Skip to main content

who wants to be vulnerable?

Image from jodieotte.com
Over the past few weeks, I have sensed a renewed call to vulnerability. Life is a bit unsettled right now because I am in a transition from student to who-knows-what. In times like this when it is hard to find one's footing, the tendency can be to come up with a plan and implement it as soon as possible. This can give one the sense that things are on track, at least for a short period of time, but most often that plan just delays the inevitable. Lobsters and butterflies teach us that maturity requires periods of vulnerability, times when our old shells and forms must be shed in order to undergo a necessary transformation. These transitions are not to be hurried through. Take at look at your own body and you will see that healing and growth happen slowly, one cell at a time, at a pace which allows your body to adjust to the change with minimal trauma.

The theme of vulnerability was reinforced for me in three different settings this past week. The first was during a leadership retreat held in a remote location on the shore of Lake of the Woods. Leaders and pastors from all across Canada gathered in a room and, with the calm lake visible through the windows, we worshiped God, we prayed, we conversed, we cried and laughed, we ate, and we dreamed. Though there was a rudimentary structure to our gatherings, plenty of space was made for things to develop organically. One such moment happened when a leader veered from the schedule and instead of giving a report, vulnerably admitted his weakness. We surrounded him in silence, our physical bodies forming a wall of protection around him. Another place where vulnerability gave way to generous grace was when differing opinions and viewpoints surfaced within the group. I watched in amazement as every voice was listened to and heard. Instead of dividing the group or setting off arguments, the differences became part of the process of working together and getting to know each other. Some of us struggled with adopting a learning posture when it came to things we thought we knew or had already worked through, but the gentle responses of the group and an overall commitment to openness and humility prevailed during some potentially awkward exchanges. Vulnerability generated compassion and a renewed sense of community.

Scenario number two: Immediately after the leadership retreat, we headed to Winnipeg for a series of gatherings called Metanoia (think again) which focused on listening, prayerful interaction, worship in various forms, and re-thinking some of our practices and presuppositions as Vineyard Churches in Canada. Michael Raburn, a friend and scholar from North Carolina, challenged us to be a people who tell the truth to each other. Michael referenced Augustine who says that we all lie all the time. The only times we really tell the truth are in adoration (worship) and in confession (prayer). Too often we slide into fudging the truth in order to manipulate others or we distort the truth in order to conquer those we consider inferior. Perhaps most insidiously, we can withhold truth because we believe we need to protect people and act on their behalf (paternalism). All three (manipulation, conquest, and paternalism) are forms of lying, concealing, and distortion meant to reinforce or ensure our superiority. This is not how it should be. We must be people who tell the truth, and this means we must be willing to be vulnerable.

Finally, I read something on the flight home which spoke to me about the necessity of vulnerability in prayer. I have been working my way through In His Image by Dr. Paul Brand, a book which explores different aspects of the body as an analogy for the church. This particular chapter was on the interaction between the brain and the body. The brain, for all intents and purposes, has no direct contact with the outside world. It is housed in an armoured vehicle known as the skull, and though it is intimately involved in all aspects of the body's functions, it never encounters the body's environment. The brain is constantly sending out signals to the body, telling legs to walk, arms to lift, and eyes to blink. Similarly, the body is constantly sending signals back to the brain so that the brain can make the necessary adjustments. The brain tells the legs to walk. The legs respond and after a few steps, send back signals that the foot has just stepped on a sharp object. The brain sends a message to quickly lift the foot in order to prevent further injury, and another message to shift weight to the other leg. It receives a message that the body is now off balance, so it sends a command to adjust for the shift. The brain sends signals for the eyes and hands to check out the foot to see what the damage is, and after a brief touch and look, the hands and eyes let the brain know that it is nothing serious. The brain then sends a message to the legs to resume walking at a slower pace and tells the eyes to scan for other potential dangers. The constant stream of messages going back and forth from the brain to the body is what allows the body to function as a marvelous, interconnected whole. And inter-connectivity requires vulnerability. Each part of the body has to trust that the messages it receives from the brain are not random, but a result of millions of bits of information received and collated. The leg has to trust that a command to take on extra stress is for the good of the body as a whole. Likewise, the brain relies on the different parts of the body to be in constant communication so that it can properly monitor the overall well-being of the body and respond to any changes in the surrounding environment.

Now the analogy can only be pushed so far before it begins to break down. Christ is not a brain inside an impenetrable skull (that would leave no room for the incarnation), and the church is not nearly as attentive to and cooperative with Christ as the physical body is to the brain. Nevertheless, the perpetual communication between the head and the body, necessary in order for life to be sustained, is worth noting. We not only receive directives from the head, but the head longs to hear from us. Every little bit of information, every stimulus, every pain, every joy, every fear, every strength and weakness, all are important to the head. The survival of the whole body, including the brain, depends on the constant communion of the head and the body. In truth, both the head and the body make themselves vulnerable by their reliance on each other.

We are called to be vulnerable because God made himself vulnerable in the form of a helpless baby. If the Eternal One could rely on others, imperfect as they were, to care for him, to feed him, to protect him, to teach him, and to comfort him, perhaps we can learn to trust each other (and ultimately, God) with our weaknesses as well.

"Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." - Brene Brown

Comments

Teresa said…
Matte, I just really enjoy reading your blog. I've noticed the common vibe with my life/thoughts and what you write. I love how we are connected through the Holy Spirit. I go to a Vineyard in BC. My husband and I have been in the same church plant for 20 years. We have seen lots of changes. In church, the world, the people around us, culture. It's been mostly good. God is so faithful. I love this ride. I love this place of working through challenges, as a community of believers and as a couple and also in the broader church. I look forward to your posts. Really encouraging. Thanks for being vulnerable. If I could hug you, I would. T :)
Matte Downey said…
Thanks so much, Teresa. I receive your virtual hug :-)
Matte

Popular posts from this blog

what binds us together?

For the past few weeks, I have been reading a book by famed psychiatrist M. Scott Peck which chronicles his travels (together with his wife) through remote parts of the UK in search of prehistoric stones. The book is part travel journal, part spiritual musings, part psychology, and part personal anecdotes. A mixed bag, to be sure, and not always a winning combination. At one point, I considered putting the book aside, not finishing it, but then Peck started writing about community. He is no stranger to the concept. He has led hundreds of community-building workshops over the years, helped start a non-profit organisation dedicated to fostering community, and written a compelling book about the topic, one which greatly impacted me when I read it oh so long ago.[1]

In preparation for a course I am teaching next year, I have been doing quite a bit of study on unity and community. Once you start thinking about it, you see and hear evidence of it everywhere. (See my blog on the impact of b…

job hunting

I am on the hunt for a job. PhD in hand, I am a theologian for hire. The thing is, not a lot of places are hiring theologians these days, and if they are, they are usually looking for scholars with skills and experience outside my area of expertise. Today I found job opportunities for those knowledgeable in Religion, Race, and Colonialism, Philosophy and History of Religion, Islam and Society, Languages of Late Antiquity, Religion, Ethics, and Politics, and an ad for a Molecular Genetic Pathologist. Not one posting for a Dramatic Theologian with  a side order of Spirituality and a dash of Methodology.

I know, I know. My expectations are a bit unrealistic if I believe I will find an exact match for my particular skills. I know that job descriptions are wish lists to some extent, so no candidate is ever a perfect match. I also realize that one must adapt one's skill set according to the requirements of the job and be flexible. But there are so few jobs which come within ten or even…

lessons from a theological memoir and a television series about lawyers

It's a hot Wednesday afternoon, so let's talk about false binaries. Basically, a false binary or false dichotomy happens when a person's options are artificially limited to two choices, thereby excluding all other possibilities. Insisting on the limited choice of either A or B leaves no room for middle ground or another, more creative solution. In other words, a false binary assumes the rest of the alphabet (after A and B) does not exist.

Binary thinking is quite prevalent in our society. Either you are for me or against me. Either you are guilty or innocent. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, conservative or liberal. Either you are a Christian or a pagan. Either you are all in or all out. Admittedly, it is convenient to see things as either black or white, but we live in a multi-coloured world and not everything fits neatly into two categories. This is why insisting there are only two choices when, in fact, other options exist, is labeled as a fallacy in logic an…