Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Confidence in Knowing

If we must always be aware of the existence of things that we do not - and in some cases, cannot - know, then how can we ever know anything at all? 

This is the reason that truth has become so watered down in our culture. It's difficult for us to live in a space where we know what we know, but we also know that what we know is not the fullness of truth. We cannot handle the tension between being so certain and having any hesitation at all, so what we have done is to determine that truth is only what you can see of it at any given time. Truth is only what is right in front of you and does not exist outside of your own perspective of it. 

In other words, there is no truth but the truth that you know and the truth that you know should be sufficient for whatever you decide to do with it. 

No one can fault you for not knowing what you don't know, right? That doesn't seem fair. 

But truth doesn't ask you to act on that which you do not know. Truth doesn't expect you to know the fullness of it. Rather, truth expects you to have only a limited perspective. All that truth asks is that you recognize how limited your perspective is. 

You see, we think there is no fundamental difference between acknowledging truth and knowing truth, but the truth is (see what I did there?) that there is a fundamental difference. Acknowledging truth means confessing that truth exists, whether or not you know what truth is at any given point in time or space. Knowing truth is...more difficult.

And this is why truth requires faith. It's necessary. Faith is that thing that lets us confess at any given moment that there is something bigger than we know. That there is something greater than we comprehend. Faith extends our knowing beyond our confidence and into the assurance that something beyond us is knowable. 

Faith is our constant confession that truth is more than we know of it. Faith is our constant pursuit of, and adherence to, this truth. 

Faith, then, is a truth in and of itself. Its foundation is a knowing of what is, at the present time, unknown.

If, then, we live in faith, we can be confident in knowing both what we know and what we do not yet know (and what we may not ever know). We don't have to let our questions about our own limitations hinder us from knowing, for our faith fills in the gaps of truth and brings it to fullness. We can then go about knowing what we know, in constant knowing of what we do not know, and have, by faith, a fullness of knowing. 

Did you follow all that? 

It's difficult, I know. It's tough to wrap our minds around this, particularly in a culture that so severely limits truth to our own understanding of it. But the moment that we are able to step out of our own perspective and acknowledge our blind spots, the moment we embrace the questions that our limited perspective leaves us with, we find that we have more answers than questions. Our knowing is somehow more full in the midst of our unknowing. We are more sure, more certain, in humble confession of our finiteness than we ever are in false confidence of our completeness. 

And that's because our small, narrow, limited definition of truth requires something else, something that we know to the core of our being is not truly compatible with truth. What is that? 

Stay tuned.  

Monday, May 3, 2021

A Simple Thank You

When we talk about humility, most of us think of the kind of false humility that we have been taught to show as a politeness - the kind of so-called humility that makes us self-dismissive, self-denying, and self-deprecating. I used to be this way, too. (And confession: sometimes, I still am.) We're taught that this is how we are supposed to handle compliments. We're told that it's rude, arrogant, and abrasive if we do anything else. Others won't like us, and they'll think their compliments are misguided, if we agree with them. 

Somehow, we've gotten the idea that when someone mentions something good about us, it's because they want to believe they're telling us something we don't already know. If we claim that we already know it, by doing anything other then pretending that it's not true, we are insulting the one who complimented us. 

It doesn't seem to occur to us that a greater insult is to pretend they don't know what they're talking about and that they're totally wrong. 

Do you realize how strange it is that we find a politeness in telling others how wrong about us they are? 

Anyway, I used to be this way. Like all of us, I was taught that this is how you best handle compliments about yourself - by dismissing and denying them, with that little bit of a smile that lets everyone else know you're being a bit disingenuous. And then one day, in utter frustration as I continued to politely deny every good thing he ever said about me, a pastor friend and mentor just looked at me for a moment until he knew he had my full attention and said four words that have changed the way I engage with compliments: 

"Just say thank you."

Just say thank you. Just acknowledge that someone else has said something true about you from their perspective. Embrace their acknowledgement and affirmation. Let them affirm something that God has said is true about you because He created it in you. Real humility is letting yourself settle into the fullness of who you are and letting it just be

And if, by chance, someone affirms something in you that you don't particularly like or that you don't want to be, then their affirmation is your chance to recognize it anew and decide to do something different about it. 

The thing is, you can learn all kinds of things about yourself from the compliments of others. Some things will surprise you, and some things will delight you. Some things will let you know that you're right where you wanted to be. Others might open an entirely new path that you didn't think was possible. Some might touch on a dream that you've tried to keep secret because you weren't sure if it was reasonable or not. Others can reveal to us so many things about ourselves, and this necessarily humbles us because we can never go back and be anything other than we already were. What we were in the moment that our friend, our brother, our sister, our neighbor holds so dear as to say something about it is something that is true about us. A compliment forces us to accept ourselves for that moment. 

Maybe that's why it's so easy for us to deny it. Then, we don't have to accept anything. 

But isn't it strange that we've spent our whole lives learning that humility is self-denial when in fact, the most humble thing we can do is accept and embrace a compliment? It's this acceptance and embrace that tells the other that we are willing to recognize ourselves, that we are willing to confess something about us, that we are willing to stand in the sometimes-awkward places of being known

And all it takes is a thank you. That's it. Just a thank you. 

So...start with that. See how it changes your heart to just say thanks. And then tell me that's not a more humbling experience than all the junk our culture has tried to teach you about it. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

A Conversation About Humility

On Friday, I wrote about developing a more humble perspective on the world, and I think that's important. But it's also important, when we introduce the idea of humility, to talk a little bit about what humility really is. 

Primarily because we are really bad at it, even when we are trying really hard. 

We all know about false humility - and we recognize it almost immediately as false. This is the idea that when someone compliments you, you're supposed to pretend you're not awesome and instead, talk about how terrible you or tell them how mistaken they must be about you. We've been told this is the polite thing to do, that it's the best way to handle compliments about yourself and praise from others. (It's not. Maybe we should talk about that tomorrow.) But we all also recognize this isn't real humility. 

We've coined a phrase in our culture for another type of false humility - the "humble brag." This is where you say something about yourself that could be a lowly, little kind of thing except that you are actually trying to make it a praiseworthy thing. The so-called humble brag seeks recognition and praise, which makes it, too, not at all humble. 

And then, we have come up with this cute little phrase that says that humility "is not thinking less of yourself; it's thinking of yourself less." But guess what - that's not humility, either. Humility is never self-dismissive. It can't be. So the minute that you try to think you're not a factor in this equation, that you don't exist in this circumstance, that nothing about you matters here...that's not humility. Humility cannot exist without a self to humble. As cute as this phrase is, it doesn't get us to humility. 

The common cultural understanding of humility, which seems to be as true inside of the church as outside of the church, would read a post like the one I made on Friday and determine that our best course of action through the world would be to pretend we knows nothing. To pretend we've never been a human being before and have no experience in or opinion on whatever we're facing right now. Or perhaps it would propose that we start every breath with the recognition that we are most definitely wrong about whatever we're thinking. 

That's not humility. Humility is not a blankness. It's not an emptiness.

Humility is not self-dismissing. It is not self-defeating. It is not self-deprecating. 

Humility is self-recognizing. Self-honoring. Self-owning.

See, humility starts with our recognition that we are finite beings. It doesn't pretend that we don't know anything, but recognizes that we don't know everything. It owns what we have access to in our limited experience and understanding, and at the same time, it confesses that our experience and understanding are limited - that there are things that we aren't thinking about because we haven't lived a life that has forced us to think about...and that there are things we couldn't think about if we had a thousand imaginations because they are that far outside of our lived realm. 

And yet, these things that we don't know are just as real as the things that we do know. That's what humility acknowledges. That's what humility grasps.

So when humility comes up against a recognition like those I have been having lately, when it brushes up against things outside of its own perspective, it doesn't become self-defeating and claim it is impossible to know anything; it doesn't become self-dismissive and claim it doesn't know what it very surely does know; it doesn't become self-deprecating and claim some sort of mock lowliness. Humility isn't troubled by the fact that it doesn't know everything; it doesn't expect to know everything. 

It expects that there is always something outside of the box of lived experience that it doesn't know yet, without giving up any of the millions of things it very much knows. Humility believes it has a contribution to make...and to receive. 

They say that humility is accepting your smallness or that humbling yourself is making yourself smaller. But we make ourselves smaller not by turning on ourselves, but by realizing our world is much bigger that we know of it. Just as a goldfish is no smaller in the ocean than it is in the bowl; it's just that in the open waters, it feels its smallness differently. When we let our world be bigger, we fell our smallness differently, without actually being any smaller at all. That's humility. 

It starts with our fullness and embraces every bit of us, but it comes to our smallness. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Humble Perspective

As we talk about what it means to be the kind of persons who pray one another home, who actively seek God's best for those who come unclean into our sacred spaces, I can't help but recognize part of the journey that God has had me on for awhile. It's the journey of humility. 

It will surprise almost no one to learn that I have been called arrogant in my life. More often than I want to. I have been told, at times, that I am a person of limited perspective, usually in the moments when I'm pretty sure that I have the most insight into what is actually going on around me (or in me or through me or whatever). I am passionate about certain things, and sometimes, that passion crosses the line into over-confidence. 

Like most humans (all? humans), it's easy for me to believe that when I think I understand something, that is the universal answer for everyone. And it's easy for me to want others to reap the benefits of my learning and understanding. 

In other words, it's easy for me to think that if everyone else just knew what I knew, their lives would be better off. 

I don't believe I am alone in this. 

But in small, yet un-ignorable, ways, God keeps revealing to me that maybe that's not the case. That there's more to the world than what I know of it, even in those moments when I think I understand something outside of my own box. We could take just a couple of recent examples to illustrate this. So let's do it. 

Recently, there was a high-profile murder trial, portions of which were aired over the television and much of the rest of it, available online. I tuned into some of this, not out of particular interest in the case but rather, out of knowing that the verdict - whatever it would be - would have far-reaching implications for our society and culture as a whole, and it's important for us as persons of faith to be engaged in these sorts of things for that very reason: they shape our world. And if we are called to be world-shapers ourselves, we have to know how these forces work and what others are paying attention to. 

After watching for awhile, it became rather clear to me that there were some things there that needed to be considered, that would have to be thought about carefully. I knew that even one out of twelve jurors could put a hold on the entire process, even leading to a hung jury. They had to be absolutely unanimous in their understanding of the facts to convict. And listening to the arguments and the experts from both sides, I thought it was impossible. (Truly, I wonder how it's possible to get twelve persons to agree wholly on anything, but maybe that's part of my own bias.) And then, just hours into it, they came back with a conviction. 

At first, I was upset, then confused. Twelve persons, and not one of them had any doubt at all? It seemed fishy to me. There was something in me - something haughty - that wanted to go off the rails about it. But then, I thought about it some more. Twelve persons had not an inkling of doubt at all in a place where I thought doubt was reasonable. What did I miss? What do these twelve persons know - about the case, about the world, about our culture - that I'm missing? And I started to think that maybe I don't know everything. (I don't.) 

A second example comes out of that Bible I've been reading, the one I've been writing about on and off this year. It frustrates me; it really does. Recently, the 'expert commentator' has taken to writing out every single rhetorical question in the Hebrew Scripture and instead, replacing it with an affirmative statement. Instead of saying, "Are you not God in Heaven?" the translator has opted for, "Surely, you are God in Heaven." 

As someone who believes in questions, who values asking the hard things, and who appreciates language and its usage, this drives me batty. I think there is tremendous value in rhetorical questions. They invite us to ask ourselves before considering the answer. They tap into a deep place in our heart. I was downright angry that someone would take it upon themselves to edit out the questions of the Bible, particularly for a people who I believe need permission to ask the questions. (I've written about this before. We are a people too hesitant to ask God what we really want to know, as if questions somehow betray faith.) I think the rhetorical questions are valuable, and I don't know why we choose to say "Surely, you are..." when what the author really said, when what the fragile human heart really cried out, is, "Are you not....?" 

But then, I don't know. Something about weariness took over in my soul. Something about understanding what it's like to live in a place where you can't have one more question or it's going to break you, where you don't have time to be rhetorical about it - you need confident assurance now. Something about someone who was reading this passage and didn't need to wade through the rhetorical negative, didn't need to have to diagram a sentence to figure out what was being asked. Didn't need to have a question with no answer because that implied answer? It might be different altogether in a weary and world-worn heart. I realized there are persons who need that affirmative, just as my as my heart holds onto the rhetorical. 

And in that moment, I realized that if what I want, what I need, what I think is valuable, what I want to project onto everyone else, keeps one person from having that thread of hope that they need in a desperate moment, then I haven't made their life better. They haven't benefitted from my expert opinion. I may not have time, or opportunity, to convince them that the question is better. I may, in that moment of my insistence, lose their soul forever. And that's just not a price I'm willing to pay. 

I'm still passionate about things. A lot of things. I still think there is value in my perspective, that I see things that others maybe don't or can't. I still think there are some things that would make the world a better place if others could just see it the way that I see it. But I'm also coming, little by little, to know that there is such a fine line here. There is such a dangerous line here, between being a blessing to the world and being a burden to it. Between truly helping someone and accidentally holding them at arm's length from the hope they really need. 

I'm learning that even the things I am most certain about are not most certain for everyone and that there are things in this world that are outside of my perspective that I haven't seen yet. And I am investing myself in seeing them. I am investing myself in reflecting on those moments when I am most certain that I am right and asking instead what I'm missing. Because that's what's at the heart of the very thing that I said just a few paragraphs ago that is important - staying engaged with our world in a meaningful way. Understanding what's going on in culture and in society that influences how my brothers and sisters are living in their fleshly vessels. How I'm living in mine. 

And you know what? This is a better place to be. It really is. It is better to be learning all the time, to be open and curious and engaged, than to be right. The best teachers are the most invested learners, and if I ever want to really make a difference in the world, the truth remains: I must listen more than I speak. So...I'm working on it. 

And this changes the way that I see the world's mud.  

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Pure in Heart

It's easy for us to become so distracted by the mud on someone's feet that we neglect to consider his or her heart. But for Hezekiah, the heart was the primary concern.

Hezekiah knew that the people of Israel wouldn't have come this far if their hearts weren't set on the Passover. He knew they wouldn't have put up with the journey if they didn't believe something profound about the experience to come at the end. He knew that their hearts were caught up in hope - the hope of establishing a connection with the Lord Himself, the God they had heard so much about from so many for so long. He knew their eyes were caught in wonder at the sight of the Lord's Temple, and their hearts were wrapped in anticipation of what the Passover meant. It meant that this Lord chose them.

Hezekiah knew their hearts were pure, and that's how he was able to look past all the mud on their feet and offer an honest and sincere prayer for them before the Lord. 

This seems...so much harder for us for some reason. 

We're distracted by the mud. Honestly, we are. We are lulled into a sense of false superiority by our own experiences, and this gives us the haughtiness to think that we have not only the right, but the ability, to judge someone else's story. 

It's why we say things about others like, "Well, it's their own fault. If they really wanted a better life, they'd make better choices." Or "They're always going to be poor; they just don't manage their money well." Or "If they wanted to work, they'd have a job by now. Everyone is hiring! Just go work somewhere!" Or...the list goes on and on. We look at someone else's life, caked in mud, and we don't understand why they don't just pick up one of a thousand hoses we think are at their disposal and wash it all off. We don't know why they don't just make themselves clean.

I mean, it's not that hard. Right?

Except that it is. At least, it can be. You can't just walk around picking up hoses. Someone, somewhere, has to make sure there's water in them for you. 

Many who don't have a job either don't have the health to keep a job or can't get a foot in the door somewhere. Yes, places are hiring, but that doesn't mean they are hiring everyone. Some have a past they can't get away from. Some have families they have to take care of. Once you get a job and commit yourself to being away from your family for many hours a day, in many cases, you have to then pay someone to care for your family for you (sick elders, young children), and if you're not making enough money to pay for that care, then you're shooting yourself in the foot and for what? Because society thinks better of you if you have a 'job' - and caring for your home isn't considered a 'job.' Society isn't thinking about your heart; they're only looking at your mud. 

Or think of someone wrapped in addiction. If you've never been addicted to anything, you can't understand what this does to your life. It's easy to sit in your comfortable home and think that if someone doesn't want to be addicted, they just have to stop picking up the bottle or the needle. It's just that easy....except it isn't. Except there are very real pains in persons' lives that go away with that substance, and if you don't have the capabilities to deal with the pains (physical or emotional/mental or even, in some cases, spiritual), that pain sets you into a debilitating panic. It's overwhelming. You can't just 'get over it.' You need something to take the edge off, or you feel like you're dying all the time. It's not so easy as just 'choosing' not to do it. That's the mud talking. The heart, however...

The heart wants all kinds of things that the flesh can't pull off, for whatever reason. And we have to stop thinking that just because we've figured out our own flesh, we've figured out everyone else's. We have to stop judging others by the measure of our own life, even if we've been through similar things. Even if we've fought similar battles. Even if we think we understand, we have to realize that we don't. Especially, and I can't emphasize this enough, if we have never actually talked on a meaningful level with the person whose mud we're judging. 

We all have this natural inclination to think the best of ourselves. We know our own hearts, and we know how purely we go after the things that we want. We know how purely we try to do good things. We know how earnest we are in our efforts. Yet for some reason, we look at our efforts and look at someone else's mud, and we think they aren't even trying. We not only think that, we know that. Somehow. We just don't give them the benefit of the doubt...ever. We don't care if their hearts are pure. If their hearts were that pure, we reason, they wouldn't have so much mud. 

But what if we turned that on its head? What if we understood that the mud on someone's feet was the result of a pure heart? After all, these men journeyed from Israel through all that dirt because their hearts were pure. Because they had a firm belief in what the Passover would mean for them. Because they carried all the hope in the world in their hearts. So what about their feet? 

We have to start believing the best in others. We have to start looking at more than the mud. We have to start understanding what brought them here in the first place, how they came to be dragging themselves into this Temple, dirt and all, to begin with. We have to believe in and trust their motivations, and we have to seize upon their hope. 

That's the thing - their hope. When Hezekiah prayed for the Lord's acceptance of these unclean men, he did them the greatest blessing. He took their hope...and he carried it the last little bit for them. He took them straight to the heart of where they longed to be, mud and all. He brought them not only into the Temple courtyard, but into the presence of God and he confirmed for them that their journey had not been in vain. They were here, right where they'd hoped to be, and it was everything they imagined...and more. 

We have to be that kind of person for others. We have to be that kind of pray-er for others. We have to be that kind of believer for others. We have to carry their hope with them. As a people of God, we have to. For we are the ones that know the way into the Most Holy places. May we be a people who bring others with us.