#2: Humility and the Pursuit of Glory
Updated: Jun 11, 2022
No one knows what the angels look like until they come to take you to Jesus. I will be very humbled to see them.
This is what my father said to me the day before he passed away. It stopped my breath for a moment. Out of all the dispositions that might describe the anticipation of crossing over into the eternal realm, why did "humbled" seem so foreign, so surprising?
As followers of Jesus, death still brings grieving. However, we "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).
Because of this guarantee, my own instincts about death or Christ's return anticipate glory, beauty, and wonder. This isn't wrong. But "with humility comes wisdom" (Proverbs 11:2b).
The wisdom and maturity of my Dad's heart hours before he left us has stayed with me.
Why is humility such anathema to most? Why does the sin of pride seem to win the day, or at least the moment, in most situations of conflict? As I reflect on this question, I believe it's because underneath a prideful action or reaction is an attempt to capture glory; which I think can be translated as "recognition", "being exalted", or "being right/vindicated".
When I was writing The Actor As Fire And Cloud, one of my premises to the book was how cultivating human virtues was a way of cultivating and increasing talent and craft. The idea was something akin to, "everything that can make you an excellent person, can make you an excellent actor." And Humility, which wasn't naturally on my radar, became the umbrella virtue that set this thesis in motion.
Here's what I learned: Pride and Humility are opposing vehicles advancing opposing kingdoms. Though they both have glory as their destination, the glory that pride pursues is temporal and me-centered; the glory crowned by humility is other-centered, and is both for this life and the life to come.
Pride attacks actors in particular as they are often saturated in ambition, and the egocentric activities of recognition: being reviewed, talked about, receiving praise, and collecting "likes".
Each compliment, and each criticism for that matter, acting as a seed, must be properly planted, watered, and pruned in the garden of your heart the moment it receives any evaluative word about your work as an actor.
When the ground of the heart is left unworked, the weeds of pride or bitterness flourish, taking all the water and food meant for other virtuous "fruits."
This is the kind of garden that will turn every compliment or critique into a seed that can only produce that which is "rank and gross" (Hamlet, 1.2.135-136).
The problem, however, is not with the initial seed, nor, I would argue, with the condition of our hearts, as every heart naturally grows the weeds of pride. The problem is this: we haven't hired an outside gardener who knows what he's doing!
The first two verses of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of John state, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful."
I believe that when we have surrendered our artistic careers to the authority of Christ, the Father will lovingly use the shears and sickle of humility to help our fledgling seeds prosper into plants that can use compliments and critiques to bear much fruit.
Without humility, it is literally impossible to ferret out the weeds.
As an actor, how does humility serve us? Being instinctively other-centered, humility helps the actor with two of the most important elements to the craft of acting: Listening and Being Present. Humility helps the actor make every moment on stage about the other person.
My acting teacher and mentor, David Barker correctly points out, "This is another [Sanford] Meisner concept that reinforces a primary Christian principle: when we put our attention on another person, we relinquish control, and in so doing, we become unguarded and more interesting onstage because our natural impulses can be seen" (The Actor As Fire And Cloud, p. 83).
He then relates this to the larger Christian parallel, which should also excite the artist: "And, when we place our cares/problems at the foot of the cross, we relinquish control to Jesus, and in so doing...we are free" (p.83).
Humility, out of all the virtues, is essential in developing you into the best version of yourself, both as a person and an artist.
So...humility must be practiced. It must be rehearsed.
Well, the first and best way to start to develop the virtue of humility is to follow Jesus. Emulate Jesus. Be. Like. Jesus. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29).
To be yoked to Jesus, is to be placed side by side, sharing your journey and your burdens with him as you plow the soil of life's circumstances.
Sharing the yoke with Jesus is to cast all your fears and worries upon him, and to rely on his unquenchable strength. "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30).
Practicing humility as a person, equips you to rehearse with humility as a performer.
And there are opportunities DAILY to practice humility. Just think of one of the many polarizing topics currently swirling in our political, cultural, and economic waters.
Jim Denison has an insightful article about cultural conflict and the role humility plays when addressing it as believers. Learning to enter life's conflicts while embracing humility will empower the actor to navigate and conquer the narrowing vision of pride on and off the stage.
God makes no mistakes in how he casts you: in life and on the stage.
You may not always feel that way. You may from time to time look with puzzlement or envy at the peer next to you, longing to switch places.
However, part of humility's guidance is to take the focus off of where Jesus is leading others and to remain overtly observant as to where he is leading you.