God does not need your Praise

today's UPI colimn which mysteriously has not yet appeared on UPI.

So There I was...

Sitting on a polished hardwood church pew. I couldn’t have been very old because my patent leather Mary Jane’s were swinging freely well above the floor. We were all singing the Doxology, of course at that age I didn’t know it was called the Doxology, it was just the song that came after they passed the pretty wooden plate with the red velvet liner. I had been singing this song since I was about two; of course I had been singing it by rote memory syllable by syllable without understanding.

Prays God frum who mall bleh sings flo
Prays Hih mall cree chairs hear bee low
Prays hih ma buv yee hev in lee hose
Prays Fa thur sun and hole ee Ghost

I had been singing this on call in my baby soprano to much applause. But as far as I was concerned it might have as well been in Latin, or Martian.

And then on that one Sunday, about age five, something in my brain clicked and I realized the song was in English and that I understood the words.

Praise God from whom all blessing flow!
Praise Him all creatures here below!
Praise Him above, ye heavenly hosts!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

It was quite a little epiphany. And it was my first chance to actually do any praising, since it was my first understanding that any praising was going on. I dutifully reported to my mother that the song actually meant something.

But it started my little head a thinkin’. First, I had to work out my confusion about the trinity. I had a notion for God the Father, and Jesus was a regular figure on the Sunday School flannelgraph board, but this Holy Ghost guy was confusing. Back then he was definitely billed as the Holy Ghost, not Holy Spirit, and this caused great confusion for me with Caspar the friendly Ghost. This was made worse by visiting the church of my Pentecostal cousins, because every time the Holy Ghost showed up, all the grownups started yelling and running around, which was precisely what happened in the cartoon.

Life can be confusing for children in religious families.

Then, after a while, I started to wonder about the whole idea of praising God.

I had a great mother. She believed in praising children for their good behavior and accomplishments more than punishing them for their wrongs and failings. I knew my mother loved me, and that she enjoyed her children, but even as a kid I understood that there was an ulterior motive in the praise. She was manipulating our behavior, and mostly it worked. It was a good system.

So I mean, really, did God need to be flattered, to have his good behavior reinforced? To prevent Divine temper tantrums? Did He need to be told how good He was? And weren’t we God’s children, so shouldn’t He be praising us? To let us know when our deeds were approvable? Church music telling God how good He was began to be a problem for me.

Things did not get better with the introduction of pop music into the church in the 60’s and 70’s. In a decade we went from preachers who tried to convince kids to smash their records of “the Devil’s Music” to preachers in white-guy afro’s trying to do Jesus pop/rock.

In most protestant churches, music wars resulted. In bigger churches segregation of worship services by musical preference became common and continues to this day. Refugees from the Christian style wars started their own churches where they did not have to argue about it. They embraced the theory that cool, hip new music would bring people in the door and you could work on their belief systems later. In many churches the balance of the worship service changed from an egalitarian mix of music, prayer and preaching, to lots of praise music with a medicinal capsule of doctrine slipped in at some point. Of course most of the music was neither hip nor cool, it was third-rate treacle imitating the second rate treacle of the popular genre.

Melodramatic, sexually frustrated, mostly drug deprived teenagers, especially the girls, loved it because you could work yourself into a nice emotional state with a semi-orgasmic conversion experience at the end, all the while keeping it public and Holy.

And we were told that this was precisely what God wanted. That God just eats this stuff up. That Heaven is pretty much going to be an eternal praise service with a kick-butt band. Well, at least we could hope the band would be better.

I watched this and wondered what kind of God this was, some cosmic, insecure Hollywood starlet who needed a multitudinous posse of sycophants to prop up the divine ego? I had better self-esteem than that, and I was 13.

After taking a long break from the whole thing, I came back to my faith, and back to Christian music through my hillbilly roots. Bluegrass and Southern harmony had a lot more meat, reality and integrity than the vast majority of Contemporary Christian Music.

But as I became more involved in organized religion I had to deal with the issue on an adult level. There was no doubt in my mind that scripture praises God and recommends praise as an activity. King David did it, Jesus did it, Paul did it. Two Thousand years of Christian history included the practice. I really couldn’t just blow it off. But I could never come to grips with a God who needed our praise, or who was moved by it.

Then one day while swinging my heels over the edge of another pew I had another little epiphany. God doesn’t need my praise. God isn’t changed by my praise. I need to speak about the goodness of the world and the world’s creator because it detoxifies my soul. I hear constant messages about how this life stinks and how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and why I should be very afraid, and maybe despair, and none of it is true. I have to counter that poison with something. Gratitude and praise is that something.

When I sit in my Quaker meeting we have no preacher and no band. We reach a nice balance. We sing a little, often positive affirmations of God’s goodness – no shame, no guilt. We find the truest stuff that we can. Some of it is new, some of it is very old, some of it we have had to write. We try and avoid treacle. We detox ourselves and start to detox the space around us when we put the truth out there. We pray a little, and then we get real quiet and listen. No big Sunday emotional feast that leaves us hungry by mid-week. And no notion that God sits hungry, waiting for us to show up and offer a meal of flattery.


Well put, Peggy. I'm with ya on the authenticity of Hillbilly Gospel vs. "Christian Pop," that most insipid of "art" forms.

BTW, how the heck can a post like this one not have more comments? Hope you don't mind if I blogroll you and mention your existence in a post I'm about to put up.
Roll and Post away! I think I get not so many hits because I am not so good at reposnding to them.
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