The Humble Middle

28 Jun

Death has a way of sneaking up on you.

For a moment last Thursday evening I was confronted with my own mortality. I was riding in a car with a friend and as we passed through the intersection of Kansas and Centennial we were broadsided by a tow truck (oh, the irony!) that ran the light. The driver’s side of the car took a pretty direct hit.

The first thing I remember is being in an ambulance, although I am told I never passed out. Funny how that works. A couple hours later I left the hospital, went home and went to bed.

My friend and I were both fine. A few superficial nicks, a couple bruises, and a concussion for him. But that was it.

I am very thankful.

The reminder to me that every moment carries with it the potential of being my last makes me very thankful for every moment that I have.

But it is also incredible to see how easily that mindset has already started to be pushed aside by the everyday pressures of life. Work, extracurricular and social pressures begin to crowd my mind again.

And in a way, that’s alright. No one wants to always live in the shadow of possible loss. How hard it is to dream when you fear every moment is your last. What a paralyzing, fearful and raw way to live.

On the other hand, to lose all thankfulness for the time I have here, now, is to grossly devalue life and to lose sight of its meaning.

Neither of these extremes is desirable. One leads to fatalism and the other to nihilism.

So, as you may have guessed, there is a third option. Humility.

This is to realize that life is a precious and delicate thing – and at the same time to retain the courage to sink ourselves into it, to wade in it.

Humility recognizes the limits of our power, of our will, of our control. It doesn’t ignore them, it recognizes and respects them.

Humility is not the same as timidity, however. Yes, we should be respectful of the delicacy and fragility of life, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be afraid to engage in it, to touch it. In the same way that the fragility of fine china doesn’t stop us from using it – so too humility shouldn’t stop us from participating in life.

In how we view life, humility is the thing that allows us to hold both our fatalistic and nihilistic impulses in check, in tension.

Many of us, myself included, have had times when we stray too far toward either the fatalistic or nihilistic impulse. Make no mistake, these are not abstract concepts that only philosophers and beatniks ponder. These ideas have real consequences even for our largely Christian community.

When fatalism finds its way into theology, the effects can be destructive. Why should we care for the environment, after all? We’re all going to be raptured anyway.

Nihilism can show itself as a kind of fuzzy pluralism. If everything has the same value, the same meaning, then nothing has value, nothing has meaning.

The struggle, then, is to hold these two great forces in check, in tension and to approach life with humility, whether we’re staggering around a scene of twisted metal and shattered glass or just washing the china.

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