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One of the great things about being the ripe old age of 45 and having nearly 20 years behind me, is that I get to see colleagues and friends accomplish some cool things in their lives, like — earn doctorates, run marathons and have books published. Sure there are more important things in life, but for those who can get through the grueling nature of these three things I give beaucoup props.
So it’s with great joy that I congratulate Eric, Doug and Nick on the occasion of the release of their joint effort, Never Pray Again: Lift Your Head, Unfold Your Hands, and Get To Work published by Chalice Press. I have known these three for roughly a decade as they all attended San Francisco Theological Seminary, a local seminary close to where I was serving a church.
I know Nick Larson the best as he was an intern at the church I served and have interacted with Aric and Doug sparingly both in person and online. In no way am I surprised that these three have taken on a project such as this, nor am I surprised at the boldness and abandon with which they are diving in to get their ideas out into the world. They are all confident human beings, prophetic thinkers and pastors at heart. So even if sometimes, as with Katie Mulligan, I may not agree with how they always engage, I am excited for them this endeavor and did not hesitate in agreeing to help spread the word about its release.
My interview with Nick Larson, Aric Clark and Doug Hagler about Never Pray Again.
Okay, first off, who are Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, Nick Larson AKA Two Friars and a Fool? Can you tell my readers a little bit about yourselves, interests, hobbies and at least one thing that might surprise us about each of you?
ARIC CLARK — I serve United Presbyterian Church in Fort Morgan, Colorado as their pastor and overturn tables in this small town until someone kicks me out. I am a traveler, a father, a voracious reader, gamer, and alpha-geek. For a little surprise at the same time as I was deliberating whether to go to seminary I was being recruited by the CIA to work in Portuguese and Spanish speaking countries developing “assets”, which means informants. As a child I wasn’t interested in either ministry or espionage: I wanted to be a staff-writer for National Geographic. I would still take that job if it was offered to me.
DOUG HAGLER — I am a PCUSA pastor in the Philadelphia area, about to start a new position a bit farther west in Phoenixville, PA. I have a lot of interests – overall, I like most of the same things I liked when I was 5 years old. Games, stories, sharks, dinosaurs and cracking jokes. For something surprising…Phoenixville will be the 18th place I’ve lived so far in my life. One way I’ve adjusted to all those moves is through gaming – specially tabletop RPGs. (I met Aric through a D&D game at SFTS in fact) Right now, I am editing and contributing to a game being written by an Episcopal priest and a Catholic realtor, both of whom used to be occultists. I find the overlap of gamer and clergy to be a pretty broad one, which makes sense, since gaming and religion are profoundly geeky enterprises.
NICK LARSON — I serve as Associate Minister at Broadway Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri. I went to seminary in the Bay Area and worked with Bruce at Mission Bay Community Church for nearly 3 years. I’m a reader, thinker, spared space maker, and someone who enjoys almost every conversation. I love being outdoors, through camping, hiking and especially rock climbing. The challenge of a sheer rock wall in front of you and nothing but your hands and feet to overcome the challenge speaks to me. I too am a geek at heart, an avid video-gamer, and enjoyer of board games. I also was awarded first place in my high school art show for a black and white photo I shot, developed and printed old school.
So, this book, Never Pray Again, how did this project come about?
We were up late one night at UNCO11, talking about how much we respected Sarah Miles and coming up with ways to connect the things we do in worship more directly to the needs out there in the world, taking a cue from her serving their food pantry from the communion table at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. We got to prayer, and got to venting about how prayer seems like a cop-out sometimes. We pray for God to intervene when we might be able to intervene ourselves. We pray to God to forgive us when we really need to go try to reconcile with people we’ve hurt. We pray for healing that almost never happens, but it seems to happen a lot for televangelists and charlatans, and never when there’s a scientist around.
We came to the idea of taking the various kinds of liturgical prayers that might come up in a worship service, and taking the prayer part out. What was left? Instead of intercessory prayer, we just have the call to Intercede! Instead of prayers asking God for things, we have the call to Beg! We went through this thought process for each kind of prayer we came up with (adding in exorcism for good measure) and found that this line of thinking was incredibly rich and challenging for us. Through writing this book, we have had to think through, and argue about, and find ways to articulate things we’ve never considered before, and it has been a great experience. We hope that it is a similar experience for our readers.
Every book will elicit different reactions from people, but if you had a magic wand of influence, what are some of your greatest hopes about how people receive and experience Never Pray Again?
We hope that people are challenged, but also encouraged and comforted. We hope that people who struggle with prayer feel that they are far from alone, and that there is nothing “wrong” with not praying. We hope that people read the book and conclude, with us, that it is possible to have a vibrant, life-giving Christian faith and practice that does not include prayer – certainly not in the way the word is almost always used.
Most people will come away from reading the book with some new ideas or maybe a new motivation, but if prayer is a central part of their lives they will probably keep on praying. What we want to do is to challenge the idea that prayer is central to, or an inescapable part of, Christian practice. Love of enemies is central to Christianity. Praising and appreciating people who are despised is central to Christianity. Casting out the trappings of consumerism and empire is central to Christianity. As for prayer, we think it’s fine if Christians never pray again.
I’m always curious about the audience that authors have in mind when writing — so who would you guess will not connect with what you have to say about prayer and for whom will this be a breath of fresh air?
In theory, anyone might get something from the book, but our intended audience is primarily middle-class Christians in the United States who want to read and think about prayer and other spiritual practices. The book is pretty thick with Bible quotes and scriptural allusions, as well as historical examples and illustrations taken from pop culture, geek culture and the news. There is a lot in there, but the people who feel most comfortable with the book will probably be people close to our own context: middle-class American “mainline” Protestantism.
During the Kickstarter campaign we used to crowd-fund our coloring book, we tapped into another audience for the book – atheists. About a third of our Kickstarter backers came from the Friendly Atheist’s website and forum. Our guess was that some of the things we said would ring true for atheists and agnostics and other kinds of non-believers, who often also have doubts about the efficacy of prayer.
You are also Kickstarting a coloring book companion piece. How did that come about and what was that experience like?
We’re Kickstarter addicts. We’ve all supported many things there and Doug has previously run a successful Kickstarter so when we were batting around ideas for how to promote Never Pray Again and some of our ideas were actual products that would cost money to bring to fruition we immediately went to Kickstarter. It’s just an excellent way for creative types to generate support for their work and build a community of people invested in your project before it is even finished.
As for the coloring book itself, like many of our ideas it was the product of sleep deprivation and our obtuse sense of humor. We find the idea of a building burning down because the firefighters were too busy praying to actually put out the fire, or of children being menaced by shady “prayer-pushers” in alleyways inherently amusing, and there are funnier pictures in the book. It was drawn by the excellent Will Meacham and thanks to the superlative human beings that funded our kickstarter it is now available on the Chalice Press website either on its own or as part of a bundle with Never Pray Again.
What’s the best way to connect with you if they want to interact about the book?
We are super accessible online. Any of these methods work:
And finally, “pay it forward” a bit and share 2-3 organizations or people who you think are doing some good in the world and deserve a little notice.
Thanks Eric, Doug and Nick for taking the time to share a bit about the experience and, again, congratulations on the release of Never Pray Again.