Humility Makes No Room For Dignity

A Life Unexamined

In his acclaimed novel, The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro immerses us in the first-person narrator’s severely circumscribed life and worldview. His is a life of self-imposed limitations, aided and abetted by a strict adherence to the British class system, indeed his overweening pride in his “Englishness.” You might think he’s a member of the upper-crust. You would be wrong. Mr. Stevens is a butler who has bought into the quasi-heroic and mythical dimensions of his role as a dignified appendage to the high and mighty.

He takes pride in his clockwork management, attaining renown among butlers and employers alike. He spends a good bit of time telling us his definition of dignity and its value. He’s most careful regarding the proprieties of conversation, the attire of distinction, the observance of the caste system, and he unwittingly reveals the fictions necessary to support such a system.

The casual negligence of these mores shocks him. He lives and dies by the clock and the way things are. The future escapes him.

Stevens is also very conscious that his dignity is a borrowed dignity, a dignity conferred by his relationship to a peer of the realm, his employer Lord Darlington.

In this novel of manners, Ishiguro gives us something more than mere voyeurism. His butler, Stevens, is on an unwitting voyage of self-discovery. He’s shocked into it by the revelation that his erstwhile employer, Lord Darlington, like many of the aristocrats of his day, had been a Nazi sympathizer.

Stevens predictably retreats into self-deception; as Salman Rushdie points out in a review:

At least Lord Darlington chose his own path. “I cannot even claim that,” Stevens mourns. “You see, I trusted … I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really, one has to ask oneself, what dignity is there in that?” His whole life has been a foolish mistake, and his only defense against the horror of this knowledge is the same capacity for self-deception which proved his undoing. It’s a cruel and beautiful conclusion to a story both beautiful and cruel.

— “Salman Rushdie: Rereading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro,” The Guardian, 2012

Ishiguro’s more recent novel, The Buried Giant (2015) has more of the same pathos, blindness, self-deception, in the face of life’s extremities. If there’s any consolation in life for Ishiguro or Rushdie, it must be that it has its cruelties, but it has beauty as well, inviting a sanguine resignation that is far from satisfying. Beauty. Cruelty. They are more than mere aesthetics. They are a part of life, occupying categorical spaces in our hearts and minds. It’s what one puts into those categories that makes all the difference. Especially with regard to suffering.

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Belief (6)

no longer mine, but Thine, Father,
my will to yours aligned
through twists and turns on this dark road
sight fails where Your hand guides

these steps I climb are harder yet
than they have ever been
time spent with You in expectant prayer
seems now almost a bygone tale

in sorrows, sickness, mourning my sins
but for You, God of hope, would crush my frame
each muscle, tendon, cord of heart
Your hand weighs down on me

trusting You in whom is life
weakness in humility to bear
strength, wisdom from you to receive
all my glory in Christ alone

tho’ muttering pain speaks itself
most clearly in complaint
even then in love do You take hold
and raise me to Your throne

here where angels throng,
martyr songs remind
that whate’er we lose we find
in greater store in Christ

so speaks Your word
by Your power, a fellowship of joy
in Father’s love, the Spirit’s peace
and the limitless grace of the Son


Romans 15:13
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

Image by gabicuz from Pixabay

Stay Bright, Yellow

“Stay Bright, Yellow”

Stay bright, yellow
Roughshod blue the bliss of it
Corner it free to humility
Bother the pride loose
Trill the tree-lit melodies
Emblazon green
In ragged hearts
Gush on the joy
Glory forth the holy
Genuflect the new life
Grace unspeakable
Stay bright, yellow


WhimsyGizmo at dVerse asks us to use any variation on the word "bother" to write a quadrille (a 44-word poem). Click on Mr. Linky to join in!

What God Has Done

Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?
— Ecclesiastes 7:13



what God has done
a crook in your lot
can’t be set right
by human device
bent to a degree
sorely injudicious
by reason’s measure
imperfect yardsticks
we hold up to judge
what God has done

what God has done
humility to bear
a stony field
unleveled path
that curved back
that strained heart
the roof that caved
vanquished plans
deathless grief
if we dare decry
what folly to fight
when we can’t change
what God has done

what God has done
he sent his Son
to bear our sins
to pay the price
to win our peace
to lead the crooked
down a narrow way
to carry the weak
to strengthen the tired
to lead them home
on eagle’s wings
of faith and love
of hope and joy
to open blind eyes
to see, my soul,
what God has done


Job 12: 13-16
[Job speaks] “With God are wisdom and might;
he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, none can rebuild;
if he shuts a man in, none can open.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.
With him are strength and sound wisdom;
the deceived and the deceiver are his.”

Jude 24-25
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling
and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,
to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Amen.

Romans 11: 33-36
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever.
Amen.

 

 

The Way and the Roadmap

I wonder, have you reached the point in your Christian walk where weakness is strength? Where your weakness becomes a source of joy? If you have, then you have found true humility and more: you have found wisdom. And wisdom is a Person. Jesus Christ.

As C. S. Lewis puts it,

It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realize for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us.…Grace substitutes [for hubris] a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our Need, a joy in total dependence. We become “jolly beggars.” (The Four Loves)

Joy in total dependence? It goes against the grain of our tendency towards self-reliance. In our pride, complete dependence is anathema.

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“Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom. Ransom.” (Perelandra)

Matthew 16:26/Mark 8:36/Luke 9:25 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

Of C. S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy, my favorite for mostly personal reasons is Perelandra. The plot unfolds around a newly formed planet, loosely modeled after Venus, undergoing an Edenic beginning with a man and a woman and a multitude of new creations. Into this is sent Elwin Ransom, the protagonist from earth, charged by God (Maledil) with the mission of thwarting the attempts of Satan (Black Archon) to tempt the newly created Queen to rebel against Maledil and bring about a Fall, the agent of which is another man from earth, the staunch materialist Professor Weston who becomes a demoniac.

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Sanctification Hurts, or When Lent is Life

Once when he was very young, I remember my son looking at me through the very real pain of getting a shot at the doctor’s and saying in surprise and accusation, “It hurts!” I was his mother. I wasn’t supposed to allow such pain, much less engineer it. In his dependance on me, it must have seemed like a betrayal. “It hurts me more than it hurts you,” I’d have liked to have said, but I don’t think he would have believed me, that I would have spared him if not for the ultimate good the injections promised.

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Thoughts from John Bunyan

Maybe you’re like me and have no New Year’s resolutions given our past record on such resolutions have been rather abysmal. So, knowing myself, these thoughts from John Bunyan, written while he was in prison suffering for his faith, are ones I take into the New Year, so that I may be humble, vigilant, and faithful to my Savior Jesus Christ, through whose suffering and death, I have been made a new creation.

From John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666):

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