Kum Ba Yah

Syria. Egypt. Afghanistan. Russia. The illegitimate so-called Islamic State. North Korea. European nationalism and neofascism. Resurgent American militarism. It’s a dangerous world out there, and full of violence and potential violence.

The song “Kum Ba Yah” has come down to us as the epitome of head-in-the-sand hippie flower power, a sort of desperate “give peace a chance” denial of reality while all around the bullets are flying. The modern equivalent of “‘Peace! Peace!’ when there is no peace”. A milquetoast refusal to confront evil combined with an unrealistic appraisal of the likelihood of everyone putting down their guns and just being nice to one another. Hello; this is the real world calling.

In our modern cynical age it’s fallen distinctly out of favour, but it actually started life as a Christian song.

“Kum ba yah”, as I was told in ye olden days when we occasionally sang it at school, is some kind of African dialect for “come by here”; the song is a prayer for God to show up and do something. Someone’s crying, Lord. We need You.

There’s injustice happening. People with needs unmet. Prayers apparently going unanswered. Danger, famine, nakedness, sword. We need You, God; You’re our only hope.

Someone’s singing, Lord. Things are good right now, but we still need You. But for Your grace it all falls apart.

Oh Lord, kum ba yah.

And really, it sounds hippie and unrealistic, but what’s actually wrong with people and nations being nice to one another for a change? Couldn’t we all do with a bit more niceness in the world?

People that don’t just try to get whatever they can for themselves. Institutions that don’t act like the problem you’ve gone to them about is a real pain in the arse? Nations that act based on justice, respecting their neighbours and trying for a win-win solution to international problems. People the same, with their interpersonal problems.

Niceness may be underrated as a rallying-cry, but we all appreciate it when we encounter it.

Kindness. Peace. Patience with our weaknesses and failures. Not bringing the hammer down for something we may not have been fully able to help. Love, in the broad sense, not necessarily sexual or romantic.

And now this is looking a little more like the fruit of the Spirit and less like a Sixties hippie commune. Maybe – no, probably – that’s why the hippie movement failed; trying to gain peace, love and understanding by human effort rather than the Spirit of God; but you can’t deny that the impulse is a good one. Give peace a chance. Put down the sword and the gun and the tendency towards violence and oppression. Let’s all just try to get along.

Oh Lord, kum ba yah. We can’t do it without Your help. What we’re longing for in our dealings is the evidence that You’ve been at work. We confess that we’ve been infected enough with the cynicism of the age that we don’t hold out much hope for peace and justice in international affairs, but we believe You are the King of kings. You overrule the nations. The movers and shakers aren’t actually in control of world events; You are. You’re the Prince of Peace; extend Your influence not just in our lives but among the nations.

Kum ba yah.

Palm Sunday has just come and gone; the annual celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the incongruous mount of a donkey. It was a fulfilment of Scriptural prophecy of the Messiah, but more than that: the donkey symbolically stood for humility and peace, counterpointing and opposing the martial pride of a stallion or chariot. Your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey. The world was pretty messed-up if you were a Jew back then, just as it seems to all of us now. Evil pagans oppressing God’s people. Where are the Godly leaders? Who can make our nation great again? It wasn’t for no reason that the people shouted out “Hosanna!”

But the King being lauded isn’t a proud warrior lord, a rebel who will overthrow the evil government oppressing us and return everything back to the way it was in the good old days; He’s a Prince of Peace, humble and gentle, who will give His life to save us from the evil within us and return us to how we were meant to be in the very beginning.

Hosanna. Save us. Kum ba yah. Come, Lord.

We need You. You’re our only hope.

So Long As Christ Is Preached

Philippians 1:12-18

Apparently the idea of big-name Christian ministries is not a new one. The Apostle Paul himself seems to have struggled with some of the same sorts of problems all the way back in the First Century.

Paul himself was, of course, a big name ministry himself; probably one of the biggest. And reading between the lines of this passage in Philippians chapter 1 a little, it seems like some of the other contemporary big names were trying to take advantage of the fact that he was in a Roman jail to build up their own ministries.

The tendency towards personal empire-building does not magically vanish just because you are serving the Lord. In fact, it might be that it’s an even greater temptation, because we can justify building our own little kingdoms as “building up God’s kingdom”: God has given us certain gifts, and He expects us to use them to His glory. We’re not trying to magnify ourselves, we’re just trying to be faithful with what He’s given us.

It’s a fine line, and I’m deliberately naming no names because I’m not in the place to make that judgment about any individual. God knows.

But it’s something to watch for.

As a blogger, I see the empire-building tendency in my own desire to increase the number of views and likes my posts get. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself; far from it. But what are my motives for doing so?

Without kidding myself, is it an honest desire to be faithful with what I’ve been given, or a desire to make a name for myself (even a small one)?

Or to take an alternate example, there are some very visibly successful “ministries” out there with, let’s be honest, dubious theological underpinnings. Prosperity teachers, populist authors with 18 books all saying much the same thing, Gospels of human effort and a hyper-focus on Me And My Bit rather than God And His, “church growth experts” with the apparent Bible teaching ability of lard. Not that every big name falls into that category, but am I jealous of their successes? Why should they be so apparently blessed with huge crowds and vast numbers reached by their ministry, when I’ve got such a better handle on the Scripture?

Oh dear.

The short version of the lesson here is watch your motives. So I think this or that big-name preacher is courting personal fame? Building their own little empire? To a certain extent, so what? Christ is being preached.

However, this does not negate the need to watch your theology. Paul was rather less hands-off with those he considered to be bringing false doctrines into the church. He says that such have “lost connection with the Head” (Col 2:19), that they “want to be teachers of the law but… do not know what they are taking about” (I Ti 1:7), even saying at one point that if anyone, even himself or an angel of God, should preach a different Gospel, let them be accursed (Gal 1:9).

This is not a light accusation to throw around. This is the theological equivalent of nuclear weapons; that’s how seriously Paul took his responsibility to make sure those in the church heard sound doctrine.

We who are mature in the faith have a responsibility both to call out error when we see it, particularly in those claiming to be teachers, and to not throw this theological nuke around without cause. The one damages the work of Christ as surely as the other.

We need to keep a close scrutiny on our motives, taking care that our motivation is at all times and as much as possible love for God and love for other people. Sometimes the loving thing to do is indeed to speak out. If you see someone running headlong over a cliff, it’s negligent to do nothing about it. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to recognise that this might be an issue of personal envy and that we need to come back to the cross. Sometimes the loving thing to do is to realise that we are just nitpicking in an unloving way, and keep our mouths shut. Jesus was full of truth, yes, but He was full of grace first.

But we all ought to be growing in our knowledge of God and of His Word, so that we will all become fully mature in Christ, conformed into His image. We none of us are there yet, but if we aren’t making at least some progress in that direction, then our faith is worthless.

The Rights of the Christian

“Yet to all who received in Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”    (John 1:12)


Much of the church in the Western world holds a teaching of “surrendering your rights” or “yielding your rights to God”.

This teaching seems to have come about at least in part as a reaction against the increasing demands in Western society by unbelievers for the “right” to do things we regarded as sin without facing the penalty of law. Rightly-regarded and not taken to an extreme place, the teaching can be a beneficial correction to the prideful and individualistic Western notion that I can do whatever the crap I want and no-one gets to tell me I can’t.

However, the more I actually look at what the Scripture says, the more convinced I become that this is far from the whole story.

The Bible doesn’t talk about rights very much; certainly not in the way we conceive of them. The idea of rights in that sense presupposes a far more individualistic mindset than existed at the time the Bible was written.

Nevertheless, the concept is there. The commandment “Do not murder” presupposes that you have a right to your own physical person; that is, another person does not have the right to take your life from you or violate your personhood. The commandment “do not commit adultery” presupposes that you have a right to expect faithfulness from your spouse. The commandment “Do not steal” presupposes the right to personal property. The commandment “Do not bear false witness” presupposes that you have the right to the reputation you deserve; that is, that another person does not have the right to slander you or bring false accusations against you, and furthermore, that you have a right to expect not to be deceived.

“Laying down” or “surrendering” any of these rights leads us into a very weird place indeed. It sets us up for victimhood, remaking God into the image of a tinpot dictator, a Ba’al (or “Master”) of worthless slaves rather than a loving Father of redeemed and beloved children.

Very few people go that far, though there have been those that do. Believing that is obviously taking things too far.

But what of other rights? What exactly do we mean by “laying down our rights” anyway? And does the Scripture actually teach the idea at all?

What most Christians seem to mean by “rights” is the sense of entitlement that so often goes with being a sinner. The idea that I don’t have to bend for anyone else; the idea that I am the sole authority in my life and no-one can tell me what to do. The idea that everyone else has to conform to what I think. The idea that I deserve preferential treatment because I’m so wonderful.

I have no problem with the surrender of this attitude. Indeed, it’s rooted in arrogance and needs to be brought to the cross. But this isn’t the “surrender of rights” but the confession and forgiveness of a self-centred attitude of pride.

The “rights” that are being surrendered here are ones that we arrogate to ourselves, not ones that actually objectively exist. I don’t, in fact, have any “right” to preferential treatment or to expect everyone else to fall into lockstep with what I believe.

The other way the word “rights” tends to get used in this teaching is to mean “privileges”. The special treatment you might get because of the position you hold. The way kings and queens have a right to be called “Your Majesty” and the President gets to be called “Sir” out of respect for their position. Or “Ma’am”, when in the course of time we eventually get a female one. The expected treatment that we feel we ought to receive.

This is a thornier issue. On the one hand, Jesus did not come as a son of privilege. He gave up His visible glory and was born as the son of a poor carpenter, the subject of rumours and one with no majesty by which we might be attracted to Him. Paul at times did not make use of his rights as an apostle to be supported by the church, to take a believing wife and so on.

But at other times he exercised his rights as a Roman citizen. He demanded the privileges due to him on account of his position, requiring that the city magistrates of Philippi personally come and escort him out of the city after they beat him without trial.

The idea of “surrendering rights” is that to be truly like Jesus we must never make use of any of our privileges. We must always lay them down, always taking the lowest possible place, letting other people walk over us. We must allow ourselves to be wronged rather than make any unChristlike demand to be treated properly.

And yet this may be a misreading of what the Bible says, and a confusion as to what rights actually are.

It’s not prideful or unChristlike to insist on fair pay for an honest day’s work; it’s God’s attribute of justice. It’s not a failure to yield rights to insist on being treated as a human being; it’s God’s valuing of the human person. It’s not a false entitlement to refuse to let other people take advantage of you and abuse your generosity with time and resources; it’s wisdom in the use of resources and refusing to be an enabler.

Undoubtedly there are all sorts of bogus “rights” that people claim in the name of human selfishness, and we do need to watch that we aren’t straying into an attitude of entitlement.

But there are also real, legitimate rights, and those are not up for surrender.

Retro Week: When True Simplicity Is Gained

As I mentioned last time, next Monday makes six months of blogging for me.

Both in honour of this momentous occasion (tongue firmly in cheek) and because I’m kind of thin on the ground as far as inspiration goes at the moment, I’m declaring this week to be “Retro Week”.

I will be reposting some of my personal selections from the archives, beginning with this one:


‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be;
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed;
And to turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right.

I recently heard the words of this early American hymn for the first time. The tune was made famous by being included in Aaron Copeland’s Classical work Appalachian Spring; not knowing what it actually came from, the music always sounded like Lord of the Dance to me.

Hearing the words for the first time fairly recently, and having a background in another country and another century, it took a little while to really understand and appreciate the message of the hymn. It doesn’t help that “simple” has come to mean “lacking understanding”, “ignorant” or “witless”. It’s a gift to be lacking understanding… It’s a gift to be ignorant… What?

To paraphrase Winnie the Pooh: This is the Wrong Sort of Simple.

Winnie the Pooh is a pretty good metaphor for what I mean, actually.  I always want to make things so complicated. Like Owl, I admire learning and intellect, particularly, being painfully honest, my own.  I use huge words where small ones would do. I say “The flood waters have reached an unprecedented height” when I mean “there’s a lot of water about”.  I’m more than a little bit pompous.  I have, to use A. A. Milne’s term, Brain.

There is, of course, in the world of Pooh Bear, a drawback to having Brain. “Rabbit’s clever,” Pooh says to Piglet at one point.  Piglet agrees. “Yes, Rabbit’s clever”.  “And he has Brain.”  Again, Piglet agrees.  Rabbit indeed has Brain.  “I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

Education and cleverness are wonderful things (rather like Tiggers), but there can come a point when all of our cleverness and learning just makes things more complicated than they need to be.

I recognise this trait in myself. I’ve been pedantic about knowledge since I first started to get any, and I can, like Owl, easily slip into a rather superior sort of mould.

Part of me wants complication, particularly in ideas. “There’s more going on here than meets the eye” is becoming a common statement from me about various Scripture passages. Sometimes it’s true. Sometimes we could all do with digging a little deeper. But I recognise a tendency in myself to over-complicate. To get so caught up in sifting through the complexities that I miss the simple truth that’s staring me in the face. Like Martha, I’m worried and concerned about many things. Though in my case, they are less the tasks and chores of the everyday than the spiritual knowledge and in-depth insight of my own particular brand of complication.

Sometimes, it truly is a gift to be simple. To be free of all the mental clutter that scatters our thoughts into a million different places, when all we really need is to focus in on the One thing that is needed. In my case, the Marys that have chosen what is better are those on the ground, who are right there with the Lord in the place of service.

As an educated man and self-confessed intellectual, it’s humbling to admit. I’ve spent my entire life filling my mind. I’m proud of my intellectual powers. I’ll accept almost any insult short of “you are stupid”. I like the “Wow, I never thought of that” comments I sometimes get.  I like being able to see and grasp things others sometimes can’t.

Ah, pride. First of the seven sins called “deadly” by the Catholics because they beget other sins. The arrogance of standing before God and thinking we have something of our own and in ourselves. Of taking a superior position with respect to our brothers. Of thinking that We Deserve Something.

To come down from our high intellectual tower to where we ought to be, in the press of the world, serving as our Lord before us… Truly, a gift.

Because it’s there that we find Jesus. “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to Me.” He’s in those we minister to, and He’s right there already ministering to them. He does what He sees the Father doing, and invites us to come and do it with Him.

And when we find Jesus, and join Him in His work, serving the least of these, we find ourselves.

Ourselves without the complicated knots we tie ourselves in, the arrogance and hiding and shame. Ourselves as we were meant to be. And we find joy, because what the Lord has for us truly is “the place just right”. The valley of love, where we find ourselves loving Him with all our heart and our neighbour as ourself. Where we turn and turn with Him in a whirl of delight. Not that it isn’t hard, nor that it won’t be painful. But it’s far more real and more satisfying to the soul than the cold, barren complexities we hide ourselves away in.

It’s paradoxical. We find true wisdom in simplicity, in laying aside our pride in our own cleverness. We find honour in being numbered along with our Lord, in the heat and dust of the place of service. We grasp a higher truth by abandoning the quest for More Knowledge and using what we have for others.

And as the song says, when we find this true simplicity, not the simplicity of the fool but the simplicity of the truly wise, then “to bow and to bend we will not be ashamed”. Because being the top dog, or the intellectual genius, or whatever, won’t matter any more. We will be able to bow and bend to one another in grace, not concerned for position or status or our pride in our own cleverness, no shame, no reason to hide,no reason to refuse to bend. Able to say those fateful words: I don’t know. Or “You were right; I was wrong.”

Delighted to turn from our self-absorbtion toward those we should be serving. From our fear of being exposed as frauds to the freedom of humility. To the delight of service. With nary so much as a “look at me; I’m so humble”. Made like our Lord, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, scorning its shame. Able to take positions that look shameful or scornful, because our joy is found there in the Person of Christ.

‘Til by turning, turning, we come round right.

Powerless

The construction GPS unit I use for my job is being temperamental at the moment.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. The way the thing works is that in addition to the satellite receiver in a conventional GPS device like a satnav or something, it has a base station set up on a known point to transmit those coordinates. When it’s working, this allows a positional accuracy of about half an inch horizontally and almost an inch vertically, which is plenty close enough for the excavation we do.

My problem comes because the base station I’m using on this job is quite a long way away. Too far for the little antenna on my GPS unit to get a reliable signal.

Until yesterday, we had a repeater unit set up on the temporary job trailer that the General Contractor have been using, but we have “permanent” portacabin jobsite field offices going in, and the General Contractor have pulled the power to the temporary trailer.

It’s a pain, because it makes my job extremely difficult, but it got me thinking about the Holy Spirit’s empowering, and what happens when we try to operate without it.

In my workplace, I have all the equipment and training I need to do my job, but without power it’s useless.

The Holy Spirit is much the same way. Jesus promised the disciples that “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

Trying to do the job of being a witness to the fact that Jesus is alive without the power that the Spirit gives is fairly futile. We may have all of the God-given talents and skills we need, but without power it’s not really going to get us anywhere.

It’s easy in our humanness and tendency to focus on what is seen rather than what is unseen to miss just how vital the Holy Spirit’s empowering truly is. We think we can do it ourselves, if maybe not quite as well without His help. We have the right equipment in the shape of our gifts and talents – some of them look more directly supernatural than others, but a lot of the gifts even on the I Corinthians 12 list feel a good deal more “ours” than the Spirit’s.

But without power, even the gifts of the Holy Spirit don’t do a thing.

In the modern world it’s difficult to overstate how much we all depend on having power. We surround ourselves with computers and phones and electric lights and kitchen appliances and everything else. Even our screwdrivers are powered as often as not.

It’s a good picture of the spiritual realm. Whether we realise it or not, we are just as dependent on power there as in our everyday lives. When Jesus said “without Me you can do nothing”, He wasn’t using hyperbole. It’s literally true.

Even on a physical level, we and all of the rest of the universe are sustained moment by moment by the Word of His power. And spiritually, the power of God the Holy Spirit not only enables us for ministry but quickens us for the life of the age to come and gives life to our mortal bodies.

It’s an awfully dependent position to be in, and our pride doesn’t like it at all. But guess what? God isn’t really interested in pandering to our pride. It’s yet another example of our needing to get over ourselves and stop thinking we have something of our own.

As the old hymn says, “Nothing in my hand I bring”.

The End of Ordinary

"The End of Ordinary".  Acrylic on canvas board. 2010

“The End of Ordinary”. Acrylic on canvas board. 2010

I thought that today I’d share one of my paintings with you.

This isn’t a new work; it’s been completed for some time. But it came to mind today and it matches my present mood.

It’s called “The End of Ordinary”, and it’s stands in my inventory as my first major use of the palette knife as a painting tool.

The subject matter is a coffee pot with a broken handle, and taking up this theme of brokenness I went on to paint in the most broken way I could think of: using only a knife.

The painting itself is scarred and messy; my acrylic medium laid on literally with a trowel and scraped into place. The red highlights make the pot look as if it’s bleeding, and the background is a nondescript tan, scratched and distressed as I’ve scarified the paint with the trowel-like blade. Get up close, and it’s pretty ugly. Deliberately so.

But this painting also marks my first break with the tyranny of real edges. Before this, I’d always wanted crisp, clean edges to everything, sharply delineating the one from the other. But paint is not real life, and photographic realism only goes so far in capturing the heart of a subject.

The process is as much a metaphor as the painting itself. We are all broken. We all bear our scars. We often feel like we’ve been scraped into shape with the”wrong” tool. Like the coffee pot itself, we’re missing a handle; like the painting, we’re battered and bleeding.

But the choice of title is also deliberate. Like my breaking out of the need for hard photorealistic edges, the place of brokenness can be a beginning. Jesus calls us to step out of our broken ordinariness into a life extraordinary; paradoxically by becoming broken ourselves. The brokenness He wants is the end of ordinary, so that He can fill us with His extraordinary. We have to die in order to truly live, be broken in order to be made whole, make an end in order that there may be a beginning. As the saying goes, “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”.

Life is messy; anyone with children knows this. One of the things kids do, from the time they’re born onwards, is make messes. As evidence of this, the first thing my son did on being placed in my arms after he was born was to pee all over everything. Part of that new brokenness that signifies the end of ordinary is becoming comfortable with a certain amount of mess. You can set all of your pencils in a nice neat row, because pencils aren’t alive, but if you try doing the same thing with live cats, you’re doomed before you start. If it’s alive, it’s probably going to be messy, moving, restless, active, disordered, not staying put.

The alternative is death. And a good-looking corpse is still a corpse.

Humility (Chivalric Virtues series)

This post is part of a series on the chivalric virtues. For the series introduction (containing links to all the other series posts), go here.

Last in sequence, appropriately enough, is the chivalric virtue of humility. Perhaps not a virtue we have come to associate overly with knighthood, it nonetheless comes in final and perhaps chief place as the seal of all the other virtues.

In my Mediæval Planetary symbolic scheme, humility is associated with Saturn; in the thinking of the day a baleful and malevolent planet connected with death and calamity. It seems somehow apt. Such things as ruin and calamity can come as death-blows to our idea that we are something in and of ourselves. Rightly appropriated, the leaden influence of Saturn pierces our puffed-up self-importance and arrogance. The call of Christ to take up the Cross and follow is rightly understood as a call to die.

Knights, typically, weren’t very good at humility. It was something honoured more in the breach than the observance; a virtue, yes, but one often at odds with the rest of the proud knightly code.

The knightly life in pursuit of honour often promotes pride, not humility, and the Mediæval knight was notoriously touchy about perceived slights to his honour. Star Trek’s Klingons are a warrior race whose culture revolves around honour, just like the knights of old. Honour – the praise of one’s fellows and the acclaim of one’s culture – is attained through meritorious acts, particularly courage on the battlefield. And because everyone loves a winner, especially particularly victory on the battlefield. The Miles Christi, or true Christian knight, may have elevated humility to the status of virtue, but it was a virtue not lived so much, unlike the other more martial and demonstrative virtues.

This is what happens when your idea of honour is honour before men. There’s another kind of honour, though: honour before God. The difference is rather like the difference between objective guilt and guilt feelings. Objective guilt – guilt before God, if you will – is that you did, in fact, do the unrighteous deed. You are guilty. Whether or not you feel guilty is a separate question. We all know there are people who can apparently commit the most grievous of offences and seemingly feel no guilt; no twinge of their seared conscience at all. Conversely, we can sometimes feel guilty about things for which we bear no objective guilt, for example, guilt feelings do not always miraculously go away after we get forgiven by God. Our objective guilt has been atoned for, but the feeling remains.

The Bible uses similar language, not for honour, but forhonour’s polar opposite shame. Verses such as “The one who trusts in Me will never be put to shame” suggest an objective shame, a shame before God, as well as the shame feelings we normally associate with the term. As with the guilt/righteousness axis, so with the honour/shame axis.

If our sense of honour is rooted in God, in objective honour, then it frees us to do some things that would normally be considered dishonourable. Not the objectively dishonourable things such as lying or cheating, but those things at which our pride rebels. Taking the low place, not the place of honour. Menial work. Acts of service. Tasks that are despised and considered worthless by society.

I don’t know about you, but this is looking a lot like humility to me.

Just like Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

but made Himself nothing,

taking the very nature of a servant

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

He humbled Himself

and became obedient to death,

even the death of the cross.

Jesus identifying with fallen humanity in baptism, shocking the already-righteous by hanging out with evil government collaborator tax-collectors, prostitutes and drunks, humbling Himself to wash the sweaty, dirty feet of His apostles, stooping to the humiliation of hanging naked on a Roman cross.

In the eyes of the world, shameful and dishonourable. The Messiah can’t come from Nazareth – nothing good comes from there. The Messiah can’t hang out with sinners – He’s supposed to be righteous. The Messiah can’t wash my dirty feet – He’s the Master, and that’s the job of the lowest slave. And the Messiah really can’t be apparently defeated and die in one of the most painful and humiliating ways imaginable, naked in front of everyone to be jeered by the rabble. God’s honour is at stake!

Yes, it is. But rather than being an offence to God’s honour, these actually reinforce it. God sees what really is, and works in the sphere of objective honour. Man looks at the outward appearance.

When I listed off seven chivalric virtues and failed to include honour, I originally said that honour was the sum total of all of them. I may have been wrong. Honour may well be humility in disguise, looked at in a mirror.

Honour before men is rooted in pride. Objective honour, paradoxically, is willing to be dishonoured before men for true righteousness’ sake.

Not that being in a low position automatically means you’re all right in God’s eyes, either. Sometimes we can think that humility means being down on yourself. We take Paul’s self-description as “the chief of sinners” and apply it to ourselves, thinking this is what we’re supposed to do. It certainly seems properly self-effacing. Look at me, I’m so humble.

Oh dear.

Sometimes, claiming to be worse than we really are can be a sort of inverted vanity. I’m important! Look, I did big, important sins! It becomes rather like the proverbial fish that got away. “I needed grace and it was this big!

Humility is, as the Scripture puts it, “thinking of yourself with sober judgment.” Neither too highly nor too lowly, but in accordance with the view of God, the One who truly sees.

Interestingly for the Mediæval planet associated with ruin and death, Saturn was also the highest planet, nested in the uppermost of the seven planetary spheres, and thus closest to the Primum Mobile, God the Prime Mover. It somehow seems appropriate that this should be the virtue associated with seeing as God sees – seeing yourself the way you really are.