When I was a child I was often reminded about the sin of pride. This might be because I was precocious and liked to be the centre of attention, but I think it also says a lot about the values of British culture. After all we don’t want to be like the Americans, brash, showy and over the top!
We were not encouraged to shine, be brilliant or think more highly of ourselves than we should. We were expected to be modest, polite and an attitude that children should be seen and not heard persisted.
As I grew up in a Christian home, there were also the quotes from the Bible about the danger of pride. ‘Pride comes before a fall’ and ‘God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble’, are etched into my memory and psyche.
Yet was this used disproportionately to keep little girls, in particular, from getting too big for their boots? And, as someone who now acknowledges their struggle with shame, has the sin of pride been used as a stick to beat me? Actually, in order for me to be fully alive and the person I was made to be I needed to be seen, nurtured and helped to find my place in the sun. Could this have been done in such a way that I also learned it was possible for me to be my absolute best self while not requiring the crushing or diminishing of anyone else in their own joy of flourishing?
This week I’ve been ill, so I’ve watched a lot of television. As well as huge amounts of tennis and cricket, I binge watched ‘Everything I know about Love’. I found it interesting, and surprisingly subversive, that the ‘love’ in question was actually the plutonic love between best friends. There is a moment when Mags is being publicly shamed on social media for sleeping around during freshers week. She does what I do when I feel shame, that is close all the curtains, take to my bed and hide. She says, “I feel like I don’t want to exist. Not forever, I just don’t want to be here, right now, being me…I feel wrong. I feel like there’s something wrong with me…I’m sorry I’m such a mess..I’m sorry I’m so loud and clumsy and I always get things wrong and forget things and lose things. I’m just this disaster, but I can’t ever seem to change. I don’t want to be this constant storm causing chaos everywhere.” But her bestie Birdy, who is lying beside her, responds with, “You’re not a storm. You’re a hurricane, Hurricane Maggie. It’s like what Katie Perry said, after the hurricane comes the rainbow. See you’re the hurricane and the rainbow. You blow through a place leaving the most spectacular things as you go. No one ever forgets you once they’ve met you.”
At this time of year there is a lot being said about pride. In Eastern cultures we tend to think the opposite of shame is honour. However, in our Western societies maybe it is actually pride. Obviously, pride in our context has been a specific response to the shame and stigma attached to homosexuality. Rightly so, a strong and powerful counter narrative of pride has been necessary to undo the demeaning and oppressive legacy of shame around sexuality very specifically.
Yet, I wonder if we also need to reclaim pride for other areas of life where we’ve been robbed by shame. As a parent, I’m advised to tell my offspring not just that I love them, but that I am proud of them. And, I try to do that when they’ve show attributes or character traits that I’m proud of, such as being kind or showing empathy and not just academic or material success.
Yes the Bible has negative things to say about pride, but it also says, ‘we should love our neighbours as ourselves’ and this morning I was reminded that, ‘it was for freedom that Christ set us free’. That definitely includes freedom from shame.
We all feel shame. While at the same time, we don’t all have a best friend to be there with us in our pain and remind us we are still loved. However, I am not going to stay under the duvet forever. I am reminded of the words by Marianne Williamson quoted by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as President of the new, free South Africa, ‘the rainbow nation’, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!” You have permission from the Saviour and Creator of the Universe!
So be proud. Not just this week in June, but all year round. What would the world be like if we could all do that, for most of the time? Sounds like the kingdom of heaven to me!