|Zip-lining through the woods in Southern Michigan|
Thomas Merton, in a moment of feeling rejected, wrote in his journal that there was “no point [in] trying to pretend that I am superior.” (A Year With Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations On His Journals, May 11 entry, “On Being a Stranger”)
Delusions of superiority and inferiority find their meaning in honor-shame hierarchies. The demonic nature of honor-shame hierarchies is that they measure the worth of people on a cultural scale of “least” to “greatest.” When a person tacitly buys into this they see their own value as, relatively, “superior” and “inferior.” That is, on the logic of honor-shame, one is both superior and inferior at the same time unless you are the king (for a brief historical moment you have “risen to the top”) or reside at the bottom of the hierarchy (a criminal, e.g.).
In the honor-shame hierarchy “value” is relative to position. The inner, mental striving to reposition oneself is a living hell. Merton concludes, correctly, that there is no point in doing this. I have done this, been there, experienced the hell of it, and agree with Merton that such pride and shame are pointless.
The good news is that the Real Jesus rejects honor-shame hierarchies. He refuses offers of earthly kingship and dies as a lowly expendable. Paul expands on this in saying that, in Christ, there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Greek, male nor female. All Jesus-followers belong to Christ and are one in him.
Have you ever, in your mind, imagined yourself as mentally or physically superior to someone you don’t like? Have you ever angrily defended yourself as being above another person? I once visited a man in prison who said to me, “I have an IQ of 160.” As he said these words I doubted them and saw a man doubly imprisoned, in chains both physically and mentally. Yes, he is valuable; no, his value has nothing to do with intelligence.
Have you ever, in some lonely moment, despaired because you are not as smart or as rich or as successful or as powerful as “everyone else?” As he was painting the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo hit an inner low point and wrote, “I am not in a good place. I am no painter.” Even gifted people can feel they don’t measure up. Have you ever felt that you don’t measure up? If so, to what or whom?
The Jesus-truth that frees us from the double imprisonment is that God doesn’t measure us when it comes to love and acceptance. This is called grace. Extend grace to others and value them as God sees them; receive God’s grace for your own self and experience his valuing of you.
Pray today to accept God’s grace, for you, and live free of all human hierarchies of value.