Tag Archives: vulnerability

Living Brave Semester Reflection 2- Vulnerability Anthem

I guess I just got lost, being someone else…

So this ended up being another reflection on the final exercise of this week’s part of the Living Brave Semester where we were supposed to choose an anthem for that time before we are honest and enter into the arena where we share who we are, our thoughts and our dreams. Something that prepares us mentally to show up and be seen. When Brené Brown started describing this exercise the song that immediately came to mind was Let Me Be Myself by Three Doors Down.

I had the opportunity to see Three Doors Down in concert last November in Carrolton, and I have enjoyed their music for several years but this song was always one of my favorites, but I think particularly because it came into my life in a time of a lot of changes. There was a time where I felt like the first line of this song, that I had become lost being someone else…fitting in with all the expectations that others had placed upon me. I felt in many ways like I was living in different roles, my role as a pastor, as a husband or father, as a son or an older brother, and while I knew how to play all the parts well I felt more like I was fitting in than truly belonging in many of the roles. There were many parts of myself that got pushed further and further behind the masks that I wore in each of these roles (masks that said what was permissible and what was not) and the reality was I lost track of who wrote the script for each role. The crises that came with leaving a congregation, going through a divorce and letting go of a dream (I reflect on the divorce part of this here, here and here) forced me to re-look many pieces of my life. In a very fertile time of rediscovery and difficult work I learned an incredible amount about myself and rediscovered parts of myself that had been abandoned in the midst of living into the expectations of all of these roles. The reality is that being able to be honest about who I am has made me a far better pastor, person, father and, now that I have re-married, husband.

The chorus of the song states
Please, would you one time
Let me be myself
So I can shine with my own light
Let me be myself
For a while, if you don’t mind
Let me be myself

And while it may seem incredibly absurd to have to ask for permission to be ourselves, I know I can relate to the lyrics at this point (and throughout the song). Yet, the song also reminds me of the difference between where I was and where I am today and when I start to fall back into patterns that are designed for fitting in rather than belonging I need to be reminded of the cost of not being myself. There will always be places and times where we keep our opinions to ourselves, keep healthy boundaries and share pieces of ourselves with those who have earned it but I also have learned the cost of not being able to share who I am-because at some point you begin to get lost being someone else.

Creativity, Spirituality and Shame


As I embark on the thought experiment I call the creativity project which will not be in any way systematic, but a set of explorations from various perspectives around topics of creativity, spirituality, and imagination I am going to start in what many will initially think is an unusual place: shame. Brené Brown’s work on shame has been one of the most revealing perspectives in what limits or destroys our capacity for creativity. Shame as Brené defines it is:

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging. (Brown, 2007, p. 4)(emphasis author’s)

Shame is that emotion that tells us that we are unworthy, unloved or unloveable, it can allow an action or another’s perspective to define who we are in our own eyes. It shouldn’t be surprising that this incredibly powerful fear can dampen if not kill creativity for an individual or an organization and that it can also by extension powerfully effect spirituality.  In Brené Brown’s book I Thought It Was Just Me she makes this insightful comment which is well worth the two paragraphs it spans:

I did see important patterns and themes in terms of how women experienced their faith and spirituality. For example, the women who talked about feeling shame used the words church and religion more. The women who talked about resilience used the terms faith, spirituality and beliefs more. At first I wondered if there was a connection between “organized religion” and shame. I didn’t find one. At least half of the women who used the terms faith, spirituality, and beliefs attended church and were members of an organized religion.

What did become clear to me is this: It is the relationship that women have with God, their higher power or their spiritual world that often serves as the source of resilience. The essence of resilience, in a spiritual sense, is about relationship, spirit and faith. For many women, spiritual connection is essential to shame reliance. In fact, over half of the women, who, as children, experienced deep shame around religion developed shame resilience by forging new spiritual paths. They may have changed churches or their beliefs, but spirituality and faith remain an important part of their lives. Another pattern that emerged is the belief that faith is about nurturing our best selves and shame moves us away from that purpose. The sources of shame seem much more connected to earthly, man-made and interpreted rules and regulations and social-community expectations around religion (Do you go to church regularly? Are you loyal to your family religion? Are you raising your kids a certain way? Are you breaking rules that might shame the family or the community? Do you know your place as a woman?). (Brown, 2007, p. 259f)

Brené’s later two works, The Gift of Imperfection (Brown, 2010) and Daring Greatly (Brown, 2012) (which I blogged about in the posts Daring Greatly, Cultures of Scarcity, and Shame on You) she moves to the concept of vulnerability as the characteristic that people who feel loveable (and are able to move beyond their shame) share. This vulnerability allows people to be courageous, compassionate and connected with others. In contrast fear, disengagement and yearning for more courage may come out of an environment’s or an individual’s shame. For example when shame is a management style “engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.” (Brown, 2012, p. 14)

As we think about the type of community’s that will nurture creativity and spirituality for the coming generations we need to pay close attention to the ways shame, fear, manipulation and coercion are used. Do we have communities where people are valued for their conformity or for their individuality? Do we have communities where people feel they need to fit in (shame is the fear of being disconnected)? Can we be a place where not only failure but forgiveness is an option? Do churches begin to reflect the culture of scarcity we experience in the world around us or can we dare greatly and trust greatly in the abundance that is found in our own faith?

The reality is that many if not all communities and individuals have a long way to go in nurturing a climate of acceptance, connection, resilience and support, faith and spirituality. It is a journey that we must undertake if we are really going to be about helping people in their relationship with God and with one another. The likelihood is that on the journey there will be many failures, many times where we will need to be forgiven for returning to shame for motivation, and hopefully on the way we may all grow both more courageous and more vulnerable and more resilient to the shame which dampens our creativity and spirituality.

I’ve included another of Brené Brown’s talks and I love the comment she makes that “Faith-vulnerability=extremism, that faith is the vulnerability that flows between the shores of certainty…spirituality is inherently vulnerable.”

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com


The God Who Wouldn’t Give Up: Jeremiah 3

Orthodox Icon of the Prophet Jeremiah

Orthodox Icon of the Prophet Jeremiah

Jeremiah 3

If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man’s wife,
 will he return to her? Would not such a land be greatly polluted?
                You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me?
 says the LORD.
 2 Look up to the bare heights, and see!
Where have you not been lain with?
By the waysides you have sat waiting for lovers, like a nomad in the wilderness.
                You have polluted the land with your whoring and wickedness.
 3 Therefore the showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come;
 yet you have the forehead of a whore, you refuse to be ashamed.
 4 Have you not just now called to me, “My Father, you are the friend of my youth–
 5 will he be angry forever, will he be indignant to the end?”
 This is how you have spoken, but you have done all the evil that you could.

  6 The LORD said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? 7 And I thought, “After she has done all this she will return to me”; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. 8 She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. 9 Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. 10 Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretense, says the LORD.

  11 Then the LORD said to me: Faithless Israel has shown herself less guilty than false Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north, and say:
  Return, faithless Israel, says the LORD. I will not look on you in anger,
 for I am merciful, says the LORD; I will not be angry forever.
 13 Only acknowledge your guilt, that you have rebelled against the LORD your God,
 and scattered your favors among strangers under every green tree,
 and have not obeyed my voice, says the LORD.
 14 Return, O faithless children, says the LORD, for I am your master;
 I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.

  15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding. 16 And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the LORD, they shall no longer say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made. 17 At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no longer stubbornly follow their own evil will. 18 In those days the house of Judah shall join the house of Israel, and together they shall come from the land of the north to the land that I gave your ancestors for a heritage.

 19 I thought how I would set you among my children,
and give you a pleasant land, the most beautiful heritage of all the nations.
 And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me.
 20 Instead, as a faithless wife leaves her husband,
so you have been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the LORD.
 21 A voice on the bare heights is heard, the plaintive weeping of Israel’s children,
because they have perverted their way, they have forgotten the LORD their God:
 22 Return, O faithless children, I will heal your faithlessness.
“Here we come to you; for you are the LORD our God.
 23 Truly the hills are a delusion, the orgies on the mountains.
Truly in the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.

  24 “But from our youth the shameful thing has devoured all for which our ancestors had labored, their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. 25 Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our ancestors, from our youth even to this day; and we have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.”

Jeremiah and the other prophets open us to the story of a God who loves, which may be a bit naïve about relationships, but refuses to give up. Unlike earthly kings portrayed in the bible who are bound by the law they have written(think for example of King Darius in Daniel 6 [the story of Daniel and the lions’ den] or King Xerses in the book of Esther) God’s love for God’s people will not be undone by their disobedience. In a direct allusion to Deuteronomy 24: 1-4 where the law states such a wife may not return (granted this is not a fair world-women could not divorce husbands but husbands could divorce wives) and this sets up the argument to come, God is not going to be bound by this. God desires the return of both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). And yet God is working through God’s own woundedness by the brokenness of the relationship. God is the vulnerable one, God loved and was hurt by it and yet rather than give up God is willing to risk humiliation and defilement to continue to be in relationship. Much as the prophet Hosea and his adulterous wife, God is acting as the Father/husband who has not given up on the relationship and is taking the first step of reconciliation and restoration.

Judah and Israel have to want to come home though, God is allowing the consequences of their actions to run its course and is withholding God’s support for them. Much as a loved one doing the difficult wait for an addict to hit rock bottom, God waits. God wants desperately for Israel and Judah to come home and yet they cannot come home as they are. As Brueggeman states “the poet tears at the heart of God, who yearns, but who will not be mocked, trivialized or used.” (Brueggemann 1998, 45) Even in the midst of the fickleness of Judah we find the firmness of God’s resolve to establish a new relationship.  It will have to be something new, even after reconciliation there will need to be changes but the opportunity for that new relationship is left wide open by the wounded but loving God. Much as in Ezekiel 34 where God will replace the shepherds who have abused the sheep, God promises in verse 15 new leaders:

 15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding

And there will be a chance for an even greater level of closeness.

God is seeking a new beginning, willing to set aside the brokenness of the past not to go back to the old but to begin something new. There must be a change on Israel’s part and on Judah’s part, and that may not be any easier than giving up an addiction, but the space has been made available for a return. And somehow God while not determining the actions of Judah or Israel as a puppeteer creates the space through love where a return is possible. To remember Martin Luther’s words in the Heidelberg Disputation:

“The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.” (Luther 1989, 32)

Judah and Israel’s actions may not make them seem very loveable and yet God refuses to see them through that lens, but rather through the lens of love that makes a new future possible.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com

Daring Greatly

Sometimes you read something that is just really cool and you need to share some of the ideas with others who may not have read it yet, that is what I feel like after reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. So I’m taking a little time away from where I was going with the authority questions and I’m going to turn inward a little bit and spend some time here…

If you haven’t encountered Brené Brown before this is one of her TED talks that if you can spare 20 minutes is well worth the time

I love psychology, I love to learn in general and so much of what she says rings true to me. At the core we are all seeking connection with others, we seek it out and yet

“…when asked to tell about their most important relationship and experiences of connection, (participants) kept telling me about heartbreak, betrayal and shame—the fear of not being worthy of real connection. We humans have a tendency to define things by what they are not. This is especially true of our emotional experiences” (Daring Greatly, 7)

Brené Brown comes at this from the perspective of a researcher and social worker, and I come at this from the perspective of a pastor where we come face to face with people who seem to be able to handle anything that comes their way and others who are miserable even in the best of circumstances. I’m going to talk about what she reveals about shame in my next post, but to begin with here are some of her basic statements in my paraphrase:

1. We are all seeking love and acceptance, we all want to be like, valued, cared for-it gives meaning to our lives and its absence leads us to question our worth, value and it leads to a great deal of suffering for us (this may be why rejection hurts so much)

2. If you divide people into groups that feel love and belonging and those who struggle with it the key difference is those who feel loveable, who love and who experience belonging simply believe they are worthy of love and belonging. There lives are not easier that people who struggle with it, they are just able to hold onto the belief that they are worthy of love, belonging and joy.

3. This belief of being worthy of love, belonging and happiness doesn’t just happen, it is cultivated (we can learn how to do this in our own lives)

4. Living in a whole-hearted way (Professor Brown’s way of talking about the people who believe they are worthy) leads to being courageous, compassionate and connected

5. The willingness to be vulnerable is the single value attributed to the people that feel loveable

(This is a paraphrase of Daring Greatly, 10)

I’m going to be working through this material to help myself integrate some of these things, but as a pastor there is so much to what she says that really rings true for me. Who we are as a people are people who are worthy of God’s love, we are enough, we are forgiven, loved, cared for, valued, use whatever word you want there, but at the core of our identity is the reality that before anything else we are valued and enough and from there we can begin to live in a way that is courageous, compassionate and connected. More to come…

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com