Being Humble (7 of 7)

Standing in the church foyer before the service, I’m chatting it up with a friend when he asks me this non-sequitur question “So will you be attending that course, the church is offering this semester, on being humble?” I don’t reply with my first reaction, which is to tell him that I’ve been involved in a lifelong field-study of my own on this topic – and it’s been kicking my ass. Instead, I reply “No thank you, because here’s what my relationship with being humbled looks like – when I spot it on the street, I begin to run the other way until it inevitably chases me down, tackling me to the ground, pushing my face into the dirt . . . and frankly, I don’t like the taste of dirt.” to which after an awkward pause, he just looks at me with a blank stare and changes the subject again . . . I get that a lot.

In the legend of King Arthur, the quest for the Holy Grail is not meant to be understood as an external quest of archeological exploration for an artifact of antiquity, it is better understood as an interior quest – for the cup of Christ will only reveal itself to one of pure intent, one who is willing to sojourn the topography of their own doubt and fear . . . to be as the vessel itself, surrendered to its master’s will. I see desiring humility in the very same way. So for me, bullet point presentations somehow seems to miss the point – it just strikes me as antithetical to the very nature of humility. Like a bluesman telling you how happy he is to be singin’ the blues – attempting to be good at being humble is simply oxymoronic.

man-reaching-for-the-lightTrying to be humble is like a dog chasing its tail – the moment it sinks its teeth in, it regrets the choice. Whatever piety you imagine you might attain in such a quest will be the very first thing crushed under the heel of humility, because there are no half measures with true humility — invariably the humble path will lead you to a life of sacrifice . . . and a life of sacrifice will demand everything of you. Even Jesus wanted to avoid drinking from that cup.

So when the road your life is on becomes a humbled path, you will hold tightly to your breast the things most precious to you, only to have them wrenched from your arms and consumed in holy fire. Then like Job, you will sit in ash and disillusionment, while your family and friends gather around you to discuss exactly how you could have avoided this calamity. So are you still interested in trying to be humble?

We do not follow Christ by trying to be humble; we are made humble in following Christ. For it is in Jesus the admonition of Micah 6:8 is fully met “. . . to do what is just, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”– A humble life in an unjust world, doing what is right while loving mercy. If we could be humble apart from Christ, we would most likely take credit for it – how messed up is that? Paul sums it up best in Philippians 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” So the way of Christ is the humble path, and it’s a lifelong course worth taking, but only because it allows you to more completely identify with Christ . . . and yes, it will kick your ass.

I am nothing
But the angels sometimes whisper in my ear
Yeah, they tell me things and then they disappear
Though I am nothing
Sometimes I like to make believe I hear


Being Desperate (6 of 7)

I have always been tempted to amend Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote – “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation . . .” I always want to add . . . and the rest are so conspicuously desperate, that they make us all feel uncomfortable. Outward displays of desperation are more often than not, met as social pariah – such weakness and humiliation sets all social convention on edge. We all become anxious in the presences of someone who is obviously desperate, as if pulled into the gravity of their plight. I am suspicious that it is more than a sympathetic vibration — that there’s an embedded element of our anxiety that makes us feel exposed . . . as if our own quiet desperation just escaped from the locked closet, where it is kept out of sight.

It doesn’t require a counseling degree to recognize the emotional compression with which most people live. All of those protective layers keeping us safe – our expectations held in check, convinced that the prudent thing is to sit steady in the boat, not making waves . . . such is the wisdom of our whispering fears – how can we resist? So our simmering desperation for a life that is more than just safe, remains kept under lock and key. So yes, when we see someone conspicuously desperate we know exactly what they feel – and on some level we’re interested to see how it plays out . . . will it be the cautionary tale we suspect . . . or is there really a chance for a more hopeful outcome?

I can’t help but notice when reading the Gospels how many of those who engage Jesus were willing to demonstrate shameless desperation – just a few examples:

The Friends of the Paralytic (Mark 2:1-12) – Undaunted by the crowd, cut a hole in the roof in order to lower their needy friend into Christ’s presence.

The Gentile Woman (Mark 7:24-30) – Initially put off by Jesus, she is willing to take the crumbs of his attention.

The Leper (Luke 5:12-16) Breaking all cultural and social protocols, this unclean man approaches Jesus and his disciples.

The Centurion (Luke 7:1-10) A Roman guard humbling himself before a Jewish peasant.

Mary Magdalene (Luke 7:36-50) A prostitute enters the home of a prestigious Pharisee in order to fall at the feet of Jesus.

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) A man of wealth and means degrades himself by climbing a tree for a better look at Jesus.

oliver-twistIt’s plain to see this pattern in the Gospels – the singular focus of need pursues the only source of hope, but not with the measured distance of self-sufficiency, rather with the unbridled expression of desperation. And in each case, their desperate acts of faith are rewarded. In this way desperation fine tunes our faith, focusing our hearts and minds on the clarity of our great need for God’s sufficiency. But it really is no surprise that God would want us honest and vulnerable as we come to him. So as antithetical as it may seem, against every impulse, we must come to God desperate for his loving touch.

The rest of that Henry David Thoreau quote reads “. . . and go to the grave with the song still in them.” So what is the song of your heart? Will it remain unsung, or will you dare sing it with wild abandon? In God’s reconciliation our entire story is being re-envisioned, where every broken place is given a new beauty, and all of our fears are chased back into the shadows. So without hesitation let your pride fall away and shamelessly run into the arms of God’s immeasurable love.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

The Illusion of Water

Surprised to find that it’s you pulling me under
Thrashing frantically to hold on
To what cannot be held
Filling my lungs for the last time
Before I disappear beneath the deep

In my terrified panic
I consume any chance of return
As the mirage of surface fades from reach

In my long numbing silence
Every thought floats free of me
Almost without motion
I wait
Content to be small in this place
Held without effort

Surprised that I’m still here

Then you
In a circling splinter of light
Cheshire grin like
Reminding me
The substance of all things
Each syllable formed on your lips
Conforms to your will
Serves at your pleasure

It is the nature of hope
To face what is impossible
Then to pull up short of despair
Choosing the path of another possible
Where all things are possible

Surprised that I had forgotten
The way love overcomes fear

Being Fearless (5 of 7)

Our life in exile from the garden has been a life dominated by fear. In fact, fear is so pervasive that even our preoccupation with real life threatening issues, doesn’t hold a candle to what we imagine is threatening our lives . . . until the composition of our whole life becomes a compensating response to everything we fear. Invariably this compensation becomes an obsession, desperately hoping that we can keep our lives from spinning out of control. And even though this is a fool’s errand, we continue to hold those reins tightly, convinced that it is our only choice.

I’m not speaking here merely of the conspicuous manifestations found in the disorder of phobias or clinical anxiety – those who suffer these maladies need no convincing of fears menacingly ubiquitous presences. No, what I’m referencing here is the more insidious way with which fear flies under the radar, hiding in the details of how we evaluate every decision we make. Fear does its best work when it goes undetected; when you’re convinced you’re just being prudent . . . unaware that you’re allowing your fear to determine what is most prudent.

As a friend of mine oft opines “There are two kinds of people in the world — those who are in counseling, and those who have yet to figure out they need it.”. . . to which I would only add “All of whom are doing their dead level best to manage their fears”. This side of the Fall, fear is inescapable. In the book of Ecclesiastes we are treated to the wisdom of Solomon — systematically, he unpacks all of what life offers as remedy for our longings and fears. His conclusion is that life is nothing but an empty chasing after the wind at every turn, therefore fear God and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

fearlessFor many years this answer struck me as disappointingly anticlimactic — fearing God just seemed like one more thing to fear. It wasn’t until I was reading in Luke 12 that I began to fully appreciate the significance of Solomon’s words. Before I got to the verses where Jesus was admonishing his disciples to not be anxious about life, because God will sustain them – knowing their every need (22-31); I read verses 4 & 5 which juxtaposes our misplaced fear of those who can merely kill us, with fearing him who has our very soul in his hands. Taken as a whole, Luke 12 appears to be saying that there is only one thing to fear – God. To allow ourselves to fear anything other than God, is to misunderstand God altogether . . . as if the thing you feared was somehow God’s equal.

Anyone in the military will tell you the most dangerous enemy on the battlefield isn’t the one who is well trained — it’s the one who does not fear death . . . because they’re liable to do anything. In this respect, fearing God and God alone, you are set free — liable to do anything. When we finally embrace this powerful truth, that God is the only thing worthy of fear, then the tumblers of the universe begin to unlock, we find the door swings open wide, only to discover that it is the power of love that breaks the spell of fear — “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . .” 1 John 4:18, which of course is best understood through the lens of “God is love” 1 John 4:16 – so the one thing left to fear is the very thing that removes all fear . . . let that soak in.