Some thoughts on Humility

Someone once told me that that trying to knock over the sin of pride is like trying to knock over a ball. If you push it over from any direction, it is still standing. I think what that means is that pride is a very resistant sin indeed. So here are a few recent thoughts on the subject…

When we fall into other sins, it should make it easier to overcome the sin of pride. After all, what have I to be proud of when my weakness and disgrace is laid bare before my very eyes? Yet strangely, sometimes we don’t see it that way. Sometimes the pride is so resilient within us that we think something like: “Yeah, sure I messed up, but I’m still better than so-and-so! He messed up much worse than me!” Or perhaps: “Ok, so I made a mistake. I know I’m not absolutely perfect, but Im still pretty close!” Then of course, there’s the old favourite, Buck Passing: “It wasn’t my fault I messed up – it was him/her/them. They made me do it!”

The Desert Fathers often encourage us to always place our sins before our eyes. This is not meant, I am sure, in the morbid way it is sometimes understood. It is not meant to ‘beat us down’ and make us feel miserable about ourselves. The Desert Fathers actually had a pretty healthy sense of self-esteem that could bear with this burden of sin, but their self-esteem was built on different foundation to most of us. One of my favourite sayings is the Father who described his spiritual battle thus:

Whenever I become proud, I think of my sins and I say to myself, there, what have you to be proud of you awful sinner? And whenever I fall into despair because of my sins, I say to myself, yes, but God still still loves me!

What a beautifully balanced personality! His self-esteem does not come from the kinds of things we use for self-esteem, like our abilities or achievements, the kind of job we do, the size of our house, the gadgets we own or comparing ourselves to others. This happy man builds his self esteem on something that he can never lose – the love of God for him. But there is an added benefit to this way of thinking: that is that there can be no pride in this self-esteem. Think about it. Can he take any of the credit for being loved by God? God does not love him because he is saintly (God sees all his sins, hidden and manifest), nor will God be impressed by his achievements or talents (where did he get them in the first place?). God doesn’t care about the latest gadget, and He isn;t impressed that you are clever enough to get one. In fact, you can’t impress God no matter how you try. The only reason God will love you is because He is Love. And that makes all the difference.

It isn’t easy, learning to think like this. We find it so much more secure to cling to our little bag of self-admiration, and we constantly seek for new things to boost our ego. It makes us feel better about life: there is no doubt of that. But in the long run, it is fighting a losing battle. A human being and his/her abilities is just too fragile a base to support our self-esteem for long. Sooner or later, we will have to face up to the fact that we are faulty, mixed up and terribly fallible. And when that kind of self-esteem comes crashing down, it’s pretty ugly.

If you think about, it is a pretty wise investment in the future to start working on this now. Better to begin transferring all my self-esteem stocks to the Bank of God, before the Bank of Me comes crashing down to earth.


Things are moving! PART 2

I forgot to mention a very important thing in that last post.

This was not the first such event I took part in recently. A few weeks ago, our blessed youth enjoyed a bracing retreat near Wiseman’s Ferry (where the days are cold and the nights go way beyond cold). Somehow, they managed to thaw their brain out enough to go through a similar process over three days and develop, for the first time I know of, a detailed Vision and Mission for the Youth of Archangel Michael and St Bishoy Coptic Orthodox Church.

It seems that I am doomed to be continually surprised and highly impressed by the sheer quality of our youth! They did a brilliant job (may God protect them from the envy of the devil, and pride, and all that yucky stuff). The statements they came up with are absolutely marvellous: clear, comprehensive, inspiring, and very, very Christian. The Vision Statement says exactly what we want to be all about. Here is a sneak preview of it in its draft form (it still has to be run by the Fathers and the Church Committee):

To live a genuine Christ centered life, acquiring understanding and truth, while preserving the beauty of the Coptic Orthodox Church and its traditions

To welcome and to serve people of all backgrounds by providing a safe, tolerant and caring environment uniting all in the love of Christ.

To me, it sums up in a nutshell both the beauty of our past and the fastmoving changes of our future. You’ll gat a chance to see the full set of statements soon at Friday Night Youth Meeting, but again, a whole lot of nice things in words means nothing if it does not translate into actions. True enough, but in order to make sure we have the right actions, we need to first agree on what we are all working towards. And that is now happening.

At the retreat, they also came up with a six month Action Plan, just to keep us going until we have a chance to get a more formal plan of action in place. This includes the following goals for the next six months (ie by Christmas):

– Organise a committee to monitor and follow up on the attendance of youth at Church.
– Organise a summer camp and graduation ceremony for year 11 and 12 students.
– Raise funds for:
Agahpy TV
The English Church and
The Poor
– Utilise the fundraising BBQ option at Bunnings warehouse.
– Explore options into hosting a Coptic stall at the next Blacktown festival
– Organise sponsorship for our church sports teams to purchase much needed equipment
– Form a sports committee that will develop programs that will involve young kids and promote female sports
– Plan and organise fun and appealing outings for the youth.

Now of course, there are already a number of really good activities and services going on, and these are in addition, but it is so wonderful to see that things are not stagnating, but moving forward. It is even more wonderful to see people getting involved, coming forward to help and to do things, and achieving things that are so worthwhile. We have a special opportunity in Australia to do so much to help others, since we ourselves have been given so much. And we can achieve so much more when we pull together and work as a united team.

And the needs are so many! Going through all these exercises has certainly opened my eyes to see so many services we need desperately in our community, and so many services the community around us needs, that I had never thought of before. We need an army to even scratch the surface!

The Church is the House of God and it belongs to Him, but He, in His love, shares the onwership with us. It is also OUR Church, and it will always be what we make it. As much as you put in, that much you will get out.


Things are moving!

Yesterday I took part in a wonderful exercise. Led by a professional “facilitator” (Foad) Our Sunday School Servants took part in a wonderful workshop to develop an action plan for Sunday School. It’s been a long journey.

It began about three months ago when Foad wa commissioned to take on the job by our far seeing Sunday School Superintendent, Ibrahim. Foad proceeded to invest a mammoth amount of time and effort into surveying the Fathers, the servants, the SS kida and their parents. Oulling together all this data, he summarised it in a beautiful set of objectives that very clearly and succinctly spell out what Sunday School is all about. We now have, in black and white (or lots of other lovely colours on Powerpoint) a clear description of the kind of people we want our servants to be and our children to become. All the servants (great turnout, by the way – about 70 is pretty good for a Sunday afternoon!) took part in formulating this vision, and thus we hope, all feel that they own it and are committed to bringing it to reality.

But that wasn’t the best part…

Then came the painful experience of teasing out what needs to be improved about Sunday School. Once again our servants were not backward about coming forward, and the survey, together with yesterday’s discussions, accumulated a pretty comprehensive list of things to improve. Comprehensive and daunting? No way.

The best was yet to come…

Next, we moved on to the business end of things: The Action Plans. Yep, it was as exciting as it sounds. Breaking up into five groups, we attacked the areas that need improving to come up with practical but innovative ways to improve them. The results were awesome. For each area, I think everyone felt as I did, that the problem wasn’t so invincible as we had feared. Putting all those creative and experienced heads together really sparked and the sum of their work was far greater than its parts!

It remains now for the longsuffering Foad to take all the stuff we came up with yesterday away and to put it into plain and simple Action Plans, with timescales and responsibilities and phasing, and all those other things facilitators love so dearly.

Then it will be time to go ahead and DO IT.

But I think that all the servants felt much better about doing it after yesterday, for a number of reasons:

a. they are no longer isolated. Every servant who experienced a problem realised that other experienced it too and rejoiced that they were going to go about solving it as a team, not on their own.

b. knowing your enemy makes it that much easier to fight him. Having our issues so clearly identified stops us feeling we are just beating the air and getting no where.

c. the support of our Fathers was truly inspiring! Fr Botros, Fr Gabriel and Fr Bishoy have always supported Sunday School above and beyond the call of duty, and their presence, input and wisdom yesterday gave everyone, I think, a big boost, and pulled us all together. It said, “This is really important. This is what we are here for. We have to get this right.”

d. as always, there were some controversial issues (eg. should we emphasise the fear of God?), but as always, differences of opinion were discussed with genuine respect and love, and the discussions enriched us all.

e. by discussing the problems in a constructive atmosphere, servants started to get ideas about how to go about solving them. And when you get an idea, and you think it might work, you are motivated to put your idea into practice. Which means, servants who otherwise sat back and watched others do the work are now really keen to get their hands dirty and do something. That’s gotta be good!

Fr Botros, with his usual reflective wisdom, said to me at the end, “You know, if we anoly acheive 10% of what we’ve planned here today, it will be a revolution!” (or words to that effect). I think he is both right and wrong. Right, because 10% of what we planned yesterday would indeed be a revolutionary improvement in our Sunday School Service. But wrong, because after yesterday, and the wonderful mood that was flying about, I think we will end up achieving significantly more than 10%.

Watch this space…



So, this is a blog?

I’ve never done this before, so I hope the gentle reader will be patient with me, and forgive me if half a post ends up in Khazakstan by accident.

Thankyou Shenouda for suggesting and setting up this wonderful opportunity to share our thoughts and contemplations together. I look forward to getting the gentle readers’ responses, whether in agreement or disagreement, or perhaps your own experiences or things you have read. I really enjoy discussion as a means to understanding this life we all inhabit under the loving care of God. I enjoy reading ideas I’ve never thought of before. I enjoying seeing God through another person’s eyes every now and then.

If you enjoy the same sort of journey of exploration and spiritual adventure, I think we will enjoy each other’s blog-company!

God bless.

Fr Ant