Essentials 2011   Gangsta Culture   TV: The Great Satan   Gil Scott-Heron   WISDOM   Leaving The Stage   Pale Horse   Tribalism   Eddie Long

Why We Don't Value It

A wise man is of some value to a leader. If the wise man is not broken by humility, his arrogance will ultimately usurp his wisdom. The flip side is, a wise man’s humility often prevents him from seeking leadership, and those in position to appoint leaders rarely recognize wisdom because they themselves are not wise, and do not value humility because they themselves are not humble. Most people seeking elevation are not humble. Most humble people are not seeking elevation. This makes the wise man, the wise sister, that much harder to spot. Wisdom rarely makes a big entrance. Wisdom comes from unexpected places and unexpected people. And it is rarely welcome.

One of my more annoying traits is that I’m right.

Not all time, not every time, but my batting average is pretty good. Which is not to say that I am better—people often hear “right” and receive it as a qualitative judgment as “better,” as in I Am Better Than You. I am not better than you. I am, likely, much worse than you. I can’t hit a baseball. I don’t think I have ever hit a baseball. I can’t get my hands to move fast enough on a bass guitar fret board. I can’t keep my lawn from turning brown. I am, in no conceivable sense, better than anybody else. I’m right about that. I am, far more often than not, right. I am most especially right about things I don't know. if I don't know something, I'll tell you straight out, "I don't know." And, I'll be right. But if I tell you something that I do know, I'm usually right.

Here’s an example: my wife and I were having her sister and her husband over for dinner. They had a two-year old. We had 32-ounce plush Saxony carpet that was extremely expensive. My wife was serving sparkling grape juice in wine glasses. I suggested Sprite. Why? Because the two-year old was coming and she’d likely spill her drink. It’s what two-year olds do. “She’s not going to spill her drink,” my wife sneered, giving me grief for being such a neat freak and worrying more about the carpet than about family. I wasn’t worried about the carpet. This was one of many fundamental cracks in our relationship. I loved her. Her sister could firebomb the place and I wouldn’t care. I was just adding 2+2 and coming up with four: let’s serve Sprite. It has no color. It won’t stain as badly as grape juice when the little girl spills her drink. “She’s not going to spill her drink.” And I stood there, blinking, wondering what planet my wife was from. Some other world where two-year olds don’t spill their grape juice. It is an actuarial certainty: the odds of a two-year old not spilling their grape juice are dismal, in the single digits. It’s possible, I suppose, but the likelihood was that the child would, at some point, spill her juice and it would cascade, in sheets purple liquid, onto $2500 worth of 32-ounce plush Saxony we were still paying for. And, in any event, what possible harm could it make to serve Sprite instead?

What happened was my wife became more invested in winning the fight, more challenged by my Y-chromosome and bringing her issues with her dad or men or the Jewish-Palestinian conflict into the argument than she was in using simple math. The argument became about her. Her judgment. Her and her Uncle or her old boyfriend or whatever other male done her wrong. It became about anything else but the grape juice. She simply hated it when I was right and I was proven right almost all the time. Not every time, but my batting average was so good it simply drove her insane and, dammit, she was serving grape juice whether I liked it or not.

And when the little girl knocked over her glass, as I knew she would, and ruined the carpet, as I knew she would, my wife looked over at me with a seething loathing, a look I will take to my grave. I never said I Told You So. I never had to. I was right. I was always right. And it drove her absolutely nuts. And I am now a divorced man.

Having grown up in the Apostolic tradition,

I observed most everyone involved in church exhausting themselves trying to attain the gift of tongues. Speaking in tongues was, in our tradition, the only true evidence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If you read your bible a little deeper, you will also note speaking in tongues is also clear evidence of demonic possession. I can’t imagine why Church Folk seem to think only God can grant tongues, or that the devil is a mute. In any case, I wasn’t so interested in speaking in tongues. I never saw that gift as particularly useful beyond showing off in church. Of the people I know who claim the gift of tongues, I have never once seen them use that gift in a useful or meaningful way. I mean, at the shopping mall? At the Laundromat? At work? Where does this gift kick in and what is its useful application in modern times? Most everyone I have personally known who has been a prolific tongues-speaker has also fallen into ghastly moral failure of one kind or another. Some have backslidden altogether and rejected God. These people, who, at the time, professed to be so much holier than me because of this gumbo jumbo roll and tumble, have—including one so-called "prophet"— bedded women indiscriminately, taken drugs, lied, and were some of the worst cussers I've ever heard. The notion that speaking in tongues somehow makes you more holy than people who do not is not biblical. It is a lie. It is antichrist to run around claiming that or even lending that impression. Whatever your spiritual gift, you are still flesh and blood. Claiming to somehow be superhuman because of that gift tempts God, which is a dangerous thing to do. These are not our gifts. They're God's gifts. They belong to the Boss and we just use them on the job. I have, indeed, spoken in tongues and experienced the Charismatic move of the Holy Spirit, but my point remains: beyond self-edification [I Cor. 14], what’s the point?

At some point, as a young Apostolic, I began actually reading the bible as opposed to coming on Sunday and having somebody tell me what it says. Reading the bible was actually not all that popular back in the day, in my church. White folk, at an evangelical summer camp, taught me how to read the bible. Made me read Schoefield’s Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth, so I could understand the bible isn’t a book but, rather, literally means many books. It is a collection of individual works, never intended to be read like a novel but referenced as a text. And, once I began to understand what the bible was and how to approach its study, study it I did. While my friends were running around babbling and frothing at the mouth, I was reading where Paul called tongues the least of spiritual gifts [I Cor. 14:28]. And, perusing lists of spiritual gifts and spiritual fruits, I settled on one I thought much more useful than tongues.

And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.  —I Corinthians Chapter 14

I remember the day, the hour, I prayed to God for my gift: wisdom. Wisdom is not knowledge. I don’t claim all knowledge or even much knowledge. But wisdom is a manifest gift from God, one I prayed for and sought. Which is not to say I am wise. Wisdom is one of those tricky gifts in that, simply claiming the gift can reveal you to be unwise. Spiritual gifts come from God. They exist for a purpose and for a season. I, myself, am not wise. Without Christ, I am nothing. God’s grace, His wisdom, is manifest in my life. And, of course, most Church Folk can’t see that gift at work, which is really sad considering wisdom is one of the few things that God has promised absolutely if we ask in faith [James 1:5]. The gift of wisdom is also tricky in that we can be hardheaded. Many times, in many situations, I know the right thing, the wise thing to do, but my flesh keeps me from doing it [Romans 7:19]. Having wisdom doesn't always mean you'll follow it. This is the true lesson of King Solomon. These gifts belong to God, not to us. Solomon’s legendary wisdom failed him miserably when he turned from God.

Most Church Folk see and acknowledge things like tongues because you have a seizure, froth at the mouth and fall to the floor babbling. True spiritual men and women, those who truly have the gift of tongues, will often also have the gift of interpreting tongues [I Cor. 14]. These folks can tell the difference between you faking it and the real thing. Then they can go even deeper, interpreting the real thing so we know if this is God speaking or Satan speaking. Most Church Folk I know drop and give praise whenever they hear babba-wabba-anaconda from anybody, without knowing (1) if the tongues are genuine or (2) if they are genuinely from God. In my perspective, God has not much need to prove Himself to anyone. He has already spoken to us through His Holy Word, in which it says if there are tongues in worship service, there must also be an interpreter of tongues. We usually forget this part. If somebody’s babbling and falling out and so forth, and the service comes to a hush while we stupidly and ignorantly give thanks and praise God—if there is no interpretation, those tongues are of self (faking it) or of Satan (faking it).

Church Folk tend to reward tongues indiscriminately, not waiting for an interpretation, having no idea what was uttered or if it is a genuine word from the Lord. By contrast, Church Folk, in my experience, tend to reject wisdom. They dismiss it, they show hostility toward it. We all want to hear what we want to hear. Wisdom speaks truth. They roll their eyes, skip the email, hang up the phone. Wisdom is harder to spot than tongues. Tongues are flashy. Wisdom is subtle.

I’ve discovered that, in order for someone to appreciate good writing, they themselves must be a writer. They have to have at least some acuity at the discipline of writing in order to know good writing from bad. To know the difference between a good singer and a bad singer, you have to know something about singing. In order to recognize wisdom, we ourselves must be wise. Unwise people, no matter how many degrees they have, cannot recognize wisdom and often miss the value of people. Advanced degrees speak to knowledge. They tell you nothing about a man’s wisdom. In our tradition, we get these Babba Wabba people or these firebrand preachers coming around and, right away, we celebrate them, elevate them, throw money at them and put them in positions of leadership. We elect pastors based on how they look, on what degree they have, on how they perform in the pulpit. We forget that Peter, the often foolhardy blue-collar worker with no formal education—Peter, who was not a rabbi, not religiously trained, who may well have been illiterate—Peter, who routinely shot off his mouth saying stupid things, who lopped off a Centurion's ear, who denied Christ three times and abandoned Him to suffer and die, who sided with the Judaizers at Antioch requiring Gentile Christians to observe Jewish LawPeter, that idiot—was the first pastor, the man of whom Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” [Matthew 16:18]

We hire pastors while knowing nothing about the pastorate. Nothing about the bible other than what the last pastor told us. Churches who call lame, mediocre men whom they do not know, clowns they flew in for an audition, as pastor only prove how utterly inept their previous pastor was. The previous pastor did not equip the saints to make a sound, spiritual, prayerful choice. Which made him a lousy pastor. And now they're going out and hiring yet another lousy pastor to take his place. They hire a pastor the same way you hire a day manager at Dairy Queen. A pastor who takes that job is usually as ignorant of the bible and spiritual matters as the people who hired him.

Wisdom rarely makes a big entrance. Wisdom rarely shows up in fine clothes or driving a fine car. Wisdom comes from unexpected places and unexpected people. And it is rarely welcome.

Here’s what’s missing: humility.

Wisdom needs to be tempered by humility, a certain self-awareness that puts who we are in a larger context of our community and our God. Having wisdom does not make you wise. Having humility does. Together, wisdom and humility create power. A wise man is of some value to a leader. If the wise man is not broken by humility, his arrogance will ultimately usurp his wisdom. The flip side is, a wise man’s humility often prevents him from seeking leadership. Those in position to appoint leaders rarely recognize wisdom because they themselves are not wise, and do not value humility because they themselves are not humble. False modesty, perhaps, the kind of phony nonsense many preachers employ. But true humility acknowledges the arrogance of any one man or one woman telling people how to live their lives. That’s not what pastoring is about. Pastoring is about modeling how they should live their lives. Most people seeking elevation are not humble. Most humble people are not seeking elevation. This makes the wise man, the wise sister, that much harder to spot. A moot point since most pulpit committees are not looking for either trait. More often than not, they are looking for a performer: a guy who can put on a good hoop show.

Most pastors I’ve met have no interest in wisdom and, to my experience, see wisdom as a threat. Which reveals only how utterly lost in arrogance some of these guys are because they make everything about them. A wise man, a wise woman, appears on the horizon like the prophet Samuel. Samuel never sought to become nor was ever interested in becoming king [I Samuel]. But the king feared Samuel, perhaps despised Samuel. And yet, after Samuel’s death, the king actually went to a witch to conjure Samuel up so the king could seek his wise counsel. The very strength and boldness that makes some of our leaders effective is the same thing that just as often makes them unwise, resentful and afraid of the very men God sent to support him. And, rather than surround themselves with those wise men, wise women, many of our pastors surround themselves instead with sycophants—yes-men who will do whatever they say. Many of our pastors do not have wise men in their inner circle either because they don’t want them there or because they themselves cannot spot the wise man, cannot pick him out of a crowd. Here’s a hint, pastor: the wise man is the guy who doesn’t want the job.

My own pastor, Eric Mason, added this to the discussion:

There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. 15 A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. 16 So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.  —Ecclesiastes Chapter 9

Most wise people I know do not put their faith in money. which isn't to say they don't save or invest but that those are not the important things in their lives. I myself am frequently if not usually poor, and the bible points out the wisdom of poor people is easily dismissed. This is usually because the hearers themselves are not wise. They equate material prosperity with wisdom, when, more often, the opposite is true. They value a person's worth and integrity by his bank account and wardrobe. This is the very essence of foolishness. And it is the Catch-22 wise people are usually trapped within. The most painful thing about having even a little wisdom is being keenly aware of how undervalued and outnumbered you are. This is why we should be careful what we ask God for. Every gift comes with a price tag.

Christopher J. Priest
5 June 2011

Essentials 2011   Gangsta Culture   TV: The Great Satan   Gil Scott-Heron   WISDOM   Leaving The Stage   Pale Horse   Tribalism   Eddie Long