Examples of humility

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In yesterday’s blog I referred to extraordinarily humble people who would have been listed in a previous blog. actually those individuals are listed in chapter 2 of my revised book, Paths as Yet Untrodden. My intention was to share some highlights from that chapter, and, I guess, I went ahead of myself. In any case, I was referring to statesmen like Julius Nyerere, the late former president of Tanzania, who the New York Times described as, “an uncharacteristically humble and modest national leader”, Nelson Mandela, described in biography.com as a writer, president, civil rights activist, and “a symbol of global peace-keeping”.

I have also listed icons of non-violence, like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, as well as religious leaders like Pope Francis, archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama and advocates of social justice like Mother Teresa. There are also billionaires on the list of individuals of exemplary humility, such as Warren Buffett, Ingvar Kamprad, Amancio Ortega, Karl Albrecht, Chuck Feeney, Alexander Lebedev, Christy Walton and Tim Cook and many, many others.

Look at any of them and you will see the 4 humility traits I referred to:

1. They focus their energy on others.

2. They are driven by compassion and charity.

3. They are guided by moral compass in making decisions, and a life of acceptance and gratitude.

4. They are strong in their convictions, not weak nor self-assertive.

Now that I have corrected the record – or rather, updated the record – we will then move on to the other qualities in the next blog. By the way, I invite you to share your comments below, including, especially, any disagreements or different points of view.

 

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4 examples that you and your life are all-sufficient

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If you and your life are all-sufficient, it means you are not lacking, you are not and need not be in competition with anyone, you can and have enough to give. A quick look at the examples of extraordinarily humble people in the last blog reveals some common character traits shared by them.

First, none of them can be described as weak. On the contrary they are and were very strong in their convictions. Remember Nelson Mandela’s speech from the dock during his trial for treason? “…I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”.

Second, from this same example, we see the readiness to sacrifice one’s life because humility focusses on others not on oneself. Self-assertion for one’s aggrandizement is not the way of humility. Connected to this character trait is a third quality – charity and compassion towards others.

A fourth quality is that of moral compass in decision-making. This is grounded in the nature of humility for acceptance and gratitude. We’ll examine this further, along with more character traits of humility in the next blog, but we are humble when we can accept with grace what life gives.

More to come.

 

What is real and authentic greatness?

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Muhammad Ali is reported to have remarked, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am”. Many people have a wrong perception that humility is weakness; that self-promotion and assertiveness, even pride and arrogance or being brash are the means to achievement and success. It is true that today’s society, if the U.S president is an example, seems to denigrate the virtue of humility and promotes self-absorption.

A few months ago I posted 8 Pillars of Joy in this blog where humility is listed as one of the 4 attributes of mind that contribute to a full life of joy and peace, and in my book, my very last reflection also briefly touches on humility if we are to live with hope.  Chapter two of my revised version of the book begins with the significance of this virtue, not only for individual happiness and fulfillment, but also for leadership and public life.

In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin, America’s premier success story as an inventor, genius of building relationships and connecting people and hence, a diplomat and scientist, listed 12 areas of attitude and action he wanted to improve. Seeking input, he showed the list to a friend who, wrote Franklin in his autobiography, “kindly informed me that I was generally thought proud; that my pride showed itself frequently in conversation”. Because of the comment, Franklin listed humility as number 13 area of improvement.

I wonder how many of us would want to list humility as a character trait we would seek. Yet, as we will see in subsequent blogs, from the highest office holder like the president of the United States, to an alcoholic or drug peddler struggling through recovery and sobriety, humility, as Confucius noted, is the solid foundation of all virtues.

You can read more about my personal experience with humility in Kindle Direct or get a copy of my book both available from amazon.com.

Why freedom is incomplete with an enslaved mind

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Philip Arnold is quoted to have observed that “you will never be free until you free yourself from the prison of your own false thoughts”. It is true that when a prisoner is set free after serving time, it takes a lot of adjustment to be free of prison mentality. And, if you have any experience working with people in poverty or homelessness you know that moving out of that situation is complicated by a mindset that will not automatically adapt to the new situation.

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 139, especially when I think of these words: “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you,  Lord, know it completely”.

Even when prominent public figures say things that shock us, we are reminded that the repository in our subconscious mind can equally shock us. For there is that which we picked up in childhood and from society and environment that will continue to enslave us even in the highest position of leadership. Is it hatred, arrogance, prejudice, or some phobia? What does the Lord – or higher power for the spiritual – see in me that I am not probably seeing?

For the Christian, “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). For the spiritual, “you will never be free until you free yourself from the prison of your own false thoughts”.

To prosper in any and every area of life, we must be set free, particularly from false thoughts and a negative mindset.

It is a journey not destination

The pronoun “it” can refer to a lot of things. It can refer to life, success, achievement, milestone, or anything. The point is, whatever it is, it is a process.

I got Paths As Yet Untrodden published on December 30, 2017 after some months of anxious effort, charting new territory and perseverance. I went to social media to announce the publication.

Guess what followed! Depression.

Believe me, there was a lot of excitement as I put together the reflections in the book. And as I shared again and again in the course of the months of preparation, it was about my experience and how those experiences were shared with other people. I put that out there for anybody to read.

Then what? That is the question I am asking myself. Heraclitus is quoted to have said, “no man/woman steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he/she is not the same person”. I have been and I should be changed – transformed – by the experience. And you, the reader, should also experience transformation in some way because you too stepped into the river.

The important thing is that this is an ongoing process, it is not a destination. I have already started on my next project, not just to go over the depression, but to continue on the journey.

Details will follow shortly.

Life on the precipice

After I introduced my book to the bible study group I am part of and sent out an email, one of my friends observed that the cover page image is the iconic Delicate Arch in Arches National Park in Utah, which is also pictured on Utah license plates. He recounted his and his wife’s  visit there last October and the hikes to the park’s more than 2000 arches. He added, “the hike may be easy or very challenging…we had to be careful about which hikes we chose”.

About the Delicate Arch he wrote, “it can be seen at a distance by a short walk to a viewpoint, or also by a longer hike around the side of a mountain. One can also hike right up to the foot of the arch via a three mile trail which is described as “difficult”…having no shade, some exposure to heights, steep rock slope, and a 200 year rock ledge”. He went on, “I really wanted to make the hike, but we decided not to take the risk and took the more safe trail instead”.

My friend was curious as to why I chose the arch for the cover of my book. But that is exactly the point. I mention in the Introduction that I debated whether to have the title “Life on the Precipice” because it is the first part of the theme.

I am glad that some of you may have had similar experiences in the Arches National Park or similar terrain, in the Rockies, Smoky Mountains, the Alps, or Sahara Desert. Those experiences illumine life on the precipice which is the theme of my book. My physical examples come from the Judean Desert, Timna, the Negev and Sinai, but they all illustrate what it is to live on the precipice.

What are your experiences? Paths As Yet Untrodden will remind you of our journey together as humans.

 

Best charity practices during the holidays

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During the holiday season many of us will more consciously get involved in practicing charity than in other times. For some, increased acts of charity and goodwill during the season comes is a repeated habit, and for others there is an increased level of consciousness. That is the intention I am commenting on in this blog.

However you look at it the essence of the holiday season is thanksgiving, beginning with Thanksgiving and extending to Hanukkah and Christmas, Year-End and New Year and beyond. It is a season of gratitude awareness. The beauty of it is that this awareness has increased focus on other people beyond the self.

Gratitude in essence is practiced; thus “an attitude of gratitude” without actions is like faith without works – it is dead. Furthermore, it is well-recognized that living a joyful life is a consequence of practicing gratitude and thanksgiving.

For those of us who practice some form of spirituality, especially church, I would like to use Gospel texts for illustration of the points I am making here.  Matthew 25: 31-46, a popular text regarding “gooding” or lack of, draws attention to how we treat  the poor, the hungry, the sick, those lacking clothes, the oppressed – in general, the less fortunate in our midst. And in Luke 4: 16-22, Jesus proclaims his mission in the synagogue in Nazareth to be “to proclaim the good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”, as quoted from Isaiah 61.

It is possible, in heeding this mission, that we forget that we are the poor, the oppressed, the needy, the broken-hearted. We may be tempted and misled to see only economic depravity in others and ignore our own spiritual anxieties. One of the heaviest of societal impositions is the need for conformity. In wanting to be like everyone else we are afraid of vulnerability issuing from transparency and as a consequence joy is even more illusive during the holiday season.

Let us allow this holiday season to shine light into our struggles and insecurities, help us confront any fears of being vulnerable and create the space for true joy and all the blessings that come with it.

What’s in your wallet? A look at what the bible says about money

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That is the title of the presentation and discussion by Dr. Walter Brueggerman at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on Saturday, October 28, sponsored by the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program.

For two or three years while I resided in Cincinnati I had the privilege of participating in various initiatives of the Economics of Compassion Initiative of Greater Cincinnati in which Dr. Brueggerman and community building consultant Peter Block are the faces of the movement. Through the McClendon Scholar in Residence Program, New York Avenue Presbyterian church endeavors “to bring in scholars, teachers, and authors to help members of NYAPC and other residents of Washington better understand how to respond to the pressing moral issues of our day”.

Today’s economy which creates unparalleled economic disparity is indeed our pressing moral issue and I am yet to meet anyone who can articulate better the biblical imperative and the church’s response.

Dr. Brueggerman aptly characterizes our economic system as an economy of extraction in which everything is monetized. The first biblical paradigm is Pharaoh’s Economy, which produced nightmares of scarcity. Pharaoh’s nightmares drove him into building storehouses and the creation of a forced labor pool. Those on the bottom of the scale become inextricably dependent on the system and complicit in its exploitation. In this regard, Joseph too, was complicit.

We see the same picture today. And, today, as then, eventually the people cry out, and the Exodus is the alternative. Today, the Gospel is the alternative and that is where the church must articulate its relevance and non-complicity. Brueggerman stressed that economies of extraction inevitably cause tension. It is not the church’s responsibility to reduce tension. The church’s task is to process the tension. There is a lot of tension right now in our society and so it is a prophetic time for the church.

A second paradigm can be seen in the Persian Period with examples in Ezra and Nehemiah where w in Neh. 10 the Israelites reckon with their complicity to what eventually has become normative (the economy of extraction) and agree to renew the covenant. In other words the people symbolically reconstituted themselves as a chosen people and re-assumed their identity.

Similar paradigms can be found in King Solomon’s reign in which taxation is burdensome to the people and results in forced labor.

It is the same story in the New Testament and the Roman empire. Citing Galatians 5: 19-21 Dr. Brueggerman pointed out the correlation between destructive predatory economy and restlessness. The alternative economy bears fruit in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5: 22-23)

This presentation came as the church celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Ironically the Reformation was the alternative to the church’s practices of monetizing God’s grace and abundance. Now, as then, it is a terrible time for the church institutionally but Gospel-wise it is a terrific time. It is a challenge to the church and a call to action.

What is my faith and what am I believing?

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I strongly believe, in my heart, that God has plans for everyone. I am not one who takes Jeremiah 29:11 out of context or as some blind reassurance. I would have given up hope by now. I am equally not in agreement with those who program God, those who would assign a time frame for God to act. “Give God a year”, they urge. “Surrender to God just for one year and see if God does not change your situation. Pray, ‘Lord you promised in your word…’ God is faithful to do what God promised”.

There is a plan for everyone but not the same path. So, I am not convinced by unqualified claims made in testimonies, “If God did this to me, God will do it for you” There are, certainly, many blessings for surrender and obedience, but such blessings are not all wrapped in getting what one wants. When I can confidently be patient, I count it as a blessing.

I also believe that setbacks on one’s journey may be inconvenient but are not necessarily negative. We cannot expect not to face challenges and disappointments on the way.

Actually what I am talking about here is FAITH as opposed to belief even though often we use the two terms interchangeably. This is a journey of faith.

I began my story with the prayer written by Eric Milner-White in which we pray: “Lord God; You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending; by paths as yet untrodden; through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; Through Jesus Christ our Lord”.

Every day I must keep reminding myself, what this faith means. What is faith? There are many Christians who like to answer the question reciting Hebrews 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Other translations say, “faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen”, and still others have, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” and so on.

None of this helps me much on my daily journey, especially because of the chosen words: conviction, assurance, proof.

This terminology implies the absence of doubt. Thus, Hilda Marie Barton writes in her book, There is No Room for Doubt: The Just Shall Live by Faith, that “the enemy of faith is doubt. You need to replace doubt for faith. For doubt and faith does not go together. You will have one or the other. There is no room for doubt in faith. To doubt the things of God is sin”.

Thank God there are so many churches with the name St. Thomas.

Frederick Buechner points out, “were there no room for doubt there would be no room for faith either”.

It is tempting to want to sound like those Phillip Yancey refers to (as he quotes Buechner’s observation) as Christians who speak “confidently about matters veiled in mystery whose certitude both frighten and fascinate”.

We have spent quite some time in our bible study group wrestling with the concept, especially bearing in mind the Hebrew term for faith, emu-nah, which is active like a verb. We would say, not having faith, but faithing, doing or practicing faith. It is a journey, certainly like my journey. It is not static, not a state of being but doing.

I would like to use Frederick Buechner’s wisdom in this reflection. “Faith is homesickness. Faith is a lump in the throat. Faith is less a position on than a movement toward, less a sure thing than a hunch. Faith is waiting. Faith is journeying through space and through time”. As Phillip Yancey remarks in his book, Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church, if someone would ask about my faith, “I’d have to talk about the ups and downs of the years, the dreams”.

This is what I am doing in these pages, and the dream for this book.

 

The Arusha connection

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Within a one month period I have met two strangers with whom a hither-to unknown connection with a far away small town in a far away country became the icebreaker into a wonderful conversation and future connection. The small town is Arusha in Tanzania. I have mentioned how, in the course of eye examination, the ophthalmologist and I, two complete strangers, discovered that indeed we have some connection through the small town of Arusha.
Less than a month later, it happened again. This time I accepted to attend a venue – dinner actually – where all the guests, though they knew one another from church, to me they were complete strangers, except the two hosts. By chance (here we go again) I was paired with Sandy (not her real name). The idea behind the pairing is to find out in conversation relevant information to introduce your partner to the whole group.
“So you are from Tanzania”, Sandy asked. I answered yes.
“From Arusha?” The same question I was asked a month ago.
“No, actually from Moshi, fifty miles east of Arusha, on the foot of Kilimanjaro” Again, almost word for word, my response to the ophthalmologist.
That set us on to the most uplifting conversation I could ever have imagined. Not only was she in Arusha with World Vision (and my daughter works with World Vision in Arusha) the two of us also have an Israel connection. We shared memories of Mount Scopus, the Lutheran church’s Augusta Victoria hospital and World Vision in the same area, Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, the Anglican St. George’s  College and Christ Church.
But what is most fascinating is that this discovery between Sandy and me was a shared experience with all the other pairs. They all have extensive international experience and mindset and they have passion for the church and its mission. Furthermore, even though they know one another from church, the time we spent eating and talking revealed much that turned out to be fresh insight about each one.
The larger picture for me is that we are never strangers from one another. There are no aliens among us. We belong together. It is fear only that separates us to believe that those we don’t know are different from us.