Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Truth and Humility

I’ve continued to think about the things that have shaped my life in ministry over the past three decades. I was nurtured initially in a community of faith that believed it was the most faithful expression of Christianity on earth. Truth was taken seriously, and personal commitment meant taking truth seriously (“truth” being the package of understanding taught by that particular group).

Much of that “truth” was, indeed, orthodox Christian dogma. I am grateful to this day that my early nurture in the Faith was based on this and that it was given the stature of such great importance. Unfortunately, the “truth” went beyond that. (More on that next time).

Somehow God’s grace worked in my life (in the midst of a mind-set that attempted to categorize everything neatly into a manageable package) to see there is a neurotic side to a person’s need to be right in everything. It is a way of attempting to live with security on the basis of one’s own (or one’s own small community’s) boundaries while claiming they are God’s. One practical result of this is a haughty judgmental spirit toward others who are different. “Truth” becomes a weapon with which to bludgeon those whose differences are significant enough to threaten one’s “secure” little world.

I was reminded of this in today’s Office of Readings in The Liturgy of the Hours. Saint Gregory the Great wrote these words (from Moral Reflections on Job) — “The teaching of the arrogant has this characteristic: they do not know how to introduce their teaching humbly and they cannot convey correctly to others the things they understand correctly themselves. With their words they betray what they teach; they give the impression that they live on lofty heights from which they look down disdainfully on those whom they are teaching; they regard the latter as inferiors, to whom they do not deign to listen as they talk; indeed they scarcely deign to talk to them at all—they simply lay down the law.... [On the other hand] true doctrine tries both to teach by words and to demonstrate by living example—humility, which is the mother and mistress of virtues. Its goal is to express humility among the disciples of truth more by deeds than by words.”

One way I tried to apply this to my life throughout my more than three decades of preaching was to “preach to myself and let others listen.” Before I can give God’s truth to another, I need to allow the searching light of God’s Spirit to explore the nooks and crannies of my own life. Only then am I free to speak the Word to others.

What if everyone professing to follow Jesus would do this?!

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