The Paradox of Claiming to Be Humble and the Irony in Bragging on Your Integrity

While in college at Liberty University, I noticed that I literally walked past thousands of other students every day, most of whom I’d never stop to have a conversation with.  We would recognize each other in the cafeteria as a person who saw while walking to our 9:00 class, but there was no reason to know anything more about each other.  So I messed with the situation.  I started putting on a nametag each day with different information about myself.

Like one day it said “5’ 9”, and another day, “Alabama native”.  Eventually, I started running out of solid facts about myself, so would sometimes use dry humor.  One day, I wrote on my nametag, “VERY HUMBLE”.  Most of my classmates and friends got the joke.  But there were a few that responded, “You’re humble?  Oh…”

The obvious joke is that no one can truly proclaim they are humble and still be humble.  Being humble involves humility; so for a person tell others about positive attributes about themselves, especially being humble, and for no apparent reason, is far from being humble, if the action was meant to be serious.  It makes me think of political commercials where we see the word “INTEGRITY” flash up on the screen over the politician’s face, and at the end, the politician running for office, himself, states that he approves the message.

Any business that sells itself as a company that treats people right makes itself a target as soon as the first company comes along with a perceived injustice.  And that’s why every company has some sort of “complaints department”.   Like how the most religious person in the room’s actions are often looked at through a magnifying glass, then when they do the slightest crude thing, they are remembered for that one random act, making them sort version of a hypocrite.

Of course, that’s the tricky thing about honesty, integrity, and humility: There are extremes and in-betweens.  Not all politicians truly are sleazy.  Not all people in prison are horrible human beings.  Being that no one on Earth is currently perfect, no one is truly completely honest and humble, living in accordance with immaculate integrity.  A good reputation is made over a course of time, through actions.  But even a good reputation is negated once the person is the one to bring attention to it.  Like a man in a good suit, he’s instantly less cool if he brings up his suit in conversation- it’s someone else’s job to brag on him.

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Screen Door on an Open Mind

I think, therefore I am open-minded.

Before, I always thought that being open-minded meant I would personally accept any new idea that came along, so I distanced myself from the phrase. “Open-minded” was a description for a person with no backbone, so flaky regarding their worldview that they would accept anything fully; never really being able to believe in any certain deity whom they could actually know personally, because being open-minded meant they believed “God is in the trees and the wind and the animals and in all of us”.

But somewhere in between never adopting solid personal beliefs and being so unchangeably stubborn because “this is the way it’s always been done and I ain’t changin’ now” is a balance. I’ve come to realize that while there are certain things I am rock solid on, there are other aspects that I was wrong or misinformed about before. For example, in recent years regarding the relationship between my religious and political beliefs, I have definitely become more conservative on certain issues and more liberal on others. Yet I still know what I stand for.

Being open-minded means living a paradox. It means a person has confirmed the Big Stuff (a moral code, religion, etc.) but is open to the millions of things that don’t necessarily go against what is set in stone. And while people everyday are still sorting out the Big Stuff, there should come a certain point for everyone where they actually decide on something. It’s a necessary rite of passage that makes us who we are.

Speaking of a word that many often keep a distance from: faith. It’s amazing how there’s no escaping from needing to have faith in something. Whether it’s faith in no god, a god, science, tradition or “don’t know, don’t care”, people make their decision even in their indecision.

I have figured out the Big Stuff for me. Other than that, I’m learning the rest everyday. The door of my mind is open, though the screen in front of it is secured in place.

“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” –traditional proverb

Bad Things, Man

There are a lot of “bad things” you can do and be, and for the most part, people will overlook it. Ironically, one of the few things I have found that our American society finds unforgivable and unacceptable is someone who is judgmental of others. Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker is a prime example. He had notable talent and a great career going for him. Then he opened his mouth.

In a 2000 interview with Sports Illustrated he revealed himself to be a racist, sexist, and “homophobe” by comments he made in just one paragraph. It cost him his career. Think of all the crimes that athletes have committed and walked away with just a slap on the wrist. But it was a judgmental mindset, regardless of his athletic ability, that cursed him.

Seinfeld star Michael Richards (“Kramer”) officially ruined his career in 2006 when he lost control of an audience at a comedy club while doing a stand-up routine, then began shouting racial slurs at the people he believed to be causing the disruption, in a desperate and pitiful attempt to gain control. This was captured on a cell phone, uploaded to YouTube, and the rest is history. His career will never survive this, despite his many public apologies.

John Rocker and Michael Richards are easy targets though. The annoying thing about it is every person alive today is judgmental of others, no matter how small the degree. There is a natural tendency to create somewhat of a list of degrees regarding “bad people”, or at least “people I’m better than”. Not that anyone wants to or means to consider ourselves better than other people, but the truth is, it happens everyday.

I realize there are several degrees of separation between gossiping about co-workers and being an open bigot, but where is the line drawn? Both examples involve a person publicly assessing either the private matters or character of another person. Both involve a person making an call that another person is somehow sub-par. At what point is it no longer innocent and harmless to judge another person?

The highly successful sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond had an episode in which the twin sons befriended a kid at school whose dad was a sanitation worker (a “garbage man”). The comedy of the episode was when Raymond’s wife acted uneasy when the “Garbage Man Dad” visited the household to pick up his son. The episode showed that secretly she looked down on garbage men, compared to other occupations like writers or high school teachers. Like the way people look at a truck driver differently than compared to a doctor, though both men work hard to support their families.

Many reality shows totally play on the concept of enticing its viewers to come back each week to watch how stupid a person is going to be. I think that’s why Dennis Rodman stayed as long as he did on The Apprentice: Donald Trump knew that viewers were annoyed by Dennis and would keep watching in hopes he would be fired on that episode. Maybe it’s the satisfaction in knowing that though we’re not perfect, or at least we’re not as messed up as “that person”.

I remember the pastor of my church, Mike Glenn, saying how when he meets a new person out on the golf course and Mike is asked what does for a living, the demeanor and vocabulary of the other person often changes instantly. Whereas the first 30 minutes of the game they revealed their true selves to Mike, anything after that was a different version.

To some degree, he must feel frustrated that he is seen as “the holy man”, the one others have to straighten up around. I’m sure to some degree he must be tired of being judged- so many people can’t see past his profession. But why do people react that way to the pastor of one of the biggest churches of the biggest city in Tennessee?

Maybe because they’re afraid they will be judged. What a paradox. In fear of being judged, they judge the pastor. They assume he looks down on them because they’re not “tight with Jesus”. The ultimate irony of it is that he doesn’t care that they just dropped the “f-bomb”. He genuinely just wants to be their friend.

People forget that Jesus was friends with prostitutes, beggars, and plenty of other people who had no future. From what I’ve heard, one of the biggest issues that atheists have with Christians is that at some point or many points in their lives, they had an experience where a Christian was judgmental towards them.

I think it’s weird that God leaves it up to faulty human beings that mess up everyday like everyone else (and also struggle with being judgmental) to show the rest of the world the love of God. If a person could be made perfect the moment they became a Christian, it would be much easier for non-believers to believe. But instead God chooses to use instruments that are often out of tune to play the music.

Sometimes when I’m driving home from work I get behind this car with a bumper sticker that says “Jesus, save me from your followers!” I’m always irritated at first when I see it. But I can relate. I wish Jesus would save me from myself sometimes.

Christianity and Wine

Wine not?

Taboo is an interesting thing. As the opening line to the theme song of the classic inter-racial sitcom Diff’rent Strokes goes, “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum: What might be right for you, might not be right for some.” From the society of a small family, to a town, to a nation, certain collective behavioral beliefs help unify a group of people to identify as one, bringing a sense of safety in numbers as well as vindication that their own viewpoint really is the best one.

As I researched for my epic “Beauty and Self-Worth aren’t the Real Issues, Lack of Will Power Is” last week, I learned some interesting things about food and drinks that are considered taboo by certain cultures. For example, throughout the centuries coffee has been banned by different countries (including our own) and religious groups (at one time Catholics and currently Mormons). Caffeine is an addictive drug and many people have seen coffee as a controlled substance, as it causes its consumers to become dependent on a drink that can change their demeanor simply by its consumption or lack of it, after the tolerance is built up.

It’s hard to imagine that drinking coffee (and other caffeine-laced beverages like tea and Red Bull) would be taboo to anyone. But considering its addictive qualities along with its mood-altering and heart rate changing abilities, it does have some similarities to alcohol, which is more easily condemned by religious groups. Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians (though they encourage/require marijuana use), and Mormons are the most solid in their shunning of alcoholic beverages.

As for Protestant Christians, it’s namely Baptists and Methodists that have a stance of little to no tolerance for alcohol, often stated in their church by-laws. (Being that my hometown is almost completely represented by Baptists and Methodists, the sell or purchase of alcohol was illegal in the county until 2006.) However, because of their proximity to the Catholic Church, Episcopalians and Presbyterians tend not to look down on alcohol consumption.

Being Baptist my entire life, I always thought it was weird that Catholics actually drink wine during the service, in particular for the Lord’s Supper. Obviously Jesus and his disciples drank wine for the Last Supper, but we always used Welch’s grape juice (a company that got its start by offering non-alcoholic grape juice to the American Christians who saw drinking wine as sinful). After high school I moved away from my “dry” hometown and graduated from a one year (Baptist affiliated) Bible college in Florida then earned my English degree from Jerry Falwell’s (openly Baptist) Liberty University in Virginia, both saturated in an “alcohol is taboo and prohibited” culture.

Then I moved to Nashville.

An interesting crossbreed between churches and bars. A culture where drinking beer is in the same category as drinking soda. In other words, it’s just another beverage. Like in Europe. And I quickly learned that judgmental attitudes towards alcohol were nowhere to be found, even in Baptist circles. A person could actually sincerely love both Jesus and beer. In fact, last Fall my Sunday School class took a tour of Nashville’s own Yazoo Brewery as a fun activity.

When I finally accepted the fact that alcohol was no longer a moral issue to me, a revelation I had was this: Alcohol use does not necessarily equal alcohol abuse. Before, my mind saw any consumption of alcohol as an instant link to drunkenness and alcoholism. That is a stigma that has since been dissolved from my mind.

An interesting exception to the alcohol ban in Christian circles is best expressed in a quote I would always hear from my friends growing up: “My parents don’t drink, except for a little wine on their wedding anniversaries.” The alcoholic content of the average beer is around 5%. However, wine typically starts between 12 to 15%. Why was strong wine overlooked for special occasions but weak beer condemned?

There are several reasonable answers to this paradox, just like there are many understandable points on why certain religions prohibit alcohol. And because good cases can be made for both acceptance and rejection, it’s remains taboo for some and completely normal for others.

Ironically, the same parts of the Bible that caused me to believe alcohol consumption was wrong before, are now the same verses that give me confidence that for me, it’s no longer a moral issue. In fact, some of the best spiritual growth I’ve done in my entire life was during the time period that I figured this thing out for myself. Whereas before I was either too young to drink, banned by my college, or a part of a culture that shunned alcohol, the independence I found by sorting out my view on the issue helped me become aware of the spiritual side effect that a “no alcohol” lifestyle had on me: I was secretly judgmental of those Christians who drank.

But in the classic case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, I realized that I had been treating the issue like some of the Jewish leaders did the law of Moses. They judged Jesus for healing sick people on the Sabbath. Even though the law more generically instructed the people to make the Sabbath day a time of rest and remembering God, the Jews stretched this and in their own interpretation added to the law, stating exactly how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath, considering anything more than that to be work, therefore breaking the law of Moses. Judging the people by a higher standard of the law than God actually gave to the people.

I allowed myself to believe that the wine of the Bible was different than wine today. Because that excused Jesus of drinking it. And that helped me better accept the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding, and that he knew enough about wine that he might the good kind, and people at the wedding noticed it. But even if there was less alcohol content in the wine of Biblical times, it couldn’t have been much less. Jesus drank real wine. I finally stopped judging Jesus and others for it. And once I joined the crowd, not for reasons of peer pressure but because of personal conviction, I realized my walk with Christ matured.

Now I know that a person can have a daily personal relationship with Jesus, can read and study the Bible, can pray for others, and appreciate good wine and beer, because I have become that person. After daily praying for years that God would show me my flaws and my sins, my prayers were answered when I, in a sense, took real communion for the first time.

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Here are some excerpts from Paul’s letters to the church in the book of I Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. These are the quotes that have bounced around in my head as I’ve established my own beliefs regarding food and drink:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not from your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19,20).”

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (9:11).”

“For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (8:11,12).”

“Whether, then, you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (10:31).”

Water2Wine