I confess that there are quite a few things that stick in my craw about church. First of all there is the whole institutional nature of it. I am with Donatists who were less-than-welcoming to those who were converted both into and out of, and then back into Christianity following the fashion of the day. I think the church should be truly again in the side of any power – be it the pagan Cesar or the Christian Holy Roman Emperor. Don’t matter. If “it” has power, than Christianity will challenge it, first by demonstrating powerlessness, and second by refusing to hide. It is a sort of bold weakness.
The second thing that really annoys me are those Christians who fall into what I call the Judas Syndrome, from here in John 12: “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” The story then goes on to clarify that he had his own agenda, and it was much less than noble caring for the poor.
And here’s the issue, I have most frequently seen people condemn the activities of others more vociferously in direct inverse proportion to their own interest in that activity. For example, people will claim it is a waste of money to buy tickets to a concert for a band they do not like, or shake their heads with much disdain when complaining that “Americans” spend more time caring and have more passion for the Super Bowl (or some other sporting event) than for the “real problems” of the world.
I know, it is not even an intuition, that this betrays only their own motives, or prejudices or preferences. People who do not follow sports think that following sports is trivial. Why? Because their own self-esteem demands that whatever they follow be non-trivial, in fact be very important.
I have set in countless meetings where someone would intone piously “I know the Lord has great plans for me!” I am yet to hear anyone say, “The Lord just sort of hopes I will survive another year without a major screw up!” Or, “God is calling me to be mediocre.”
I remember laughing out loud when talking to New Agers (are they still around?) who would all of them be certain they were Cleopatra in a previous life….you know, someone Had to have been a slave or something. But no!
I digress. The Judas Syndrome is actually quite dangerous, and sneaky. Pretty much our whole lives are ruled by either vanity or self-pride. A slight difference between the two: vanity is based on illusion. It is believing your own press releases. It is easy to spot by everyone who is not you, or your doting parent! Pride on the other hand is usually based on actual facts, but it is a misplacing of credit. For both of these problems humility is the cure.
Let us take the example of playing the piano to tease out the differences. if someone says, “You play the piano?” here’s how the answers would go.
Pride will say “I worked very hard to be the best pianist in the world!” While, again, you may indeed be a good pianist, pride would claim it was all your work. How about your teachers? How about your parents? How about your genes? How about your socio-economic status which afforded the luxury of such an expensive instrument, lessons etc.
Vanity would say something like, “I had a couple of lessons, but the teacher did not grasp my genius. There is no point in going through all these hoops anyway, because I am so talented that it would simply be too hard for others.” And so on. It is always other people who are to blame for the vain person’s failings. Or, even worse, they could actually be quite good and say, “Oh no I just tickle the ivories!” This is false modesty, and its only purpose is to elicit a response from others which stroke their egos, “Oh no! You are brilliant!”
A good step towards humility will say “I play the piano well. It is a gift I have.” It is both factual (assuming that is that the person does indeed play the piano) and it places the credit where it is due – it is a gift.
True humility would probably say something like, “I was given a gift of playing the piano, I took responsibility, with the help of so many people like my family and my teachers, for nurturing it and developing this gift to its fullness, so that I could in turn help others to achieve their gifts.”
It is not just the wording that is different, but the way the person sees themselves in the world. The humble person is one who can truly see reality as it is. they do not deny gifts (false modesty), and they do not deny they are gifts! They also understand they are not alone, and that they owe so much to so many for so long.
A truly humble person is a sight to behold. Not meek, in the sense fo a scared little rabbit. But not vainglorious or puffed up like a peacock either.
Finally, it is important to note that people are complicated, and they can be humble about certain things, truly humble and completely vain about others! This is because, until we are fully anchored in Christ, we have many many “mes”, many many centers, but that is for another time.
For now the work is simple – feed with attention, intention, unconditional positive regard your humble selves – those are your allies. refuse to react to your vain and prideful selves, instead reprogram them, one at a time, one occasion at a time, to be humble. Train your selves.