Humility and Hope
[I] am starting to count "sort-ofs" like I used to count "likes." What's different this time is that the people using this newer toss-away phrase aren't teenagers, but twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings, and especially academics and pundits. What strikes me is that this smudge word is used in contexts in which, of all times, the person speaking ought to be certain. In fact, it is often embedded in the middle of a quite definitive statement. I feel cheated, tricked. Am I being manipulated? Is this double speak? If this is humility, I don't like it one bit. I prefer Lewis' take: humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. I like people who don't think of themselves much. I feel comfortable around them. I feel safe. As if my still play-dough personality, my under development, ripening self can safely grow at its own rate of discovery. As I pursue my own calling, and clarity, in that murky pond, I find support from humble others who aren't very aware of themselves. They don't have time, or space, to be. They're too busy being who they are and living out their calling to think about it. This notion of calling, or vocation, is closely tied to humility. What has God called you to do in life? True humility means you stop thinking of yourself and start answering this question. Once you do, you're on your way to really making some good art—whatever your art may happen to be. That's because the creation of something has much to do with an ability to think of oneself very little. John Ruskin, 19th century English art critic and essayist echoes this same idea when he says, “…the first test of a truly great man is his humility.” He continues, “I don’t mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them.” Calling sets accomplishments in the context of someone greater: the person who is called gets to give credit to the one who did the calling. Sure you accomplished the thing, but you get to say thank you to the one who “made it all possible.” Think about it this way: self-deprecation gives all the credit to the person causing the trouble, and instead of promoting creative output, it is choked. Some Christians, at this point, should take a page or two out of the playbook of some very accomplished unbelievers and others who don't follow Jesus. Such people, at times, by virtue of an unstinting honesty, a tireless pursuit of authenticity, have found a voice, a shape. They can't be bothered to think about themselves as a result. Why would they? They're too busy enjoying greatness flowing through them. There is virtue in humility, then, and it's obvious in the breach: no one likes a pompous ass for an artist. But if we're talking virtue, the virtue certainly isn't in constantly expressing self-doubt, constantly hedging with "sort-of." My daughter came to me the other day--the one who can't stop coloring, drawing, creating, cutting, pasting, taping, shaping, molding--in tears because her latest creation didn't turn out the way she wanted. I gently reminded her that it's okay not to like some things in the art she makes. I said, "No one likes everything in everything they do, dear." She wasn't convinced. So I said, "Tell me one thing you like about your drawing." "Nothing." "Come on, honey. Surely there's one thing that isn't totally horrible, but only just a little bad?" She gave in and said she liked the way the flowers were drawn. And that they were purple. She was relieved by her confession. As was I. My girl needs to feel free to enjoy some parts of what she has made, and to dislike others. If she can find a way to do that, she'll not only be on the path to real humility, but also to creating real beauty in the world. Think about it: if you constantly doubt yourself, or, as my daughter was being tempted to do, doubt everything you've ever done, what does that say about your faith in the Person Who Called You? How can you sense "greatness through you"? I think the virtue of true humility rests in the secure knowledge that you can pour yourself out for the glory of God, to do the works of God in the world—works which He (the Bible says) has prepared in advance for you to do, that you should “walk” in them. Such works, in Greek, are called Poiema by St. Paul. "Master craftsmanship." Think "one of a kind works of art." I think great things are accomplished by people, in part, when they refuse to acknowledge their imperfections and instead, hold them in something like “sacred ignorance.” People like that are attractive, winsome, and, by God's grace, actually themselves become works of art for others to admire. Sounds appealing, doesn't it? If you agree, then forget about yourself, why don't you? Stop saying, and thinking, "sort-of," and get out there and make something beautiful.
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