Archive for the ‘Humility’ Category

Learning Humility

January 11, 2023

Preparing for this little essay, I spotted this headline from today’s The New York Times, AI’s Best Trick Yet Is Showering Us With Attention. Last week Americans, and indeed the world, were treated to photos of our Congresspeople posturing for social media seeking attention in any way they could get it. But it’s not just the Kardashians or Paris Hilton, who was “famous for being famous.” We all want to get into the act.

Richard J. Foster begins his latest book with the trigger that set him on a year-long study and reflection on humility. In a society where raging narcissism dominates the moral landscape, the virtue of humility is often dismissed as irrelevant. Not only is humility vanishing from contemporary culture, but we are also witnessing how destructive a lack of humility has become among our churches and ministry leaders.

I’ve not read many of Foster’s books. I have read and taught from Celebration of Discipline. This book is Learning Humility: A Year of Searching for a Vanishing Virtue.

We learn that there is strength in humility. And there is wisdom in humility. We learn from the Bible, and from wisdom of the Lakota people, and from Julian of Norwich, and Evagrius Ponticus (one of my favorites), and more.

I recommend reading this book and joining Foster in the journey toward learning humility. And like I said yesterday, it’s not about learning it in our head, but about practicing it with our actions.

I leave you with the little prayer that guided Foster during his journey.

Lord, would you

  • purify my heart
  • renew my mind
  • sanctify my imagination, and
  • enlarge my soul.

Who Made You God?

October 11, 2022

Said the big adult man soccer player to the somewhat smaller referee pointing to the parking lot. As I was dismissing a player from game, he waved a fist in front of my face (I knew him well, I was only slightly intimidated), “Who made you God?”

Erich Fromm published a book in 1966, “You Shall Be As Gods” taking a phrase from the Hebrew scriptures.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb writing a book of aphorisms called The Bed of Procrustes, says, “Religion isn’t so much about telling man that there is one God as about preventing man from thinking he is God.”

How many people have you met who seem to think they are God? Or, at least they have a special message spoken only to them from God?

When I begin to think that I am that special, eventually I will realize I am on that I-am-like-God path. And it is time to practice humility. To answer Denny in the first paragraph, “No one made me God. I am not God.”

Knowing Your Soul

July 8, 2022

Every time there is an incident it happens. For every politician or executive in the news, there it goes again. For when the crazy neighbor complains again on the community Facebook page. For all of these, we (and the crazy media) love to speculate about the psychology, the inner thoughts and fears, the soul (or lack of) within that person.

I picked up this thought from the writer Virginia Woolf, “We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others.”

Yes, hubris pops up everywhere. Hubris, that feeling that we know everything about everything. We can psychoanalyze anyone from a distance. We can know the state of someone’s soul by reading about them on social media.

We assume we’re OK. We assume we’re not OK. Either way we are wrong. And right.

Our actions reflect the state of our heart. If we were to step back from ourselves and look at our actions as though we are outside our bodies, what would we see? Would we look like someone who possesses the heart of Jesus? Would we look deranged? Do we really know enough about ourselves to pass judgement on another?

Probably not. There is where our work lies.

We Assume Wrongly

October 22, 2021

I believe something about someone or something without thinking it through. In other words, I assume something as true that quite probably is not.

There is a humorous parsing of the word assume — “it makes a ass out of u and me”.

The current British crime drama my wife dug up for us to watch the series straight through is set in and around Newcastle in north of England. Inspector George Gently wound up with a cocky young sergeant who has something negative to say about almost everyone. “Is there any human that you don’t have an opinion about?” Gently asks him after another flip dismissal of someone of a particular ethnicity.

I am guessing that the writers are drawing a caricature of a north England young man. TV often requires a couple of caricatures to play off the deeper, conflicting emotions of the lead actor.

But he also represents us all. I bet you don’t have to dive very deeply into memory before you recall the last time you made some flip remark about poor people, or black people, or white people, or homosexual people, or people from some other ethnicity.

Note my use of the word “people.” I try to remind myself of the humanity of all people. How we all struggle to live a good life. How we all struggle with our weaknesses. But we are all children of God, loved by the Father.

When we feel ourselves assuming, we would do well to remember the First Principles of the faith—we are to love God with all of our hearts, strength, soul, and mind; and we are to love our neighbor. And then banish those assumptions.


September 10, 2021

Sometimes we change–and we don’t change. Or, we change one vice for another.

Perhaps we are a judgmental, abrasive type of person. We “become a Christian.” And we become a judgmental, abrasive Christian. Know any of those? What would Jesus think?

Perhaps we gain the virtue of humbleness. But then we become proud of our humility.

Self-awareness becomes the key to change. When we gain the ability to see ourselves, only then can we become the change we seek.


August 31, 2021

Shake a can of Coke or beer. Hand it to someone at a picnic. Watch and laugh as they pop it open and are sprayed as the contents spew forth. Adolescent practical joke usually perpetrated by 20-something men. Metaphor for anger.

Sometimes we hold anger inside. And it gurgles, and bubbles, and ferments, and builds pressure.


It must explode either in acts of verbal or physical violence or your body gives way with a stroke or heart attack.

Sometimes just a perceived slight from someone can build and build until inner peace is destroyed.

We must deal with this. There must be a safe outlet. But first we must recognize its presence. Then its cause. A good reason why Jesus told us to go make things right with the other person before offering a gift to God. John Climacus taught us anger is a disturbance of the heart that prevents the presence of the Spirit.

More than breathing exercises, which may help bring down the boiling point, we must also search for humility and then reconciliation in order to return to stability.

Run Away From Aggrandizement

July 9, 2021

We live in an age of selfies, personal branding, being outrageous just to be noticed—especially on social media.

In the US, we have “leaders” in politics such as Congresspeople who have actually changed their personal political philosophy in order to be more grandiose and outrageous in order to be noticed, be seen, be branded. If it is good for the Kardashians, then it must be good for me.

This might be a good time to pause and consider how we (I) use social media. What is my motivation for the things I publish?

I turn to my go-to guy for psychology. No, not Dr. Phil. John Climacus, the Desert Father. “We will show ourselves true lovers of wisdom and of God if we stubbornly run away from all possibility of aggrandizement.”

Pause…Let that sink in. Where do I fall short in that category?

John has further thoughts well expressed:

Humility is a heavenly waterspout which can lift the soul from the abyss up to heaven’s height.

The sea is the source of the fountain, and humility is the source of discernment.

Why Is It So Hard To Submit To God?

May 20, 2021

I’m reading in the letter from James in the Christian Bible. This is one of those pieces of spiritual writing that is so dense with thought that you could take months just going from sentence to sentence.

He is talking in the passage where I’m at right now about how God yearns to see his spirit at work in us.

I love that phrase. How packed with meaning.

James relates that to our human resistance, called pride. And he talks of the opposite of pride, namely humility.

The study guide asks us to consider, “Why is it so hard to submit to God?”

I’m not going to suggest an answer. We know the answer within us if we but pause and look.

For some reason, I am prone to wondering about people. I wonder about how people whose pride has driven them from prominent positions to the depths. How do they live with themselves and their family? What do they do all day? Sit and brood? Act as if they are wronged and get worse?

This has happened to many men and several women over the past few years.

But more to the point–what about me? At what point is my pride still in the way? Do I feel the need to justify myself? Do I need to promote myself? Pride is so insidious.

The other part of this passage from James says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

That is the goal.

Dealing With Anger

May 17, 2021

I drove up the road to pick up my pizza order. With a couple of pizzas nestled comfortably on the heated seat beside me, I headed south for the short drive home.

The road has three lanes of traffic through the business district, narrows to two lanes after crossing over an Interstate highway, then narrows to one southbound lane as we pass through a couple of miles of farmland.

Ahead were perhaps a dozen cars bunched tightly together. Not as bad as NASCAR, but you get the idea. Except that I’ve allowed several car lengths of space between the line of cars and me. Approaching the last merge there is a Jeep ahead of me closely following the dark car in front. A white pickup truck is in the right land and must merge or run out of road.

The pickup speeds up a little. There is no room between the Jeep and dark car. The Jeep does not yield. The white pickup does not yield. I am allowing plenty of room for the pickup. He does not back off and at the final instant is able to squeeze in. Triumph!

Did I mention the line of cars? We all are traveling at approximately the speed limit for the next mile to a traffic light. Where we all stop. Nothing gained for the moments of tension.

When I drive my car the media system automatically connects to my iPhone and plays the next podcast queued up. Andy Stanley is speaking on anger—specifically mentioning “road rage.” I love these little coincidences. He’s quoting from the letter from James.

“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.”

Anger is not a primary base emotion. It has deeper causes. Insecurity, fear, greed, envy, wish to get ahead of others, pride. James gives some advice.

Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Humility, setting aside our striving to be one better, putting others first—these are antidotes. These are also a lifestyle pleasing to God, especially practiced in every little way.


February 2, 2021

We waste so much energy. Not the petroleum or electricity part. Although that is true. I mean our spiritual and mental energy. Our personal energy.

We succumb to illusion and delusion losing awareness of the ultimate truth. Our mental activities are scattered, dissipated. We have lost focus on the truth of God’s eternal spirit.

We organize our spiritual life into churches, denominations, organizations. And then we squabble among ourselves within and among those things.

We waste so much energy. Emotional, physical, psychic, spiritual.

Let us become clearly aware of the Spirit and our need for our own spiritual formation. Instead of scattered arguments, let us recall the lessons of pride and forge humility on the anvil of the spirit.

A writer once described his main character as having the ability to concentrate entirely on the task at had even in the midst of crises. He called it the immense power of focus.

A magnifying glass can focus the sun’s energy enough to start a fire. Imagine what we each could do if we were to focus the true source of energy onto the things God has asked of us–showing mercy, pursuing justice, loving our neighbor.