Humility is vexing. Seriously.
Ever hear someone say that he or she is great at humility? Being ‘great’ at humility is something of an oxymoron. If we get very proud of our ability to be humble it seems to defeat the purpose or be at odds with what humility actually is all about.
Humility is at odds with our sense of the world. I was reading that psychologists state that the leading issue they deal with is the issue of narcissism. Indeed, we are a society that says celebrates individualism and celebrates the “I” to the point of absurdity. We have lost a sense of community and with it, humility.
I’ve been pondering humility a big and here are some thoughts.
First, in terms of being a people of faith, we need to recognize that we aspire to the ways of God as opposed to the other way around. The idea of ‘God’s will” is rarely about God but about our will and blaming God for our will. The will of God gets translated into how we live our lives, how we vote, and often our ideology. God becomes a Democrat or a Republican, all based on our viewpoint.
I was fascinated most recently about people debating if Jesus would have approved food stamps or the Affordable Healthcare Law. I’ve read two sides of this and when people talk about there being two sides to every story, they miss this one entirely. Jesus fed people and never charged them a penny. Jesus healed people and never charged them a penny. If we aspire to do exactly what Jesus did then we’d say we need to feed everyone for free and provide totally free healthcare. Would Jesus approve of food stamps? Probably not, but not because of the reasons people usually give. He’d just feed everyone.
Am I saying this is a good idea? Not really as it would devastate the economy and destroy people’s livelihoods in farming, stores, etc. Conversely, he would probably object to charging people for food stamps. The argument becomes circular. My point is that, ultimately, bringing Jesus into the debate is more about us than it is about Jesus. We often lack the humility to see that our will and God’s will aren’t always very comparable.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking in terms of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. John steps aside when he sees Jesus and quietly says that “he, (John) must decrease so that Jesus could increase.”
If you have ever ventured up to Mount Saint Francis in the Knobs, that locale is run by the Conventual Franciscan Friars. The Franciscans have had their own ecumenical issues and there are a variety of types of Franciscans. Francis of Assisi’s followers called themselves the Ordo Fratrum Minorum, or, in English the Orders of Friars Minor. The translation of Friars Minor, however, is actually something of a distortion of the Latin phrase, fratrum minorum which means, literally, ‘lesser brothers.’ Built into their understanding was that they were humble servants of God.
The Franciscans have had varying degrees of success with this concept and often, ironically, they compete with one another in terms of humility and poverty and try to outdo each other in terms of being great at humility and poverty. Like everyone else, they often fall into the trap of failing at humility.
My prevailing philosophy of ministry is that our role as clergy is to serve God and serve God’s people. Ministry and discipleship ought to be sans agenda other than serving God and serving God’s people. Anything else and we fall victim to hubris.
I wish I could say that I’ve never been guilty of this. I wish I could say that I’ve never had an agenda and that I’ve never twisted God’s will into my will and blaming God for it. I wish I could say that I’ve always been great at humility….
But, alas, that oxymoron lives on.