"Humble Myself In The Sight Of The Lord" My Ass

    The title of this post (at least the first part) comes from a song I used to sing in church, a song I loved. At about ten lines--well, five if you take out the duplicates--it’s not very complicated. The lyrics are as follows:

Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord

Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord

And He shall lift you up, higher and higher

And He shall lift you up

 

Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord

Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord

And He shall lift you up, higher and higher

And He shall lift you up

And He shall lift you up, up into heaven

And He shall lift you up

Melodically, it is a powerful tune. It’s long and low and in a minor key, all of which give the words a special kind of gravitas and sanctity. Unfortunately, it also communicates a sentiment I regret having instilled in me by the Evangelical church: the prioritization of submission to circumstances--the happy, humble acceptance of whatever lot you’ve been dealt--because God is both totally in control and always knows best. Thus, one can conclude that God has a perfectly loving and wise reason for designing the hardship(s) in which you find yourself stuck, or at least for allowing them to happen. And if you have a problem with that, well then you need to ‘get your heart in the right place’, as the Jesus people would say.

    You see, in Evangelical Christianity, one doesn’t stand up for oneself, and one doesn’t complain. This might seem somewhat contradictory to those of you who picture curbside preachers and mobs of hate signs when you hear or read the word “Evangelical”. It sure appears as though those fools have a hard time doing anything but voicing their grievances and shoving their ideas in everybody’s face. Those people, though, are not standing up for themselves; they’re standing up for God, and there’s a difference. They are following a commandment, and what they are doing does not serve themselves but the greater good (it’s a fairly common Evangelical strategy to pull the whole ‘this hurts me more than it hurts you’ schtick). On the other hand, were one of those hate-sign holders to go to his pastor and say he wasn’t sure about this method of ‘reaching out’ anymore, or to say that he was not okay with all the financial troubles God wasn’t saving him from, he would likely be told to swallow his pride and accept God’s will. The distinction is subtle, but significant, in the mind of the believer.

    So, I learned to be bold in my proselytizing but tight-lipped in my criticisms of both the church and any experiences I had or witnessed of personal injustice or oppression. The reasons I didn’t have to speak up or fight back were simple: God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. He must have a profoundly benevolent reason for designing my and others’ circumstances in the way they have played and will continue to play out. He will save me when I need saving, which might be a the very last minute a la Daniel in the lion’s den or Joseph and his crazy coat, and I will just have to deal with it. Now, I do think it can be helpful to remain calm in dire circumstances, and I have found a lot of peace of mind in the Buddhist practice of fundamental acceptance, but what the Christian church taught me as described above was disempowerment. We were to give all glory and power to God and to trust him to “fight for” us. There are, in fact, numerous stories in the Old Testament section of the Bible in which the Israelites were instructed to basically hang out as the enemy approached because the Lord would be (and did prove to be), quite literally, their warrior.

    I want to be my own warrior. Dependence is nice, not to mention appropriate, when you’re a young person, but as an adult Believer I was getting kind of sick--and frankly quite suspicious--of submitting to the ideas and rules laid out by the church when so many of them didn’t make sense in or for practical, everyday life. I mean, you can’t have sex with someone unless you marry them? Are you serious? On top of that, I was constantly encountering situations of much more serious inequity--situations of bigotry, economic oppression, and the like--that deserved to be verbally and/or publically criticized since “God” was clearly not stepping in to stop a reality that had no business existing. And this gets to the other thing that deeply concerns me about prioritizing submission (and inaccurately and propagandistically calling it “humility”): it’s the narrative of privilege. It’s an instruction designed to make sure those in power stay in power. One is not allowed to grumble or resist, for then one would be ungrateful, unruly, unhumble. One is supposed to wait, patiently, and never lose hope that things are working in one’s favor behind the scenes. Redemption will come to pass...eventually.

    But what about now? You’re telling me an omnibenevolent God commands us to put up with this shit? I’m sorry, but I can’t buy it anymore. And, on top of the difficulty that is separating myself from the religion in which I was deeply embedded while trying to maintain certain relationships and retain certain legitimate values, now I’m also left with the task of deprogramming myself from the inclination to wait for a miracle to fall from the sky and rescue me when life gets scary. I am a smart and decent person (most of the time) who has wasted so much of my life not learning how to have faith in myself. Forget pregnant virgins and zombie savior--I am real, and I’m right here. Why in the world did I find it easier to believe in those crazy myths than my own goddamn capability?

    I could spend a lot of time with my anger about this, and maybe I should to a certain extent. Acknowledging and processing emotions triggered by external circumstances is important; but, so is figuring out how to move on at some point. Ironically, I'm beginning to think that it might be only through humility--true humility, not Evangelical “humility”--that I am able to live with the fact of all that I was as a Christian and, as a result, all that I wasn’t as a human being. Unlike what I was taught by this emotionally manipulative church song, though, true humility is honest about how silly I was, how naive I was, how immature I was for so long, and yet it does not judge. Because this humility also knows how far I’ve come, and how many factors were at play shaping and influencing my situation in ways that were out of my control. And, it stands by me because it is honest about all of my wonderful abilities as well. This humility doesn’t ask me to submit to anyone, and I can definitely live with that.