Friday, Dec 19, 2014
Linda Downing

Humility is not easy to find

Linda Downing
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Like so many things, a definition of humility depends on which side of the table you are sitting. From this woman's viewpoint, Pope Francis' washing the feet of two girls—a Serbian Muslim and an Italian Catholic—on Holy Thursday demonstrated the meaning written by an anonymous writer: “Humility is the pride of the humble.”

Showing humility, even by self-abasement, is no substitute for righting an underlying wrong. Until women are men's equals in the church world, the influence of the church in the secular arena will continue to wane. It has to when more than half of those the Bible defines as “created in God's image” (Genesis 1:27) are delegated less-than positions.

Some, reporting on the foot-washing ceremony, saw it as the devastation of church tradition. Others thought it might be an opening to women's ordination. It was neither.

It was the action of a man whose one cause is to put church focus on serving the poor. Like those who sidetrack by comparing women's issues to racism or the treatment of gays, the pope saw an opportunity to distract women a while longer. He does not plan or want to address what is to him a non-issue: So far Pope Francis is clearly opposed to women's ordination.

Treating women as second-class citizens is not relegated to Catholicism. It permeates the whole of religion and society. Pomp and ceremony, like false humility, is no substitute for truth.

In an article for “More” magazine, Amy Davidson, senior editor of the New Yorker, reported that more than half the world's nations have established quotas that are successfully increasing the number of women legislators and changing attitudes toward women. The U.S. is not among them. Davidson says goals only work when everyone is in agreement; we are far from that. Looking at the positive results from quotas, she adds that “quotas can be regarded as a floor, not a ceiling.”

A number of UNESCO World Heritage sites are located in the Flanders region of northern Belgium. During the 13th century Crusades, with so many men off to war, a surplus of single women formed self-governed towns called “beguinages.” They resembled convents, but the women refused vows of poverty or celibacy. The Church did not approve. The women were labeled heretics, but their businesses and towns prospered.

True humility is often mislabeled as arrogance or pride. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recently passed away. To watch clips of her interacting with the almost exclusively male leadership within and without Britain is to see a woman who took the intended derogatory name “Iron Lady” and wore it as a badge of honor. She understood what it takes to turn bad systems upside-down.

A controversial exhibit called “Jew in the Box” is now appearing in the Jewish Museum in Berlin. Some see it as degradation, but the Jewish person who sits in the exhibit's box believes it to be an in-your-face reminder of the role of Jews in Germany; it says, “We exist.”

The last three decades of the 20th century saw more married women retaining maiden names. The trend waned because it proved to complicate life and produce disunity. True humility sees the big picture, exposes injustice, speaks boldly out of a glass box: “We exist.”


Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together—side-by-side.

Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.

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