It is beyond controversy that Dr. the Rev. Burchell Taylor is one of the Caribbean region’s best preacher-teachers. In fact I have said to clergy colleagues and got their concurrence that whenever you hear Dr. Taylor preach from any text you wonder if it is the same Bible you are using that he uses.
Unusually gifted by God is my summary of him as a minister of the Word.
Regrettably I did not hear most of his sermon at the recently held National Leadership Prayer Breakfast because I was collected during the message to attend a meeting in Kingston. I heard though clips later in the day and was pleasantly struck by his focus on humility especially in a gathering of top leaders in church, state, business and elsewhere.
I say this because I suspect and have seen evidence of it that top leaders in whatever sphere tend to confuse their rank or occupational position with their personhood and so lack an understanding of the essence of humility and an appreciation of the need for humility in all interpersonal relationships.
A Bishop, CEO, Ambassador, MP or other top-ranking official is no greater in personhood than anybody else but is just more accountable on the job than anyone else because saddled with more responsibility than all others.
As Dr. Taylor urged in his final virtue call,
“Finally, we have an abiding commitment to develop and display thoughtful maturity in our ways and dealings. The key expression of this is the virtue of humility. (emphasis his)
“This has to do with a proper appraisal of ourselves in the scheme of things so that we may operate meaningfully and effectively in contributing to the common good. The cooperative effort that it will take to develop a just and compassionate society, will be severely hampered, if we foster a setting which allows for some people to think too highly of themselves and we cause others to think too lowly of themselves.
“Signs of this are always indicators of a society in trouble. They feed the tendencies towards authoritarianism, oppression, exploitation, discrimination and exclusion. They breed feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness.
“We too often find this at work in our midst in so many ways and at so many places. We benefit or suffer as a result. On a whole it sours life in our community and society, and it hinders meaningful, peaceful and truly fruitful living together. It therefore undermines our pursuit of the common good. We simply cannot afford this.”
None of us can downplay the convicting force of this analysis of all of us generally. But I now highlight an acute point made in passing by Dr. Taylor. He said “We bear in mind that humility has never been a choice virtue of the world. The world scoffs at it, with its own lack of it. It very much prefers self-glorification, subtle or unsubtle. It promotes name recognition and judges by its own rating agencies, and measures. It encourages advancing at the expense of others, rather than together in the interest of the common good.”
This was and is so very true.
In a brief conversation I had with God’s servant days after the Prayer Breakfast, Dr. Taylor mentioned the disdain that the Greeks and others had for ‘humility’ and I found a quotation from Aristotle that is indicative of the view of the ancients about ‘humility’.
Aristotle said “Men are mild towards those who humble themselves before them and do not contradict them, for they seem to recognize that they are inferior. Now those who are inferior are afraid, and no one who is afraid slights another. Even the behaviour of dogs proves that anger ceases towards those who humble themselves, for they do not bite those who sit down.” (Rhetoric)
The Greeks were too bright (educated) and the Romans too bad ( militarily mighty) to be humble. Interestingly, Rome (rōmē) in Greek means might or strength. As one writer (name forgotten now) said “humility as a virtue is alien to the whole of ancient ethics”.
The working view I have had of humility is “seeing self as God sees and behaving accordingly” This is refusing to take too seriously the press reports from friends or the estimate of the self, based on position, possessions or the like.
The lofty, by this kind of look, are lowered to size and the lowly are lifted up to size. At base, we are all persons created by God and in the image of God and as such possess inestimable worth and dignity and as such are deserving of respect irrespective of how we are, what we do or where we serve in society.
I hope all or at least most of us will be led to examine how we think about ourselves and how we relate to others based on Dr. Taylor’s soul-searching sermon.