Radical Doxology

(6 minutes)

The third lecture in a series given by Walter Brueggemann in a Canadian Anglican church is entitled “New Orientation: Faith as Gift and as Impossibility.” This lecture concludes Brueggemann’s presentation of the Psalms from the perspective of Orientation, Disorientation, and New Orientation. He ends his lecture series with this definition of praise within the psalms: “Praise is the exuberant abandonment of self in the goodness and newness of God’s mercy.” 

With his characteristic humor, he says that in the US, Baptists sing vigorously. Methodists sing really well. Presbyterians mumble their songs in such a way that you can’t even tell what verse they are on while Episcopalians pay people to sing for them. From that amusing observation, he concludes that “the more stuff you have, the less you can open your hands in praise. Therefore, doxology is related to economics because doxology is utter relinquishment.” 

My own observation is that most churches are afraid to praise God in the radical way Brueggemann intends. It’s important to realize that he is not referring to the praise churches which offer a convenient and shallow “package of certitude to deeply anxious people”—a praise which never acknowledges or engages in the suffering of the world. Such praise wants resurrection without crucifixion; glory without service; superficial happiness without joy born of deep compassion; and blessing without transformation. 

Authentic doxology is experienced only by those who are lost in love, wonder, thanksgiving, and praise. Too many in our culture are lost in fear, boredom, selfishness, and cynicism. Instead of having open and generous hands raised in praise, we have closed hands clutching what we wrongly and idolatrously assume can give us security and happiness. Rather than experiencing the freedom which comes from radical joy, we, possessing more than any other nation in history, are shackled by anxiety, suspicion, greed, and loneliness. Our economics is fueled by an intentional covetousness which prohibits the possibility of community and denies the experience of gratitude. Our addiction to more is like all other addictions: the more we have, the more we want. However, satisfaction, much less joy, is always beyond our reach because idols are never satisfied. They demand our all but are unable to deliver what we truly need to be human. 

Jesus promised his followers an abundance of joy as they followed him. Such joy was grounded in a trust in God who is “happy to give us the Kin-dom.” Such trust requires risk, abandonment of our pathetic attempts to save ourselves, and a willingness to renounce the promises of security and happiness offered by a world which knows nothing of love and compassion. The paradox of discipleship is that in letting go of all and resting in God’s hands as we follow Jesus, we receive all that really matters and which alone can give us joy and belonging. 

Perhaps the morbidity of so many churches in our society is directly related to the lack of authentic doxology emerging from being lost in love, wonder, thanksgiving, and praise. Clutching hands lead to shriveled hearts. And shriveled hearts are incapable of praise. 

(Walter Brueggemann is perhaps the greatest biblical scholar of our age. Unlike many other scholars, he is committed to communicating the good news of the Bible to congregations and laypeople. There are many videos on YouTube featuring his lectures and interviews. This article was inspired by a series of lectures he gave in Canada seven months ago. The title of the presentation was “The Psalms: The Hard Road from Obedience to Praise.” The first two lectures were entitled “Orientation” and “Disorientation: Faith in the Depths.” The third lecture, which inspired this article, was “Reorientation: Faith as Gift and as Impossibility.”)

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