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Forgotten, then Applauded

Forgotten, then Applauded

I had the opportunity at a recent function to introduce my colleagues and their families. I gave a brief bio for each, including pointing out their children in the audience.

Except that it wasn’t until the program had moved on that I realized I had completely forgotten to acknowledge the children of the last family introduced! I wouldn’t be up at the microphone again for some time, so I had to wait until the end of the evening to apologize for my oversight and give a special acknowledgement to the young boy and teenage girl…who then stood and received a special ovation just for them.

Afterwards, both the parents and the kids were gracious to me concerning my omission. And it’s turned out to provide me with an illustration of a popular biblical concept: he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Granted, the young boy and girl didn’t really humble themselves…I sort of imposed it on them! Though in actual fact, they were humble. They could have jumped up right at the moment of being overlooked and screamed and waved their hands to protest the indignation of being forgotten.

But they didn’t. They sat there at peace for the next hour, until I had the chance to remedy my mistake.

Cue the crowd!

Cue the crowd!

And they were rewarded as they stood by themselves and received the applause of all in attendance. Special recognition just for them. But they had to wait for it. And they had to suffer through the feeling of being forgotten first.

I don’t like to be forgotten. I still carry deeply some memories of feeling like I was overlooked.

When I have considered the principle of humbling myself, I have generally thought of resisting saying prideful things, giving preference to others, etc. I don’t know that I have so readily considered guarding my responses to perceived injustices. I don’t know that I have normally considered how I roll with having humility foisted upon me through the omissions of others.

But this young boy and teenage girl have provided a model for me, a reminder that in walking a life of humility, I cannot ignore the state of my heart when it responds to unfavorable circumstances.

It hurts to be forgotten. It wounds our ego. It challenges our self-image and self-worth.

But applause usually feels pretty good.

Am I willing to tolerate the worldly discomfort that often accompanies humility, that I might later enjoy the reward? And am I yet willing to tolerate the discomfort, even if the expected elevation and recognition doesn’t come in the way or at the time that I expect? As I had humility foisted upon me, am I also content to let others provide the exaltation, rather than ensuring for myself that it takes place?

The kids–perhaps without great intentionality, simply as a fruit of their character and wise upbringing–demonstrated that they could indeed tolerate the humility and the acknowledgement.

Would I walk so well in being forgotten, and then applauded?

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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Life


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Modern Alchemy

For centuries, humanity was fascinated with the prospect of changing one thing into another.

In the classic example, there was a deep, mystical pursuit for how to turn one material (lead) into another, ostensibly more valuable one (gold). This journey became the stuff of legend for some; a lifelong pursuit for others.

And in many ways, I don’t think that pursuit has ever really ended.

A friend’s recent trip to Costco came with the summary: “the wallet is now empty, but the larder is full.” The empty wallet may hurt, but the full bellies will be a blessing.

We live in a transactional society. Many of our interactions are based around the premise of changing one thing into another. Our labor turns into dollars, which in turn become food…or electricity…or clothing…or movie tickets.

Our party invitation to a friend becomes a bottle of wine or a bouquet of flowers…and perhaps a reciprocated invitation as well.

There is even a model of organizational theory known as “transactional leadership.”

From business to relationships and back to business again, we act, expecting to change one thing into another.

Modern alchemy.

True enough, not all of our “ingredients” are necessarily offered for the purpose of transformation or exchange. We likely don’t invite a friend to dinner so that we get wine or flowers, but often times, there is that expectation, that cultural norm of responding to an overture by giving something in return.

As social conventions, as acts of politeness, no problem; as sincere acts of gratitude and blessing, even better.

But what about when the intent is otherwise, when there is a desire, a seeking, to get something in return? An expectation, a sense of entitlement attached to the investment?

I think of how many areas of life I function realistically as a modern alchemist. I certainly have expectations. I think of how often my sense of fairness and equality is based upon a tit-for-tat mentality. “I did this for you, and I expect you to do something in return.”

Now, rarely do those words actually get said. But I think them.

I work, and I expect salary and discretionary time (aren’t I a shrewd investor to obtain such a multiplicity of returns!). I take care of the garbage, and I expect meals. I clean dishes and I expect meals. (I have an apparently high demand for meals in my economy.) I give time and I expect thanks. I listen and expect a chance to speak.

A certain degree of expectation is reasonable, necessary, even healthy. But it becomes twisted when that expectation becomes demand, becomes greed.

The alchemists of ancient times are often depicted in such sinister light: their pursuit of the unnatural, the quick and easy way to achieve desire, the lusting after power, wealth, and knowledge…their sense of multiplying the ordinary to become the majestic.

Such behaviors sing of discontent and avarice, of ends justifying the means. Selfishness, rather than service, becomes the primary motivator.

How easy it is for us to point out such lusts in our ancient ancestors, and yet somehow disregard the modern manifestations of this generational sin.

I don’t want to be a modern alchemist. I don’t want to look around my home, or my life, wondering which items I can claim as ingredients or inputs or investments in order to obtain something even better.

I would much rather look around, seeing my resources–material and immaterial–as the raw materials to use in serving others.

But I’m not there.

We all come from a long line of mystics…who are ironically uncomfortable with mystery, and instead want machinery. We want predictable outcomes and many happy returns on our investments. We don’t tend to want the ambiguity of relationship, or the possible disappointment of unrequited altruism and service.

Alchemy, sadly, hasn’t passed away. We simply read our incantations from a different book…but expect oh so similar results.


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Posted by on August 27, 2013 in Life


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