I keep thinking about last week’s “Star Wars” Day and the National Day of Prayer. Both in the same week – wow, what a time for the religious!
So a few observations:
1. Most of my friends talked about Star Wars Day than the National Da of Prayer (NDoP).
2. This comforted me, because this was true of me as well.
3. I think it’s time to reframe the National Day of Prayer to something that works for everyone.
“Star Wars” Day
In a world where we have a day for everything why not a “Star Wars” Day and a “Star Trek” Day and why not a day for that weird late 90’s movie “where earth had to fight bug planet” (my actual Google search) – Yes, “Starship Troopers” Day. Yeah, they should get one too. (Wasn’t Neil Patrick Harris in that. That was an accusation, not a question ;)
Next to R2D2, the coolest thing the Stars Wars people did was not call it “Stars Wars” Day. Going around wishing “May the 4th be with you” is a fun, harmless thing and on the surface it’s fairly empty. I take it to mean, “May some super-natural, mysterious force help you, just like it did Luke Skywalker and the other Jedi’s.” To me it sounds a lot like God’s grace, to others, it’s luck, to others, it’s the amount of midi-chlorians that can be detected (had to go there).
So I used to say that I loved Star Wars until I learned about the sub-culture of those who read all those novels, memorized the obscure names of planets, species, and characters who were on screen for a nano-second. And then the Episode 1 Phantom Menace pushed me over the edge (and The Matrix saved me. You might remember they came out the same year). Episode 2 didn’t pull me back either. It’s been watching the original series and the Vader and Son and Little Princess cartoon calendars that have helped but I digress.
But I assume this is how some people feel about “church.” There’s a long, complicated, subjective story as well. They like Jesus until they get tangled in the weird sub-culture of Christians and that’s how the National Day of Prayer might feel. Despite George Lucas’ antics and the sub-culture, “Star Wars” Day is fun, light-hearted moment that is nearly impossible to be offended by. It’s actually easier to fire a couple proton torpedoes into a thermal exhaust port than to be offended by Star Wars Day – I’ve tried.
The National Day of Prayer
A day for us to pray together? If I didn’t know anything about it, I would be very interested. Prayer is a good thing, a uniting thing, a humbly-seeking God thing, sign me up.
But when some of us hear of the National Day of Prayer, there’s a loaded context that comes with it. The advertisements are generally of American flags and Bibles and national monuments and Christian symbols. If we are asking God for an American Constantinople, I’d like to unsubscribe. I liked that Constantine was able to eliminate the persecutions against Christians but theocracies are not compatible with the Kingdom that Jesus spoke about.
There is baggage for me when it comes America and the Christian faith. I know this brings anxiety to some so I’ll do my best to clarify. Of course, I would love to see everyone in our nation, and everyone in our world to have a true and joy-filled experience with the Triune God; my frustration arises when I hear a phrase like, “Bring the nation back to God.” I bet you God rolls his eyes every time that’s prayed and sends an angel to earth to create a pot-hole and a demon to the US Passport office (at the end of all things, we will discover a canyon in hell with a sign saying, “Missing Passports.”)
If you were to grab lunch with me, I think I could make a case on how I love this country more than you do. My second-generation immigrant family up-bringing is filled with a lot of riches when it comes to gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy. And at the very least, this has informed my take on the world. You would tell me your story and we would agree that we both truly love our land and the other nations as well. So hopefully we would also agree that when we hear “Bring the nation back to God,” we would also wonder about the other nations. Further, when we hear “back” to God, we should hesitate because of the implication that America was really as close to God as some have suggested.
I am certainly not arguing that our moral or religious climate today is a healthy one. No, I’m definitely not suggesting that. Nor am I suggesting that everyone who uses that phrase is attempting to exclude the blessing of God from the other nations. But statements like that and the context long-associated with the National Day of Prayer feel dated in a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, society and perhaps it’s time for the National Day of Prayer be reframed.
If the National Day of Prayer could take a page out of the “Star Wars” Day
So in all truth, I didn’t actually boycott this day of prayer. While I didn’t physically gather with others, I am confident I joined others led by the Spirit and in the spirit of community. It’s awkward to get into the specifics but perhaps I can say it this way.
One of my favorite aspects of the story of Israel is throughout the Old Testament, God is calling for Israel to be a blessing to the whole world. From the Abrahamic call in Genesis 12 to the prophetic words in Isaiah to the story of Jonah (a story where a disobedient prophet of God goes to a decadent land that hates Israelites and they choose to repent!), God is saying it’s my love, my hope, my power in you for the world. That feels to go beyond any national day of dedicated prayer.
To be clear, heart-felt gratitude and national pride of where you came from is wonderful and noble sentiment but culture-war language and an overly-nationalistic passion leads to things like bitterness, ethnocentrism, and the wrong type of pride. You’ll lose people like anytime we detect an “us versus them” because the story I read in Scripture is God saying, “It’s you for them.”
“Star Wars” Day isn’t politicized. It might be strange, as sci-fi isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And so the comparison to prayer feels appropriate. To intentionally make a gross understatement: Prayer does not need to be politicized, or nationalized. And for some, the idea of prayer is stranger than science-fiction. That’s ok and may they be the first to experience blessing from such a day. But a day of prayer where it’s free of pretense, a day where we acknowledge our individual and collective brokenness, where we call on God for repentance and forgiveness, where we seek His strength and peace, where we ask Him to bless the people we love and the people we don’t know and the people who hate us – a day of prayer that really is about prayer. Yes, I’d sign back up for that.
May the grace of God be with you :)