If I think about it, it was quite fitting returning home from Denmark the day before the fourth. The whole month of June abroad I got to feel what it is like to be inside another country as an outsider. To be within and without. Us Americans asked the Danish girls on the team what comes to mind when they think of American people. I got to hang in the balance of hearing their opinion, listening and learning, while remembering the truth. The truth that no one has it all figured out. And because no person has it all figured out, no nation has it all figured out either. I got to be on the outside looking in on my nation at a very unique point in its history. A moment of great turmoil, fear, uncertainty, discomfort, awakening and still so much good. July tips us into the back half of the year. The fourth gives us a great opportunity to reflect on where we are now and how we got here. Maybe some are rejoicing we are finally past the halfway on a year we would very much like to put behind us. I feel this way. Hopefully, some are also finding joy and new life out of the sorrow and hardships. I see glimpses of this as well, though it takes a keen eye and quiet to do so. We are easily numbed by noise and stimulation; it becomes difficult to know what is real and what is not. It is easy to chalk twenty twenty up as just a year to forget. As much as I would like to sometimes, this would be a huge mistake.
There is no running from my identity as an American. I am subject to all the good and bad and whatever it may mean at a given time. I shouldn’t be too much surprised by how frustrating it can be reconciling the triumphs we share and the destruction we inflict on one another. I know this because I have a first-hand example. Myself. I am a pursued and prideful creature. My brother Coleman will often respond to the question, “how are you,” with “better than I deserve.” This is so spot on. A fitting reminder for me particularly because most days I fancy I am deserving. After all, isn’t this why I spend so much time ensuring I am a likeable and giving person? Not only this, but the most likeable, the most giving, the most “Christian.” With the expectation or anticipation of something in return. Some kind of pat on the back or recognition of how good of a person I am. Being the winner, the best. C.S. Lewis describes in his book Mere Christianity that pride, unlike the other vices, is essentially competitive. The very nature of pride is to have more than another, be better, regardless of how much one already has. I could have all the talent or money for the things I desire, but if someone has more than me, my pride is ruthless to outdo this other person.
Let me include a bit of a lengthy section from the chapter Lewis explores the great sin of pride because to all of it I must confess and repent of. Here goes.
“That raises the terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit to themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men…And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good- above all, that we are better than someone else- I think we may be sure that we are being acted one, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God, is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.[Mere Christianity, 124-125]
For most of my life, I have lorded the mindset of being better than. I have held it over others, even and especially, the people closest to me. This was my religion. I figured I was good because I was not tempted by alcohol, sex, drugs, partying, vanity, etc. I may not be perfect, but at least, I wasn’t doing these things. My Christianity was just this, my own. I was not serving a merciful and loving God but a perfect version of myself. I pretended to be humble and grateful, all the while using praise and success as further evidence of my own righteousness. C.S. Lewis notes a key difference between pride and pleasure in being praised. “For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, ‘I have pleased him; all is well,’ to thinking, ‘What a fine person I must be to have done it.’ The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming.”
The truth is I only have what has already been given to me. Whatever good temperament or niceness characterizes my nature is a gift. Nothing I produced on my own. Pride blinds me to this truth. It blinds me to my need and the truth of my poverty because I perceive I can get on just fine on my own means- those I consider to be my own. As long as I believe they are, the reality is I am much more bound than free.
So recognizing pride is an evil and utterly poisonous thing, and always undergoing the painful undoing of letting the Lord thoroughly rid it from my heart, what does it mean this July 4th twenty twenty to consider being proud as an American? Proud to be a white person? Proud to be a woman? Proud to be the daughter of my Father? Should I be? In one sense, yes, I am proud to be these things because of an admiration of how they can be vessels of goodness. In another sense, no, I do not wish to be proud because of the risk of attaching goodness to the vessels, instead of the One who created them. I believe there is good in recognizing how one is pleasing and acting rightly from a place of genuine gratitude and detachment. However, being a proud person is quite the opposite of gratitude. Being a proud person takes whatever goodness and righteousness there is and attaches it to one’s own doing. One’s own abilities. The creeping in of the sentiment from above, the “what a fine person I am…” Can you see how this leads us to utter ruin? Any hint of dependence is squashed. Any recognition of a reality above our own is lost. We dare to be our own creators, and thus, form truths based on appetites and moods. The book of James and many other contributors to Scripture warn us that the proud man cannot know God. Some go as far as saying the proud man is the enemy of God. A son who says what he has, his goodness, is his own doing rejects his sonship to his father and cannot know his father. He may be able to get along with the man, but he does not relate to his father as he was designed to do.
Part of the graciousness of being on the outside of something is you get a somewhat zoomed out view of it. Being away from the states during June allowed a different look at the month we celebrate Pride. I admit this has always been troublesome to me. I also admit, in the past, this troubling largely came from Pride itself. I believe it is true the things that most irk us in others are the very things we detest in ourselves, whether we are aware of those things enough to name them or not (it is rather difficult to be honest with ourselves these days with the onslaught of voices all vying for room in our thoughts). I was woefully spiritually prideful and still am in a lot of ways. I fear spiritual pride is an incredibly subtle and crafty evil lurking within the desire for goodness and righteousness and dignity. The treachery comes with attaching our worth and dignity to anything outside of God (maybe this seems a stretch or an advertisement for Christianity, but it is not. Without a relationship with God, we look to fashion ourselves as sandcastles. Our mortality will always be dissolving on us). Much of the evil I find in my heart takes this form. Thus, I rejected the celebration of Pride out of a misplaced sense of self-righteousness and some hint of knowledge it was overrunning my soul. I couldn’t allow it in others because I couldn’t allow it in myself. This isn’t all though.
I understand the month of Pride in June is to honor the Stonewall Riots in 1969 by the celebration of people identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The Stonewall Riots occurred because of harassment and mistreatment of people by people. I do not think it is far off to consider when we judge and persecute another, we inflict a sort of death on ourselves. We are all transgressors and fall short. Do not misunderstand, though, this is quite the opposite of an excuse for less than loving behavior. It is rather a mandate for loving our neighbor by the Absolute Goodness. There is only one Judge, and He is standing at the door. Ridicule and taunting and bias disregard the truth of human identity. An identity founded on the goodness of God and the truth He knows us all and loves us individually.
I believe part of this identity is the complementing of the man and woman. However, there was a time I seriously questioned this belief. Not feeling attraction for men and experiencing same-sex attraction confused me. As an athletic female, I often identified more as a guy than as a girl. At least in my own mind. But that is exactly where it stayed. How could I, a “good” girl attending Catholic church, admit to having same sex attraction? Who could I share and discuss all the feelings and thoughts going on in my head without feeling condemned or persecuted? It would be easy to say this is the fault of the Church, but the Church is made up of people, and it is our role to extend mercy and uphold the truth. How could I reconcile my belief in the union of a man and woman with what I was feeling? This is the predicament I think we often find ourselves in, especially as Christian people. What we need always remember is not to be afraid of something being wrong with us. There is, indeed, something wrong with all of us. Sin.
C.S. Lewis describes a man experiencing back pain but dreading going to the doctor. While the doctor is examining him, he does his best to show how fit and healthy he is, through his wincing. The doctor is not fooled, nor surprised. God is not fooled by us either. He is well aware of the sin within us. The bit we have to work out is letting Him heal us. This seems like a relatively straight forward encounter, but the great sin of pride plays the doctor, too. Not coincidentally, as the devil knows what kind of healing God has for us. God intends new life, His life, not solely improvement. Doctor pride sees us wincing and assures us, as we already desire to hear, that there is nothing wrong with us and sets us on our way. Maybe he even slides us something to numb the pain.
I do not want to be this man and go looking for the answers that tickle my ears or merely numb my pain. I want to study the law of liberty, to stare intently at it, and then look at myself knowing there is something wrong with me. Because this is the only way I can be healed. Jesus did not come for the healthy but for the sick. If I do not know I am sick, there is nothing He can do for me. I believe heterosexuality is the way the Lord designed us. I also believe the great evil of sin afflicts me in manifold ways and looking down on any of my fellow human beings keeps me from looking up at my merciful and loving God. I cannot look down on the celebration of pride because I am below as well. I cannot distance myself from it for fear of being “infected” because I already am infected. There is something wrong with me. I do not want to see the sinfulness of my brothers and sisters as slivers when the log is in my own eyes. This is what spiritual pride does. There is no cure for those of us who think we are healthy. We cannot save ourselves. And I know I need saving. I am certain I need healing. I know my God is worth following not because He tells me I am good but because He tells me I am poor, lost and afflicted, and He comes for me this way. He loves me this way. He even becomes poor, lost and afflicted like me to save me. God is love. “Love is not God.” [Mere Christianity]
So much better than I deserve.
The Danish girls helped me see what it looks like to be an American through different lens. I hope always for the humility to listen and see what it looks like to be white. To be a woman. To be heterosexual. To be a Christian. Through other lens.
PS- I dare say this message will spark disagreement and emotional responses. I think this is quite fair and honestly probably most needed. The fear of conversation and transparency ravishes the fullness of life we are meant to take part in. I hope we can always find ourselves amongst others encouraging us to be honest with ourselves, not putting pressure on us to be spotless beings having everything sorted out. I tried this, and it seemed smooth sailing at the time, of course. But it was a half-life. An exhausting life keeping up a false front. Time to be real about the things wrong with all of us. Lets talk about pride.