top of page
  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

717 Our self-inflicted humiliation is the place where our redemption begins.

Day 717 Thursday, March 3, 2022

But here, a great truth of our faith must be announced: Our self-inflicted humiliation is the place where our redemption begins.

(Please note: Announcements at the end: 2 links to our last 2 Emmaus celebrations and an announcement from Nancy McFarland)

Reflection by Jim Fredericks:

Given what is taking place in Ukraine right now, I want to reflect on what remains a mystery to me: Why do humiliated people think that they can restore their lost honor by humiliating others?

Some commentators are saying that Mr. Putin is motivated by fear. I won’t argue with this assessment. But I also think he feels humiliated and, for some reason, believes that he can restore his lost honor if only he can humiliate someone else.

In this, Mr. Putin has much to teach us about ourselves.

Every human being I have ever met has suffered one humiliation or another. Humiliation has become part of the human condition ever since our Fall from grace in the Garden of Eden.

After tasting of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve “realized they were naked.” And the first order of business after our original humiliation was to cover over our nakedness with fig leaves and to hide from God in the Garden lest he see our humiliation.

This is a profound teaching about us all. We cannot bear to be the finite, embodied, creature we are created by God to be. In our Fall from grace, we have been humiliated by our own humanity.

The humiliation we feel is not God’s doing. Our humiliation (“and they realized they were naked”), and the desperate need to regain our lost honor (“so they covered themselves with fig leaves”) is our own doing.

That we do this to ourselves is also a humiliation that must be covered over and denied. What better way to do this than humiliating someone else?

Abel’s sacrifices were more pleasing to God than his brother’s. So Cain covers over his humiliation by murdering Abel. And this is what is happening today in Ukraine: Cain is murdering his brother once again.

I have never met Mr. Putin, but I am told that he was deeply humiliated by the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are others who can tell this story better than I. Mr. Putin remembers the days when people in Eastern Europe feared him. To be feared, apparently, is to be honored. To no longer be feared is to be humiliated.

Human beings will do terrible things to escape the feeling of humiliation. Cain must kill Abel as a way to cover over his humiliation with the fig leaves of honor.

We see “honor killings” in various parts of the world. What Mr. Putin is doing in Ukraine is an honor killing. He is killing in order to make Russia great again.

Here in America, we need to be aware of the power that demagogues can wield over a humiliated people with the cynical promise to make them great again.

In Charlottesville Virginia, people marched with torches insisting that, “Jews will not replace us!” These Americans think they have been humiliated by Jews. As Christians, we must never forget what humiliated men and women have done to Jews in the perfidious hope of restoring their lost honor.

A police officer lynched an African American man by kneeling on his neck for nine-minutes in Minneapolis. After watching the video, a friend recently observed to me that this police officer had “the same dead eyes as Vladimir Putin.”

This is an important insight. Humiliation blinds us to our own God-given dignity and compels us to restore our lost honor by humiliating someone else. We scapegoat one another with blind eyes.

Why we do this to other human beings remains a mystery to me. Why do we think that we can create honor for ourselves by humiliating our neighbors?

But here, a great truth of our faith must be announced: Our self-inflicted humiliation is the place where our redemption begins.

This is not our doing. This is what God has chosen to do for us. God has come to be with us precisely where we have most radically rejected God.

Let me say this more simply: Christ humiliated himself in order to take on our humiliated humanity. Christ has become our humiliation. This is what our “dead eyes” finally see when they look on the Cross of Christ.

Certainly, Christ has taken on the humiliation of those who have been humiliated by the cruel injustices and outrages perpetrated by the empires of this world.

But more mysteriously for me at least, Christ has taken on the humiliation of those deluded souls who, like Mr. Putin, believe they can bring honor to themselves by humiliating others. The blood of Abel cries out to heaven for vengeance, but, in response, Christ has taken on Cain’s humiliation.

This has enormous consequences for us. One of my students wrote to me a few days ago. She is quickly becoming an accomplished theologian and will serve the Church well with her skills.

My student was born in Russia, the land of Chagall and Rublev, Dostoyevsky and Chekov, Mendeleyev and Pavlov, Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky and Shostakovich. She is born into one of the great cultures of the world.

After expressing her grief and sadness over what is happening to the people of Ukraine, she wrote,

"Sadness isn’t all there is obviously. We need hope too. I’m a Russian American and the situation in Ukraine is breaking my heart.

I certainly don’t have any control over what happened or what happens moving forward. But I do have my faith. My faith tells me to “act justly” and to “love kindness,” and to live with mercy in my heart."

Let me add this to my student’s fine words: if we will only allow it, we will all feel the ancient humiliation in our hearts – the humiliation we have imposed on ourselves. But, as my student teaches, if we look deep enough, we will also find mercy in our troubled hearts.

Let there be no doubt: this mercy is a sign that Christ is taking on our humiliation.

Announcement #1: Links to our last 2 celebrations:

February 13, 2022 Emmaus Celebration link on Emmaus Google Drive

February 27, 2022 Emmaus Celebration link on Emmaus Google Drive

Announcement #2: From Nancy McFarland

March 16th Webinar: “Jesus and John Wayne”

Dear Friend of the McClendon Scholar Program,

Our next webinar will initiate our new Authors’ Series where we highlight an important book that focuses on issues of concern to the McClendon Scholar Program. “Jesus and John Wayne: How Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Divided a Nation” was one of the most widely discussed books of the past two years and rose to #4 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Author Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor at Calvin University, will meet with us on Wednesday evening, March 16th at 7:00 PM EST (4 PM Pacific) to discuss her book. I invite you to register here to join us.

As you prepare for this program, I encourage you to read the book or, at least, to read about it so you can understand the issues it raises and why it has been so widely discussed. Richard Cizik, a former evangelical leader, summarized much of the appeal when he said “those who ask ‘how can evangelicals support Trump’ need to read this book to understand why.”

You may want to go to Dr. Du Mez’s website to see some other reviews of the book as well. The Washington Post wrote an interesting article about the book last summer that also gives some helpful background.

If you have not already done so, please register now and put Wednesday evening, March 16th on your calendar. We look forward to having you with us for this important program.

All the best,

Theo Brown, Director

McClendon Scholar Program

The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church

Washington, DC 20005

240 393-7246 cell

Register Here

34 views0 comments
bottom of page