Thursday, November 26, 2015

Just Pray? Or maybe not ...

Imagine the scene.
It's the week before Christmas.
Your children have broken up from school and are boucing off the walls in all after a painful day's Christmas shopping you agree to take them to the new Star Wars film. As you munch popcorn with half an eye to the adverts, the glossy model tossing her shining hair is replaced by a small balding man in a clerical collar.
The Archbishop of Canterbury!
And then words that you remember from school days, weddings and funerals begin to fill the air
"Our Father...Hallowed be your name..."

Do you
a) ignore it, after a moment of baffled amusement
b) get angry: why are you being forced to engage with something bigger than the demands of a Star Wars film at a time when you're already stressed and don't like having those buttons pressed
c) get even more angry: you're a fully paid up atheist/Jew/Sikh/Hindu/Muslim and you really don't see why you should have to sit through a Christian prayer will waiting for the movie to start
d) think to yourself "Ah yes. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. Maybe we will drop in to the Christingle service this Sunday...I'm quite pleased I could remember all the words of that prayer. It's a long time since I prayed it.

The C of E communications department clearly felt that the odds were in favour of "d" - and of course I'd be delighted if that assumption of theirs turned out to be correct, that offering the prayer in all its wonder to that audience at that time would prompt people to visit and maybe, just maybe, to risk a prayer themselves.
But as you'll all know by now, that has turned out to be impossible.
Cinemas are not screening the ad, and there has been all sorts of kerfuffle as a result, with people claiming persecution in one corner and proseltysing in the other.
Deep deep sigh.

OF course I love the idea that a really rather beautiful video showing some of the most precious words that we say should be offered in all our cinemas at a time of year when people might already be thinking more about matters of faith, as they sing carols that share the story of Christmas…and I’d agree with Archbishop Justin that it is really sad that public suspicion of religion is such that this just isn’t possible.

But actually the Digital Media Agency had no choice but to bann the film as their advertising policy clearly states that they will not approve
advertising which wholly or partly advertises any religion, faith or equivalent systems of belief (including any absence of belief) or any part of any religion, faith or such equivalent systems of belief.

So – if the Lord’s Prayer is one of the great gifts of Christianity to a world that, I believe, needs to recover a sense of every person as a child of God, entitled to call him Father;
if it challenges us to step away from a consumer culture that reaches fever pitch in the weeks before Christmas;
if it calls us all to practice costly forgiveness;
then yes, I guess it can be construed as an advertisement for the heart of the Christian gospel.
And the DMA has a policy of not advertising any faith group. We can't expect preferential treatment - because despite the formal ties of establishment, we know, really, that we live in a post Christian country, where even the underlying story is no longer shaped by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
I'm not sure I'd have found it altogether comfortable to be confronted by the voice of a muezzin offering the call to prayer as I waited for a film to start...and I'm wondering if it smacks just a little of spiritual imperialism to expect our neighbours of other faiths to feel any better about the Lord's Prayer in those circumstances (specially as I'd guess there's a chance that some self appointed guardians of the prayer might have chosen to "tut" those who opted to unwrap sweets while the advert screened).
So on balance I'd not leap to voice indignation. I don't think it help. If anything, it surely makes us look rather silly (though it would have been good to have been warned of the DMA policy before the money was spent on the video - but I'd guess it has had far more exposure now than it would ever have had in the cinema - so maybe this is a blessing in disguise?).
I'd love us to live in a world where the climate was such that we all felt able to share and explore the riches of one another's faith traditions, without loss or compromise - but currently faith (or at least "religion") has been highjacked by extremists in all directions, so that there is more suspicion, less respect, than ever before.
And that I can and do lament. Deeply.

But all is not lost! Coincidentally we've been studying the Lord's Prayer as part of the (really rather excellent) Pilgrim course this term - and one of the things that most struck me when we started was the discovery that, in the days of the early Church, the prayer was considered so precious that those who were working their way through the 3 years of catechumenate  were only taught the words in the final weeks before that Easter when they would join the Church through baptism.
The bishop gave this treasure to them personally.
It was THAT special.
And we get to call God, Father...
And yet we say it every day, all over the world, almost unthinkingly - when every line in an invitation to explore more deeply what it means to be part of God's family, to try and live lives shaped by his love, to make choices that turn us away from our natural inclination and call us to become our best selves.
That's what the Lord's Prayer offers, so, recognising that what might have been a moment of irrelevance to families munching popcorn before Star Wars began might also have connected with those feeling a isolated, scared or bereft this Christmas, may I suggest that those who value the prayer pray it with love, focus and commitment as we travel through Advent together. It might even make a difference.


1 comment:

Anne Musker said...

A man was given a small advertising budget for the village fair. He sent an advert to the local paper, deliberately mis-spelling "strawberry tarts" as "strawberry farts" and then sent the advert to Private Eye. It went on to the National Press and "Have I got News for You". They had to make a VERY large number of Strawberry Tarts that year, they had record numbers, and made record profits.

I am not sure that God necessarily interferes in the minutiae of cinema advertising policy, but if he does, he has pulled off far better publicity for the prayer (in quality and quantity) by getting the issue debated on the TV News.

So fate, luck, conspiracy, or God working in mysterious ways, I think it has turned out for the best.