"We are quick to speak of accomplishments, share where we’ve been and people we know, sort of. Photos depicting charmed lives elevate our status. We post and pose our perfect worlds as selfish pride points the camera on us; all creation is backdrop to our existence. Our captions read: “It’s all about me. What else matters, really?”
The Lord is not impressed. He sees through the veneer and delves inside the chambers of our heart; the ones that pump pride are bare before his eyes. He delights in a totally different scenario to the ones we depict: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord’” (Jeremiah 9:23).
There is, however, in the Galilean origin of Christianity yet another suggestion which does not fit very well with any of the three main strands of thought. It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.
Whitehead, Alfred North. Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) (p. 343). Free Press. Kindle Edition.
The Virtue of Humility
"The word humility is perhaps not in tune with our times, but what it means is: don't claim any great work to be your own. It's very sound advice. For any great work done to help humanity, personal ambition has to be put out. These are the conditions: no hunger for personal profit, personal prestige, or personal power. These stand in the way of the highest results coming through us." — Eknath Easwaran in How to End Suffering by Dolores Wood
To bloviateis talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way, about one's achievements and ideas. In the United States the term bloviation dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when it was an American Midwestern expression meaning “to talk aimlessly and boastingly.”
Today bloviation has many forms. I am using the word to refer to:
Boastful talk about yourself, encouraging people to celebrate your achievements.
Talking aimlessly in search of an idea, even if you're not sure what you're really talking about.
Talking just to hear yourself speak, because you enjoy hearing yourself speak or seeing your name in print.
A bloviator is a blowhard: a person who blusters and boasts, always turning attention his or her way, sometimes in the name of ostensibly noble ideals such as "making America great again" or "love" or "God" or "Truth" or "Democracy."
Most of us find bloviators very unpleasant, although we will not tell them to their face. I know a politician or two, and also some philosophers and theologians, who are bloviators. I fear that I myself am a bloviator, at least in the second sense above and probably in the other two ways as well. I enjoy talking even when I don't know what I'm talking about. This very essay may be a case in point!
Why do we bloviate? Is it that we want to dominate others? Perhaps so. Perhaps many of us are inwardly motivated by a will to control. Nietzsche would understand.
However, as a Christian, I believe it runs deeper than this. We bloviate because we are in search of sympathy and recognition: of affection. We feel insecure and a little alone, like Frankenstein's monster; and we bloviate in search of intimacy and ratification.
Is there a theological alternative to bloviation? A religious option? Maybe so. Open and relational (process) theologians that God is Love. Some of them mean that God is a nurturant self embracing the universe in a spirit of love, like a truly loving parent; others mean that God is a force of love, an energy, that is everywhere throughout the universe. Either way, I find myself wondering about the relationship between God and bloviation.
Two questions emerge:
Does God bloviate?
Does God want and need to be recognized for his or her achievements? Is God like a king on a throne, or a theologian with a hefty packet of publications? For my part, I'm hoping that God, however understood, is not a blowhard. I am hoping that God is not obsessed with being noticed, because at the heart of God lies a security and humility: a freedom not to be noticed. I, for one, don't think God wants to be worshipped. I think God's OK with just being God.
Should we bloviate?
Assuming God finds bloviation as unpleasant as we do, I'm guessing God would like us to bloviate less and to relinquish our obsessions to be noticed. It's OK not to be famous.
This relinquishment does not come easily because many of us are conditioned to think that high status, expressed in bloviation, is necessary and good. "If I don't celebrate my achievements," so the story goes, "who will?"
The underlying premise is that our achievements must be celebrated. Who says so? Why? The irony is that the need to be celebrated is insatiable. We can never get enough of it.
Perhaps the key is to work toward a kind of community in which humility and service, not boasting, is the defining feature. In such a community, boasting would be discouraged not celebrated. It would be considered rude, even sinful, to bloviate: to always need to call attention to ourselves. The joy would be in the humility, the non-bloviation.
Community of Non-Bloviators
Might this be the kind of community into which we are called by the God of Love? The God of open and relational theology? Might it be a community of humble non-bloviators, all secure in a recognition that we are worthy of love without being famous; and in a recognition that, even deeper than human bonds, there is a kind of love that embraces the whole of things in a quiet and humble way.
I cannot pretend that this kind of community will come into existence in a complete form. I fear that we humans are inevitably status-seekers. I hope God can forgive us our bloviation, as we forgive others who bloviate upon us.
Still, I suggest that a non-bragging community is indeed a worthy ideal and that, every once in a while, we experience it in the flesh, in community with others. I, for one, find it in the Benedictine community in which I am an oblate. I appreciate my sisters who are, in my experience, non-bloviators and who give themselves to service, prayer and playfulness in a humble, loving way. They don't brag about themselves; they don't insist that others celebrate their achievements. They have humble hearts.