5.05.2007

Cultural Humility vs Real Humility

I'm still at my parent's home, and it has been wonderful to get face-to-face time with each of them. My mom was telling me about what the Holy Spirit has been teaching her in her 69th year of life. (The Holy Spirit talks to all of us who are His, if we will just shut up long enough to hear Him!) She told me about several insights, and one of them was on humility. She was struggling with a church situation and how to respond, and she felt like the Holy Spirit said to her: "Karen, do you want people to think you're humble, or do you actually want to be humble?" When I repeated this back to her later, she added: "And it was clear that it was an either/or choice. I couldn't have both."

I've been studying Acts with the rest of my church, and one thing that keeps popping up again and again is this idea that Paul was very human, and that his arrogance is evident at many points in Acts and in his writings. I remember thinking that Paul was arrogant, too, back when I was a teenager. Since then I have become a mom 4 times over, and now I get the idea of telling my kids: "I do this and this and this for you. I did this myself, even though it was your responsibility. I need and deserve your cooperation now. I am not asking you to do anything I haven't done first. I just want the best for you, and when I did this and this I was demonstrating exactly how you get there." So Paul's "arrogance" doesn't look like arrogance to me anymore. It looks and sounds like good parenting: leading by example, and not being quiet about how that worked or what that meant to the "kids".

I've also been watching people's reactions to each other, and to those in leadership positions. We have 2 things going on: 1) We don't like being told what to do, especially by someone who is "leading by example", and 2) We have cultural ideas about what it is appropriate to share about our successes and our failures, and about with whom those things can be appropriately shared. Both these dynamics make us miss the point on what God is after in our "humility". I could write essays about both of these dynamics (and I suppose I may do that, eventually, but not tonight) but you can write your own essays as you think about the people you think are arrogant *****'s and why you think that.

Real humility is an accurate view of Who God is, of who I am, and of who you are. If I see all of those in increasing measures of TRUTH, I move toward real humility.

If I believe that God doesn't really speak to anyone that I know personally, let alone to me . . . and that God won't direct any of us to actually act in real ways apart from the general principles of scripture . . . then I will assume that anyone who acts like there is a Real God Who speaks in real ways to them is either off their rocker or a severe narcissist. ("Talk about arrogant!") This is exactly the dynamic Jesus was referring to when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth and quoted the proverb "Physician, heal thyself". Maybe God might speak to a celebrity in an unknown community, but certainly not to one who is just like me!

Our modern secular culture sets us up for our own Christian ethic in this. The wider culture says "There is no absolute truth, and anyone who claims to know absolute truth with any certainty better not assume that his absolute truth applies to me as well as it applies to him!" Our church culture affirms that there is absolute truth and that there are people who can declare it to us . . . but then makes anyone bold enough to do so suspect of a disqualifying arrogance.

What that does to our leaders is put them in this catch-22: If they speak with boldness affirming what most of the community believes, they are respected and followed. If they proclaim any TRUTH outside the current community consensus, they are written off or severely criticized. And if they speak only the agreed-upon truths, but show any sign of an understanding of their own giftedness or the ways they might be able to authentically lead us by example, they are disqualified as ungodly because of their "lack of humility". (And heaven forbid that we get close enough to them to see that they are actually still sinners in need of grace in any real way! "The arrogance of someone who is far from perfect himself trying to tell me that he has any better grasp of how the world works or of what God wants from us! You shouldn't let yourself be in a leadership position unless you have real humility and are a great example of how we should all live!" But don't let that man or woman tell anyone that they are a great example of how anyone else should live!)

What that does to the rest of us is this: We give lip-service to the idea that we are a priesthood of believers, and that every believer as part of the BODY is able to use their giftedness to build up the rest of us. We give lip-service to the idea that all of us can hear God in real ways in our quiet times or during corporate worship. We give lip-service to the idea that we can all serve each other and the world around us in significant ways. But we tear down and disqualify any one of us bold enough to do any of that in a visible way as "lacking humility". We have a cultural ideal of "humility" that is not at all about God's view of reality, but rather all about our own need to get off the hook from the idea that we should be just as bold in saying and doing anything that God calls any one of us to say or do. We should be fools for Christ regularly, because bucking our culture very often requires being seen as a fool.

Did the Holy Spirit really tell my mom that she could either have others see her as being humble or she could actually be humble, but not both? I am staking my life on it. How about you?

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