"Obedience, listening, is a very freeing concept. The call to listen is everywhere in Scripture where the conflict of one power with another threatens to tip the scales of humanity toward the powers of this world. Then we must choose. When what makes us human — the power to think, to decide, to comply — does not make us holy, then we have an obedience problem. Then obedience demands that we disobey, that we listen to a higher law. Or to put it another way, the thousands of men and women arrested for protesting war, segregation, fossil fuels, the abuse of children, animal research programs, and every kind of social injustice everywhere are obeying a basic call to become fully developed human beings. They are listening to the needs of the world around them and obeying these calls for justice.
"Scripture is full of models of those who think of themselves as the absolute power but spend no time whatsoever listening to the very people their exalted positions require them to hear. And they are legion — all the way from the prophets of Israel whom the authorities rejected to Jesus before Herod, who condemned him to die. Whenever power and justice conflict, power must give way.
"In fact, disobedience has a glorious history; there is a long line of holy dissidents who said no when no was the only holy answer. . . .
"Most significant of all, perhaps, is that, of the 613 laws in the Torah, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, not one uses the word obey. God, the rabbi says, does not impose the intractable on Israel. God uses the word shema. Attend to. Take seriously. Pay attention. Listen to me, O Israel.
"The point is transparent: God invites the people of Israel to understanding, to attention, to consideration, to contemplation of the will of God for all their lives.
"And so it is true for us as well.
"This third step of humility invites us to learn to give up the kind of power that pits us against the will of God for us. By listening to our elders, our guides, our directors, whose models of the will of God are models for us, we begin the road to conversion of the selfish self. We forgo arrogance and our sense of personal omnipotence. We open ourselves to the wisdom of others, to living examples of the will of God, and so begin to embrace the wisdom of humility ourselves.
"Humility does not necessarily require me to agree and comply with everyone else's position, but it does demand that I be willing to understand and respect the many sides of every issue. It does demand that I recognize that the positions of authority figures which are not in conflict with the will of God may also reflect the will of God for me. At the same time, it requires me to speak up for my own interpretations of what the will of God demands here and now. It takes humility to understand that there are multiple approaches to every question. And in the end, it takes humility to choose the path that is the straightest route to the will of God for me."