Humility is Often an Exaggerated Virtue

Yes, I remember so well how wonderful it is to be humble!  I had learned that this was so very early in my life, knew that I certainly did not appear to be arrogant, was generous to others, and was just an all around nice guy!  And I still think this description of my self was true…and I hope it is still true today!  But there is a profound difference in the “knowledge” of humility and “be-ing” humble, the latter not an acquisition but an on-going process.

BUT, I now realize that the “humility” described above was a learned life-style instilled into me from an “humble” rural Arkansas culture and an “humble” fundamentalist Baptist culture.   The “humility” certainly did include a socio-economic dimension as I was the product of what historians called the Southern white “dispossessed” who were still suffering from the collapse of the pre-Civil War Southern culture, a pronounced historical “humiliation.”

But, one could still use the label “humble” to describe me and still could I hope.  However, I now think that humility is not something that you can acquire by social pressure or education or a spiritual culture.  In fact, I don’t even believe in “humility” in a certain sense but I do firmly believe in a phenomena which I like to call “humility-ization.”

Humility-ization is something that came to me, and is still coming to me, as a result of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”  I prefer, however, to describe it as “the Grace of God.”  Humiliti-zation is a life long process of being stripped of the superficies of our existence, including the extremely superficial accoutrements of our “spiritual life.”  It entailed learning that my “humility” was mostly performance art, a role that I had subscribed to in return for the approbation of my family and community.  AND, that was good and I’m pleased that I acquired that persona for I now realize it kept me from a lot of mischief.  But, it took me way too long to realize that this “performance art” was very superficial, essentially inauthentic, and thus an act.  Even more so, it dawned on me that the New Testament word “hypocrite” was merely a term for one who was “acting” virtuous.

I emphasize that performance art is just a natural part of life and there is nothing necessarily wrong with it.  But, in a Christian culture, if one lives his whole life being “good” basically because he has learned it is the way to earn social approbation, then these words of Jesus would apply to him, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?”  In my culture it would give one a good “send off” with lots of lavish praise. But what about the unlived life which could certainly have been lived as a Christian but one who was sincerely living out of the “abundance of his own heart” and not just from listening to shrill dogma he had listened to since early youth.

For, Jesus was not here to provide us fire insurance.  Jesus was not here to prop up an empty life, to give the shell of a human being a “suit of clothes” to wear, but to empower one to become authentic, to give expression to his inner-most essence which might be described as “the Christ child” within us all.  “Becoming a Christian” in the culture I was raised in, and lived in most of my life, was merely part of a persona and that, I might add, a very worthwhile persona.  But, to live one’s whole life as a mere Christian persona, as a Christian marionette (or Christian-ette) is to miss the point of the wonderful spiritual teacher who left us so much wisdom if we would find the courage to explore it more fully.

 

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