 was a source of much controversy in the Episcopal church.   This prayer begins with an address of "God of our many understandings"and includes petitions for social justice, as well as support for the LGBTQ community, and ends with a petition, "every religion's god judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable."  Robinson seeks to create an open space for prayer and emphasize that the role of a leader (both in prayer, and on behalf of President Obama) is not about dividing people, but bringing them together.

There is another sort of public prayer, the kind that does not necessarily forcefully advocate for a specific religion, but makes assumptions about the religious convictions of those present.   Rick Warren's prayer, also at the 2009 Inauguration, is an example of this.  He stated scripture, said that all people and nations would be subject to God's judgment, and pleaded for forgiveness for the sins of all. His use of language carries a set of assumptions about the Christian faith.  An interesting observation from this video is that Rick Warren called for all to pray the Lord's prayer, and yet, when the camera panned the crowd, very few people, including President Obama, were praying along.

The third type of public prayer appears to operate from a position of defensiveness and a desire to prove one's religion as above others.  Bradlee Dean's prayer to Minnesota House Chamber is a representation of this. Bradlee Dean used the address "father God" at least a dozen times, and only referenced Christians in his prayer as being people of faith, as well as closing the prayer with the statement "Jesus is the head of the denomination, as every president up until 2008 has acknowledged", a not-too-subtle dig at President Obama.  As a side note, if I was Mr. Dean and invited to pray on behalf of the MN House of the Representatives, I would have worn something besides a rumpled nylon tracksuit.

With regards to my own personal prayer practices in digital cultures, the most important takeaway is to remember never to make assumptions about your hearers/digital congregation.  I think this applies to real life as well.   My pastor has referenced her work as, "I am not responsible for what people believe, but I am responsible for what they hear."  Therefore, clearly communicating your prayer is important.  If you are going to make bold theological claims about the identity of God in your prayers, do so unapologetically.  This is why I respect Rick Warren.  Additionally, while prayers are not a time for advancing a particular agenda (I'm looking at you, Bradlee Dean), there should be a forum for discussion, clarification, or deeper prayer.

Just as a pastor might pray for a specific need in the congregation, and members can follow up, digital prayers should provide space for commenting.  All of the prayer videos except Bradlee Dean's had comments enabled.  While looking at comments is usually tiresome for me, I rather enjoyed it this time around.  In the midst of all the typical anti-Christian rants and pro-Christian diatribes, there were people who were raising their own prayers and advancing the prayers in each video.  That is a beautiful, organic outgrowth of digital media.

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