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Riot, Restart and Scrubbed Minutes: The Bradlee Dean Prayer

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But really…what happens when someone prays?

Say more.

Last Friday Bradlee Dean gave the opening prayer at the Minnesota House. His words caused such uproar that Speaker Zeller apologized and had the prayer scrubbed from the historical records of the day. The session was restarted and Rev. Grady St. Dennis, the house chaplain gave the new prayer.

Was it a prayer Mr. Dean offered or was it a speech intended as a burr under the saddle of the gathered legislators? I don’t know all that Mr. Dean stands for, but his rhetorical mix seems misdirected. Yesterday I wrote about mixing an ancient form with something of today. In Mr. Dean’s prayer, the result from mixing an ancient form and using it as a rhetorical bully pulpit is repellent. The communication seems more speech than prayer, and seems to have been interpreted that way by the humans in attendance. And yet it is possible Mr. Dean was sincere in his conversation with God.

The notion of a public prayer is actually kind of complicated, and is perhaps a mix of forms from the beginning. One person speaks aloud. The person implores God’s attention and action. Perhaps the person seeks wisdom and mercy, or help with any of the myriad needs finite beings have. Listeners listen and agree. Or disagree. Rather than praying along and seeking the same things, the potential prayers in the House rose in disagreement shouted the guy down (figuratively, I think).

I agree with Rev. Dennis Johnson writing about the work of guest chaplains in saying “We have a special burden to include all people in our prayers….” But I’m not so sure about the last part of the quote in Lori Sturdevant’s op-ed: “…and to make the prayers nonsectarian.” Because real prayer must come from somewhere, some belief in God. It is true that belief in God need not highlight a specific brand of religion, but any prayer must be grounded in belief that God exists and hears—that alone will be offensive to some. Otherwise the prayer is just good wishes and positive vibes—not bad stuff, just not, well, real. And not that useful in seeking help from the Eternal.

King Solomon got the form right (1 Kings 8.22ff) and set a lasting example and practice. Of course, Solomon’s prayer was spoken among a set of like-minded people. So the context helps the prayer stay as a prayer: spoken to God from a bunch of people going a similar direction.

If we’re going to have prayer in the Minnesota House, there needs to be some elasticity in allowing people to pray for real. And people praying need to examine their intentions before uttering word one. But let’s continue the notion of conversing publicly with the Creator.


Image Credit: Buramai

Written by kirkistan

May 25, 2011 at 8:41 am

One Response

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  1. Kirk,

    Read your post, nice. I posted something similar, only not as polite or thoughtful as yours. But I’m trying.

    Scott Zosel

    June 8, 2011 at 8:58 am

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