February 15, 2021 There is plenty of dispraise around. Dispraise. Yes, dispraise is a word. It means what it sounds like, though I confess I consulted a dictionary the first time I heard it. It sounded at the time inelegant to me. I thought it was an on-the-spot invention by the speaker. It was not. But if it had been, I would have criticized the speaker, called him out, dispraised him! How true it is that criticism, denunciation, pointing out weaknesses can become a way of life, an imbalanced way of living when pointing out problems is not in service of finding solutions—and pathological when patterns of dispraise harden a human heart and spread their stain through public discourse. It does not seem to matter if the issues are large or small—or not a real problem at all. We dispraise. And often our dispraise takes aim not at arguments or ideas, but at others.
Over-against this, the Christian faith puts praise at its center. Well, at least some of leaders have. In a series of lectures delivered at Virginia Theological Seminary in the 1980’s, the late Stephen Sykes, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University at the time, later Bishop of Ely, said (as I recall), ‘If there is an Anglican model for inclusivity, let it be these words from Psalm 150, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord.” In developing this idea, Sykes drew the imagination of his listeners to a stained-glass window in Chichester Cathedral, designed by Marc Chagall, that depicted various creatures—men, women, animals—all caught up in the praise of God.
Anglicans have not cornered the market on praise. Hardly. But it is obviously true that The Book of Common Prayer could be called The Book of Common Praise without any real loss. Even more importantly for the church, is to see that our evangelistic efforts have as their goal knowing and praising God as an intentional, life-long and growing dynamic. Creation, of course, praises God by its very existence, and we with it. We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). But to praise God intentionally as the way of life is a central aim of spiritual maturity. And, to add one more thing about maturity by going back to the motto above from Psalm 150: we are meant to see and work for a vision of the whole earth praising God together, each with our manifold gifts. For that to happen, yes, there will have to be innumerable dialogues and discussions, and a willingness to correct, and be corrected. We cannot improve without “constructive criticism,” the phrase used my youth. But the dispraise that abounds is not helpful critique. It dismembers, and pulls us apart. Keeping the motto of Bishop Sykes in mind, Chagall's rendering of Psalm 150 in our imaginations, and making the verse from that Psalm-- Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord--the prayer of our heart might help us to hold things together, and puts some things back together.