A little humility?

I am appalled by the self-righteousness that has permeated our lives. Two examples—no, three.

First, in the nation where I live, two factions of elected officials cannot work together.  They each are standing on supposed principles, refusing to compromise.  Meanwhile dedicated government workers are not getting paid, children are not able to to participate in clinical trials at a nationally run health institute, the economy is beginning to slump, research is being shut down, food is not being inspected, national parks are closed, and programs for those in need are in jeopardy—and that only names a few consequences.

Second, I am appalled that when my faith denomination installed a new presiding bishop last week, the clergy group on facebook, my colleagues, nitpicked and sniped about the worship service—about this procedure or that hymn chosen, what color should have been used, who was represented or under represented—all in self-righteous, deprecating tones.

Alas, finally, I realized this week that I am also rather appalled by me.  I once served on a staff that was creative and accomplished much in the congregation.  We were “successful” and loved our work;  we were supported and admired in return.  With pews full, I (self-righteously, I now realize) assumed that we were doing well because we were competent and had a good combination of gifts.  Well, we were a good ministry team, but herein lies the problem.  Although I would never have said it out loud, there was a barely conscious, but underlying judgment on my part that the colleagues who were struggling in other congregations must be lacking in some way while we were doing something right.  This is my confession.

Now I am the struggling, trying-to-be-faithful pastor in a struggling, trying-to-be-faithful congregation.   I love this group of God’s people like I loved the group of years ago.  But I am forced to look at the world and at the Church from the shadow of a more (seemingly) insignificant, questioning, and self-doubting underside. That perspective has caused me painfully to confront my past self-righteousness for what it was.  At the time I could never have seen the inherent follies of  my thinking, but I now consider how very foolish I was to assume that our/my success was a sign of competence and God’s favor.

Working hard, doing one’s best and constantly learning are always important while at the same time they can lead into a trap.  Trust in what the world considers measurable success leaves no room for me to trust in how God is working. Trust in the rightness of my own capability and knowledge leaves no room for the humility one needs to listen carefully to others.  Trust in efficiency leaves no room for the patient, faithful, slow work of God. Trust in what is admired and applauded leaves no room for serving and taking up the cross.

How have we become so confused?  On this continent, at least, humility is hard to come by while self-righteousness is overly abundant.  Yet if I now name the latter in others, it is only because it has been and certainly is still a part of me and my own struggle.  Those of us who say we follow Christ are following one who walked a different, very foreign path to the assumptions we automatically live by.  The apostle Paul writes:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross….(Philippians 2:3-8)

The truth these verses convey is so jarring to what is considered normal in our culture that it sounds like chalk scraping on a chalkboard.  (Even as I date myself with the chalk simile,  my shoulders tense with the memory.)  To protect ourselves from its implications, I think we Christians have wrapped this humility sounding truth up tightly in a theological box for discussion only so we don’t have to deal with what it looks like in practice.

So how do I let humility out of the box?  Where will I find it?  How do I help others find it?  Who do I know in my life that models it well?  I am going out searching—which is a little tricky, because humility doesn’t want to be found.

If I make any discoveries that can be publicly posted, I’ll let you know.