Being vulnerable isn’t in most of our wheelhouses, I think. Letting people into the real, and the messy, and the true but sometimes wildly unreasonable parts of ourselves is scary. How we feel, what we think, our worst fears, our greatest hopes, our broken dreams, our realized successes, our known and sometime unknown but feared weaknesses, our secret strengths we’re not certain we want to reveal. Goodness, there’s simply so much to who we are as human creatures with minds and bodies and experiences and DNA and context or the old “nature and nurture” and how much of each defines which parts of us. I wonder sometimes if we’re so busy trying to figure all of ourselves out that we miss a little bit of the living fully in the present.
I’m grateful for the tone that was set early at our Annual Conference. We communally agreed to be respectful and kind and recognize the value of each other and we did that pretty well. What I wonder is if our value on our niceness did not allow for us to be honest with one another, or perhaps a step further, if we did not allow for the vulnerability of our authentic and perhaps unreasonable selves. Is that really a problem? I mean, c’mon, what do I want? People to be kind and gentle or people to be real and messy? Yes. I want us, including me, to grow our faith into being kind and gentle while we’re being real and messy. I want our generosity and hospitable spirits to be courageous enough to hear the hard hurts and the complicated disagreements and the defiant dug-in stances and the moving to tears stories of the real lives of the real people who have been both helped and hurt by the church over many and various years, generations, and experiences. Can we honestly love those we label as “enemy”? Can we stop pretending we don’t label anyone that way, and can we have vehement disagreements and still have at our depths a profound love that permeates even our deepest divides? I think as a person of faith the answer to that must be yes if we are not finally going to destroy ourselves.
We don’t really have a great track record of that. The living Word of God, which for Christians is Jesus, was crucified mostly because we couldn’t and wouldn’t handle his unconditional and unlimited love and invitational spirit for everyone, period. We couldn’t handle the idea, and frankly the reality, that if grace is true, then grace is true. Meaning no one and no thing can defeat God’s grace for anyone. By definition, God’s grace is. It’s not God’s grace is if… It’s not God’s grace is only for… It’s not God’s grace is limited to… It’s simply God’s grace is. And if we believe God’s grace is true for us, how can we possibly believe God’s grace isn’t true for others? You know, other religious systems, other families whose definition is different than ours, other lands and languages, other definitions of sexual identity, other economic and political systems. My goodness, our list of who is “other” may be infinite. Maybe ALL of us are in some way an “other” given that we ALL are other than God. So if God accepts one “other,” could not God accept ALL “others” if we ALL, as the scriptures tell us, are created in God’s image?
You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve pretty much done anything and everything throughout the course of my life to avoid conflict. I’ve worked hard to avoid messiness, unreasonableness, anger, being surprised, imperfections, disappointing people, ugliness, all of which might fall under the umbrella of vulnerability. And you know what I’ve found? There is a price to be paid, for myself and for those with whom I share this life, when I avoid the hard truths of vulnerability. When we’re born, we’re nothing but vulnerable. We don’t attempt to control our crying so that we don’t cause others discomfort – in fact, we cry at most everything that makes us uncomfortable, and if we didn’t, our caretakers wouldn’t know we needed to be fed, or changed, or burped, or held, or acknowledged that we exist. It’s fundamental in our infancy to be vulnerable with others in order to survive.
I’ve also come to believe that vulnerability is still fundamental to our survival as adults, but we ignore that fact because it’s too scary. If we let people know who we are, really, and what we want and/or need, they might say no and reject us, and in that moment we may believe we would die. But what if we didn’t, you know, die because we are rejected? What if we continued to live and found our way forward toward taking another risk at another time with another person or community, and we were not rejected? In fact, what if we were accepted and invited and celebrated and someone or a community wanted to give us those elemental gifts that help us know we are valued and loved the way we are and the way we may become?
Why are there such strong emotions about children being forcibly taken from their parents at the border, no matter what we believe about documentation or undocumentation? Because where we all agree, mostly across the board, is that when an infant or toddler cries, it’s not to manipulate or because of a political agenda, it’s because in their vulnerability they are in distress and need of some sort. And when there are too many infants and toddlers crying for those needs to be met consistently, it affects the child’s health physically, mentally, and emotionally. There is no debate about that. Their vulnerability disturbs us and reaches deeply into our own souls, perhaps in distant memory of our own which we’ve ignored, tucked away, and worked hard at trying to forget for maybe a little too long.
I’m going to ask us to think about being present with one another – not only when we’re putting a nice face on difficult things, but to commit to being peacefully present with one another when whatever we’re confronting is hard and murky and without easy answers. To be present without defense. To be present without excuse. To be present with honesty. To be present in our own skins with our own set of circumstances and biases and quirks and opinions and hearts. What often happens when we’re present in our own vulnerability, is that we make it safe for others to be present in theirs – and sometimes the rights and wrongs of our disagreements may, and only may, become less intense to such a place that we can stay with one another without destroying or self-destructing. And even if we can’t, you know, stay together in each of our truths, maybe when we part it will be with peace and blessing for one another as well as ourselves, instead of destroying or self-destructing.
We face so many things that polarize us and invite us to deep defensiveness and self-protection. In the midst of those things, I believe we may be losing the greatest gift of God’s grace, and that’s honest life with one another. The crucifixion of Christ was not the final word. The final word was that in Christ’s honest vulnerability and refusal to deny his truth of grace and love for ALL, grace and love lived through death and destruction. Can I believe that more than I am afraid? Can you?