i use cnn.com as the home page for my browser. every time i log onto the internet, i get a quick peek at the headlines. if there are other cnn.com visitors out there, you saw the headline about “praise addicts” with a link to the story on oprah.com (america’s leading theologian). i had two main thoughts as i skimmed the article:
1. most preachers i know are praise addicts
in the article, author martha beck described a praise addict (“Sarah, the beautiful, brilliant, charming, the CEO of her company, the life of the party”) in this way: “Her entire life revolved around eliciting positive attention from others, and she succeeded magnificently — but always insufficiently. Being praised launched her briefly into manic giddiness, then dropped her into troughs of depression that made King Lear look like Howdy Doody.”
many (i was careful not to say “most”) of the church leaders i know would fit into that description. i’ve written in this space about going home on sundays feeling bulletproof if the house was full and suicidal if the crowd was sparse…as if i could somehow control that. in the monthly newsletter our local denominational headquarters puts out, there is always a list of glowing reports of dozens of people “getting saved” at a revival here or a children’s crusade here. the statistical reports may make us feel good and might provoke adulation from our peers, but i keep wondering how dozens of people get saved every year but the church still has only fifty members. do the math.
perhaps it is this barely-latent narcissism that keeps struggling preachers (like me) in the ministry.
2. society is still searching spiritual for reality
the second point that grabbed me was in the section entitled “the path to recovery” where martha beck wrote, “let your hungry soul find its real food.” isn’t it ironic how oprha-ites use spiritual language to describe the human condition? beck again:
Withdrawal pangs usually increase until the addict reaches a seemingly bottomless abyss of longing. When you get there, you’ll recognize it as the state you’ve been avoiding all along. In it, you’ll feel an unendurable sense of being absolutely alone, forever cut off from the one thing you really need, the thing for which praise is a shoddy substitute. “Your ego has all these wants,” said spiritual teacher Ram Dass in a 2000 lecture. “Your soul has only one want. It wants to get to merge with the Lover. Merge with the One”
i suspect if one were to suggest to martha beck (or ram dass or oprah) that “the lover…the one” was actually the god we know as the creator, she would scoff. but i am convinced that intimacy with god is the answer to most of the maladies in our culture (and in the church…and in the pulpit). we can’t slow down long enough to pursue intimacy, though, because we are so important and so many people need us. and we need them to need us.
not me, though. i appreciate a little praise now and then, but i’m not an addict.