Humility: Personal Work

True humility is always personal work.

As interconnected as I believe that we human and other beings are with one another, when it comes to this thing we call humility, the working of it, the owning it, the practicing of it is really intra-personal.

That is, the work and the practice, the meaning and the usefulness of humility happens within ourselves and between the parts of ourselves.  I can decide within myself that there are things I should or should not engage in because of my personal qualifications, preparations, skills and interests through which I can make a helpful contribution.

I can come to the conclusion that I am either a help or a liability to the cause based on what I have come to know about myself.  I can draw lines for myself.  I can help with A, but B and C are not things I can help with.

That is humility.  It is knowing oneself.  Knowing oneself may evolve out of many experiences including interpersonal experiences, but it becomes humility when within ourselves we establish a knowing and choose to live by it.  I don’t think that this is easy work, but I am often convinced, especially when I see it at work in others, that it is important work.

What is so much easier is deciding when someone else should be more humble and even giving in to the temptation to “help” them find it.  Humiliation is a form, though, of violation.

What is so much less work is putting on the face that I think others will approve of. That way I get something immediate out of the transaction, though long term it won’t last. In the end, everyone feels manipulated, including me.

True humility is a product of a personal, long term spiritual alchemy that takes place within the cauldron of one’s heart, a cauldron that we learn to tend while in the midst of living our lives.

Bob Patrick

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Humility: Good Questions

In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go?

Jack Kornfield

We might differ on what matters the most in the end, but these three little questions (often mistakenly attributed to the Buddha) strike me as a helpful place to begin.  When I look at my life as a whole I can see that in my life, your life, this human thing, what matters matters!  Even if we have to acknowledge that places, movements, times, actions, words along the way didn’t matter, or mattered in a way that is disturbing.

How well did you love? This could easily be the only question, couldn’t it?  I want to love well.  I try to love well.  Loving others is important to me.  I know how it feels to be loved.  I know how I depend on the love of others.  I want to continue and extend that web of existence in a good, positive way.  I can look at the way I have loved–everyone from my most beloveds to people encountered casually along the way and know–here and there, I have loved well, and here and there, I have not. That is humbling, and it brings me back to myself, to ponder the question.

How fully did you live? There is some evidence that Kornfield’s words were based on those by Danielle Marie in a 1992 book in which she wonders: how much did you love and appreciate yourself, your body, and your own special gift? When I think of living well, I immediately am drawn to those places in my life where I have taken risk, stepped out, dared to do things that in some way depended on a self-awareness and a trust in myself, my ideas, my gifts.  Living well also involves boundaries that I draw which protect.  It’s often hard to know where boundary drawing and self-exploration meet and separate, but it’s pretty clear that they are both important for living well.

How deeply did you let go? I hope I get a good bit more time in my life–for many reasons, but this question certainly points to one.  I can be tenacious about things that matter to me.  I can be most stubborn about almost anything that I feel attached to. Lines blur. What are the lines between holding a vision that my own life calls me to hold (perhaps because no one else is holding it or until others  show up to help) and the wisdom of letting go of a thing?  Both can be important, but it’s not always clear to me.  What is clear is that I am much more practiced at holding on than letting go.  I can intuit the wisdom of letting go, deeply, but I don’t do it well.  That is humbling, and it brings me back to these questions.

I want to walk with them for a while.

Bob Patrick

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Humility: Rising With Humility

Another container that holds the meaning of humility for me I call “Rising with Humility” – over the last few weeks Bob and I have been binging the British Baking Show at night after dinner. We usually can stay awake for about 2 episodes each night. Sadly we finished Season 4 this week. It is enthralling for one, to see what can be done with a bit of flour and water, and also to see how these contestants from across the ocean stop to help each other out WHILE they are competing for a spot on the final. If one contestant’s tart starts to crack it’s all hands in helping hold it in place while the tearful baker plasters a sugar paste on the edges to hold it in place. They are truly happy for each other when they rise to Star Baker for the week and they cry as each one leaves the show. Notwithstanding, this show carries much of the drama and behind the scenes back and forth that many reality shows do. However, the contestants seem to truly care for eachother. This is the winner from Season 3 Nadia Hussain.

Nadia talks about her difficulty accepting a spot on the show and that she almost talked herself out of it.  During the show Nadia did feel some discomfort about her religion especially after she received some racist comments on the train on the way to a taping. But as the show progressed she said she made a mental list of her strengths and weaknesses and told herself to hang in there. She could do it.

No one is an island and if we wait until we have all that we need to put ourselves in the game, it might be over before we have a change to play. Win, lose, or draw believe in yourself enough to play the game.

Lydia Patrick

 

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Humility: The Risk of Failing

In 1968, in response to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a third grade teacher, Ms. Jane Elliott, in all-white, all-Christian, Riceville, Iowa, involved her students in an exercise in discrimination based on eye color. It was her attempt to help them to understand some of the reasons why Black people were taking to the streets and demanding equitable treatment with whites.  Since then she has conducted the same exercise with people of all ages in cities all over the United States and in several other countries. “ http://www.janeelliott.com/

Watching an interview about this experiment has formed a container for me I call l Hit with Humility”.  In a piece of this interview on The Rock Newman Show I watched where Jane Elliot talked about her Brown Eyes Blue Eyes experiment. What I didn’t realize was that the first time she did this experiment with her 3rd grade students – in a spur of the moment decision she chose brown eyes as dominant and blue eyes as inferior . She herself was blue eyed. As soon as the students (3rd graders) caught on to the experiment they realized they now had the authority to call in to question the intelligence and capabilities of their teacher. She talked about the pull down map escaping her grasp and flipping back up into the roll with a loud snap. One of her students responded with a comment like “Well, what do you expect with those blue eyes. Here we go again.” She was embarrassed, she was angry , she was humiliated, she wanted to retaliate and take back her authority, but she realized if she did that would ruin the experiment and so she let  them continue.

To me, in this instance, she chose a path of humility over power, not because she was incapable but because she saw a need.

We can’t just put ourselves out there when we are winning, when we are on top, when we think we have nothing to learn. Humility means taking a risk on the chance that you might fail, or you might be on the losing side, or you might have as much to learn as everyone else.

Lydia Patrick

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Humility: Leveling the Field

Compassion is not condescension, but a leveling of the playing field, a recognition of yourself in others and an acceptance that their stress is your stress, that their happiness is your own. The gulf between us all is imaginary, born of insecurity and fear.

– Stephen Schettini, “What to Expect When You’re Reflecting”

Years ago, we lived in a small community in north Alabama.  The town was in the valley between two mountains.  According to the local folks, everyone knew of the two very different attitudes that filled the cultures of the two mountains.  On one mountain, the question was always “who are your people?”  The question was an attempt to place you, at first glance, into a hierarchy of the better people over the inferior people.  On the other mountain, as it was explained to me, it didn’t matter if you owned thousands of acres and were wealthy from generations of farming (which was common) or whether you owned one pair of overalls and worked digging potatoes to keep life and limb together:  you both knew that you stood on level ground.  Everyone was equal.

I took those stories to heart as the way people understood two rural cultures, and I also found it hard to believe that there was such an egalitarian mindset in the one place.  That is the dream, though, isn’t it?  When true compassion is the stuff that runs a culture–whether it’s an agrarian culture or the culture of a congregation in metro Atlanta, the field levels, and we begin to see each other, accept each other, and find ourselves and our stories reflected in the other–even those who seem at first glance to be so different from us.

That’s also called humility in practice.

Bob Patrick

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Humility: Love Ourselves and Support Each Other

Bill shared this reflection in the Sunday Service, March 11, 2018.

My name is Bill Benshoof and my pronouns are he, him, and his.  

My story is about how I have come to understand my leadership journey with the Board of Trustees.

I understand now that it was a gift to my heart and to my spirit.  

I’ve learned I have the ability to return that gift to you in some surprising ways:

I can instigate contentious debates- because allowing a false impression of consensus is far more dangerous.

I can accept consequences- especially when they’re the results of action.

I can celebrate the scary questions of others- because they’re important consequences.

I can respect the learning process- especially when it looks like failure.

I can teach by example- because even if no one listens, at least the task got done.

And, the beautiful gift I see right now is- wait for it… Bright, energetic, knowing, capable, experienced, talented- YOU!  A Constellation of Stars! Before, during, and after Service, Saturdays, weekdays, evenings, and from home, great things are happening, and I hope everyone can see what I see- lots of folks who have the agency and the ability to move forward- whether it is a baby step of tentative interest or a big leap of faith- and connect with their Beloved Community!  

Brene’ Brown, in her book, “Daring Greatly, says “To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly.”

It’s my great hope that I will continue to hear the call of Love, and answer it with you.

Now, I can give you what I’ve found to be the most important gift of all:

I can shut up and listen.

Bill Benshoof

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Humility: Strong, Like the Earth

Humility.  Humble.  Humiliate.  Humus.  That last word is not the good, golden stuff made from chick peas!  (that’s hummus).  Humus is the starting place for a discussion on humility.  We have talked about this in our services recently at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett.  Humus is soil.  In English, it usually refers to that rich layer of decomposed leaves and other things that make up dark, nutrient filled soil that all growing plants love to grow in.  It’s from the Latin word spelled the same way: humus, the soil, the earth, the ground.

Humility can be said to be knowing where your ground is, knowing where you root your own life, knowing what nurtures your life, what feeds you, what space is yours and what spaces are not yours. We might call someone humble who knows themselves well enough to know their strengths and weaknesses, their gifts and their things to learn.  Humble people are confident.  They trust in themselves and what they know to be true about themselves, and humble people can extend that kind of trust towards others–trust the known strengths and obvious gifts of others without feeling any loss of their own worth. Humble people practice their own groundedness and don’t feel threatened by others who are doing the same.  At the same time, humble people can see when others are out of bounds and have the confidence to speak to that reality as well.  Humble people, you see, are very strong.  Strong like rocks.  Strong like the earth Herself.  Humble people are solid.

Humiliation is, then, a gross violation of who people are.  Humiliation, again formed from Latin words, implies throwing someone down onto the ground.  It strikes me that in order to do that, one has to uproot the other person from their place in the ground in order to throw them down on the ground in front of you.  It is the worst sort of violence because it devalues the worth of the other and presumes that one’s own ground space is one in which we can do whatever we choose.  That’s the stuff that monsters are made of.

Bob Patrick

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Love Endures

We visited my sister-in-law, Norma, and her husband, Dale, earlier this month for Norma’s birthday.  They live independently in a graduated –care facility.  Dale is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease as are many of the people in residence there.

Church services are held every Sunday at various places in the community and Norma often plays the flute during services held for people who need around the clock care.  Norma says that it is a joyous time because while many of the men and women cannot remember their own names, they do remember the hymns of their childhood.  When the music starts, everyone joins in the singing.  Dale has a fine baritone.

One particular Sunday, Dale and Norma joined the minister at the back of the chapel to greet people as they left.  One older woman approached them slowly, babbling.  Martha had lost the ability to speak coherently, but still had something to say.  Martha babbled with words and sounds as she struggled to communicate.  The minister listened for a few moments and then put his arm around her.  “I love you, Martha,” he said.  And without hesitation came the clear reply “I love you, too.”

I hope that when I cannot say anything else, I can still say “I love you.”

Karen Smith

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Love: The Measure of Love

Lula Bell, 24+, passed away this past Monday, February 19, at home.  She was preceded in death by her son, John, and her sister, Maw.  The family held a private ceremony in the back pasture.

Bell was the last of our Black Angus cows.

Our relationship with farm animals is different from those we call pets.  While they may still give us pride and pleasure, they also serve a practical purpose.  It was Bell’s job to eat all the grass and greenery she could reach and keep the back pasture free of trees.  She enjoyed her job. She spent her life searching for warm places to sit and chew her cud, leaning on fences to test their strength, fertilizing the back pasture, and waiting for the afternoon call to chow.

Over the twenty years we shared together, I learned from her that cows are smart and curious, with distinct personalities despite looking a lot like all the other cows.  I learned that she preferred apples to pears and would not hesitate to eat them all from the trees if I left the gate open.  I came to understand the fencing was a formality, for even at 1000 pounds she could have cleared a four foot fence if she chose.

I still cannot read this story without my eyes welling up with tears.  When I am outside I try not to see the pasture gate that now stands open or the brush pile undisturbed by browsing.  Is love measured by the depth of loss one feels?

Karen Smith

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Love: Destroying Enemies?

Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Abraham Lincoln.

I have in my notes that this was quoted at the morning service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett five years ago today.  It raised a wonderful discussion about Universalism, the belief that every human being will, in this life or beyond this life, find fulfillment, find what some call salvation. In the west, largely through Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the word salvation has eroded over the centuries to mean not sending me to hell even though I am ultimately of no worth.  The far better and holistic notion came in the early days of Christianity–salvation meant the full restoration of the human being to all that we really are.  The problem was a kind of extistential amnesia.  Salvation meant, in the most powerful sense, deep remembering.

It reminds me of an incident that happened years ago in Birmingham at a Centering Prayer conference with Fr. Thomas Keating. During a Q and A session, someone ask: “Fr. Keating, as a Catholic who practices centering prayer, I find it increasingly difficult to believe in Hell. As a Catholic, am I required to believe in Hell?” To which Keating responded after some silence: “Yes, as a Catholic, you are required to believe in Hell. However, you are not required to believe that anyone is in it.”

What if our vision, beginning today, were to make everyone we consider an enemy our friend? It would take some time, some work, and allowing that we are only half of the relationship. But, wouldn’t this, all by itself, nearly eliminate the hell we create on earth?

Bob Patrick

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