The Bishop of Sheffield, Steven Croft, has lashed out (or as much as English Bishops do lash out) in response to cinemas banning a simple video of people reciting the Lord’s prayer. The ban was put in place so that audiences “would not be offended” by the prayer when shown before Star Wars, or something.
Thing is, if I went to see Star Wars in a country which, for the most part defined itself as Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or <insert a religion I’ve missed>, and I saw an equivalent video, I can’t see I’d be offended. When in Rome, and all that. Why should I be surprised that a <religion’s name> country is showing a <religion’s name>-ish video in public? When you put things into context, that England is, at least, traditionally a Christian country and that Christmas is drawing near; is this really such an issue?
To be honest, the video isn’t really edgy, or dramatic, or hipster, or dynamic, or fast-paced, or even controversial. There isn’t even any background music or special effects. It’s just .. it’s just a montage of a series of clips of normal people doing everyday things. It’s nearly boring. The only really ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ thing is that they each saying, or thinking, or singing a line of probably the most well known prayers in the UK.
I’m honestly not sure what people are getting worked up about. It’s about as offensive as the vicar offering your atheist uncle a cup of tea after your kid’s baptism.
Despite the fore-mentioned lack pace and ‘kick’ to the video, there is an innate sense of quiet power to it. Something that the Bishop Steven highlights is that, in spiritual terms, the prayer gets right in the face of the demigods controlling our increasingly consumerist and secular society. And this is the issue. This simple video could very nearly be a call to arms for those who pray it. It could be wake-up call to reject the lies that the world is pushing down our throats about our identity, purpose and destiny.
In his own words:
First, this prayer gives to those who pray it an identity and a place in the world and a counter-cultural community. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name”. It opposes the myth that we are random specks of matter floating through space and time. It opposes the myth that our lives do not matter. It opposes the myth of fragmented humanity.
We are created and loved and called into friendship with God who is our father and into community with our fellow human beings who are therefore our sisters and brothers. Only someone who has found this new identity can stand against the advertising culture which night and day seduces us to define who we are by what we spend.
Second this prayer gives us the courage to live in an imperfect world. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.
The world is not as it was meant to be. It is distorted from its true purpose. But God is at work to redeem and transform this world, to establish his kingdom. The Lord’s Prayer invites us not to retreat from the world in fear and pain, to anaesthetise or indulge ourselves. The Lord’s Prayer invites us to join the struggle to see justice and peace prevail.
Third, and most powerfully, the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to live with just enough. This is the most dangerous reason why it cannot be shown with the adverts at the cinema. It teaches us not to want more. It teaches contentment, the most subversive virtue of them all.
“Give us this day our daily bread”. This is not a prayer for more. This is a prayer only for what we need. Every other advert in the cinema is there to encourage us to spend money in pursuit of happiness. This one restrains our greed.
Fourth, the Lord’s Prayer teaches me to live with my imperfections and the imperfections of others. There is a way to deal with the rubbish in our lives. “Forgive us our sins”.
Consumer culture holds before us the image of perfection. We cannot be happy until we look like this person, live like that one. Each image is a lie.
The Lord’s Prayer acknowledges human imperfection and sin, daily. The Lord’s Prayer offers a pathway to forgiveness, daily. The way of forgiveness cannot be bought. It is a gift. Grace. Grace subverts the whole culture of advertising.
Fifth the Lord’s Prayer offers a way of reconciliation. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. We are not meant to feud or live in hostility or rivalry. We are meant to forgive and be forgiven, to be reconciled to each other. That reconciliation happens without expensive presents, without going into debt, without credit. People are not made happy by more things, another consumer lie. The greatest happiness comes from relationships. The key to great relationships is reconciliation and forgiveness.
Sixth, the Lord’s Prayer builds resilience in the human spirit. When you say this prayer each day you are prepared for the bad days. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
When we say this prayer we remind ourselves that we are not living in a Disney fairy tale, a saccharine creation of film makers where every story has a happy ending.
We are living in a real world of cancer and violence and difficulty, where we are tested, where bad things happen for no clear reason. We live in that world confident in God’s love and goodness and help even in the midst of the most challenging moments of our lives. Faith is for the deep valleys as much as the green pastures. We may not have the answers but we know that God dwells with us and in us.
And seventh the Lord’s Prayer tells us how the story ends, how this life is to be lived and lived well. “For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen”.
Bishop Steve Croft’s full article can be read here.