A few years ago one of our good friends had a baby boy. She had been excited about becoming a mother for a while, and she decided that when she delivered that she wanted her own mother in the delivery room with her. When the baby came, and had been checked out and clothed, the nurses gave the baby to my friend to hold for the first time.
And basking in the glow of motherhood, like any new mom, she looked over and said to her own mother, “Have you ever seen anything so perfect?”
And her mom said, “Honey, don’t forget he came with a sin nature too.”
The Problem With Mr. Rogers
Like many of you I grew up watching Mr. Rogers. I’ve read books about what a great man he was, and the thousand ways that he cared for people…especially kids.
But if the rise of “You’re Not Special” graduation talks, stories and literature tell us anything it’s that Mr. Rogers did too good of a job. He was trying to let every child know that they were unique and cared for. And as true and important as that message is, something else came along with it.
Today the major problem most of us think we face is that we don’t have high enough self-esteem. But this is not as common sense as we might think. A few years ago, a psychologist named Lauren Slater wrote an article for the New York Times where she talked about all the social problems that our focus on a high self-esteem has caused. In fact, she says, “people with high self-esteem pose a greater threat to those around them than people with low self-esteem, and feeling bad about yourself is not the source of our country’s biggest, most expensive social problems.’
Now I get the push back. Thinking well of myself sounds pretty healthy, but we should at least be aware that this is a relatively new idea.
Historically, human beings thought that the main problem with the world was not having too low of a view of yourself. Traditionally, cultures thought the real problem was what they called Hubris. Pride. The main problem is that we esteem ourselves too highly.
Leonardo DiCaprio said it this way:
“As soon as enough people give you enough compliments and you’re wielding more power than you’ve ever had in your life, it’s not that you become … arrogant … or become rude to people, but you get a false sense of your own importance and what you’ve accomplished. You actually think you’ve altered the course of history.”
This is the reason I think that the show Breaking Bad resonates with people so much is because we are aware of what goes on inside of us. And we see in a strange way, that being reflected in Walter White.
I think this is why the Neo-Reformed movement is so strong with my Christian peers today. Because somebody is talking about what is really going on inside of me, not just what I wish was going on inside of me.
To be clear, I don’t consider myself a Calvinist but I understand why they are growing in popularity with my age bracket (despite some of the more troubling tenants of their faith) one of the most attractive ideas they have is the one that initially I hated the most.
The idea that people are deeply broken and depraved is starting to make more and more sense to me. Not because of what I read or learn but because of who I am.
Someone is naming the evil at war in my heart.
The Enemy of Hope
Andrew Delbanco was a professor of the Humanities at Columbia UNiversity. He was doing some research on the power of AA meetings and so he took a few weeks and travelled around the country visiting different AA meetings everywhere. Toward the end of his research, Delbanco stumbled into a meeting that would change everything for him.
A sharply dressed young man stood up and shared some of his problems, but unlike most AA meetings, he kept blaming his problems on someone else. They were always the result of him being mistreated or hurt by others. He was not just trying to make excuses for his behavior, he was vowing to get vengeance on all those who had put him in this place.
Every gesture and word gave, in Delbanco’s words, “the impression of grievously wounded pride.” He kept saying phrases like, “I’ve got to take control of my life,” and “I just need to believe more in myself.” And that’s when it happened.
A middle aged black man wearing sunglasses inside, leaned over and whispered to Delbanco, “I used to feel that way too, until I achieved low self-esteem.”
Later Delbanco would write a book on this very moment. He said that “This was more than just a good line. For me, it was the moment I understood in a new way the religion I had claimed to know something about… The man beside me took refuge in the old Calvanist doctrine that pride is the enemy of hope.
Did you catch that? Pride is the enemy of Hope.
The Christian story names evil better than any other story I know of. It makes sense of the good I see in Creation and in other people, as well as the capacity for each of us to do horrible things. We are made from the breath of God but also from dirt. And at our best we keep those two things in tension, at our worst we forget the dirt.
Go back and re-read Genesis 1-11 sometime, at the heart of sin, at the heart of the Fall is Pride.
We often say that Pride goes before the Fall, but in the Bible Pride is the fall.