Thursday, March 11, 2010

Humility? What's That? #2

O God, it is hard for me to let go, most times, and the squeeze I exert garbles me and gnarls others.
So, loosen my grip a bit on the good times, on the moments of sunlight and star shine and joy, that the thousand graces they scatter as they pass may nurture growth in me rather than turn to brittle memories.
Loosen my grip on those grudges and grievances I hold so closely that I may risk exposing myself to the spirit of forgiving and forgiveness that changes things and resurrects dreams and courage.
Loosen my grip on my fears that I may be released a little into humility and into an acceptance of my humanity ...
Loosen my grip on my ways and words ... that letting go into the depths of silence and my own uncharted longing, I may find myself held by you and linked anew to all life in this wild and wondrous world you love so much. so I may take to heart that you have taken me to heart
Excerpted from Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder

I confess that I am not a patient person. It's also true that over the years I've learned to be much less impatient than I used to be. From that distance I've gotten a glimmer of what Paul meant when, in his familiar ode to love in his letter to the Corinthians, the first word he uses to describe the subject is, "Love is patient ..." He had to start with a damnably hard trait, didn't he? No wonder I'm still working on patience. I do a little better at it with my wife, Jan, and slightly better with my kids and grandkids. But from that little knoll in my personal landscape, patience slides downhill like Lindsay Vohn on skis. With friends and neighbors my patience is a occasional; with strangers it's sporadic; with enemies (and ridiculous car drivers) it's rare. That gives you keyhole peep at my rather flawed love life.

You see, patience sets the bar very high for love's other qualities according to Paul. For him, there's not much of fluttering hearts, soaring moods or beguiling aura about love, not that those things aren't wonderful, delightful experiences for us. But essentially, I think Paul is right because even those delightful experiences won't last long or be re-experienced very often without patience. Love that is deeper, stronger, more authentic than that is quite improbable without patience.

Why? Doubtless you can figure it out by skimming the traits of love that follow, or more accurately, depend on, patience: "love is kind ... not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude ... does not insist on its own way ... is not irritable or resentful ... does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." We may not "rejoice in the truth" that no matter how long we've been at it, we're all beginners in being patient and, consequently, in loving like that. We just have to keep trying until we make some progress at it!! There's always some giving in to love, but never any giving up!!

And Voila, we're back to humility! Most of Paul's list of love's traits, with which I suspect most of us would agree, also fit humility. The two are joined at the hip, or better, at the will, or heart, or soul. Each require the other if either is to be realized in our lives. Love is humble; humility is loving.

I dare to remind you that what I said about humility in my last post apply equally to love. Both humility and love are assertive, not passive, take the initiative and are not reluctant. Both take risks and make sacrifices of something (like our egos) for the good of friends, neighbors, even enemies because both love and humility live in personal pronouns - us, we, our, you. Neither is pretentious, timid, manipulative or self-promoting. Neither insists on its own way but both are persistent, open to compromise, that is, to giving something in order to get something for the good of the other as well as the self. Mark it: There's some giving in to both humility and love, but there's no giving up!

Confession two: I'm not much better at giving in than I am at being patient. One annoying symptom of that people often tell me about is that I can be overbearingly helpful, with the overbearing part negating the helpful. And they're right. Come to me to talk over a problem and I'm compelled to give you the solution and at least infer that it's the right and true one. Same with social issues, political problems. I suppose that's a little like being a benevolent dictator when you think about it. Benevolent intent, oppressive consequences. I've learned, slowly, that what people want most deeply is to share their lives with me, warts, pain, problems, joys, whatever, not for me to take over their lives for them.

It's about control, isn't it? We like to feel we're in control and none of us like things to be out of control, not for ourselves, or for anyone else around us because it makes us anxious. So we we keep trying to control things, which includes controlling people, processes, outcomes. And yet, we can't!! Control is an illusion but an addictive one. And a destructive one!

What we can control is our selves, our actions, thinking, responses, how we deal with circumstances beyond our control. We can contribute, make some impact, help, innovate, interpret, share but not control. We can participate, engage, speak out, organize, negotiate, never play the victim, never blame, always accept responsibility for our mistakes, never assume all is lost when we don't get our own way and never give up doing whatever we really can and ought, then willingly paying the cost for our actions and trusting that however much or little it does to benefit the plural pronouns of life matters more than we know. That's humility. That's love. That's patience.

The nub of it is this, in my view. We don't really live in an either/or world: either good or bad, right or wrong, win or lose. Most of the time, life is a both/and process, a mixture of right and wrong, good and bad, win and lose. Our choices are seldom between absolutes. Oh, we do choose between options, this one, not the other one, and in a sense, that is an either/or choice.

So let's put it this way, we live in a world of serial either/or choices or decisions and most of those decisions may be more good than bad, right than wrong but they still have portions of both in them. One good does not eliminate all bad, or most bad. The wonder is that we never run out of choices, of decisions to make. For me the wonder of the inexhaustibility of choices we have in life reflects the grace of God. I don't believe God exercises power by controlling everything. That is not love. I believe God exercises power through God's capacity to cope with whatever happens, whatever the outcomes are of decisions and choices we make. There are no dead ends in life.

One of the last things Paul says about love there in his letter to the Corinthians, is that "love never ends." Of course, you and I end, at least as residents of this world. But love does not. And we can trust and live in the promise that though we do not fully love the way Paul maps it out, God does. So, love really does never end. If that's so, then the loved ones, the beloved, don't either which means, we don't either. Those we love, whether we like them or not, (we don't have to like anyone to love them, thank God!) don't end either.

To trust God and sin on bravely, as Luther put is, is to give in to being loved. We can stop trying to control things or other people. We can stop being so damnably anxious, so easily made afraid. We can humbly live the plural pronouns and love the best way we can, battling for our vision of justice, truth, compassion, mercy, reconciliation, peace, and then be at ease with whatever small steps we can mutually take in that direction day by day. We can stop measuring our lives, our love lives, by whether we win or lose, are right or wrong, good or bad, or who is saved and who isn't, because the mystery is we all are both and do both in some way beyond our understanding and none of that is finally up to us, anyway. We can leave that up to the gracious power we can trust is at work in our lives, our world, our history, our future since, 'love never ends." It's all about giving in but never giving up.

Toni Morrison's incredibly moving novel Beloved is about the demonic inhumanity of slavery and the unfathomable, almost terrifyingly beautiful love of slaves. At the end of her novel, two slaves who have been close friends, are reunited. The woman, Sethe, comes to the door of the house of Paul D, the man. She is sick, exhausted and collapses in a chair by the window. Both have managed to escape and take a long, hard, dangerous, almost lifetime journey to Ohio, to freedom. Paul sits and looks at Sethe sitting next to him with her eyes closed. As he does, he remembers what a slave friend had said about the woman in his life: "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind."

Paul keeps looking a Sethe, thinking of her that way. 'The wet dress steaming before the fire. Her tenderness about his neck jewelry -- it's three wands, like attentive baby rattlers, curling two feet into the air. How she never mentioned or looked at it, so he did not have to feel the shame of being collared like a beast. Only this woman Sethe could have left him his manhood like that. He wants to put his story next to hers." Friends, can you feel the humility, patience, love in that scene?

Faith is something we have, more or less. Humility, love, patience, trust is something we do. Something like giving in but never giving up. Something we do with and for each other. Something we do to put our story next to the plural pronouns of our lives.

And most of all, putting our story next to God's, the Mother-Father whose love never ends.

Think about it. Ted


  1. Such refreshing thoughts. In a world of short, snippety blog posts, yours is a breath of fresh air. "Guerrillas of Grace" has been on my nightstand for several years now, and is a consistent source of encouragement and worship. Bless you.

  2. The blog sent me to Commoon Cause where I donated and rejoined. I'm on the lookout for the nest place that I think I might slightly help out.