Monday, October 14, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 1- When humility is destructive.

*"You are too proud," N told me during one of our counselling sessions, as she leaned forward with a gentle, worried expression. "You need to be more humble. Why do you keep talking about the things he does to hurt you when you have your own sin? I know how hard it is, since I have been proud, too. But you must fight it."

I worried, but could not agree that this was the deepest problem.

Another day she stated, "You need to work on yourself, first. Then we can talk about his faults."

And I wondered when his faults might become terrible enough to face with as much nitpicky scrutiny as mine.

Then, when I turned to her, in desperation, and said that I'd rather die or take all the blame for leaving if it meant I wouldn't have to stay with him, she looked shocked. "That's sin! Just give up on leaving your husband, ever, and you will find contentment," she said. "If you would just stop thinking about it, you'd be fine. God would be able to help you, then."

But God was already helping me, I thought, wondering how he could work in such opposite directions in each of us.

One time N brought J to meet with me ... as an example, I think, of how I ought to react to her counsel.

Poor J's voice was weak and her face pale as she spoke of the strength God had given her to deal with a man who had broken the law and endangered her family, beaten her, and continued to exist on the verge of criminal breakdown ... supported by our church in binding his wife and children to his erratic behavior. Her body compressed with tension as she spoke of the day she had fled to N's arms, and how they had wept together at the cruelty of what she must do. And then she returned to the man who terrified her and gave up all thought of ever leaving again, because ... the god of that church said to do so.

Oh, she believed their counsel, alright. She believed god meant her to stay oppressed so completely that she had long been crushed into a shadow, afraid to speak of anything other than the help God had given to her because no one else would. Such a sweet fragment of a beautiful woman, pushed back into destruction by the church who claimed to be her support and encouragement. That she was still capable of loving God was all the more a miracle given the caricature of his character that she had been taught was a true likeness.

Both she and N were proud of her grit and determination to stay in that environment. It was one of the few strengths permitted this woman ... the ability to endure oppression.

For her sake and for others like us, I had to find a way to live ... truly LIVE the existence of one who is set free. I was more angry about how they treated her than I was about the ways they tried to contain my mind. I could see the blinders they were attempting to put over my eyes. J could not.

Her "humility" was so clearly a result of being crushed until her heart was broken. She was oppressed, not humble, though she may have been humble, too. And I didn't want to turn out like her, even while I truly appreciated her as a person. It is because I liked her so much that I still hope to someday find out who God made J to be, as a woman meant to thrive in freedom.

I couldn't help but see these things differently.

There was no way to pretend or force myself to believe what they told me was true. So many, many, many years of debate, and they told me this was the only way to understand the Bible? Thousands of years of study by men who genuinely wanted to understand God's will, and nobody could agree ... yet I was expected to set this one opinion over all others?

My counselor tried to persuade me to stop reading books they hadn't pre-approved. Perhaps she felt they were too dangerous for someone like me, who might actually believe something the leadership didn't agree with.

I had to wonder, "Are only those who will never ask questions permitted to study? If so, then how can I trust any of them?"

And what about the quiet voice that kept overwhelming every theory, welcome or unwelcome?... the steady conviction that no man or woman can speak for God as if they could contain him?... the realization that church leadership is made up of normal humans, too?

I knew I was equal to these people, both in fallibility and ability to see, because I was made and maintained by the same God in the same world.

I had similar training, but they implied I was somehow less capable of reading and understanding the Bible and all the references and studies applied to it. I might be a Christian, but they suggested I couldn't be led by the Spirit unless they agreed it was the spirit, according to their idea of the only way god could possibly act. And secular studies that disagreed could only be evil and destructive to faith, it seemed. They left me no tools to approach their secured position or space to speak on equal ground.

I waited, hoping to learn what sense could be made of it all and how to act in light of it.

But how anyone could resolve the problem, I couldn't even imagine. All I could do was pray and hope to find a clear path through all the contradictions.

Continued in "How I left him and the church left me." (This link won't work until 10/21/13 at 3am central.)

*All quotes in this article are as I remember them, and therefore the phrasing may be flawed, though the meaning remains as-understood.  

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Here's an inspiring realization about humility extracted from an article by Sarah Moon.

"I have to find a new way to express the virtue of humility–one that allows me to stand up for myself and others, to boldly assert my personhood and to define my own identity in Christ, to speak my mind and to claim my rights."

She makes a good point about the general impression Christians have of what humility looks like, and how that expectation fails to hold up under closer scrutiny.