Archives For Humility

Humility Wins?

March 15, 2018 — Leave a comment

Richard Foster once made three profound observations about humility. He stated:

‘…it soon becomes apparent that:

1. Study demands humility. Study simply cannot happen until we are willing to subject to the subject matter…we must come as a student, not teacher.
2. Not only is study directly dependent upon humility, but it is conducive to it.
3. Arrogance and humility are mutually exclusive’ (2008:82)

Here Foster is concerned with the polarised disconnect between arrogance and humility in the context of study, viewed as being one of four inward spiritual disciplines.

The process involves having a loving conscience, and being open to the possibility that other Christians may stumble. Over the years I have learnt the importance of humility. Primarily due to my own under-developed theological and socio-political understandings. (1. Cor.8:11). In the field of academia friends, including “brothers-in-Christ” can quickly become an enemy.

The reason why is pinpointed by Liberation theologian James Cone.

The reality is that ‘most theologies [and other academic disciplines] are in fact an, [advantaged class] bourgeois exercise in intellectual masturbation’ (1975:43, parenthesis mine)

The issue of pride in the academy is bluntly summed by Cone. By this damning metaphorical indictment, Cone issues forth a caveat, that I am in cautious agreement with. Only as far as this statement critiques pride and ‘disturbs the sinner in his or her sin’ (Karl Barth).

Paul illustrates this in 1 Cor.8-10 when he invites the Church to identify its idols because:

‘Idolatry exposes people to serious danger…the strenuous self-denial of the athlete…is a rebuke to half-hearted, flabby Christian service. The athlete denies themselves many lawful pleasures and the Christian must similarly avoid not only definite sin, but anything that hinders spiritual progress…however God is not simply a spectator of the affairs of life in this; he is concerned and active. He will always provide a way out…therefore our trust is in the faithfulness of God’ (Morris 1996:137, 141 & 142)

Zeal (whether it be labelled liberal, conservative, red-pill, blue-pill, extreme or otherwise) must not become arrogant, conceited, and over-empowering whereby it puffs up one person to dominate over another unjustly.

In other words, ‘do not become the dragon  you are fighting against’ (Nietzsche paraphrased by Phillip Yancey, 1997:232)[1].

Pride is, and can only ever be an enemy of grace –  pride is like a tool for the ‘nothing’ (Barth’s term for absolute evil) to corrupt God’s blessing and work. As a consequence pride becomes an enemy to freedom, and a threat to community, worship, marriage, family – progress.

For me this means that my response to pride must become ‘reflective instead of instinctive’ (Karl Barth C.D IV.4:182); putting off well-engrained, survival mechanisms that help me hide in bitter pride rather than heal in humility.

It may be too simple to suggest that humility wins. After all, rejecting pride is not an easy task and mantra’s themselves can become tired, meaningless ambiguity of phrases like ‘love wins’. Suggesting that humility wins, however, is not the same as saying ‘love wins’ because it is more specific. Humility doesn’t have the baggage attached to it in the way that love does.

Nor does it not mean allowing ourselves to become doormats or subjugating ourselves to indentured, unjust servitude. Humility drives us forward. Unifying us in our agreements and disagreements; forcing us to graciously acknowledge our own limitations. This promotes respectful dialogue and round-table discussion.

One area where this can be applied is identified in Paul’s call to work towards preventing the wounding of other Christians in areas of their lives where they are either exhausted or under-developed (1 Cor. 8:11). To this task the Church in its various expressions and forms, ‘works towards the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31) rather than the glory of self.

The side point here is that when Paul talks about restraining from or eating forbidden food, he doesn’t then apply, this freedom under grace, to sexual immorality. The body, as John Calvin so brilliantly points out, ‘was made for food, not for sexual immorality’ (Commentary on First Corinthians).

By choosing to give room for the under-developed thought and limitations of others we practice humility. Humility in action involves the loving ‘act of consideration for limitations ’ (Morris, 1996:124-123, italics mine). The superiority of humility over pride is grounded in the fact that humility strengthens, pride tears down. In working towards humility those brighter than the rest, offer to build those under up, providing them with the light of even greater insight and participation in the community.


References:

Cone, J.1975, God of the oppressed  Orbis Books NY

Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline (1980) Hodder & Stoughton UK

Morris, L. 1996 Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: 1 Corinthians Intervarsity Press Wm. B Eerdmans publishing

Yancey, P. 1997, What’s so amazing about Grace? Zondervan Publishing House

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash


[1] The actual quote reads ‘the man who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself; and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you’ (Beyond good and evil, p.63) – This is not an endorsement of Nietzsche or his philosophy, it is a critical application of a controversial statement used in order to illustrate a point.

Knight The Wounded

June 22, 2017 — 2 Comments

Rose At Night

.

Find this level of emptiness.
Forgive my heart’s forgetfulness.

Engulf my worship of sadness.
Embrace this prayer, despite my often awkward reach.

Tear these broken words apart.
Reorder each, so that I may hear,
.             You, my adopted Father speak.

Then accept these groans as prayers without speech.
Grip grace like a vice around our fears
.              and take these shivering hands,

.               that for so many years,
.               were so often drenched in tears.
Enter our darkness, breach the brokenness,
Holy Spirit, teach.

Be the fight, deploy Your word
With one firm sound, crack the violence;
that each stand may be under Your standard.

That all focus will be brought to hear
.               the noise of battle cease.

Seize upon the ashes.
Rejoice at the sight of
minds drawn to fellowship from desolate lands;

.                hearts of substance,
.                because every broken ounce and splinter
.                has been gathered,
.                       and placed gently into Your hands.

Walk through the garden of faithlessness,
.                that Your light will pierce the dark, choices and the consequence.

Then mend the overgrown path,
.        tend to the request for forgiveness.

And as all actions of wounding significance
.        are humbly brought before Your grace.

Knight the wounded,
Raise up the contrite,

Breathe Your life into this place.


(RL2017)

‘Where the grace of God encounters us, where we are led, pulled and made to grow, there, the Bible becomes clear […] He is the redeemer of that sighing creature within us.’

– (Karl Barth, 1917. The New World In The Bible)

#inhaledgraceignites

 

Gilbert_with_Wife_FrancesHere is the final sum of highlights mined from Heretics.

This is by no means definitive. What it does, though, is outline the tone, momentum and edge. From which Chesterton engraved an unmistakable mark into the hard surface of arrogance and happy ignorance.

What is presented here are, in my opinion, some of the most pointed aspects of Heretics.

These points, more than any others, is why I’m  growing to be as much a fan of Heretics as I am of Orthodoxy. Heretics may not introduce Chesterton’s theology as brilliantly as Orthodoxy does, in the end though it doesn’t matter. The essence is there. It is in the poetic phrases and witty criticisms

Chesterton’s thoughts on humility, nations, family, pathos, science and faith, all signify the value of this work to a contemporary audience.

On Humility:

‘The whole secret of the practical success of Christendom lies in the Christian humility, however imperfectly fulfilled. For with the removal of all question of merit or payment, the soul is suddenly released for incredible voyages.’ (p.34)
‘Humility is not merely too good for this world; it is too practical for this world; I had almost said it is too worldly for this world.’ (p.35)
‘It is the humble man who does the big things. It is the humble man who does the bold things.’ (p.36)
‘The worship of [human] success ends in mere mediocrity; its followers are foredoomed to become slaves and cowards.’ (p.61)
‘To the humble person, and to that humble person alone, the sun is really a sun; the sea is really a sea.’ (p.87)
‘The ultimate psychological truth, the foundation of Christianity, is that no man or woman is a hero to himself. Oliver Cromwell, according to Carlyle, was a strong man. According to Cromwell, he was a weak one.’ (p.87)

On Nations and The Family:

‘Nationality exists, and has nothing in the world to do with race.’ (p.95)
‘A big society is a society for the promotion of narrowness. It is a machinery for the for the purpose of guarding the solitary and sensitive individual from all experience of the bitter and bracing human compromises. It is, in the most literal sense of the words, a society for the prevention of Christian knowledge. We can see this change, for instance, in the modern transformation of the thing called a club.’ (p.95)
‘The man or woman who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us […] It is a good thing for man or woman to live in a family in the same sense that it is a beautiful and delightful thing for a man or woman to be snowed up in a street. They are forced to realise that life is not a thing from outside, but a thing from inside.’ (p.99)

On Pathos:

‘The one genuinely dangerous and immoral way of drinking wine is to drink it as medicine…Drink because you are happy, never because you are miserable.’ (p.53)
‘Human emotions are never hard and never gem-like; they are always dangerous, like flames, to touch or even examine.’ (p.56)
‘For a hearty laugh it is necessary to have touched the heart. I do not know why touching the heart should always be connected with the idea of touching it to compassion or a sense of distress. The heart can be touched to joy and triumph and the heart can be touched to amusement.’ (p.110)
‘Were even the Puritans Stoics? The English Puritans repressed a good deal, but even they were too English to repress their feelings.’ (p.112)

On Science:

‘Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.’ (p.50)
‘Science can analyse a pork-chop, and say how much of it is phosphorus and how much is protein; but science cannot analyse any man’s wish for a pork-chop, and say how much of it is hunger, how much custom, how much nervous fancy, how much a haunting love of the beautiful. The man’s desire for the pork-chop remains literally as mystical and ethereal as his desire for heaven.’ (p.76)
’Science in the modern world has many uses; its chief use, however, is to provide long words to cover the errors of the rich. The word “kleptomania” is a vulgar example of what I mean.’ (p.91)
‘Science is always by its nurture more solemn and austere than religion.’ (p.115)
‘To use a thing in vain means to use it without use.’ (p.117)
‘In the modern world solemnity [by way of grave and verbose writers (p.118)] is the direct enemy of sincerity.’ (p.119)
‘Science means specialism, and specialism means oligarchy […] the expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat [and] if we look at the progress of our scientific civilization we see a gradual increase everywhere of the specialist.’ (p.121)

On Faith:

‘A man or woman who has faith must be prepared not to be a martyr, but to be a fool.’ (p.49)
‘Whatever may be the meaning of faith; it must always mean a certainty about something we cannot prove. Thus, for instance, we believe by faith in the existence of other people.’ (p.85)
‘Faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox (p.83). [But] Paradoxes are true(p.120) […] a paradox is not a frivolous thing, but a very serious thing; it simply means a certain defiant joy which belongs to belief. I should regard any civilization which was without a universal habit of uproarious dancing as being, from the full human point of view, a defective civilization. And I should regard any mind which had not got the habit in one form or another of uproarious thinking as being, from the full human point of view, a defective mind.’ (p.123)

Some of his criticisms aren’t as cutting to a modern reader. Such as his rebuttal to H.G Wells, F. Nietzsche, or Rudyard Kipling and the Ex-Catholic Priest, Joseph McCabe. All seem overly wordy and lack absolute clarification about the context of Chesterton’s criticisms.The modern reader is then left a little shell-shocked, having to piece together fragments of Chesterton’s commentary in order to completely understand the significance of certain criticisms. In some respects it’s like wading through a fog with only Chesterton’s humour laced voice to guide the way – step here, tread there, no wait, go back, this way, not that.

It’s this trail, however, that makes Heretics what it is: a tour of an era, high on the belle époque of pre-WW1 humanism. Chesterton isn’t out to impress anyone. This is the one endearing tone of Heretics that rises higher than the rest. Honest, sometimes humorous and broad thought encapsulates its real value. In spite of the limitations Chesterton looks towards the precipice ahead. Pointing, with pipe and pint in hand, he then resoundingly argues that the trajectory of human pride ends, not in victory, but in a tragic free-fall from a fast approaching ledge.


Source:

Chesterton, G.K. 1905 Heretics, Catholic Way Publishing

Related posts:

The Most Agreeable Elements Of Chesterton’s HeReTiCs: Numero Uno

G.K. Chesterton’s War & Parker J. Palmer’s Objection To Objectivity

You Don’t Have To Be A Progressive, To Be For Progress

G.K Chesterton’s Resolve (Or, Early Gastronomic Activism)

Image: Gilbert and Frances Chesterton Creative Commons

Rembrandt_1633 Christ in the storm on the sea of GalileeAlthough I’ve browsed through ‘City of God’ and ‘On Christian Doctrine’, my main interaction with Augustine’s work centres on his ‘Confessions’.  (A phenomenal read if you ever get the chance to dig into it.)

I like many of the things Augustine says and wrestle with some of his more introspective reflections.

One of those is his statement:

‘The appearance of what we do is often different from the intention with which we do it, and the circumstances at the time may not be clear’[i]

Augustine seems to be saying that what we intend is not always what we do. Circumstances pending, what we do is sometimes only for the sake of what we want others to see and therefore say about us.

Avarice overrides responsible action as pride corrupts intention. Thus leading us onto a path where we turn ‘the loss of confessing self in order to be for others, into an all consuming self, an expressivist exhibition’[ii]

The divide between appearances and intentions, then, forms the basis of his point. This existential division creates an ethical-theological tension perpetuated by the sometimes fog of circumstances.

This is identified by Jean Bethke Elshtain in ‘Augustine and the limits of politics’:

 ‘Augustine lays the miseries of human life at the doorstep of sin, our division (within selves and between self and others), our enthrallment to cupiditas[iii] and our all-too-frequent abandonment of caritas[iv]. We are, in other words, ignorant but it is ignorance of a particular kind, not innocent naiveté but prideful cognitive amputation.[v]

What Elshtain means by ‘prideful cognitive amputation’ is ‘philosophical solipsism’ (extreme subjective idealism)[vi]; thoughtlessness (not to be confused with mindlessness), but understood as ‘the banality of evil.(Hannah Arendt’s controversial assessment of Adolf Eichmann) [vii]

Elshtain, a feminist, presents her analysis of Augustine as an attempt at rescue. Saving Augustine from the ritualistic frown passed on to our forebears by the hubris and suspicion of post 60’s modernity.

For her, Augustine is relevant and worthy of a second look:

‘He confesses what he knows and what he does not know. He does know that the world isn’t boundlessly subjectivist; it does not revolve around the “me, myself and I”[viii]

Augustine himself thunders the point home:

‘I flattered my pride to think that I incurred no guilt and, when I did wrong, not to confess it so that you might bring healing to a soul that had sinned against you. I preferred to excuse myself and blame this unknown thing which was in me but was not part of me. The truth, of course, was all my own self, and my own impiety had divided me against myself. My sin was all the more incurable because I did not think myself a sinner’[ix]

Elshtain brilliantly adds, ‘when we start to regard ourselves in our own light, our light dims’[x]

Reading this in the emerging light of advent we might be called back to Karl Barth’s assertion

‘To thank means to accept with confession,… to acknowledge the gift, the goodness and the kindness of the Giver’[xi]

God makes himself known in Jesus Christ, ‘the sign of all signs[xii]

In Augustine’s sigh we hear that the heart has ears. Before the beauty of Christmas this can only mean an awakening to an awareness of our own need for grace; an acknowledgement that we are carried, firmly, lovingly held above the abyss.

Confronted by such a grace we learn that God is God and we are not. Yet, by Divine decision; a fierce and free decree. In Jesus Christ, we are spoken to, spoken for and therefore not given up on.

In His example we see in part, the point of Christmas. That the ‘principle of charity requires nothing less than to make one’s best effort.’[xiii]

Jesus is Victor!


Source

[i] Augustine, St. Confessions Penguin Classics III/XIX 1961:67

[ii] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.6

[iii] Latin for desire, eagerness, enthusiasm; passion; lust; avarice; greed; ambition; partisanship (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[iv] Latin for charity, grace, dearness, high price; esteem, affection (Source: Collins Latin Dictionary App)

[v] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 ‘Augustine & The Limits of Politics’ p.37

[vi] Ibid, p.59

[vii] Ibid,

[viii] Ibid, p.5

[ix] Augustine, St. 1961 Confessions Penguin Classics V/X p.103

[x] Elshtain, ibid pp.11, 66 &62

[xi] Barth, K. 1940 The Limits of  the Knowledge of God C.D II/I Hendrickson Publishers p.198

[xii] Ibid, p.199

[xiii] Elshtain, ibid p.55

*I’ve borrowed the second part of the title to this blog post from Elshtain, who uses it on page xiii in her introduction.

Image: Rembrandt, 1633 ‘Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee’

Maturity moves forward through humilitySpeaking on Spirit and Truth in his 1996 book, ‘Flame of Love’, Clark Pinnock writes that ‘maturity’[i] moves forward through humility.

According to Pinnock, biblically speaking, Mary is ‘our example’. Like her, we need time to ponder ‘profound matters and make them our own’[ii].

Pinnock also writes that the ‘Spirit helps us develop our understanding’[iii].

He suggests that ‘revelation is not a closed system of propositional truths but a divine self-disclosure that continues to open up and challenge’[iv].

Pinnock looks at revelation in terms of the Spirit revealing truth; truth being Jesus Christ, the Word, who is presented to us and present with us, the former ‘’being’’ revealed in the Biblical accounts[v], the same and latter ‘’being’’, acknowledged by the God-who-is-with-us in the present activity of the Holy Spirit.

For example:

‘Divine activity enables believers to interact in the course of their Bible reading. The Spirit causes the Word to be heard and opens up the truth, helping readers experience and communicate it’[vi].

In similar terms, for Pinnock, the humility within our response to the Spirit is what allows us to see.

Having a teachable attitude (read: heart and mind) empowers our learning and becoming; this employs an idea of theosislike Christ. Those who have responded to the call of grace understand the call to repentance, as they embrace total accountability before God.

Simply put: ‘human responsibility’ is to learn what the ‘Spirit wants to teach us’. Pinnock writes: ‘if hearing and receiving are undisciplined, teaching may come to naught…The Spirit wants to teach us, but human responsibility is required if real learning is to occur’[vii].

Of importance to the Christian here is that Pinnock points us towards the value of humility in the Spirit led life of a Christian. Such as:

‘The Spirit, as the one who interprets the meaning of Jesus in the community over time’[viii].

For me this reading has been a reminder of the Holy Spirit’s ability to work through our humility in order to mature us. In sanctification the Holy Spirit develops within us an understanding of just-justification, and as a consequence, a full acknowledgement of how God’s grace is received, and how God’s grace is rejected.

Pinnock, in a similar tone to that of Ambrose of Milan states that ‘humility is fundamental for growing as hearers’ of the word; therefore ‘always be open to improved insight’[ix].

This consideration is not far from Karl Barth’s thought when he writes:

‘Revelation is a movement…This movement is the divine act of Lordship – God-present-with-us… here divine time is in the midst of our time. When revelation takes place, it never does so by means of our insight and skill, but in the freedom of God to be free for us and to free us from ourselves, that is to say, to let His light shine in our darkness, which as such does not comprehend His light’[x]

According to John, Jesus once said “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (Jn.12:48, ESV).

Could this only mean then, that those among us who reject grace, instead, earn for themselves just-judgement?

With this in mind, is it fair then to propose that we reject grace when we reject the opportunity to learn? And then if we reject the opportunity to learn, do we unwittingly reject the Holy Spirit?

One possible answer is that whether grace is received or rejected, it ultimately rests first in the Spirit. Secondly, in humility , and thirdly, in the response of gratitude for God’s movement towards us, as understood and taught by Barth.

If God is able and I am not, then:

‘Let us, with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need’

(Hebrews 4:16, ESV).


[i] Pinnock, C. 1996, Flame of Love InterVarsity Press pp.218, 219
[ii] Ibid, p.219
[iii] Ibid, p.221
[iv] Ibid, p.221
[v] Ibid, p.242
[vi] Ibid, p.229
[vii] Ibid, p.244
[viii] Ibid, p.233
[ix] Ibid, p.222
[x]  ‘God’s time in our time’, Barth, K.1938 Church Dogmatics 1.2:65, Hendrickson Publishers & see Webster.J, 2000 Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, Cambridge University Press, p.13

When you come into a marriage with poverty and a broken heritage:

How do you move from the economic class of renter to “Home Owner”, without selling your own soul, selling out your own goals or killing that marriage?

When your support pillars are war ruins, broken hearts, lives and relationships:IMG_20140119_181544

How do you bring a shattered past to support the present?

When no gifts are left to you:

How do you say thank you for good gifts when they come?

When a parent abdicates responsibility, antagonizes the wounds, and  then a sibling speaks in half-truths, and falsely accuses, in order to hide the embarrassment of wrong doing:

How do you forgive?

How do you defend?

When the hand-downs  and opinions are always accusations, cruel measurements, and covert put downs:

How do you understand yourself and your own worth?

How do you breathe?

When the hands that were designated to be helpers don’t help:

How do you ask for help?

When people are moulded by manipulation and won by charm and false appearances:

How do you bless and not fall to the temptation to impress?

When you forgive and are not forgiven:

How do you engage or disengage properly when others refuse to do the same?

Perhaps a good place to begin is here:

                1. Talk with the Lord
                2. Learn carefully
                3. Care carefully
                4. Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness
                5. Be brave

Don’t let that shattered heritage take root, or bring the echoes of resentment into your marriage. Reject the cycle of abuse. Reuse the useful things you have. I.e.: take stock, then do what you can with what you’ve got.

Aim to bless rather than impress[i].

Talk with the Lord. He is a working God, active caring and in pursuit of the broken.

Listen carefully because the ‘insight into divine matters is like a seed that needs to grow into a mature plant…Mature knowledge does not come quickly or easy…it takes time to penetrate profound matters and make them our own’[ii]

Trust and ‘humility must be the order of the day’[iii]

Learn carefully because ‘God’s leading is experienced as His Spirit fosters movement towards the truth, despite our mistakes and errors…we must be both hopeful and sober about the possibilities’[iv]

Care carefully because you are carefully cared for far beyond the extreme void, that makes you torn and breathless. Look at the blessings that do exist and count them, no matter how small, each one has significance.

There is no emptiness to His care. Give him permission to move you from an intensive care unit to a tender care one.

Put into service the paradoxes of thanksgiving and of forgiveness; losing in order to win[v], where the world measures success by appearance. Your success is measured by God in the victory and bravery of His Son, who is and was and is to come. Maintain boundaries and remember that forgiveness does not mean returning to a place of ignorance.

Be brave because beauty and light is found beyond the seemingly unbreakable walls of fear and dark loathing.

Weeping may tarry for the night,  but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:5

Extreme anxiety has no future home in a broken heart[vi] touched by God. For the humble and broken are closer to the heart of God than they realise[vii].


[i] Mt.5:38, ESV “Forgive and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you”
[ii] Pinnock, C. 1996, Flame of Love InterVarsity Press p.219
[iii] Ibid, p.219
[iv] Ibid, p.219
[v] Matthew 16:25, ESV
[vi] Matthew 6:25, ESV
[vii] Psalm 34:18

I valued reading this and commend Katie for writing it.

katiesjournal

Sometimes, I get super discouraged… does anyone love God? I mean, I know that so many do, but I meet many people who used to go to church, who are adamantly appalled by Christianity, and at the same time- I’m sometimes disappointed at Christians’ responses to culture- or their lack of a response altogether – including my own. All of this makes me sound like I think I’m one of the few who has it together, right? Like I have all the answers then… I don’t. More than anything, it just makes me sad.

Sad that we, including myself, so often don’t care what God thinks or feels at all… like He should have no say in our culture, our schools, our country… our world?

No, no – He can have a say…like over His things… like Sunday morning church and Christmas and Easter and funerals. He’s great at those…

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