Vail Daily column: Flex humility’s muscle
February 25, 2017
During Lent, Christians get in spiritual shape. Faith's regimen includes several reps of humility that reflect Christ's humble demeanor.
Obsessed with self-congratulatory praise, American culture ignores these self-reflective calisthenics. Humility is caricatured as doubting one's ability, trampling on fragile egos or bearing insults. Impatient to receive praise from others, our Kardashian-culture sings its own praises.
Bragging is preferred over humility. The Bible sounds spiritually stuffy with its ethical dress code: "Put on … compassion, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forgiving one another, and, if a person has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…" (Colossians 3:12-13).
Such a moral dress code wears thin in a culture where leaders practice chest-thumping. Who uses restrained conversation? Who smiles at personal foibles? Who expresses gratitude for others' character gifts in a culture that hypes self-made achievers? Who believes they can become president by reflecting Jesus' humility?
Why do we cling to leaders who sell their successes and grant themselves legendary status, rather than wait for history to confer this honor? Such blowhards are already legends in their own minds.
President Trump won over many voters because a tight job market humbled them enough. At last summer's Republican National Convention, Trump scared voters by reciting a litany of national defects. Then he thundered, "I alone can fix it!" Heck with humility.
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Humility forms Christian identity. Granted, most presidents have been ambitious and driven to win against losing odds. But Abraham Lincoln took the measure of his presidential tasks and asked for divine aid to meet them. Using political skills, Lincoln reckoned with enormous presidential responsibilities ahead. He asked whether he was worthy of these tasks.
Other transformative presidents like Washington, Jefferson, Wilson, FDR, Reagan and Obama showed similar humility before tackling difficult responsibilities.
If trying on humility feels ill-fitting, dress your life with modesty, its synonym. Reality TV ditches this virtue. Being mild-mannered with a modest disposition doesn't sell. TV viewers such as brawlers, shouters and oafs whose cartoonish personalities offend decency. This orange hair effect entices viewers because humility doesn't color such stark personalities.
Moderation is out; macho is in. Hubris tops humility. Thumbs up on arrogance; thumbs down on meekness.
Modesty enriches a president's skill bank. Modest presidents invest in retracting what's errant. They learn from mistakes. Modesty also spares a president from a disease afflicting many public figures whose egos thrive on self-congratulatory steroids. They dance in a political end zone after scoring big-time after elections. Such leaders rarely allow modesty to surprise them with new insight because they already have answers.
Humble presidents practice the East Africa proverb: "When you want to go fast, go alone; when you want to go far, go together."
On Day 1 of his presidency, Donald Trump stormed into CIA headquarters. Before a Memorial Wall honoring agents who died in covert operations, the president went on a riff that lacked humility. He bragged about the size of campaign rallies. He boasted about his front-page photos on Time magazine. He scowled because a disingenuous media shrunk his huge inaugural crowds. He advised career CIA employees to get ahead by stroking the president's ego.
The Wall Street Journal's verdict on Trump so stuck on himself that he's stuck with himself in a universe of one: "Such defensiveness about his victory and media coverage makes Mr. Trump look small and insecure."
Contrast his swagger with how Barack Obama began his presidency. He attended an Al Smith Dinner in which the chief executive gets roasted by jesters who want to keep him humble.
Obama did one better. He laughed at himself. He deadpanned, "If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility." "Greatest weakness?" He quipped, "It's possible that I'm a little too awesome." Note how the former president made fun of presumption and flat-out ego inflation.
Some politicians build towers with their names adorning buildings as testimonies to their greatness. They tweet, using puffery that stretches what's true, acting like a rubber band that's lost its snap-back tenacity. They strut like walking billboards and brag at the opening of a former Post Office building renovated into luxury condos that "a total genius must have built this place."
Eighty-one percent of evangelical Christians voted against humility in the last presidential election. Most Roman Catholics joined them, chucking modesty as a presidential virtue. These Christians must develop a firmer Christian faith that flexes the muscle of humility.
Time for Christians to get into shape this Lent by lifting weights of modesty and humility.
At these workouts, get re-introduced to humble Jesus whose modesty befits Christian faith that works for others' benefit instead of sheer self-promotion.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God's history come alive.
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