Many of you will have heard about the new CoE website and the advert which has been banned from cinemas (www.justpray.uk). The debate surrounding this raises quite a few interesting issues for me, and on the whole I actually think the cinemas were entirely correct to ban it - and I'm curious about the CoE creating such an "advert" in the first place.
So let's take this apart a bit: cinemas are places where people of all faiths and none go for recreation, and while the video is not offensive in any sense of containing sex or violence it does bring a particular religious text into a secular space where it is imposed on all members of the audience, Christians as well as non-Christians, who may care and may become offended in some (as yet unknown) way. If this ad had been fully multi-faith perhaps with a Christian, a pagan, a Jew, a Buddhist, a Hindu, and a Muslim, all praying for peace then that might have been more appropriate for a secular space like a cinema. But it is an advert that is specifically Christian and which takes the audience though the Lord’s prayer line by line. And it’s the standard Lord’s prayer too, with its paternalistic language: there are different versions, Jim Cotter’s being one that springs immediately to mind for its attempt at using more inclusive language:
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth!
With the bread we need for today,
In the hurts we absorb from one another,
In times of temptation and test,
From trial too great to endure,
From the grip of all that is evil,
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,
now and forever. Amen.
But the advert used the standard language. If it had been radical enough to use Jim Cotter’s version I might have thought OK, many Christians don’t know it and its fabulous in breathing new life into the old language and for being inclusive and modern. But the standard Lord’s prayer, without explanation, using words and concepts like father, sin, hallowed, trespass, forgiveness… I don’t think this works for those who don’t know the prayer, and most, if not all, Christians will already know it in some form.
So that leads onto the second point – which is to try to understand why the CoE has thought it necessary to have an advert containing the Lord’s prayer (LP) in the first place? I think every blog I have read on this cinema ban has talked eloquently about how great the LP is and that it is indeed radical and controversial. While personally I agree with all of these comments, that the LP it indeed radical and transformative, I also feel that it is beside the point and serves only to cloud the issue: the issue here is not how radical the LP is, but what’s behind the idea that it is something that needs now, after centuries of continuous use across the whole world, to be broadcast to a secular cinema audience in the UK.
Specifically, I’m also wondering why Christians want to take something as holy and private as prayer and broadcast it? And I keep getting stuck on Matthew 6:6? Not only was the LP given, but we were told how it should be prayed, specifically it should not be “for show” but it should be prayed in private. And unless I am missing something surely the filming of this prayer is “for show”? It seems to be attempting to do exactly what we are instructed (by none other than Jesus) not to do.
I am also left wondering whether something that is loaded with such deep relationship as prayer, or indeed Holy Communion, should be made public. Praying, like Holy Communion, is always an act that is intimate, personal, open, profound, radical, transformative and that creates and strengthens relationship. Acts like these are also somehow private- by which I mean both private as in solo, and also private as in belonging to and remaining within a community of believers... Yes, we have a duty to be inclusive and not exclusive, yes there is this concept of mission that we all embrace- but the advert seems to go beyond that to a place where it is ok that everything, all the underclothes, are hanging out for show.
The advert shows all sorts of people, from small children to tattooed men, praying – and while that’s great it really is nothing unusual. It is as it should be. What the advert doesn't do is go beyond the "doing of" prayer: it isn't just "doing" prayer that matters but the prayerful life, ie the "living" of prayer. Prayer is "just" the tool, the underclothes, and the difference is living the truth of that, for ourselves, our communities and the world as a whole. That is, or at least should be, what is visible on the outside- the proper clothes.
The CoE justpray website itself is interesting too: it seems to be a live bulletin board where people can post their current prayers, together with virtual resources on and about prayer. That’s great. But there seems to be no opportunity for comments, for discussion? So it becomes a virtual church without the possibility of interaction, a voyeurs’ paradise. The website tracks how many people have seen each prayer, but it seems unclear what that number actually means? Is it a performance indicator, designed to track progress in some way, so that my prayer is better than yours because it's been looked at by twenty people and yours has only been seen twice? or is it assumed that those who look at a prayer also pray it- perhaps giving it more weight with God?
The whole thing seems rather a muddle to me, overcomplicating what is the very backbone of faith and what is a very simple real and beautiful dialogue between an individual and their God. There is a wonderful poem by Rumi where Moses breates a shepherd for the naivity of his prayer, but then God tells Moses that the simplicity of the sheperd's prayer is gorgeous to him, so Moses runs to apologise and tell the shepherd to carry on as before. This is what Moses says to the shepherd: "God has revealed to me that there are no rules for worship. Say whatever and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world is freed. Loosen your tongue and don't worry what comes out. It's all the light of the spirit."
So I think some things should probably remain sacred, and private, should remain the holy ground of our being, and I think prayer is one of those things... We don’t need to see the advert for the LP, not in the cinema, and not in any other public secular context - perhaps less because it might offend others, than that it is sacred to us.