6.21.2010

Apologetic Prayer

I've been enjoying the blog and book of Jonathan Acuff. He writes Stuff Christians Like and his satire has hit home in my life on many occasions. In the spirit of his idea (which he knowingly absconded from Stuff White People Like) I wanted to add my own example of stuff christians like...Apologetic Prayer.

I'm not speaking of Apologetics, the discipline of defending your spiritual position through reason. I'm not speaking of ApologetiX, that Christian parody band, either.

What I'm speaking of is the phenomenon that sometimes occurs in Christian circles when someone publicly blows it, then uses the next available prayer time to smooth out the awkwardness. Rather than take a moment to acknowledge the slip in normal conversation or announcement, a prayer will do.  

Picture the scene, a typical Sunday morning, the church service is about to begin. Most of the congregation is in place, though a few stragglers (AKA, parents with children living at home) are rushing for the door. Soft, seeker-friendly, music can be heard by all. The volunteers kids (who've been at church for an hour already and can't wait to get home) are starting to fidget. Sunday's off to a pretty swell start.

Suddenly, the air is charged with emotion - and not the good kind that gives you goose flesh and makes you think that the Holy Spirit is blowing on your neck. Something is up. Heads start to turn...brows are furrowed...there's the beginning of a commotion. Ushers are headed for the exits to track down and stop this happening, but it's too late. There's a bit of anger in the place and that can't be undone. Someone has knocked over the reception table in the entry way...that someone being a twelve year old boy who wasn't exactly paying attention as he sprinted through the lobby...and the usher in charge of welcoming the new guests and aforementioned stragglers...he's not too happy. In fact, he sorta lost it. Loudly. In church. On Sunday morning...the same Sunday morning he was scheduled to give the offertory. Yep, that day.

The air's been sucked from the building. The Holy Spirit is gone to find Elvis. The congregation is not sure what to do. Neither is the Usher...or the kid...or the Pastor.  The swell start of minutes ago is quickly off the rails. What to do? Hmm...pretend nothing happened and run ahead with the service seems logical. And often is exactly how it shakes out.

But, what about that offertory? The Usher is aware that he blew it. The love of Christ hit that boy like Juggernaut running through the walls of an office building. His world was pretty rocked. Everyone else knows it too. So in the midst of the offertory, the Usher pulls out the Apologetic Prayer. It's disguised as the offertory, and it goes something like this...

"Father God, we thank you for today and the gifts you have given us. We are so thankful that we can come together today and share your love with one another. We thank you for this building that we can enjoy and respect together. We thank you especially that we can give our tithes and offerings so that your work can be done in the church. We ask that you bless this offering. And that you'd bless each who give. And that you'd help us to love one another. And forgive us for the times we slip up. And help us to pay attention so that accidents don't happen. And help us to love and lead and keep our young people in check. And help them to follow after you. And to be careful. In Jesus' name, Amen."

Here's the problem we run into with this type of praying...it's selfish. When we do it, we abdicate our responsibility to truly love one another and walk out the ugly process of confession and forgiveness. We feel good about covering our butt, but the true value of forgiveness - restoring relationship - is lost. Rather than going to the boy and truly apologizing, admitting the mistake and requesting forgiveness so that relationship can be restored and built, we try to take a shortcut straight to God. We make the mistake of believing that if we're right with God, than the relationship with the other human will work itself out. It's selfish and easy...sort of a cheap abuse of Grace. And pretty useless.

Imagine if rather than glossing over the public commotion and blow up with an apologetic prayer, that Usher instead publicly went through the process of really apologizing and really requesting forgiveness from and right relationship with the boy. Imagine the example that he'd set, not just for the boy, but for the entire congregation. That'd be a church I'd like to partner with and support...might be the best offertory ever!