Friday, January 13, 2012

My First Prayer Breakfast

A Priest, a Minister and a Rabbi are standing on a riverbank. The Priest walks out onto the water and darts over to the other side. The Minister follows him, walks out onto the water, and like the priest, he runs to the other side. The Rabbi steps off the riverbank and plunges into neck-deep water. The Priest turns to the Minister and says, 'Should we tell him where the stepping stones are?'

In case you are wondering, when I was in chaplain school I became friends with a priest and a minister who are now stationed in Okinawa. Much like the joke, I imagine I would be neck-deep in military craziness if I didn’t have these guys. That said, last week I had an experience for which they could not quite prepare me: the prayer breakfast.

I know prayer breakfasts happen all the time in Congress, but I honestly don’t think that I have ever been to one. But why would I? At school and at camp, we always prayed for an hour or so before breakfast – who then wants to go and have a prayer breakfast? It’s a little redundant. So when I was asked to do the Invocation/Grace (After Meals) for the first prayer breakfast of the year I was a little out of my element. I don’t think Christian clergy really get how getting together for breakfast, and having a presentation on “how faith got me through X”, and then rattling off a series of “spontaneous prayers” isn’t really something I know.

So how do you write an invocation for an event that you have never experienced as the representative of the entire Jewish people? Further, how do you come up with a grace after meals for a meal following a meal in which you could eat nothing? Finally, how do you do all this in front of the 2-star general, the colonels and captains, and the dozens of other more experienced chaplains in the room?
You just do it.

The breakfast was awesome. My invocation was followed by a scriptural reading that was benign enough, which was followed by a song led by the awesome captain in charge of the Base Chapels (she’s African-American Charasmatic and a big hugger; if you’ve never been hugged by a person U.S. Navy Captain, you’ve never lived). I’m pretty sure the song was 3 verses, but she made it 6 or 7. The majority of the room was rhythmically challenged, so the clapping was incredibly awkward.

The missionaries (yes, there were missionaries there) looked at me as I was singing and clapping – and dancing a little bit. One of them looked at me and seemed stunned that I was enjoying the music. But how could you not? It was great (and Jesus was not invited to the song).

Side note: Later, the Captain did a prayer for the families concluding with the Southern Baptist favorite conclusion: “in Jesus name we pray. Amen.” I do hate that. Don’t say, “Let us pray” and then conclude with Jesus – it excludes non-trininitarians from the community of prayer and implies that we are not allowed to pray with you. If we are praying together, just pray.

Back to the original story: The Sergeant Major told a story of his experience with prayer, and how it helped him through the bombing of the Embassy in Dar-es-Salaam (he was 400 yds away). I’m not sure I agreed with his analysis of the power-of-prayer, but I was in awe of his faith and how it guided him.

Piggy-backing off the SgtMaj, my friend the minister gave an outstanding prayer for our government and our military decision makers. I was amazed. (The priest got to sit out the event.) We finished up with “America the Beautiful”.

I ate it up. Between the songs, the speech and some of the prayers (not the missionary’s prayer) I was totally pumped for religious ministry. This chaplain-thing is going to be great.

Next week, the priest and the minister are taking me out to a bar. We’ll see how that goes…

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