Humble Pie – Come and Get It!
I hate to admit this (and likely you do too)… but SOMETIMES, I’m just downright… well, WRONG. Embarrassingly, AND WONDERFULLY wrong!
Today’s Lesson from the Life of Rebecca begins like this:
At the start of this Fall Semester, I was asked to lead a Precept for a “Christian Public Leader” course at Luther Seminary (a class for first-year seminary students). The name “Precept” makes it sound all prestigious, but in this use it’s just a fancy name for “space to process with peers, do a little spiritual practice, and share personal reflection papers”. Still, from what I can tell, precepts are an EXTREMELY valuable identity-forming and relationship-building time for future pastors and deacons as they become more SELF-aware (of their gifts as well as their “baggage”), and also more GOD-aware (as they search out where they find themselves in God’s greater story, and the role they’re being called to play).
That said, the group I’m leading is still just getting to know each other at this point, so deep work feels vulnerable. However, as they’ve begun to risk more and more vulnerability with each other, we’re all realizing just how fascinating and quirky (as well as gifted) we all are! Session #1 and #2 revealed personalities and histories that were deep and complicated… For instance, a middle-aged father of teenagers whose career path has already bounced between ski bum, seminary drop-out, Smithsonian Curator, Fire Dept. Captain, and most recently, Substitute Teacher, before returning to seminary. Or envision this: a young woman who speaks as slowly as the pace of life in quiet, rural Appalachia, where she grew up admittedly sheltered, as a daughter of police officers, home-schooled by her grandmother, and loving the intimacy and simplicity of her tiny church community. THEN imagine, she skips a grade in community college to graduate with an older sibling, and soon after finds herself doing service work and radio broadcasts with an Aboriginal community in Australia! *You didn’t see that one coming either, did you?
I mistakenly thought I had the next character pegged from the moment I met him: young and over-zealously people-pleasing. I KNEW guys like this! Plastered in Bible Camp paraphernalia and a hopeful but somewhat-forced grin. And he seemed naïve to the challenging complexities of faith evolved beyond simplified Sunday School answers. With his eager “I just want to help everyone love each other – It’s all about love!” exclamations, he seemed untouched by the unfortunate major life difficulties that plague so many others and start to make them cynical. I also gathered that he’d never been significantly out of his comfort zone, or felt truly unsafe, or ventured far beyond homogenously white areas of Midwestern America, for that matter. I’d known guys like this, and I was pretty sure of it – He was one of them.
AAAAAAAND THEN… Well, shame on ME for ASSUMING!!!
In precept session #2, out loud in a trembling voice, this young man shared the journey of his “Call to Ministry” (his very first paper), and it left me speechless and with tears welling up in my eyes. Though I tried to keep my Precept-Facilitator-composure, at some point during the reflective session I decided that wasn’t nearly as important as making sure HE KNEW how powerful and moving his journey was, and how CLEARLY God was at work in him! His convictions were compelling. His bravery, astounding. His depth, compassion, and intellect – inspiring! He admirably shared vulnerable stories of alienation and struggle I NEVER could have imagined, and revealed to me just how wrong I was, over and over. ALL of my assumptions were BLOWN OUT OF THE WATER, in all the VERY BEST ways! The experiences he shared with us were rich and excruciatingly challenging… and upon hearing them, nausea immediately overwhelmed me knowing, just how terribly and completely I had undersold him. Unexpectedly, and breathtakingly, in the sharing of this single story, this unlikely young man truly opened up his own heart to us, and like dominos, each of ours unfolded in-turn.
That Friday afternoon HE PREACHED TO ME, just by being who he was and telling his story without pretense. HE modeled a vulnerability I wasn’t able to offer to the group, myself, that day - already too distracted with assessing each of the interesting sides of the box I was so confident he belonged in. He’s still got lots of interesting sides, of course (don’t we all!), but that Friday was an impactful reminder to me, that NOT ONLY are assumptions frequently wrong (and then obviously unhelpful), but it is also much more LIFE-GIVING to give someone the time of day, and truly GET TO KNOW them.
And in the meantime, before we have the chance to really know them, we strive give others the benefit of the doubt;
“We are to fear and love God, so that we don’t tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them [even in our own hearts & minds] or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their DEFENSE, speak WELL of them, and INTERPRET EVERYTHING THEY DO in the BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT.”
These words from Luther’s Small Catechism haunt me every time I think ungenerously of someone without really knowing their story. And these words not only flashed before my eyes again, but also stuck in my gut last Friday, when I realized I had completely misjudged one very brave, eager, and gifted seminary student.
Thankfully, he invited me to listen. I’m actually getting to know him. And now I am just grateful, and in AWE of the human being he is!!!
All in all, being wrong is not an easy thing to admit, and I am still ashamed of my assumptions. I am NOT proud I jumped to judgment. And usually we don’t share these kinds of things out loud with others, but I have to tell you - I have found a surprising pocket of real joy and freedom in sharing this story with friends, family, and coworkers - I feel truly FREED by lifting up this young man now, and by enthusiastically sharing my amazement at who he is and just how WRONG I was! I guess the truth is… sometimes BEING RIGHT is actually the bitter pill,
and a giant slice HUMBLE PIE is the delicious thing that hits the spot!
Grace and peace to each of you,
And if humble pie sounds tempting… I can’t recommend it highly enough!