As our airwaves and platforms are saturated with requests, threats and predictions over the upcoming midterm elections, the unrelenting messaging machines generate visceral reactions, to be sure, but also – maybe, some personal reflection, if not introspection. What is important? What values do I have and how can I hold them? How am I/ how are we, supposed to live with one another – and how best to do that?
Nearly 3000 years ago the prophet Micah had a well- remembered admonition: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Justice, kindness and humility. Seemingly straightforward commitments, except they are not. There are endless disputes as to what constitutes justice. Kindness is a bit simpler, yet if there is any sort of cultural, economic or racial disparity between two people, kindness can often be perceived as manipulation or oppression. And humility can often turn evolve into humiliation, which was certainly the case when recordings of a phone call among City Councilors in Los Angeles became public, revealing an intention to humiliate a particular constituency, and using offensive, if not racist language in doing so. The prevailing wisdom in our culture seems to be that the best way to avoid humiliation is to humiliate someone else.
Except it doesn’t work. Mutually assured humiliation just keeps people on edge, and undermines trust. And in the Los Angeles case, generates calls for the Councilors to resign.
The Latin root of humility is humus, or of the earth. It refers to being grounded. Being humble invites a level of vulnerability. When Micah calls people to walk humbly with their God (assuming there is an acknowledgement that there is a God with whom one can walk) the prophet is suggesting that they assume this posture of vulnerability. Not to be stepped on, but to be opened up.
I have discovered that one of the most profound and abiding pathways to humility is to tell our story. First to oneself, then to others. Not our inflated story, or our edited story – or the story we think someone else wants to hear, but the full story – with all of its highs and lows. The story of our life’s journey; the roads we have taken, the opportunities we have embraced or squandered, the fears that have surfaced, the lessons we have learned.
It could be said that what the Lord requires – justice, kindness and humility, is an invocation of God’s judgment. For much of my life I interpreted God’s judgment as an invisible hammer that would be brought down with crippling force if we messed up. (No wonder more and more people want to keep distant from such a forbidding God). In recent years I have come to regard God’s judgment not as a reaction, but as an invitation – to tell our story. To be humble and vulnerable. Because when we tell our story – we are then inviting others, including God, into a deeper, and more abiding relationship.
And the kindness index goes up – and the humiliation quotient goes down.