God, Father … August 18, 2012

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It was 1976, I was twenty-four years old and was blessedly invited to be the keynote speaker at a Christian Business Men’s Meeting in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. There were approximately two hundred people in attendance, some of them female, most of them very successful in business, but nearly all of them of Italian descent.

Now understand, I was old enough to be there but young enough to be very nervous about conversation with a bunch of folks who were making lots of money and were, well … Italian. I think what spooked me was that I didn’t want to be the first one to bring up some subject that might accidentally be offensive, so when I was back in my motel room, I practiced avoiding certain words: spaghetti, meatballs, the mob and the recent hit movie, The Godfather. I know it sounds stupid, but remember–I was twenty-four, and although I had discovered my feet and that they were under me, I didn’t always know exactly where to walk.

Fortunately for me, I was seated at the head table with the president of this Christian organization, who was named Dominick. He was a lovely man–free and easy. He immediately broached all the subjects I was afraid of, drew me into the conversation and let me know that a Pennsylvania Dutch boy from Ohio was welcome at their meeting (even though I didn’t exactly know what oregano was).

Right before the actual program was to begin, Dominick took me aside and explained that he was terrified because it was his job to open the evening with an invocation of prayer. It was really kind of comical. Standing before me was a guy with a two-thousand-dollar suit who made business deals every week, but wasn’t quite sure how to close the deal with the Almighty.

So I explained to him that the best thing to do in public prayer is to be as natural as possible–conversational if you could manage it–brief, and to use language with which he was accustomed. He seemed very appreciative and greatly relieved.

So when it was time to begin, Dominick rose to his feet, strode to the podium and said, “Let us pray.”

Then there was a delay. I began to wonder if maybe Dominick had lost his nerve on his way to the throne of grace, but then suddenly, he spoke–strongly and confidently.

“You are our God…”

Once again, another pause. It wasn’t a pregnant one or protruding, but still present. So he started again.

“You are our God … Father.”

With the close proximity of the two words–God and Father–it sounded as you might expect. “Godfather.”

The whole room burst into uproarious laughter. It must have gone on for a minute and a half. Dominick was embarrassed, but soon joined in with the giggles.

I loved it. He was never able to actually regain the attention of the gathered souls to finish his prayer, so after the laughter finally died down, he leaned into the microphone and said, “You know what I mean. Amen.”

This brought another burst of levity throughout the entire banquet hall. So by the time I got up to speak and share, the audience was relaxed, joyous and in a mood to receive. Believe you me, I didn’t waste any time to make hay off of the “Godfather prayer.” All through my little presentation and discourse, people would occasionally giggle, remembering the misplaced wording of Dominick’s prayer. It was delightful–free of pretense. The pressure was relieved from the room concerning our differences and we were just a bunch of folks enjoying chicken cordon bleu (look at me…I was expecting lasagna) and opening up our hearts to a God who truly was our Father.

The vulnerability possessed by Dominick led to some human exposure, which brought about some needed laughter, causing everyone present to be excited about receiving and allowing for the end of the evening to be consecrated in healing. Yes, when it was time to ask people to share their needs, fears and illnesses, the front of the banquet hall filled with human beings who were hurting, but willing to be made better.

Just like in the movie, we came to our God, Father, and made a request–one that He had no intention of refusing.

Being in Michigan, I thought about that event this week. I wondered if the same ingredients are still floating in the air in our society, just not landing in any obvious configuration.

Are we still willing to be vulnerable? The word means “capable of being wounded.” For after all, if we’re not willing to expose ourselves, the areas that require attention will continue to decay.

Can we laugh anymore? Would an audience today allow itself to interrupt the holiness of prayer with a burst of joy?

Can we take the healing that comes from that good cheer and allow ourselves to believe that we need to receive newness of life?

And then, can we actually step out of the crowd to accept the healing that our hearts, souls, minds and bodies often crave?

I hope so. I hope there are business men and women, workers and even young humans who can escape the monotony and repetition of a society which is self-deluded with its own importance, and just relax in being with one another in the presence of their Creator.

I wouldn’t want to be twenty-four years old again. I wouldn’t want to go back to 1976. I wouldn’t want to eat bland-tasting chicken at a banquet hall in Mt. Clemens, Michigan. But I would like to meet once again with people and sit at the feet of our Godfather”and believe that He has the power and strength to chase all our problems away.

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