Posted by: Carl Magruder | September 2, 2008

Hubris and Humilty in the Service of Truth

            I had a brief email exchange with the Reverend Nancy Firestone (CPC-UMC) yesterday.  Reverend Firestone is one of our panelists at the Mindful Living: Healthy Churches, Healthy People, Healthy Planet Conference.  You can read about the conference here or about Reverend Firestone and our other speakers here.  I asked the Rev if the NCC could use her words to promote the cause of environmental health on our website or in printed resources that we distribute.  Her response stopped me in my tracks for a moment.  She wrote back, “My story is a gift to be shared.”

            I believe that the orientation that says that we are mere stewards of our gifts, which are to be used in the service of Truth and our fellow creatures, is one of the central fruits of a faith-centered life.  Reverend Firestone could just as easily hold the belief that her story is hers, that this is what makes it important, and that when people listen to it they are supposed to focus on her.  Instead, the gift has richness precisely because it is given for the benefit of others and the glorification of God. 

            It is particularly interesting to me that Firestone characterizes her story as a “gift” because her story is actually pretty rough.  I only have it second hand at this point, so I don’t want to go into details, but it has to do with chemical injury, multiple chemical sensitivity, and a life that many of us would find quite circumscribed by environmental health issues.  It is, in part, a story of suffering.  As author Henri Nouwen makes clear in his book, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society (1979), the way that the wounded healer turns her own suffering into a gift for others is by offering the wound and her life of up to God.  Doing so allows grace to affect a process of sanctification that results in the transformation of something apparently bad into a blessing.  This is a reflection of how redemption works in the story of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection.

            After a Quaker meeting, when a person has been moved to give ministry that is powerful and builds up the community, sometimes a less experienced Friend will say something like, “Thank you for your ministry” or “I appreciate hearing your thoughts this morning.”  A more experienced Friend will say instead, “Thee was well favored, Friend.”  These words acknowledge the speaker’s faithfulness, but give the agency to God. 

            The irony of this kind of stewardship of gifts is that God generally wants those gifts well used, so the person carrying them may find that spiritual humility requires them to put themselves up front and center quite a bit.  Their humility requires what would appear to be self-aggrandizement!  Such a person might give vocal ministry more often than is common in Quaker meeting, or may give many talks such as the panel discussion that Reverend Firestone is participating in at our October conference.  Dorothy Day, Mahandas K. Gandhi, Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Julia “Butterfly” Hill and, I dare say, Jesus Christ were all considered by their detractors to be self-aggrandizing individuals who didn’t know their place.  Actually, I would suggest that they were folks who practiced the discipline of spiritual humility, which required them to live bold lives which drew attention.  We know for sure that at least in some of these cases, the individual often longed for a quiet life, but such was not their lot.  Two of them were assassinated.

            There are those who have been given great gifts, but lack the spiritual maturity to carry them well.  You see this very clearly in certain artists and athletes, I think.  What do James Dean, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Vincent van Gogh have in common?  Why are there so many scandals involving religious leaders?  Why do great activists burn out?  If the gifts are not constantly offered over to God, they can become demonic, a kind of curse. 

            In my own struggles to be faithful to the gifts and opportunities afforded me, I feel enriched by my interaction with those who carry their gifts with grace, remembering Paul’s admonishment, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (I Cor. 12:7)  I look forward to meeting Reverend Firestone at the Mindful Living Conference.  I hope that I can meet you there, too.

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Responses

  1. thanks, well used! Good words for me today. Hi F(f)riend, I have been thinking of you. I’d love to hear about your new job, and about you.
    the other day there was a psychic on a radio show, and what he did was talk to people about their gifts. It was so lovely, so…quakerly?

    love to you
    -sage

  2. Thee was particularly well-favored, Friend! Keep giving those gifts!

    And on your other blog, I loved your description of the ideal woman! I just want to be there to see your face when she pulls up…

    Glad to stay connected.

    In Peace,

    Shayne


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