I haven’t at all regretted being too busy to notice the internet this last week. When I finally did have a moment to sit down in the evenings and see what I’d missed, I found myself blocking large swaths of Twitter ads and then finally going away to actually read a book (is it the apocalypse?). Which is to say, it is June, and that doesn’t just mean peonies and iris, it means Pride. This breezy, totally lacking in irony bit of reporting caught my eye:
Living with pride is something Brenckle does all year long. She was one of the founding members of UCF’s Pride Faculty and Staff Association a decade ago. She serves as the treasurer for the LGBTQ History Museum of Central Florida, is involved with Equality Florida and previously served on The Center’s board. She helps explain the history and significance behind the nation’s Pride and LGBTQ History months. “I hope we all remember that everybody is worthy of respect. Everybody is worthy of rights. Everybody is worthy of kindness,” Brenckle says.
That is such a clever way of putting it—“Living with pride is something Brenckle does all year long.” Of course, she doesn’t mean an illness, a rash maybe, or depression. She means “activism,” the task of going out and making people understand, whether they like it or not, that “everyone is worthy of respect. Everybody is worthy of rights. Everybody is worthy of kindness,” as if that message has been peculiarly unknown in the last thousand years of western societies. As if the “tolerance” spoken of today is a new idea and hasn’t been borrowed from the astonishing Christian message that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, not because any of them were “worthy” of kindness, but because God himself is kind and on the basis of his own character, rather than ours. came to undo our madness, which means we can be compassionate and caring for anyone regardless of who they are or what they think.
But I think I am getting ahead of myself. Today is Pentecost, and that, like the Resurrection and Ascension, means something for the whole world, not just those few disciples crowded into that room, praying and waiting for God to do what he had promised.
The story starts much further back when, because everyone was “always wicked continually,” God wiped out the earth with a flood, save for one man and his family. Noah and his sons and their wives climbed out of the ark and started making wine and organizing their affairs, and their children had some children, and after a while, there were enough people to “migrate from the east” to Shinar. There were, as yet no corporations to make promises to consumers, to preach a gospel first of lack and then of fullness to get you to pull out your wallet and give over your money for something that might make life more comfortable, but only for a moment. Stll, there was plenty of pride to go around. T people, having “one language and the same words,” thought it would be splendid to “make a name for themselves.”
Which is the phrase you should always hear at the back of slogans like “everyone is worthy of respect. Everybody is worthy of rights. Everybody is worthy of kindness.” If we were really only talking about respect and kindness, there wouldn’t really be a problem. But those keywords—blazoned on every platform, in every store, on every yard sign—are the bricks and bitumen of a culture that lives with pride all year long. They are the edifice, the tower of human defiance against God.
One way you can know we’re not really talking about how worthy human people are of kindness is that only some people get to be counted in the great throng. If you don’t agree you don’t have worth and could be treated, to put it mildly, very unkindly. The problem with human estimations of human worth is that we will always center our value in ourselves, which necessarily means cutting not just other people out, but God himself, who is the final judge of who we are. The other way you can know that we’re not really talking about human worth is that pride is the heart of this project. The very word gives the game away. For, as Christians at least should know, pride is contrary to goodness and kindness. Pride is the thing that breaks apart human communities, that destroys relationships, that wrecks the love that binds people together. It isn’t pride that makes God finally realize how clever and lovely his creatures are. When he sees their pride, he knows that they are lost and that they need help that they can never give themselves.
God is kind though. And so the degree to which any of us “live with pride,” he is able to treat the illness, to confound and frustrate our plans, to reign down mercy and grace. In the case of Babel, he confused their language, so that they could not make a name for themselves, so that they would not be able to understand each other at all. They had to go out away from each other, which must have been both maddening and painful. From thence through the Biblical record God brought down into the dust human pride over and over again, making his own voice heard over the hue and cry of human anger. Ultimately, he came himself, and stood before a unified crowd, convinced of their own worth, all crying together as with one voice, “Crucify him.”
That moment of unity, like Babel, says to us what we are capable of, how wrong and wicked we are to put our faith in ourselves and our “worth.” Left to ourselves, we set out to kill God, to build a dystopic world of devouring lust. Left to our own devices, our desires destroy the things and people God loves. But God, in his great mercy, by coming down, not just to see our ruin, but to stand in the middle of it and overturn it, takes his own name and gives it to us.
And that, this morning, is why you should hobble off to church to sit with other people all in one place, to have your will bent towards the great and wondrous person of Christ, to speak of the mighty works of God. God doesn’t stand afar off from you, measuring your worth before deciding what to do about it. No, he comes down and makes his home in you. The Spirit comes to live in your very soul, to make your words intelligible, to make them about himself. He enters the stronghold and clears away the rubble. He heals you of your pride and makes you his own.