In an age where overt narcissism and oversized egos are often celebrated as a sign of decisive leadership, humility may seem a lost virtue, or a form of moral condolence for the less successful. But in his new work, Learning Humility, Richard Foster argues that learning humility is more needed than ever, and is “the one thing that can conquer all-consuming pride and provide a solid foundation for developing a genuinely good life.” Through wisdom gleaned from both spiritual classics and Native American culture, Richard shows how how vital, if countercultural, this often overlooked virtue is.
The Trinity Forum held an Online Conversation on Friday, December 2nd with Richard Foster, founder of Renovaré, and Brenda Quinn, pastor of spiritual formation, to provide insight into what humility is and uncover how we can cultivate it in a challenging cultural climate
Online Conversation | Richard Foster + Brenda Quinn | December 2, 2022
Cherie Harder: Thank you so much, Molly. And let me add my own welcome and happy Advent to all of you joining us for today’s Online Conversation with Richard Foster and Brenda Quinn on “Pursuing Humility.” We’re delighted that close to 1,900 of you have registered today and just really appreciate the honor of your time and attention and want to especially welcome our nearly 300 first-time attendees, as well as our 175 international guests from at least 38 different countries that we know of, ranging from Argentina and Australia to Uganda and Venezuela. So if you haven’t already done so, drop us a note in the chat box. Let us know where you’re tuning in from. It’s always fun for us to see the wide range of folks from all over the world. So thank you for joining us from across the miles and across the time zones.
If you are one of those first-time attendees or otherwise new to or unfamiliar with the work of the Trinity Forum, we seek to provide a space to engage the big questions of life in the context of faith and offer programs like this Online Conversation to do so, and to come to better know the Author of the answers. And we hope this conversation will be a small taste of that for you today.
The topic we’re considering today, pursuing humility, seems a fitting way to start the Advent season as we anticipate the arrival of the incarnate God who humbled himself to become man. But it’s also both a countercultural pursuit and in many ways a tough sell. Whether in business or politics, in our social lives or on social media, we’re constantly urged to promote ourselves, build our personal brand, grow our audience, and hone our image. Professional success and effectiveness often seems calculated by the metrics of grabbing the attention of and imposing our will on others—and doing so to scale. Relatedly, the Harvard Business Review recently found that most of us struggle to distinguish between confidence or even overconfidence and competence, such that arrogance and narcissism are often confused or conflated with skill and talent. And even within the church, there are those who seem to have greater admiration for stars or strongmen rather than shepherds, who valorized charisma over care for others.
And yet, as our guests today will discuss, humility has been considered in many traditions to be not only foremost among the virtues, but the taproot of all others, and as such is absolutely essential to understanding the good life as well as living a holy life. So how do we learn humility and how do we pursue it? What would doing so mean for our own emotional and spiritual lives, as well as our communal life together? To help us wrestle with these questions and guide our discussion, I am so pleased to welcome two wise and deeply thoughtful sherpas to the topic, our guests today, Richard Foster and Brenda Quinn.
Richard Foster is a theologian, author, and the founder of Renovaré, a nonprofit which models and resources the fullness of life with God through the spiritual practices of Jesus and the historical church. He has served as a pastor, a professor at Friends University, and has taught worldwide for decades on spiritual formation. He’s also the author of several books, including Celebration of the Disciplines, which was named by Christianity Today as one of the top ten books of the 20th century; Streams of Living Water; Sanctuary of the Soul; Celebration of Discipline; The Life with God Study Bible, a work undertaken in partnership with others; and his new release, Learning Humility, which we’ve invited him here today to discuss.
Joining him is Brenda Quinn, a pastor of spiritual formation at Living Way Fellowship Church in south Denver. Brenda has had a long association with Renovaré and has helped develop and refine many of the ideas in Learning Humility. She is also a writer and the author of the character profiles in The Life with God Study Bible.
Richard and Brenda, welcome. It’s great to see you.
Brenda Quinn: Thank you so much.
Richard Foster: Wonderful to see you. Thank you.
Cherie Harder: So just as we start out, Richard, you have chosen to write a book on humility at a time which could be considered the heyday of narcissism.
Richard Foster: Exactly.
Cherie Harder: And perhaps even more unexpectedly, you framed an encouragement to pursue humility in the context of reflection on the calendars and virtues of the mistreated Lakota people. So as we start off, I’d love to simply ask, what led you to write this book at this time in this way?
Richard Foster: I’m glad you asked the question because for so long I was just observing culturally how this most very basic and fundamental of the virtues in virtue ethics is this. This is the basic virtue all through the centuries, but not in our century. And I just kept wondering why. I mean, I see this contrast. I’d read the old writers and then we look at today. And so I was wrestling with the question of why. And it was actually just in a New Year’s Eve time when I was reflecting on if I needed to learn anything or grow, I just heard these two words: “learn humility.” This was for me. “Oh!” So I decided to learn. Now, in the beginning I’m just jotting notes wherever and just trying to learn a little bit and using kind of a journal format. And I didn’t want to use the, you know, the Latin Gregorian calendar—January, February. I don’t know. And I ended up choosing the Lakota calendar. I just liked it. And so I followed that calendar rhythm. And then, I mean, you know, some of this was almost stream of consciousness writing.
And I wondered, does this have any future for anyone beyond just for me? And that’s fine. So I asked four or five people, and Brenda Quinn was one of those, to just read what I’m doing chapter by chapter and see where it leads us. And Brenda kept giving these wonderful insights and questions and challenges. And so when it finally, amazingly, here it is, a book—now, this was, for us, it was a three-year project. Now, in the book we have it condensed into a one-year journal kind of project. But see, for me, I’m old now and I need times when I sometimes I just need a break from thinking about this thing. And God was so gracious: “Sure. Just relax.” And then I’d pick it up again. And so that’s kind of how it went. And then when, you know, it’s become a book, I asked Brenda if she might help me in these kinds of settings to think about these things. So that’s why Brenda is here. She’s a pastor and has a family and works with so many people, and I just thought her voice would be helpful.
Cherie Harder: Absolutely. Well, as we start our discussion on pursuing humility, it’s always good just to know exactly what we’re talking about. And it’s a term that still seems to inspire in some people’s minds sort of either a Uriah Heep–like unctuousness or, you know, the sort of self-effacement or poor self-image that I think both of you have referred to at times as “worm theology.” But you have something very different in mind. And so, Brenda, maybe we can start with you: what is the humility that we’re talking about and how is it different from some of the the stereotypes?
Brenda Quinn: Yeah, well, I mean, I think we’re— the biggest thing is we’re talking about it in a biblical aspect and we’re talking about it with Jesus as our model. He’s our first and foremost model, and Richard talks about that at the very beginning of the book, that Jesus is the one that we look to. And there’s a great definition by C.S. Lewis in the book, and I’ve got one here by Timothy Keller. He says, “The truly gospel-humble person is not a self-hating person or a self-loving person, but a self-forgetful person.” And I think that’s what we want to think of when we think of a humble person, is somebody who’s not so focused on themselves and on promoting themselves or thinking about themselves but, as a Christian, focused on God and on Jesus and on living life for him and according to his direction and according to the Holy Spirit’s leading and guiding.
Richard Foster: Yeah.
Cherie Harder: That’s great.
Richard Foster: So one of the [ways] we can learn is by negative example. Just think of the opposite of humility. That is egocentric arrogance. Narcissism. I mean, in our culture, it doesn’t take us long to see examples of this. And if we will watch this carefully, we will see a huge contrast. And it doesn’t look very nice. Now, you know, the Christ event—the life, the birth, the life, the teachings, the death, the resurrection—these all frame for us a kind of paradigm for how to live in a humble means, because that’s the most distinguishing characteristic of Jesus himself is this humility. And one of the earliest ones to think about this was Paul, the wise Paul. And he wrote about this in Philippians when he said, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility, regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you look not to your own interest, but to the interest of others. Let the same mind be within you that was in Christ Jesus.” And then he goes into this wonderful poetic discussion of how, [though] he was in the form of God, he didn’t regard equality with God. He emptied himself and humbled himself, became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.
So humility, of course, the very word itself comes from the earth—”humus,” we think of—and being connected to the earth, so that is we have an accurate assessment of who we are. We don’t overinflated it. We don’t debase it, like you said, the worm theology that sometimes creeps in in Christian circles. We learn to live. Now, that’s a simple, easy way of understanding. That’s a definition of it. But it’s also immensely complicated because this involves all of life, all human relationships, everything we do, what we think about and how we think about. So, you know, that’s why I started out by saying that Jesus is the divine paradigm by which we conjugate all of the verbs of our lives and the spirit of humility we learn. If we just take the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—live with them for a year or two and see what you learn about humility.
Cherie Harder: I want to pick up on the down-to-earth, you know, the humus aspect of humility, in that, in your work, you lay out a number of characteristics of what humility is. And some of them are rather surprising as well as quite intriguing. And one that I wanted to ask you about was you frequently mention the freedom that comes from humility, including a tendency to laugh more freely, something that you call “holy hilarity.” What do you see as the link between humility, freedom, good humor and cheer?
Richard Foster: It’s so wonderful to lay down this everlasting burden of always trying to feel important. See what a freedom that is? I don’t have to impress. I don’t have to make sure everybody thinks well of me. I’m free from all of that. And when we’re free from that, it gives us an openness toward other people, first to listen to people and value others. But then, see, one of the dangers among religious folks is that they can become stuffy bores. And it is hilarity that frees us from that. We don’t take ourselves so seriously. We can laugh at our own foibles. We can— whatever. And so there’s that. I mean, think of jolly Saint Francis and, you know, singing his canticle to the sun. And, you know, what a wonderful way of living! And when we watch, if you look carefully and you find persons that, it’s not hard to identify, are humble people, you’ll find the freedom that they have to just enjoy life and enjoy other people, enjoy the successes of another person rather than being envious of it—things like that. And so that’s why humility, the most basic of the virtues, opens us up to a life of freedom. Does that make sense?
Cherie Harder: Yes, it does indeed. You know, another characteristic I wanted to ask you both about—maybe we can start with you on this, Brenda—and I’m actually going to ladle two questions into one—but one characteristic you mention is freedom from domination and control. And it does seem somewhat intuitive that the humble do not try to dominate and control others. But it’s also fair to say that we live in an age of domination. Even our language reflects this, how eager people are to “own the libs,” or we speak in the language of ownership, triumphalism, and the like. And there are those who mistake gentleness or humility for weakness and find weakness to be a provocative invitation to humiliate. So would love to hear from both of you, just your own reflections about humility and domination, but also how the humble do and should respond to their own attempted humiliation by others. And, Brenda, maybe we could start with you.
Brenda Quinn: Yeah, I think that’s— I mean, it’s a question that I think we all have to consider and think about how we’re living our lives every day. And I always look to Jesus and he’s— Jesus is so hard to figure out when we read the gospels. He’s hard to define when it comes to humility because he’s not weak. He’s definitely not a weak person. He’s, you know, he’s God. And he was absolutely a strong person. And yet there were times where Jesus would refuse to answer a question and he wouldn’t defend himself, and other times where he would speak out very boldly. And he always spoke truthfully. And I think probably for all of us when we read the gospels, I’m still surprised sometimes at Jesus, at the way he handles situations and the things that he says. And so when I think about him as a humble person, you know, he would not have come to this earth and become a human person without— he couldn’t have done it without being humble. Right? And if he hadn’t come to this earth and become our savior by being humble, all of us would have no hope, right? If not for his humbling of himself, we would not have a savior.
And so when I think about the importance of humility in each one of our lives and that being a Christ-like character— when you think about it that way, it’s so essential. If we can’t be humble, then we can’t be Christ-like. Right? So I don’t know that there are any answers for every situation, for every person, for every personality. We’re all so different from one another. We live in different situations and have differing daily lives and ways that we encounter needing to be humble in our lives, and the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to is that if we’re not walking daily with him, if we’re not being attentive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, we’re not going to be able to be the humble people who imitate Christ and who actually live out the life of Christ. Because we can’t do it on our own, right? It’s his life in us that we’re seeking to live out every day, according to who each one of us is, according to our personalities, according to our gifts, according to our experiences and our place in life. So, you know, that’s not an easy question. But I do believe that God is faithful in living out that life of humility within us because we have the life of Christ in us.
Richard Foster: One of the most surprising things to me as I began to study this was the characteristic of—I don’t know any other way to say it than—strength. That humility is strength. That, number one, I don’t have to defend or project a false image. I’m free from all of that. And that at the same time I’m able to affirm other people and their giftings. I mean, one of the reasons with Renovaré we always try to share and speak in teams, just like Brenda and I are doing right now, so that we can lift each other up and value the contribution of everybody and those especially who have been humiliated in our culture. The sat upon, spat upon, ratted on. We want to hold them. That’s a characteristic of strength in life. So that was what surprised me the most, was seeing the writers all through the centuries—like they used to say—who was it? I’m forgetting the author right now that said that—oh, it’s Evagrius Ponticus—was saying that he gave the eight deadly thoughts and then the eight godly virtues. And in the godly virtues, humility was the one that conquers pride. And I kept asking myself, why? Because it seems, pride seems so strong until I realized as I began to develop it, that humility is far stronger and can defeat pride in the human life and culturally. But it’s hard for us to understand that today because of the cultural ethos of of self-promotion.
There was a book back in the nineties by Leo—I forget the last name—but it was called The Frenzy of Renown, and he describes how this drive to be known—you know, accolades—was such a frenzy-driving force. I want to encourage us to think of the great value of anonymity. Just, you know—I love to be able to go into a supermarket and nobody knows who I am. Isn’t that wonderful? And then I can meet somebody. Here’s a mother with a little baby, and I can learn a little bit about this little one and what he or she is like. And, you know, see—that’s strength. And that is affirming to other human beings. And Jesus gives us both the model but also the abilities. Now, this is a whole process of spiritual formation. Remember how Paul said to the Galatians, “I am in travail.” That’s a birthing image. “I am in travail until Christ be formed in you.” And boy, that’s what we want.
Cherie Harder: You spoke of anonymity, but I want to ask you a little bit about some of the opposite, which is the burdens and responsibilities of leadership. And you both have been leaders. Richard, you have founded an organization. And Brenda, you’re a pastor at a church. But leadership often necessarily requires at least some degree of prominence as opposed to anonymity. It often involves pushing for an idea or an agenda, working to best competitors, making decisions, hard decisions, and evaluations, which we rarely associate with humility. What does it mean to lead with humility? What does it look like? And, Richard, I’ll toss that one to you first.
Richard Foster: We learn to become the servant of all. And that is what leadership— how we lead. We lead by serving. And as we serve, like in Brenda’s case, a congregation, you’re learning the lives of people. Obviously, decisions have to be made. Of course. And sure, the buck stops with the leader in that. But the leader is not alone. The leader’s gaining insight and wisdom from, in Brenda’s case, the congregation. Or in a corporation, you try to learn— I mean, people have great insights and wisdom. And so we listen. That’s the first thing that comes with leadership, is that we listen to people, value people, value their opinion, even though we may make a decision that goes in another direction. That’s the way it is in leadership. I remember the story of I think it was Eisenhower who he was listening to an issue and listening to the cabinet. And they said, “Oh, no, we shouldn’t do it.” No, no, no, no. And he paused for a little while and said, “The ayes have it.” He made a decision in a different direction. Now, sometimes you’re not right in that. But that’s part of what it means to be a leader. But you do it as a servant without domination and without arrogance that I know everything. And I try to learn from other people. Does that help?
Cherie Harder: It does help. And actually, kind of on that note, I want to ladle an additional question on and toss it to you, Brenda. So feel free to both comment on the previous question, but I also wanted to ask one more, which is: there are times when the call for humility has been, for lack of a better word, almost weaponized in that [it’s] directed towards particular groups of people, often those who are already seen as less than in some way. And I’m thinking here of historical calls for humility or derision towards uppity women or minorities, people who have forgotten their place and are reminded to be humble. And I wanted to ask your thoughts about how one distinguishes between a godly summons to humility and a weaponized one, or whether that distinction needs to be made.
Brenda Quinn: Yeah. I’ll just add to the previous question. You know, I absolutely agree that servant leadership is what we’re called to as God’s leaders and in the church. Such a big focus for us at my church as leaders is that we are there to equip. It’s not about us. It’s not about us and us getting the platform, us getting the attention, us getting the acclaim. It’s about us equipping our congregation, our people, God’s people, to go out and live in this world according to all that they are, all he’s given them and the places that they hold in this world. We say over and over and over again, “You are all ministers. We’re not the ministers. We’re all ministers.” That’s biblical. We’re all ministers in this world. And we’re just here, our particular role, is to equip you to go out and do the ministry in this world. So I think that completely changes the perspective on “this is my platform, this is me getting the attention, me making a name for myself.”
But then I think in thinking about your second question, I think one, you know, the important thing to remember is that biblically, we’re all called to humility. And if a particular group or type of person is being singled out and being told to be humble, that’s usually a warning sign that there’s something wrong in the teaching that’s being given. And, you know, all the verses I read in Scripture are being given to men and women. They’re being given to all walks of life. Sometimes they’re directed specifically at those that are in the more privileged positions in life that they need to be humble. They need to accept the people of lower position, whatever that might be. The passage in 1 Corinthians about all the parts of the body being necessary and needed—I’ve just been teaching a class the last few weeks and we’re talking about that passage and how vital that passage is. And, you know, I’m encouraging my class members, “Is this a passage you’re thinking about?” We should be thinking about this every week. This should be a passage on the forefront of our minds and our hearts, because what Paul teaches here is serious. And it’s true that every part is needed. And if we’re not doing our part and if we don’t have every part of our body here at the church or wherever that might be functioning in the role that God’s given them, we’re missing out and we’re not having the fullness of what is supposed to be happening, of the kind of service and the kind of ministry in this world that’s needed.
Richard Foster: You remember Paul’s words: “Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ.” All parties. Now, culturally, we’ve had a tendency to make subordination for, for example, like, women. And that is not humility. That is domination. And it’s not of God. We learn mutual subordination out of reverence for Christ. I learned ways to submit myself to my children. They can teach me. I learn ways to submit myself to my wife, and in Brenda’s case, to those in the congregation. We learn mutual subordination out of reverence for Christ. Not pushing somebody down so I can be more prominent. That’s just the opposite of the way of Jesus.
Cherie Harder: We have lots of questions lined up. But before we turn to our questions from our viewers, I just need to follow up on that and say, how then do we do this? How do we pursue humility not just individually, but also enable and encourage it communally? So, Richard, maybe we can start with you.
Richard Foster: Find somebody you can serve. Just look around and see if there’s somebody that you can serve in some way and see what you learn. I mean, do that for six months. See what you learn. And then we can worry about other people and other situations.
Brenda Quinn: Yeah. And I think, well, first I want to say that when I look around me at the local church, I do see a lot of humility already. I do see people living for Christ and serving this world and loving people and helping the seekers and paying attention to those in need. I see so much of it. And I know this audience here today, so many of you are doing this in such beautiful ways. And, you know, I don’t want today to come off as this is another scolding for our Christian community because there are so many beautiful things happening throughout the church of Jesus in our world right now.
But we can’t get away from the truth that we are living in a culture where we are all soaking daily in a different message. Right? And there’s no way that that isn’t affecting all of us and isn’t just nudging at us every day that “You should be doing this if you want to really make a life for yourself.” “You should be acting this way or pursuing this if you really want to have an identity that matters.” You know, we’re all getting those messages all the time and they’re lies. They’re deceptions that come from an enemy in this world. But they affect us. And they certainly affect the people that we lead. They affect those in our congregations. They affect those that we are ministering with and all the various types of ministry that we’re doing.
And so I think that for us as leaders who are committed to humility, we’re committed to living biblically and being humble in the way that Jesus was, we need to find more ways of helping our people, the people that we lead, to enter into this humility, this life of humility. And to affirm it, to remind our people that this is God’s way for us, that this is what we’re called to. We’re not called to imitating the world. We’re not called to falling into step with the world in the ways the world does these things and the way the world finds its identity. That’s not God’s way for us. And we are supposed to live counter-culturally. We’re supposed to not look like the world. And sometimes that’s going to mean us getting hurt, us getting taken advantage of. You know, that’s the reality. It happened to Jesus. You know, he was persecuted. His people throughout the ages have been persecuted and, you know, that’s the hard word in all of this, too, that sometimes that’s a reality. But we have God on our side, and God is the one who will lift us up and God’s the one who will take care of us. He’s the one that will bring justice in the end. And that doesn’t mean that we never speak truth. It doesn’t mean that we never stand up for the ways of righteousness that we believe in, in our society. But that’s where we need God’s leading every day. And we need to be following God’s way and not the world’s way.
Cherie Harder: Well, there are lots of questions lined up. And just as a reminder to our viewers, you can not only ask a question, but you can also “like” a question. And that helps give us an idea of what some of the questions that have the most interest are. So I’ll start out with a question from Marlo Rondoni, who asked, “Richard, you wrote Celebration of Discipline as a relatively young man and now Learning Humility after a lot of life has happened. I’m making an assumption, but why couldn’t you have written Learning Humility back then? And how would you change Celebration of Discipline had you written it today?”
Richard Foster: Oh, good question. Well, it does take life experience, doesn’t it, to help us to value humility of life. And that’s where, through the life experience, learning the value of anonymity—oh, my. And certainly I didn’t think much about that in the early days. And I don’t know that I would change anything in Celebration. It stands. It’s kind of got a life of its own. But my interest in humility—there’s a group in the northeast of England, a community that I wrote about them. They wrote a book, Celtic Daily Prayer, and they asked me to do the American version of it, write an introduction. And I did. And I mentioned several of the people that I met there in the Northumbria community, and they wrote me back and said, “We’re not so sure about this because you’re stressing individuals. We value anonymity.” And I thought, “Whoa, in the American context, they would have said, ‘Just one page? How about five pages about me?'” And I rewrote the introduction, but began to see the value of this. And you watch that in other people. And, you know, I’m sure I’ve learned a lot through decades of— I can give you a clear map of how not to do it. And learning and growing, that’s part of life.
Cherie Harder: That’s right. So a really interesting question from Penny Winter, which, Brenda, I want to toss to you. And Penny asks, “Most of this discussion is concerned with humility and success. What about humility in failure, loss, disappointment, and even in humiliation or rejection?”
Brenda Quinn: Yeah, that’s a great question. Richard put in the book, kind of in the middle of his book, he included what he calls—well, what he found—which is called the Litany of Humility. And he shares about how he isn’t completely comfortable with this litany. It’s just a line by line: “From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me Jesus; from the desire of being loved, deliver me Jesus; from the desire of being approved, deliver me Jesus.” And it goes on and on. And it’s a pretty hard one to read and to decide, “Could I pray this truly from my heart?” You know, asking God to deliver me from these desires because they’re all ones that are kind of difficult to think about. “Well, if someone doesn’t approve me, if I’m humiliated, despised, forgotten, ridiculed, deliver me from the desire to not experience these things.” But one of my responses to Richard when I read that chapter with this litany of humility in it was, you know, I think we need that litany. We need to consider it. We need to really think through it and sit with it, because this is really what it comes down to. And Jesus was willing to experience all of these things for us when he came to this earth. And he hasn’t given us any promise that we’re not going to experience these things in our life. He has promised he’ll be with us in them. He’s promised he will never leave us and he will be all that we need in the midst of sometimes experiencing those things. But, you know, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” So I think that’s what it goes back to.
Richard Foster: There’s an old story from the Middle Ages of a monk who was being highly criticized and defamed. He walks out of his cell and watches a woman on a clothesline beating a rug, you know, to beat the dust out of the rug. And he said the Lord spoke to him, saying, “That’s what I’m doing to your reputation. But you trust me, and I’ll take care of you.” And there are times when people say critical things, even untrue things. That’s where learning how Jesus just accepted those things without any reply, and we can learn from that. And God can take care of us in all of that. It’s okay. It’s okay. Rest easy. As the old song goes, “He’s got the whole world in his hands. He’s got the itty bitty baby in his hands. He’s got you and me, brother, in his hands. You and me, sister, in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands.” And there’s a line of that song that we don’t sing much: “He’s got the sinner man in his hands. He’s got the gamblin’ man in his hands. He’s got that crapshoot man in his hands. He’s got the whole world in his hands.” A lot of times we think that there are categories that God isn’t in control, but it’s okay: He’s got the whole world in his hands.
Cherie Harder: So our next question comes from an anonymous viewer, and they ask, “Does our digital connectedness make humility more difficult?” And, Brenda, want to take a first crack at that one?
Richard Foster: Yeah. Brenda, you’re digitally connected. I have to work just to turn the computer on.
Brenda Quinn: Yeah, I think it absolutely does. I think because it makes it so available and common, just part of everyday life, the fact that we are seeing faces all the time and people have a much easier opportunity for making names for themselves and promoting and developing a brand and all these things. I think it both makes humility harder, but it also puts everyone into a position of constantly making decisions about what to do with this. We can’t live without it. We have to live in it. And so how do we live in it well? How do we live in it in a godly way? And life is moving so fast, you know, all the time. And we’re, I think we’re so inundated with information and with so much availability of connection through all the digital sources that it can even crowd out the opportunity or just the the discipline of reflection on how we want to handle this world and how we want to intentionally live in it. I think we kind of just get in a cycle of having to do all these things and having to spend our time in these ways that we don’t take enough time to stop and think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and are there ways that we can step out of it, at least partly, to do what God asked us to do? Which might mean giving up some of that time in front of the screens to go do other things.
Richard Foster: Very good, very good answer.
Cherie Harder: So we won’t be able to get to all the questions, but we’ll try to take a couple more before we wrap up today. One question from Roger Schmidt, who asks, “Could you speak about how humility might encourage individuality? It seems that this can speak to our culture, which stresses conformance of action and thought.” Richard, I’ll toss that one to you.
Richard Foster: Well, I think it’s a good thought. Remember how Soren Kierkegaard dedicated one of his books to “that solitary individual”? And yes, if we can just value another human being for who they are, and that will free people up from this maddening conformity that I have to be like this and I have to do that and dress this way and we can just let go of a lot of that.
Cherie Harder: Our next question comes from Rebecca Letterman. And Brenda, I’ll throw this one to you. And Rebecca asks, “Could you speak to the role of the human body as contributing to humility. That is, might there be a link between a valuing of of the gift of our bodies and the grounding that is an essence of humility versus thoughts that are too lofty for me?”
Brenda Quinn: Well, the first part of that question regarding the body, I think it kind of goes back to the last question about all the images that we have in front of us all the time and the messages about what our bodies are supposed to be and what they’re supposed to look like and how we’re supposed to treat our bodies. And I think, again, going back to Psalm 139, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made and that our bodies are given to us as a gift from God that are good and beautiful in all of their differences. And they’re given to us to serve, to serve God. And I think that has to be our biggest priority when we’re thinking about our bodies and really seeking to not adopt the messages of the culture about both what we should look like and sometimes even how, you know, exercise, these ways of working out with our bodies, can in itself become a god, you know, rather than spending our energy and our selves on serving and loving people. And that may mean that our body doesn’t look quite like the images that we see in front of us. But is that priority? Is that what God cares about? Yeah, Richard, you probably have—.
Richard Foster: Well, that’s even true when there are lacks in our bodies. You remember John Milton when he was going blind and he wrote one of his poems on his own blindness. And one of the things he concluded in that: “They also serve who only stand and wait.” And the value of another person who may have difficulties in their bodies that some people might look down upon. No, no, no. We receive them as a precious gift of God with the lacks or whatever that their body has. They have things to contribute, even those who only stand and wait.
Cherie Harder: I’ll toss out one last question from an anonymous viewer, and they ask, “How do we help young adults who are just starting out in life that you don’t have to be successful, you don’t have to promote, you don’t have to believe what the world is feeding you. It just seems so hard at that age.” And, Richard, I’ll toss that one to you.
Richard Foster: Well, first off, we don’t need to straighten anybody out. We don’t need to make sure that anybody—. But we take a young couple, for example, and get to know them and just be with them so that they know that we receive them. Join them just as they are there. We used to— another place where we were living, the neighbors, an African American couple, and they knew that I wrote books, but that didn’t mean all that much. And we had them over, and we were playing—I don’t remember. The kids were young then, and so we were playing games and we were all just laughing and having such a good time. And I begin to think about that later: “Why was I so— I mean, why was this so much fun?” Well, it was because I was able to lay down that burden. At that time, I was a professor at a university. And lay down this burden of always needing to try to sound profound. And you see what a gift that is.
And young people starting out, if they know that we receive them just the way they are, they don’t have to prove a thing, they don’t have to make any accomplishments necessarily unless, you know, God is leading them. Some are led into very visible public roles. That’s wonderful. Others into less so. That’s wonderful, too. Does that make sense?
Cherie Harder: Sure does. Richard and Brenda, thank you for just a really rich and valuable conversation. And in just a moment, I’m going to ask for a last word from each of you. But before that, a few things just to let all of our viewers know about. Immediately after we conclude, we’ll be sending around an online feedback form. We really would love to get your thoughts. I say this each time: we read every one, we try to incorporate your suggestions to make these programs ever more valuable. And as a small token of our appreciation for the time that you spend doing that, we will send you a code for a free Trinity Forum a digital reading download of your choice. And there are several that we’d recommend that enable one to kind of go deeper with some of the themes that have been talked about today. And one in particular we’ll recommend is “The Long Loneliness” by Dorothy Day. Also “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley. But I’ll also recommend our new reading “Who Stands Fast” featuring Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Babette’s Feast” by Isak Denison, and “Wrestling with God” by Seaman Bay.
In addition, we’ll be sending around an email tomorrow, probably right around noon, with a video link to today’s Online Conversation that you can pass along and share with friends. And we encourage you to pass this along and start a conversation with others you know. We’ll also have additional reading recommendations and resources to help you go deeper into this topic in that that email. So be on the lookout.
In addition, we would love to invite you to join the Trinity Forum Society, which is the community of people to help advance the mission of the Trinity Forum to cultivate, curate, and disseminate the best of Christian thought and provide space for the discussion of life’s biggest questions in the context of faith. In addition to being part of this deeply valued community to us, there’s also quite a few benefits, including a subscription to our quarterly readings, our daily “What We’re Reading” list of curated reading recommendations, and as a special incentive for all of you joining today or with your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a signed copy of Learning Humility. So hope you will join us and avail yourself of that invitation.
A few things to let you know that are coming up: Next Friday, on our next Online Conversation, we’ll be hosting author Kelly Kapek on “The Blessings of Limitations.” And two weeks from today we’ll be hosting Hannah Anderson on her book Heaven and Nature Sing, an Advent list of reflections to kind of help us go deeper into the season. In addition, I’ll note that we just recently launched an Advent podcast series last week and extending over the next few weeks and encourage you to check those out as well.
Finally, as promised, I want to give the last word to Brenda and to Richard. So, Brenda, let’s start with you.
Brenda Quinn: Well, I just encourage all of us to take some moments to read the short book of James. James talks about humility in some wonderful ways and some great reminders. And I’ll just leave us with one short verse, James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” Let’s hold that verse before us and think about the depth of meaning just in that short verse and God’s truth in it.
Richard Foster: Let me leave with you the little prayer that I followed all those three years each day. I still actually use it, though not as faithfully. But it’s a very simple prayer. It’s a formation prayer for the forming of our lives before God. So it’s a prayer: “Lord, purify my heart.” Remember, only God purifies the heart. We don’t do that. We can’t change our hearts. Only God can. “Purify my heart, renew my mind, sanctify my imagination, enlarge my soul. Purify my heart. Renew my mind. Sanctify my imagination. Enlarge my soul.” Live with that prayer for a while.
Cherie Harder: Brenda and Richard, thank you so much. It’s been a real delight to talk with you both today. Thank you to all of you for joining us. Have a great weekend and a very happy Advent.