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For the last week I have been with my Dad in Alabama.  His current hospitalization resulted from a fall at his home nearly three weeks ago.  He fractured four ribs, developed double pneumonia, and was diagnosed with an MRSA blood infection.  This has been a major setback in the series of medical hurdles that he has faced since the day Mom passed away on September 16.  He has spent 55 of the last 60 days in hospitals in Cullman and Birmingham and a rehabilitation facility in Hanceville.  He will return to rehab when he is released from the hospital, hopefully in the next day or two.

Yesterday afternoon I left the hospital and went to Mom and Dad’s house for a little while so that Dad could just rest without feeling like he had to carry on a conversation.  Mom has been gone for two months now, but I guess I will always call it “Mom and Dad’s” house.  I got a can of soda from the refrigerator, plopped down in the recliner, and turned on the TV.  I caught the opening ceremonies of a NASCAR race in Phoenix.  There was a stirring instrumental rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” and a flyover by fighter jets, which seemed especially appropriate on the Sunday after Veterans Day.  Oh, and there was a prayer!

My credentials as a Son of the South will likely be called into serious question when I admit that I have never attended a NASCAR race or watched more than a few minutes of one on television.  It is not for lack of opportunity.  I spent much of my life within easy driving distance of the sacred racing ground at Talladega and for 12 years I lived in close proximity to Texas Motor Speedway.  Unfortunately, NASCAR’s major events fall on a day of the week that,  for most ministers, has an extremely inflexible schedule.  Thursdays would be much better for me.   

Back to the prayer!  I was impressed by the fact that the race began with an invocation.  Apparently, this is a longstanding NASCAR tradition.  I was even more impressed that the television network chose to include the invocation in its coverage.  They could have come up with all kinds of excuses not to do so.  I’m all for prayer at public events, even if the requests made to the Divine are a little suspect at times.  “Lord, these drivers are about to voluntarily strap themselves into four-wheeled rockets and race around at 200 mph, mere inches from a vast multitude of heavy, flammable vehicles.  All we ask is that You keep them safe.  Thanks in advance for Your help.”  I don’t know why we feel that any endeavor we undertake, no matter how dangerous or foolhardy, should automatically obligate the Almighty to envelope us in protective bubble wrap.

But, that’s not my point.  My point is that at the end of the prayer, tens of thousands of people said, “Amen!”  It was awesome!  As I commented in a post earlier this year (Amen Isn’t A Question), I continue to be amazed at the fact that many Christians audibly affirm their assent to a prayer with an “amen” just about anywhere but a public worship assembly.  They are “all over it” at a family dinner or a meal with friends, a small group Bible study or prayer group, an elders and ministers meeting, a team prayer before a ballgame, NASCAR race, you name it;  just not when they are in a “formal” worship setting with a lot of other Christians.  I just don’t get it. 

A few months ago, I led the invocation at a City Council meeting in Broken Arrow; a chamber-full of “amens” followed the end of the prayer.  A few weeks ago, my fellow-minister Rich Kilmer and I attended the monthly Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce lunch.  Since the BA church is a member of the Chamber and we were sponsors of that month’s lunch, I had the opportunity to share some information about the congregation and its ministries.  I was also asked to lead the invocation and give thanks to the Lord for our meal.  In a room with about 150 people present, my Amen-0-Meter (patent pending) registered a 125.

The next Sunday morning?  Nada!

Please understand that this isn’t something that keeps me awake at night, just a phenomenon that remains an unexplained mystery to me.  I guess I’ll just keep asking until I get some reasonable explanation.  Any suggestions?

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November 2010