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Open the Roof for God!

Don't let those roof beams get in the way of a good prayer.

The Miami Marlins, a Florida-based baseball team, had been playing pretty badly. Having exhausted most of the earth-based remedies he knew, and with his own job possibly on the line, manager Ozzie Guillen turned to the supernatural. First, he requested that the stadium staff “Open that roof so God can hear me,” then he apologized to God for having been a “piece of shit for 48 years” (a direct quote). And then he prayed for the success of his team.

Sure, Ozzie’s a bit of a flake and he was probably being funny when he made that request about opening the roof. But I wonder how many Americans didn’t find his message quite so humorous. My guess is that getting those prayer requests through on a clear channel to Heaven doesn’t strike everyone as such a big joke.

Look at it this way. Prayers are (usually) spoken requests from one person to a deity, where the Big Guy on the receiving end is usually seen as quite a bit more powerful than the rest of us. Admittedly, many of us imagine Him to look like us and to think like us (He has agendas, likes and dislikes), but when it comes to power, He has it all over us. That’s why we turn to Him in prayer. “Please, do this for me. Let my (insert name of loved one) live; let me hit a triple and win this big game; change the weather and end all this suffering; let me get that promotion I so richly deserve; bring me health, prosperity, and peace of mind.” In short, we ask for what we don’t have. We select someone who has the power to grant our wish, and we try to coax Him to invest a little of that power in meeting our needs.

Fair enough. But before we can expect our needs to be met, we’ve got to make sure that powerful agent in the sky can hear us. What’s the point of all that praying if our wants and needs are being blocked by a bunch of steel girders. I mean, who would knowingly pray in a sound proof chamber when he could go outside and offer the same prayer in the fresh air to an open sky?

I know, I know. God can hear even the faintest whisper of a little child. Yet, do Ozzie’s words about opening the roof seem all that meaningless to you? Would you not feel just a little more confident offering your prayer to God with the roof open? Before you say ‘no’ and condemn Ozzie for such foolishness, consider this.

Many of us believe that a prayer request coming to God from more than one person has greater impact and is more likely to be granted than a prayer coming from a single person or a smaller number of people. Why is that? Is God impressed by numbers? Does He say, “If a thousand people ask it of Me, it must have greater value than one coming from just a few people?” Is God really so shallow? Certainly, we are, but why should we assume our shallowness applies to the God we pray to?

When the state of Texas suffered draught conditions last year, why did Governor Rick Perry schedule a day of Prayer, even booking a large stadium for that use? Was God more likely to hear the groundswell of prayer coming from Arlington Stadium and be persuaded to answer it, than if He had received just a single request whispered by the parched lips of a lonely farmer whose cattle were dying? Again, is God so shallow that he responds to crowds more than to individuals? Is He so tin-eared that a closed stadium roof will block the words of a baseball manager?

There are people who believe the answer is “yes,” although they may not readily admit it. Do you know about the Presidential Prayer Team? Over four million Americans have joined it because they believe in the cumulative effects of prayer (www.presidentialprayerteam.org) They believe that “Almighty God rules over the affairs of men…and moves in response to the prayers of His people.” That’s where they come in and the more of them the merrier, especially when they share a political agenda. And what might be the sorts of things they hope you’ll pray for? Let’s just say it’s not a random sample of social issues. They hope you’ll let God know that you’re anti-gay and pro-life. God must be getting a lot of conservative political requests lately.

What you really want to be asking here is, regardless of whether Ozzie’s words can penetrate steel roof beams, does God really want to waste time and resources messing around in the fortunes of a professional baseball club? OK, admittedly Ozzie isn’t the first person to try to draw God into the happenings on a baseball diamond. Jane Fonda and Ted Turner were televised nationally praying for victory for their precious Atlanta Braves during the World Series, and barely a game goes by when players don’t make heaven-bound gestures of thanks following their home runs, or as they stand in the batter’s box offering fervent prayers between every pitch. Watch catcher Ivan Rodriguez some time: not a pitch goes by without a genuflection. The stakes are high, and the perceived level of control is low. Those are exactly the ingredients that typically start the prayer engines going. And those conditions also speak directly to the question of “agency.” Am I in control of what happens to me or am I subject to control by some external (usually supernatural) agent whom I can only hope to influence through prayer? Not everyone agrees on the prayer strategy. There are those who say that the time you spend in praying to God might be better spent taking some additional batting practice.

There’s also the question of triage. God gets a lot of prayers every day. Even so, people suffer and die. Teams lose ball games every day. The weather stays lousy. Crops bake in the sun and farmers go out of business. Can we assume that only the pious survive, thrive and win ball games? Surely not.

God must have some hierarchy of concerns. Considering the state of the world today, the amount of pain, suffering and hardship, does God really need to get involved in the National League East pennant race? Or, from the point of view of conservative groups like the Presidential Prayer Group, why would He mess around with baseball when He could be using all that power to advance a conservative social agenda by smiting gays and fire bombing abortion clinics?

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