A Prayer for the Human Family, The Book of Common Prayer
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ Lord. Amen.
Humility connects us. Humility reminds us how we are all so dependent on each other. It reminds us of all the many factors that come into play. Humility frees us from the prison of me, to the freedom of we.
True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.
One of the challenges in thinking about humility: As soon as we become aware of it, or aspire to it, or hope to see it in ourselves, we’ve probably lost any chance of exhibiting it. We become proud of being humble. But let’s give it a go.
We’re learning in our work with churches that the spiritual vitality of congregations has a whole lot to do with the leader’s heart. We have often referred to the work of Jim Collins, who in 2005 wrote a monograph to accompany his book Good to Great. This text was intended for the social sector and non-profit organizations in particular. In it he highlights essential leadership qualities. Effective leaders in these organizations combine deep personal humility with intense professional will. So let’s focus on that deep personal humility piece.
Last week, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column about how we talk with people with whom we disagree. He too recognizes the need for humility by citing a new book by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton. The book, in Kristof’s words, is a paean to intellectual humility. He notes the ways we all come at life with our biases, including the “I’m not biased” bias, by which we believe we are more objective than others. Kristof says that left and right often see the world, indignantly, through a tidy moral prism. But the world is messier than that, which argues for intellectual humility. According to Dr. Grant, what wins people over is “listening, asking questions and appealing to their values, not your own.”
Interesting stuff, but what does this have to do with discipleship?
In case you haven’t noticed, the world we live in is kind of divided, maybe more so than in the past. Those divisions can be found across the dinner table, in the next pew, in the residence down the hall or down the street , in the adjacent cubicle or window on our zoom conference call, in the halls of our nation’s capital. How do we faithfully move beyond “I’m right and you’re wrong?”
In his book, Jesus and the Disinherited (which I’m reading as part of our work with the impressive and unsettling Sacred Ground series created by the Presiding Bishop’s office), the author Howard Thurman speaks about how people respond to opposition and oppression. For the most part, they either resist (causing a big dust up), or they don’t resist (lapsing into toxic passivity). He says that there is a third way, the way of Jesus.
It is the way of love. It is the way of deep personal humility modeled by our Lord and Savior. It is Jesus listening to Nicodemus’ late-night questions. It is Jesus engaging in conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, someone he had no business being with. It is Jesus going to lunch with Zacchaeus, a crook and bit of a creep. It is Jesus saying and showing that true greatness comes in service. It is Jesus washing the feet of disciples. It is Jesus on the cross amidst an argument between thieves hanging on either side of him, speaking forgiveness to torturers and executioners. It is meant to be our way, too.
If Lent is a season for spiritual practice, how about this week practicing humility, especially in interaction with people who disagree with you, people you think are wrong? Listen to them. Pray for them. Throw in a prayer for yourself, that you might be freed from biases that cloud vision. Pray for a world broken in so many ways. Pray for the whole human family, using the prayer in the column on the left.
That is what all this talk about Jim Collins and Nicholas Kristof and Adam Grant and Howard Thurman has to do with discipleship. In a world in need of healing, where divisions are sharp, Jesus offers another way forward, thank God.
Exciting news! Introducing…
RenewalWorks has partnered with The Episcopal Church to transform RenewalWorks for Me into My Way of Love, Powered by RenewalWorks.
Using baseline data from hundreds of churches and thousands of Christians who have worked with RenewalWorks, your responses to a few simple questions will help the system identify broad characteristics of your spiritual life, and then assign you a plan of action.
After reading your initial results, you can go further by signing up for eight weeks of customized emails with tips, reminders and suggestions for daily spiritual practices. Following a four-part routine (Warm Up – Practice – Coach’s Tip – Stretch), these weekly emails support your unique spiritual journey and provide just the right suggestions for you to grow.
My Way of Love is free, a gift from Forward Movement and The Episcopal Church, offered in the confidence that as individual Christians grow in spiritual health, our congregations and dioceses will also be healthier-spiritually speaking.
In a recent episode of the video series Leading Forward: Conversations on Discipleship and Growth, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry speaks with the Rev. Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement. The two discuss My Way of Love and the connection between discipleship and the spiritual practices for Jesus-centered life.
“Answering the survey questions helps the coach to guide you in real spiritual growth based on experience,” said Bishop Curry, “RenewalWorks and [Forward Movement] have been working on this for a while, but My Way of Love is based on that experience and the experience of roughly 2000 years of Christian history, plus a couple more thousand years of Jewish history and the history of other people of faith.” Watch the video here.
If you’ve already done RenewalWorks for Me, you can still participate in My Way of Love and experience the wisdom that has been infused by this addition of The Way of Love, Practices for Jesus-Centered Life.