A lot of Christians argue that sin is rooted in pride, but I’ve mentioned on here before that I prefer the formulation that all sin is rooted in displacing God from his rightful place.
Humility is apparently the antonym of pride, and that’s why I mention sin here. The book on humility that I’m reading beats a drum of humility is the foundation for Christian virtue because of the fact that pride is the foundation of sin. His point still works for my preference, so I’m just going to run with it. Why is humility so essential?
To support his claim, the author repeatedly brings up the fact that even the disciples disputed among themselves about who was the greatest of them. These were men that walked with Jesus and heard his preaching first-hand. It’s hardly believable that they would do this and yet that this event is included in scripture makes scripture all the more wonderful. The disciples didn’t understand. The disciples didn’t understand. The disciples didn’t understand. Again, the disciples didn’t understand
So the disciples didn’t understand.
This is why humility is so foundational to Christian virtue and Christian character. The disciples saw what we can only read about, and yet they didn’t understand. This reality helps me see that all of my own “understanding life” that was based on ungodly teaching and ungodly people was only an obstruction to God. It also helps me understand the reality of sin. If the disciples didn’t understand, then no one will ever fully understand. We can only put our faith in the hope that God will fulfill his promises.
Specifically, at work tonight a buddy mentioned something about “love” being impossible to define. I said I disagreed and attempted to paraphrase some of Paul’s teaching on “love”. As I believe there is good reason to admit that Paul’s teaching is the inspired Word of God, all that has to happen for God to fulfill his promises is that Paul’s definition is something that I can experience and evaluate. As a divorcee, I can confess that I didn’t “love” my ex-wife. That the relationship divorced is no big shocker then. As a father, though, I now have two responsibilities. I have to work very hard to love my ex-wife in order to prove to my daughter that God exists, moreover when my daughter wants to know what love is, I have to choose how to teach her. Obviously I will teach her God’s definition. Unlike other options, God’s definition is grounded in reality, easy to evaluate its application, and points to a relationship that can only be described as healthy and rich.
Seriously, what are my (our) other options? I guess I could use your definition? Or Hollywood’s? I know that if I try to develop one as I go, I will not succeed. Lesson learned.
Do you see how Christianity isn’t wish-fulfillment or an opiate of the masses? It is simply a religion which confronts reality for what it is. You and I are in a predicament. The predicament is that we can choose humility. The predicament is that humility seems to be at once worthy and suicidal. As for me, I’m choosing humility.
Submitting to the will of Almighty God while living in America is nearly nonsensical.
“Submit,” God says.
“Never!” we answer. “We broke free from all yokes forever when we left England!”
“Submit,” God says.
“No, thank you, Massa. No, thank you, Uncle Tom,” we answer. “We’ve ended slavery.”
Are you still thinking clearly? Or has lizard brain taken over? Because I submit to you here that my study and heavy attempt at Christian humility has recently opened my mind to the value of submission. You might say it has “freed my mind“.
The crux of humility is recognizing that we’re already and always enslaved. It’s not a question of how to escape submission. The real question is, “To whom should we submit?” Think about it like this. Is there ever a time when you’re not an example? Do you see that no matter how you behave, even if you become a recluse in a cave, you’re an example? Like gravity, it is inescapable. Christian humility, demanded by the triune God, bases itself on the fact that you’re enslaved to sin. This is especially relevant to Americans, of which I am one.
You see, I thought I was free. I believed I had freedom. I thought the rest of the planet was in darkness and America was the light of hope to show the way. I thought that science had displaced God. I thought human slavery was over.
Now, it turns out slavery might have just moved to the underground. Now, it turns out science is an inadequate worldview, not just a method of studying life. Now, it turns out the majority world doesn’t really consider America in its decision making rubric and no matter who wins the election, everyone knows she’s a ridiculous example of a person and in no way worthy of emulation.
Moreover, Americans, so-called educated Americans, love living outside of submission to God. That’s because God doesn’t exist, they say. And yet the unifying principle behind the strongest, most terrifying street-gang in the world is a god-based religion called Islam. My trouble with using this fact like some suggest as merely evidence that we need to remove God entirely from life because *clearly* the concept of God is too dangerous, my problem is that I can’t get a read on what’s happening in Europe. Is Islam over-running Europe? By what standard should I (we) measure the facts? Can we concede that Islam is over-running Europe if/when one formerly western country adopts Sharia-law in the coming decades? Stopping the spread of Islam seems to require more than asserting “God doesn’t exist.” Maybe it can be stopped by asking, “Which god is God?”
The reality of current events seems to contradict the idea that American Individualism is worthy of our submission.
“Submit,” says God.
“I don’t know,” we answer. “I think we still have more to lose.”
“Submit,” says God.
I have had a couple papers due over the last two weeks and so this post isn’t developing very quickly.
The book on humility that I’ve been reading is written by a priest from some years ago (maybe a couple hundred). I am also doing some reading about Eastern Orthodoxy for a theological synopsis paper.
(Random thought: If you’re a believer and have some time, pick up some systematic theologies and read the chapter on the atonement. Extended thinking on the atonement is, as one says, “Marvelous to relate”.)
Anyhow, taken together (the West and the East), I am beginning to notice something about Evangelicals (or my thought process as an Evangelical) that I think can be more finely tuned. (BTW, I discovered from a friend what Evangelical means as it falls within Protestant. We Evangelicals believe the Bible is true. Apparently there are quite a few “Mainline Protestants” who think the Bible is helpful, but not true. For instance, my sister shared that in KC there was a news story about some 30 or so Methodist pastors who signed something that declared they did not believe Jesus resurrected. Be that as it may, Evangelicals still believe the Bible is true.)
Anyhow, back to humility and the Western and Eastern churches. I’ve mentioned that another exercise I’m doing is memorizing the Psalms. So my big “reveal” in this post about humility is that throughout all these different perspectives it is becoming clear that humility is really just about right orientation towards the one true God. The priest emphasizes this directly. The bishop communicates this by his insistence on mystery. I spent most of the last two weeks pondering the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. It appears that that my attempt to solve “the problem” is a feature of my being an Evangelical. The Orthodox church simply calls the sovereignty/responsibility dilemma mystery and keeps its focus on God. Oh well.
The bigger point is that when taken together with David’s psalms, it is becoming clear to me that the very way I have been thinking about God is in need of correction. In the Psalms David never seems to compare God to the way he used to think about him. For some reason we have all these bizarre conceptions of God. I think Sunday school is to blame, but even now I am not following my own advice. See what I mean? It’s easy to get distracted from God, even when talking about him. I am now feeling that I need to eliminate “compare and contrast” past and present out of my walk with God. As in, an ever-vigilant, “Okay, Pete, get a grip. Instead of talking about God, talk to God.”
Finally, as always, when talking about humility and God, I can never forget that gratitude is in order. Put another way: Thank God. It’s almost magical what happens when you thank God.
“Every act of virtue which does not proceed from a supernatural motive, in order to bring us to everlasting bliss, is of no value.”
How’s that for some not-so-light reading? Ha.
I feel like I can drive myself crazy considering my intentions in life. As I’ve written before, I love making people laugh. But what’s my intention behind comedy? Simple ego? And if it’s not ego, say that I really am motivated by pure intentions to add levity to our days and be a friendly face, then in admitting that or concluding that I probably have taken too prideful a position. Who am I to possess the power to enrich someone’s day?
At least in the little book on humility that I am now reading, the relevance of intentions is on full display. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the beginning part of this semester’s work on humility, it is that my personality is big. That’s true for good or bad. I don’t even know how to behave if I am forced to go into a veritable stealth mode. People who come to know me call me out and ask what’s wrong if I don’t actively participate in life.
One thing that is particularly intriguing to me this last week is the idea of announcing humility. The author warns that the moment we believe we’re humble, we stop being humble. Cool. I get it. But I am not so sure I understand what humility looks like, then.
In the past, I’ve defined my sense of humor as “cosmic humor”. I liked that description because it captured that I thought life itself was funny and moreover that I thought my thoughts were funny, because who am I to have thoughts at all? Some random human? And now, if I don’t think life is funny at all, but a serious endeavor that can be royally messed up, can I still have a cosmic sense of humor in the second sense? In the, “Who am I ask anyone to take me seriously?” sense.
I don’t know. These reflections aren’t coming that naturally, as I’m sure you can tell. I guess overall I feel like I am gaining some head knowledge about the importance of constant recognition of our status as creatures vs. creators. But my life isn’t too bad right now, and it’s difficult to not draw cause and effect relationships that begin with me doing the right thing in seeking God as the first cause, even though I intellectually conclude that God initiated the whole shebang (relationship). Who knows? For now, I’m just thankful for my fair portion of health and my daughter and the list goes on.
Clever title, no? Last week I introduced that for my Christian character formation class I have committed myself to working on the Christian trait of humility. I shared this partly with the intent of demonstrating what such a process looks like for adult Christians seeking a bit more rigor in their faith (not to take credit for developing this method, but to give an example of what a masters degree program at an Evangelical seminary entails). One active practice that I am going to use to work on humility is a weekly blog post dedicated to reflection on how the process is coming along. Three hundred plus word reflection starts now.
It turns out I’m not very comfortable with the idea of blogging about humility. God has seen fit that I possess the ability to read word definitions and talking and writing about my thoughts on humility seems counter-humble. As evidence of this, when I look back on my blog most of my blog posts have been laced with pride. Many were much more than laced. I don’t regret any of my boastful posts or their evidence of self-righteousness or snarkyness, not at all. How could I? I’ve ended up on a good path and to look back and regret would be a mistake. But I do now see how maladjusted my attitude was. And I do repent of that. I’ve been blessed with too much goodness to be so prideful.
As a result of this, part of me wanted to just publish a blank post titled humility because that’s what I really think about the subject. But that would require me to tell my mentor or mentoring director that I bent the rules a bit on my plan (it requires a weekly 300+ word reflection on the process), which in turn would require justification, which in turn would require more talking, which in turn would require more pride, which is the opposite of my goal. So I’m not going with the blank creative “look at how clever I am” concept.
So the real question is, “How does one who has written so many words out of pride adopt a new attitude of humility?” with the follow-up, “…and be convincing to (possibly) the same readers?”
The first step seems to be to ensure the words convey that the end state of Christian humility is constant recognition of total dependence on God, the father almighty. At the moment I’d express this dependence by thanking God for the ability to blog over the past few years. He has provided me half-a-pea-sized brain and fingers and food and shelter and a laptop and internet connection. Most humans have not been so fortunate. And I want to thank the folks in my life, especially my brother-in-law and the members in Cherry Creek Toastmasters, for encouraging me to blog/write. I don’t believe they intended me to re-adopt Christianity (or be re-adopted by Christianity as it were), but I can’t imagine how I would’ve gotten to the point of working on humility without blogging and therefore without them.
Speaking of, one CCTM friend just emailed me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s “Weight of Glory” sermon last night (he’s never emailed me anything specifically Christian before) and as I read my class textbook today I came across portions of that very sermon/writing by Lewis (never mentioned before). Given the preponderance of “threes” when it comes to these things, we’ll just have to wait and see how Lewis’ work will next appear. And it is some solid writing. In the past I would’ve mocked this as coincidence. These days I am inclined to determine why God sees fit to impress upon me these specific ideas of Lewis’. So I thank God that friends aren’t afraid to share a bit of their life with me as I attempt to transform my own.
Another shift that I can’t help but notice as I’ve been specifically reading on humility and also memorizing the Psalms (which through Psalm 10:16 are in fact uniform on our dependence on God), is my thinking about my ex-wife regarding rearing H-. We were still married for H-‘s first two years, and I’ve said and written many times that she did a great job during those two years. But then I would continue by adding a malicious assessment of the reason (that only I–as her husband and confidant–knew) as to why she did a great job. Does that make sense? I would undercut the compliment with a punch to the throat that only I could deliver because of secrets I knew. Well, though I might not be able to explain it fully, these days I honestly don’t desire to punch. It’s not because I’m tired of punching, but because I can now see how God gave us H- despite ourselves. Her mom and I were just a couple of knuckleheads trying to live the American dream. So these days I just want to express gratitude to her for mothering and nurturing H- with an integrity and discipline that many contemporary American women simply don’t value.
I don’t have a conclusion here so I’m just going to use this admission as one.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was struggling tremendously with the notion of salaried pastors. I was struggling because I am essentially in training to become a pastor and yet I couldn’t imagine how at the end of my schooling I’d somehow be willing to not need a job anymore because some congregation paid me to be their pastor while they worked their crummy jobs everyday. In an effort to gain insight and make a point, I asked why did you (the public) pay me to be an Air Force officer and pilot. Only a few folks answered and there wasn’t tremendous agreement. But I know why you paid me even if you don’t. You paid me to be virtuous. Sure, military officers are “yes men” and flawed no different than anyone else, but we’d be missing something vital if we didn’t recognize that they still possess tremendous power and regularly refrain from abusing it. Military officers control the bombs. Do we want incompetent liars in control of the bombs? No. (Iowa might). So I say that the reason American citizens pay their military well (sorry folks, but the military is well-paid despite the colloquial wisdom) is because it creates the ability to recruit and maintain a virtuous fighting force.
Back to pastors. And not just any pastors but me and my future as (possibly) one. What would it mean if I took pay to be a pastor and therefore didn’t need a regular job? Here’s how I can comfortably rationalize it. (The following should come as no surprise). Christians believe in purpose. They believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord…insert the rest of the Apostle’s Creed. And yet they live in a world which behaves as if there is no purpose. Therefore, it is very easy to forget that there is purpose. How could they be reminded that there is purpose? By a leader who is designated to keep an eye on the prize, so to speak. (Remember that the reason we know, rationally, that purpose is objectively true is that it is beneficial to live accordingly, which then becomes self-fulfilling as a result.)
I started this blog with the tag line “the only way to get there is together”. I think that that is still true and theologically sound. When I came up with the additional “life on a different plane” tagline I did not intend to capture anything to do with God. Now I do.
When I served, I was a pilot of a crew helicopter. There were six of us on the crew. Four of the six served in auxiliary roles which enabled the two pilots to focus on keeping the greasy side up, as we used to say. Besides simply flying safely, the two pilots were also the ones ultimately charged with completing the mission.
So that’s what I’m proposing now. That’s what I’m comfortable with today. Maybe I’ll be a pastor someday, maybe not. If I am one, the reason I would be comfortable being paid by the congregation for what I would consider “doing nothing” is because I would interpret the monetary part of it to be that my role is again that of a captain which necessarily requires a certain level of discipline. The congregation is no different than the four non-pilot aircrew. They are doing jobs that I view as crummy, but until we collectively come up with something better those jobs are apparently necessary. Necessary? Necessary for what? Necessary to keep the plane (the Church) right-side up, safe, and able to complete its mission, its purpose.
For now, crummy job or not, keep on keeping on. I will too. And together we’ll get there.