A perfect media storm hit on Sunday morning as news broke that major cinema chains had ‘banned’ a short film advertising the ‘Just Pray’ website. The outcome was that (so far) over 350,000 people have watched versions of the film on youtube, plus many have shared on social media and many others have blogged discussing the issues raised. I recommend Stephen Croft’s blog (once you’ve finished this!)
David Cameron, Boris Johnson and even infamous atheist Richard Dawkins have all been quoted as critical of the cinema’s decision. This perfect storm excites attention with some major collisions. The national institution the Church of England, (the video opens with a shot of the hugely respected Justin Welby) big business (Cinema chains), religion, pluralism, freedom of speech, taking of offence and the question of what is controversial viewing? – pitting wanton violence and gratuitous sex against prayer and faith.
It also raised a question of how we see the Lord’s prayer. Is it a beloved piece of our cultural and religious history, a political statement offensive to other faiths, a gentle heart’s cry to a God others don’t want people to believe in, or a powerful experience of realigning our lives to God’s will and asking him to reshape the world around us? Or maybe all of those things, – I’m a both/and person.
As someone who enjoys social media, I found the timeline of this perfect storm fascinating. Many anglican clergy get up early on Sunday morning, to pray and engage with the news, to prepare for the day ahead. Early on Sunday lots of church leaders tweeted the news of the ban immediately, promoting the advert and baffled by the cinema’s extreme censorship. It then went fairly quiet from Christians, as we went to church to worship God. Later in the day, reactions and responses abounded. Was it outrageous to promote prayer? Was this really offensive to other faiths? Was the C of E being churlish? Lots of freedom of speech on social media means lots of opinions, reactions and many people playing the ‘I know best’ game.
One theme emerged for me. It’s foolish for Anglicans to play the victim in this row.
The nature of a victim is that they are powerless on one level. However a victim mindset can give us alternative feelings of power. A victim can harness the empathy of others to gain support for their cause, a victim can use blame to attack or undermine others. To take a victim posture can be a powerful form of defensiveness, it is seen as cruel to reflect back to a victim their own faults or self destructive behaviour, a victim can absolve themselves from responsibility. A victim mindset can alleviate a sense of powerlessness, with a damaging form of subversive power, which grabs power for ourselves (immaturity) and prevent us from empowering others (maturity).
The early church was persecuted very soon after Jesus ascended to heaven. Disciples of Jesus have been persecuted throughout the past 2 millennia and the atrocities of persecution continue around the world today, accelerated currently through the atrocities of Daesh in the Middle East.
The church in the UK experiences very little of this persecution, but we are increasingly marginalised, mocked and restricted bureaucratically from explaining the good news which we long to share with those around us. Just as a rational person needs to acknowledge global warming, we too have to acknowledge there’s a powerful secular agenda in our culture which wants to silence Christians from sharing the message we know brings hope and new life to others.
Let us not become victims in facing that challenge. We are adjusting to a new era sociologically where the power and public voice we once enjoyed is rapidly eroding away. It is tempting to believe we are victims and attack those who try to silence us in the public square. To yield to that temptation would be foolish.
Ironically, praying the Lord’s prayer, (rather than just tweeting about adverts portraying it) prevents us from becoming victims. Whether we pray the Lord’s prayer as a set piece of liturgy, or as a structure line-by-line for a conversation with God. (My brain needs that time to engage with the huge truths in it) we recognise our powerlessness and God’s power. To pray the Lord’s prayer moves us from victims to citizen’s of God’s kingdom.
My friend Hugh Balfour many years ago highlighted that in the Lord’s prayer we ask God for His Presence, Provision and Protection. All of these demolish the victim mindset.
As we turn to God as Father, we recognise that He is in heaven, enthroned above every power.
In our powerlessness, we invite heaven to invade earth, trusting in God’s power to bring change around us.
We ask for daily bread, not the power of luxury of riches, but the humility of dependence upon God. Through history his creative answers to that simple prayer have been stunning and miraculous.
We ask for forgiveness, because the opposite to a victim mindset isn’t using our power to win, it is choosing to yield. When we recognise our mistakes, we humble ourselves and take responsibility for how we have hurt others. We yield to God, not to defend ourselves but to trust Him.
The same is true as we choose to forgive others. A victim blames, attacks, undermines, a disciple of Jesus forgives, releases, breaks the cycle of power games and oppression.
And then we ask God to protect us. Not from ‘those evil nasty people’, but from the influence of spiritual forces of evil. We recognise that our battle isn’t flesh and blood, it isn’t cinema execs or secularist trolls on twitter, but the principalities and powers in the spirit realm which battle against the God who overcame them through sacrificial love.
Finally, we pray declaring that the kingdom, the power and the glory are not ours, but they do belong to our Father. We don’t ask for vindication, political or cultural power, but we choose instead God’s kingdom, power and glory, as we wait for that to be fully seen here in earth. In praying this we choose patience rather than taking offence.
Praying the Lord’s Prayer with our heads and hearts engaged, demolishes our temptation to play the victim mindset.