praised to death

Okay, here is something a little different. I was thinking about praise the other day, you know like Praise the Lord sort of praise.

I’ve spent nearly all of my life in some sort of church where praise and worship were essential elements of the experience. The prayers and liturgy of the Catholic and Episcopal Churches, the hymns and Psalms in the Evangelical Churches, the praise choruses, hand clapping, hand raising, dancing, and falling down in Charismatic churches.

Now as a Quaker, my worship is silent. Rarely a song, hardly a word, I sit in silence and stillness before God, yielding my body, my life, my mind, my actions, listening for that still small voice of the Spirit.

Thinking about my history as a worshiper, some questions arose for me.

What if our praise was limited? What if we only had so much to give and each week we ended up blowing our whole wad at a church service? What if Jesus did not want to be praised so much? What if our praise were actually physically hunks of our expression that we hurled up to heaven?

My response is the following poem. You can hear me read it. The words are below.

this is an audio post - click to play

Praised to Death

Jesus crouches in the corner–shackled, blood splattered
with the cheers of a thousand primates who demand Right Order.

Crown Him with Many Crowns
Heap upon Him constant, clanging praise,
Title upon Title.
Bow Down.
Worship, kneel, grovel.

He crumples under the weight.
He cries out from under the pile of worship
–misplaced praise,
Raised and lifted up.

Worshipers, depleted by their worship,
Little praise left for themselves or others,
They trudge home.

While Jesus suffocates under a mountain of unwanted, unneeded adoration,
crying out from under the load,
Father Forgive Them They Know Not What They Do.

They crucify afresh the son of man,
and die daily with him, ignoring the promise of living waters,
of greater works they could do.
King of the Jews, silenced by praise,
Silent except for his weeping.

But who hears? Who cares?
As the Hillsongs blare
and Organs roar,
the SHOUT goes up,
the murmured mumbled rosary rumbles along.

Thank you, Lord!
Oh come let us adore Him.
Praise, praise, praise Him into submission.

We praise Him to death.

This post has 16 Comments

  1. Anna HP on November 2, 2006 at 10:42 pm

    Wow .. that was beautiful .. it´s amazing when someone else, often when you least expect it, can put words on what you feel. Not the exact word to the exact feeling, but something that captures what´s going on inside another persons head.

  2. Elliot on November 3, 2006 at 1:02 am

    You know, I’ve often wondered that exact same thing; if we could praise Him too much. You were really articulate with your reading of that poem, too. Did you write it?

  3. Meredith on November 3, 2006 at 1:50 am

    I loved hearing you read this poem. Thank you Peterson.

    On a different topic, here is something fun for you:

  4. Richard Bourbon on November 3, 2006 at 3:21 am

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  5. Peterson Toscano on November 3, 2006 at 3:42 am

    yes Elliot, I wrote the poem.

    Meredeth, glad you like the reading of the poem. I always appreciate hearing poets read their own works. I once heard Allen Ginsberg read one of his poems when he came to my university. Amazing. thanks for the link. I will check it out.

    Anna I think that is the nicest thing you can say to a writer.

    Richard, thanks.

  6. alex resare on November 3, 2006 at 8:41 am

    This poem makes me frighten. I have to repress this soon or it is going to provoke my thoughts and force me to deal with my questions regarding worship.

  7. soctmagicman on November 3, 2006 at 9:08 am

    Your point is good: Shouldn’t my whole life be one of continual praise to God? Praise in words and music – yeah – that’s the easy bit; just follow the crowd and clap and shout and wail. Perhaps even engage the brain? But what about the rest: praising God in our weekday actions as we take care of each other and take care of the planet. That can never be too much praise.

  8. Anna HP on November 3, 2006 at 9:49 am

    Dear Peterson Hamlet!
    You are obviously a very talented writer but even the really really good ones need their dose of honest praise every now and then.

  9. Anonymous on November 3, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    Julian of Norich said animals praise God by being and people by choosing.
    Thank you for your poem.

  10. john on November 3, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    This reminds me of an article I read by Norman Kember, the British Baptist who was held hostage in Iraq with my friend Tom last year. Writing about his experience, Kember said that as a Baptist, his faith did not help him much in the four months of forced introspection, particularly what he called the culture of Triumphalism that dominates worship. I wish I had the Baptist World article handy to post an exact quote.

  11. kurt_t on November 3, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    I can really identify with this post.

    I think when Jesus says in the Gospels “Believe in me,” he means “Listen to what I’m saying about how you should live your life and how you should treat other people. Accept the logic of it. Then go out into the world and put my words into action.”

    I don’t think he means “Believe in my magic power to reward you with an eternal life in a place where you just get to sit around and be happy all day.”

    I don’t think he means “Jump up and down and give me praise because you just won the jackpot.”

    I think he means “Go out there and live according to the values I’m teaching you.” That’s the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I believe that when you’re helping the poor, the sick, the hungry, the despairing, anytime you’re doing any of those things that Jesus taught us to do– even if it’s just giving your spare coat to somebody who doesn’t have a coat– you are living your eternal life. You are living in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    If all you’re doing is saying “Praise, praise, I’m so glad I’m saved,” I think you’re missing the point.

  12. Jen Burke on November 4, 2006 at 1:01 pm

    Amazing concept and great imagery. Very moving.

  13. Jay on November 5, 2006 at 2:11 am

    That was amazing! Like Anna said, that really puts into words the way I feel a lot of the time. Thank you. I wish I could write poetry, but I think I’ll stick to prose for now.

  14. Eric on November 5, 2006 at 7:47 am

    my favorite part is where you write/say, “King of the Jews, silenced by praise,
    Silent except for his weeping.”

    thanks Peterson! thought provoking and affirming that perhaps i’m not a complete heretic for challenging the Church’s substance of discipleship.

  15. Plain Foolish on November 5, 2006 at 3:55 pm

    An interesting question. Jews interpret the commandment against taking the Name in vain to mean that one must never offer up a prayer that isn’t connected with actual practice.

    For instance, the prayer over bread goes:

    Blessed are you, oh God, ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.

    You don’t say this prayer unless there’s a piece of bread in front of you that you intend to eat and eat soon, as in right after you finish saying Amen. One of the more interesting customs that springs from this is that one should sing a wordless tune between washing one’s hands for dinner and saying the prayer over bread, so that the blessings over handwashing and bread aren’t interrupted by other speech.

    And yet, as I wrote this spring, I think that the sheheckianu:

    Blessed are you, oh God, ruler of the Universe, who has kept us and sustained us until this moment.

    (it’s gorgeous chanted in the Hebrew) should not be so strictly kept for certain occasions as it is now. (for instance, on certain holidays, it is held that one should wear new clothes to “justify” saying that prayer in services.)

    For me, I think that so often we make our “thank you”s into a ritual to distance ourselves from that genuine feeling of gratitude, that feeling that if indeed God has kept me until this moment, then I need to be looking at how I can work to make this world, this creation, even better. I can’t tint the leaves in their seasons, but I can work for justice, I can treat people with lovingkindness, I can be the sort of person I was meant to be, listening to that still, small voice.

  16. nonsequitur on November 9, 2006 at 4:35 am

    Beautifully rendered Peterson!!! This has always been my sense of how Christ must perceive those who choose to mindlessly praise him while ignoring his callings to so many other teachings and noble pursuits in life. I’ve never really heard it so well-articulated before. If you don’t mind, I may reprint this on my blog.

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