Friday, April 21, 2017

Humility: Objective Distance Easily Attained

I am working through an excellent book on humility: Humilitas by one John Dickson. As you would expect, his first discussion deals with how one can even talk about humility. If you're really humble you won't pretend to know anything about humility and so you certainly won't write a book about it! Or so it seems at a glance.

John is known for being, in his words, "dominance-leaning, achievement-focused, driven". So when he told his long-time friend he was writing a book on "the origins of humility in western ethical thought" his friend quipped:

"Well, at least you have the objective distance from the subject."

Zing! And so might be said of us all. Of course, John makes the reasonable case for trying to learn about this classic virtue. And right off he reminds us that one of the more remarkable sociological studies of recent years, the book Good to Great, identifies humility as one of two key ingredients in the extraordinary success he documented.

I'll hope to finish the book soon, and may share a bit as I go along.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thinking on the Decalogue: Especially #4.

Alas, in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom.

The Jews, astounded to be free, receive the lavish gift of one day every week to be free from labor, celebrate their freedom, and thereby validate, strengthen, and expand their freedom. For to have one-seventh of life given to celebrate life's highest goods: that gift, received and cherished, enriches the soul beyond knowing.

I am currently reading Thomas Cahill's, The Gifts of the Jews, a fascinating look at Ancient Near East through lens I have scarcely used. Indeed, the lens often seem wrong to me but they do give sight and perspective that help me better understand Biblical history and reality.

His discussion of the Ten Commandments is especially helpful. He observes that nothing in all the world's literature compares to “the Ten”, as he refers to these words of God. I am especially taken with his comments on the gift of the Sabbath, or “ceasing”. “No ancient society before the Jews had a day of rest. The God who made the universe and rested bids us do the same, calling us to a weekly restoration of prayer, study, and recreation (or re-creation).”

He continues: “The connections to both freedom and creativity lie just beneath the surface of this commandment: leisure is appropriate to a free people, and this people so recently free find themselves quickly establishing this quiet weekly celebration of their freedom.”

As I reflected on his comments, I saw again how erroneous has been my outlook. The sabbath is a stupendous gift. But in our fallenness we see God giving and think He is taking: taking our leisure, our enjoyment, our freedom. To be sure, some of our attitudes toward church attendance portend such a view. And a long history of well-intended Sabbath rules can give the wrong idea.

And so we fight with God and it boils down to self-will. And through it all God is offering: the Ten simple words of life, among which is one whole day every week in which we are free from labor. What could possibly be bad about that?!

For some reason I still feel reluctant about the Sabbath, no matter how much I try to view it as a gift. Perhaps this is because I have observed it reasonably well across the years and so I take it for granted. I want to see it anew so that I embrace it with glad joy; revel in the freedom it brings and celebrates; and, in the inimitable words of the writer of Hebrews, therein discover all that is meant when we say Jesus is our Sabbath rest. The Gift, the Cessation from our own works, the One to whom all of Creation – especially the Sabbath – points with one voice.