Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Humility. Unity. Worship.

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There I was, punching couch cushions, trying to keep my sudden, violent shouts muted so I wouldn’t wake up the kids.

If you watched the University of Kentucky vs. Notre Dame college basketball game Saturday night, you know what I’m talking about: a nail-biter, an epic battle. “This is why we love sports,” a headline blazed the following morning.

In the aftermath of the win (in Kentucky, a win really does leave an aftermath), a story popped up online showing an entirely different angle to the triumphant chest bumps and crazed leaps of players suddenly realizing they’re headed to the Final Four.

For a moment I thought I’d dozed off in front of my Facebook feed which, full of UK fans and friends in ministry, has been overflowing with a steady stream of Kentucky blue and Holy Week imagery punctuated with chipper pastors subtly posting service times in bold alongside inspiring photos on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings.

Men kneeling in front of others, washing their feet. The Pope? No, that’s not the Pope. Friend’s promotion for Maundy Thursday service? Religious icon?

Or a team of basketball players?

Kentucky residents would’ve seen this clip last August (there’s nothing about the Wildcats that goes uncovered in the Bluegrass).

“Well, no wonder they play so well together,” I thought after first seeing the video over the weekend. “They washed feet together. And shared humility always brings unity.”

This thought came unbidden as if it were an overfamiliar bumper sticker. What?

Shared humility always brings unity.

Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics
Photo by Chet White, UK Athletics

Pictures emerged from my mind: the close bond I’d built with fellow students on a mission trip where we, yes, served others.

Believers gathered in an upper room, praying, waiting together in humility for the Holy Spirit.

The Book of Acts: disciples beaten, thrown in jail together; as much as we dwell on the early conflicts of the early church, consider this: the thousands of miles of road traveled, the uncomfortable nights, the stressful circumstances. When’s the last time you traveled with someone else for months? Years? Travel brings out the hidden depths of the human soul like no other experience: hotel clerks recognize the despair in an exhausted parent’s eyes after driving for hours with small children. Peaceful partnerships descend into irrational, chaotic fights in which unfoldable maps are bandied like awkward paper weapons. “See how they love each other”? While traveling?

“Ah,” you counter, “but they had the Holy Spirit. They were anointed.

“Yes,” I would counter, “but they were also human beings, not the Incarnate Christ,” as several stories from Acts will bear me out.

Yes, they had the blessing of the Holy Spirit at work. But it would seem that one of the Holy Spirit’s favorite ways to work is by doing remarkable things through shared humility. And by birthing unity through Spirit-infused shared humility.

When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he set them an example: this is who I am, this is what I do. Now, go and do likewise. What they couldn’t anticipate was the real-world result that washing feet together yields.

Have a conflict in your church? Don’t just schedule a service in which people on one side of the argument are “serendipitously” paired to wash the feet of the people on the other side (although I still recommend just that). Send them all out to wash feet together.

There’s another way that shared humility brings unity. Consider worship, and what it is. Whether you picture a church service or crowds gathered around a royal palace, note that first and foremost, before anything else is done, worship is shared humility. How can it not be? You’re gathered with your peers to publicly announce, through kneeling for prayers, or singing words, that you all depend on God alone; that God alone is worth worship, and that you are not. To worship is to humble yourself. To worship together is to humble yourselves together. Humbling yourselves together is shared humility. Shared humility brings unity.

As we move towards Maundy Thursday this Holy Week, let me ask: whose feet do you need to wash? Who has given you a headache recently, caused you pain? And with whom do you need to go and wash feet, sharing humility side by side?

Recently my family was invited into the home of some international students. They treated us like honored guests, cooking and serving because, as one of them said, “you take care of us, so it’s only right that we take care of you sometimes.” While there, one of them matter of factly commented on the habit of a couple locals who would deliberately rev their vehicles and buzz the students while they were mid-crosswalk, crossing the street.

The international black students.

One student had a bottle of urine thrown on them from a moving truck window.

I have never dealt with sexism with the grace that my black friends consistently deal with racism.

One pastor with whom I recently attended a conference led a peaceful march a couple of months ago. Some townspeople wore miniature white Klan masks and put fried chicken and watermelon in the middle of the road on which the marchers approached. What was the response of the marchers? To switch the focus onto the number of people who had offered lemonade or refreshment to the peaceful protesters.

What if the media were flooded by images of local police departments kneeling down, one by one, and washing citizens’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of community leaders kneeling down, one by one, washing officers’ feet? What if the media were flooded by images of police departments and NAACP members traveling together to build concrete block houses for Proyecto Abrigo in Juarez, Mexico? What if the media were flooded by images of rival politicians walking into each others’ offices to wash each others’ feet?

Alright, I may get carried away a little.

Except I’m not carried away. Even DC politicians – of both parties – are not beyond the Spirit-charged grace that comes with shared humility. 

This is what the Gospel is: unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up to shock their bodies with a subservient physical posture. Unlikely candidates for sainthood lined up, minds paralyzed with the reality that someone is touching their feet.

“Do bad guys like to sing about Jesus?” This is the kind of question I field from my five-year-old son during bath time. I’d been singing a song from their “Little Blessings” choir to keep the music in the kiddos’ minds. As I got ready to wash my little boy’s feet, I told him about Saul, a bad guy who did not sing about Jesus, meeting Jesus on the road and loving to sing about Jesus afterwards – so much that his name changed and later when he was singing about Jesus a prison broke open.

Bad guys have been a theme for my little guy lately, who every night prays, “Dear God, thank you for everybody and everything except bad guys.” No matter how much we tell him bad guys need prayer, no matter how much we pray for bad guys, he has staunchly resisted.

Oh, little guy. Let’s wash the bad guys’ feet.

Who knows. Maybe someday Duke players will wash Kentucky players’ feet.

Hey, a girl can dream, right?

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Elizabeth Glass Turner serves as the Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent. Elizabeth holds an MA in Theological Studies and has written for Ambrose University College & Seminary, Good News magazine and others. She also has an essay in “The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes.”

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