Back in the '70s when I was just getting into politics,
the Governor was having a news conference,
and the press secretary, Bob Tenenbaum,
looked around and said “TMBS,”
and several of the department employees left the room.
Later I asked Bob what was going on.
“TMBS. Too many blue shirts,” he told me.
Too many people who showed up in blue shirts
so they'd look good on camera standing around the Governor.
Some things haven't changed in the millennia
since Jesus saw those party-goers scrambling around,
jockeying for the best places at the table.
They didn't come to the dinner
out of respect and friendship for their host.
They came to be seen,
to be acknowledged as more important than the others.
So Jesus cites a common proverb to them,
“...all who exalt themselves will be humbled,
and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
St. Augustine defines pride as “the love of one's own excellence.”
It's thinking that I am so much better than everyone else
that I'm entitled to the best seat in the house,
to be served first,
to be listened to and obeyed.
The sin of pride is loving myself
more than I love anyone else.
We know there's a different kind of pride that is a virtue,
not a sin.
That's the kind of pride that comes from doing a good job
or doing a good deed.
Or from cherishing family history
or ethnic background
or home town.
Like pride, humility can be both virtue and vice.
The word itself comes from the word for earth, humus.
Humble people are grounded.
They understand who and what they are
in relationship to God, and people, and all of creation.
They don't pretend to be anything else.
But sometimes we see humility show up as a vice—
like when a person's intrinsic self-worth
gets trampled in the dust.
So pride is a vice when I don't love others,
and humility is a vice when I don't love myself.
This past week I've been in three different groups
that had lengthy conversations
about the evil kind of pride known as white privilege.
We who are considered white in this country
are born into privileges that other people don't experience.
We grow up with it and don't even notice.
I can go shopping alone
and be assured I won't be followed or harassed.
I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk with the person in charge,
I will be facing a person of my own race.
I can go to a job interview
and expect to be evaluated on my abilities and experience.
I can go to check out an apartment in a suburb
and be sure the realtor, after meeting me in person,
will still have a place to show me.
Fr. Bryan Massingale points out that our U.S. Bishops
revealed the subtle way white privilege
shapes our thought patterns in this country
when they titled their 1979 document on racism
Brothers and Sisters to Us.
Who is this “us,” Massingale asks.
It's the privileged white hierarchy looking at black people.
Why not Brothers and Sisters to Each Other?
White privilege is an evil kind of pride,
one of the sad signs of our times in this country.
Fortunately, we also can find signs of the holy kind of humility.
When, in the '90s, I started working in a parish,
I was blessed to land with a Vatican II pastor
who worked hard at being a servant leader.
He's retired now, but I still see him every Wednesday
down at Claver House—he's the toast guy.
Sometimes a guest will scowl at him.
Say crude things.
Complain about the toast being too light or too dark
or the wrong kind of bread
or not enough butter or too much butter.
He just smiles and apologizes and makes another batch.
Then he takes it across the room and holds it out
and asks if this batch looks okay.
And when breakfast is over, I see him—
this Catholic priest in a T-shirt,
the one who studied in Rome and whose brother was bishop—
I see him pull the sweeper out of the closet
and vacuum the floor.
He was a servant leader when he was a pastor, and he still is.
He's a humble man.
A while back in a discussion about servant leadership in the parish,
“How can you tell if you have the attitude of a servant?”
The answer: “'By the way you react when you're treated like one."
That's real humility—
understanding that God is in every person
and treating them with respect and reverence.
Or, as Jesus put it, love God with your whole being,
and love your neighbor as yourself.
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006