Becoming Who We Are (Part 1)
Praise is the culmination of our enjoyment of
- C. S. Lewis
We naturally understand praise. As kids, we talk about our favorite
toys; later we praise pizza and football players. Kids just know how
to enjoy things. They give themselves fully to whatever has a hold
on them. Remember as children how we would fearlessly hold up
our favorite toy and petition anyone who was in close proximity to
"Look, Mom, look!"
We instinctively knew what it was to praise something. It's
always been in us. We were created for it. It's a part of who we
are. As kids, we were fabulous at it. But as adults we become self-conscious
and awkward. Something gets lost. I think we do it to
each other. At some point, I hold the toy up exultantly and you
comment that it looks ridiculous to hold the toy up in such a way.
It's not a cool toy like I believed it to be. It is worn and tired, you
point out. And we slowly chip away at each other's protective coatings
of innocence until one day we wake up and notice we are naked
and people are pointing.
Occasionally, I'm watching a movie or reading words in a book
or I'm walking down a street in California and the breeze on my
skin feels full of water, like my arms are floating in a pool, and I'm
inspired to live anew in an innocent rediscovering way I haven't
thought of in a long time. Then just as I lean in to take a bite, to
suck with all my might at the marrow, to breathe in with as much
ferocity as I can muster, I see your eyes and hear your whispers.
"That's not polite. Use your silverware. If you don't have
any we'll get you some. Please, we beg you. It is barbaric
and difficult to watch. We have moved beyond this. Come
with us. Please. We are becoming uncomfortable."
The moment I see a hill painted in greenest of grass, with long
infinite blades waltzing in the wind, and make up my mind to
sprint to the top, to give myself to gravity and let it roll me down, I
hear "Dork!" shouted from behind me somewhere and I stop.
"What would they think? This is the thing of children. This
is not civilized. Act your age."
This is what we have done to one another.
When was the last time you played with your food? I used to
blow bubbles in my chocolate milk and nibble my Kraft American
cheese singles into the shape of Texas.
I don't anymore.
LOOK ME IN THE EYE
I helped start a church in 1995 and I am still on staff there. My
official title is Pastor of Music and Arts, which is meant to sound
impressive and demanding of attention. You might think me above
the effects of this "chipping at innocence" nonsense, untouched
and unmarred, high in my ministerial spire. And you'd especially
think me less conscious of self than most, with this appearance of
bravery putting ink to paper for public consumption in book form.
But it is untrue. The fact is I'm writing this while sitting safely at
a table not looking at you. Our eyes have no chance of meeting for
me to see your disapproval. I tend to have a difficult time with the
whole eye-contact thing. I close my eyes when I sing. Not because I
feel it, like the really good singers do, but because I can't bear your
I refer you again to the author photo. In typical picture-taking
style, the photographer said, "One, two, three .," then pushed the
button, but two whole numbers is entirely too long to think about
all the unfortunate people I would be making eye contact with, and
I found that very disturbing, supposing it might be folks like yourself.
Confident. Direct. People with social skills far exceeding mine.
What choice did I have but to look away? I am sorry but I saw no
other options. The photographer was quite impatient with me and
showed frustration when my eyes drifted. He said things like,
"What is wrong with you?"
. and .
"Just keep looking at the camera please, until I say
. mixed with seemly rhetorical questions like .
"Can you do that? Huh?"
Then I cracked and in blistering metaphor retorted:
"Thanks. Now I can't even find the courage to look
at anything but the ground. It will be weeks before I'll
again see the sky, and the sky has been so beautiful.
Would you rob me of this? You people never think of
the damage you inflict. Well, it's as devastating as a
superimposed Godzilla. Am I to be your Tokyo? What
harm have I brought to you? I didn't even look your
direction and here you are stomping and blowing your
fire about. There was supposed to be distance. Unspoken
rules that prevented such things, and you deny them.
Are you the only one or will there be more who lumber
into my hidden passageways hoping to set me straight,
only to leave me in ruin because they don't know the
weight of their breath? There is fire in their belly and I
am fragile, and to breathe in this direction ."
Okay, I didn't say any of that but I thought it. Later. My point
is we are all fragile. Somewhere along the way we abandoned abandon.
Or perhaps we gained things that need to be discarded. We
have covered ourselves. Someone pointed out that we were naked,
and the clothing we have woven is bulky and pretentious. It hinders
our freedom of movement. Expression with childlike spontaneity
has become difficult. It bares too much of us.
Think back. Try hard to recall what praise in its undiluted purity
felt like. When you would dance with your arms fully extended
rather than elbows bent, folded closely to your person in such a
guarded fashion. Remember how effortlessly we sang the praises of
things we enjoyed? It was so easy and fluid and natural. What if this
kind of praise freely leaked from us in delightful response to God?
What if life were like that all the time? What if we were so moved
by who God is, what He's done, what He will do, that praise, adoration,
worship, whatever, continuously careened in our heads and
pounded in our souls? What if praise were on the tip of our tongues
like we were a loaded weapon in the hands of a trigger-happy meth
addict and every moment might just set us off? This is what we will
do for eternity. What makes us think our time on earth should be
any different? What keeps it from being so?