Proactively Vulnerable

What does the word vulnerable mean to you?

My own immediate answer is twofold. First, vulnerability calls to mind standing at a window on a cold day, looking out at a bleak landscape. It is a question about what I am doing, whether I have value, and whether there is meaning in my interaction with life. I feel afraid, because the world’s negative answers to my questions could easily hurt, and I therefore feel quite vulnerable. Not a very Christian answer, I grant you, but it’s the first one I have and to say otherwise would be dishonest.

My next imaginative leap flees to the Lonely Mountain, where Smaug (the dragon in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit) resides. He is powerful and angry, full of evil and hate. However, there is a weak place in his armor. This vulnerability in his defenses leads to his demise as he is shot down by a well-placed arrow.

What then is vulnerability? It seems, in some way, to be an area of potential damage. It is something to be protected, guarded, defended. To quote the good Mr. Webster, it is when one is, “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.”

We tend to fear these areas of potential damage in our lives, especially in the emotional context. Because we fear them, we defend them. We avoid them by not talking about our past or our problems, not admitting our fears, not letting anyone too close, not confessing our sin. We formulate sterile worlds that do not challenge us or have any potential to harm us.

This is done by only spending time with others when we are, “in the mood.” We keep visits short and sweet so that we never display a hint of annoyance. We back away from offending anyone. When someone hurts, we, “give them time to themselves.” We share our lives with helpful statements like, “I’m fine,” or, “I’ve been pretty busy lately.” We organize our schedules so that nobody sees our ugliness. If the ugliness does come out, those who do see it usually won’t ever see us again.

These things create a perfect, plastic world where smiles are painted on and everyone is fine. We know about each other, but we would not ask each other for money. We hear others’ words, but do not know how to listen to others’ hearts.

In the church, however, we say we desire close fellowship. We say we want to bear burdens and share sorrows. We say, “If you need anything, just ask.” We say, “Let me know if I can serve in any way.” We say the church is our community. We say.

I want to suggest that real fellowship does not happen without vulnerability. True relationships are not possible until we see each others’ weaknesses and failings, sorrows and anger. Without the reality of the warts and wounds, we are simply acting out the plastic world once again.

But in today’s society, the plastic world is more easily accessible than ever before. The internet, the suburbs, and the automobile have created a perfect storm of community-less life. It is simply easier not to seek out the ugly things that make relationships real.

My perspective, then, is that the creation of real community, in our local context, depends on our willingness to be proactively vulnerable. We must make ourselves, “capable of being emotionally wounded.” We must put ourselves in a position to see the ugliness that is in all our lives, so that we can begin the work of loving, accepting, discipling, and forgiving each other.

How will we create a community that can confess real sin if we are scared that we are the weakest one in the room? How will healing happen when our culture stifles our ability to admit the wound?

Here, then, are a few thoughts on being proactively vulnerable.

1. Live an open life. Find creative, sacrificial ways to spend time with people. More time means more opportunity to know people intimately by seeing them as they really are.

Yes, I realize your schedule is busy. That’s why it requires both creativity and sacrifice. But trust me, the drawbacks of occasional loss of sleep or schedule are outweighed by the rewards of intimacy and honesty in relationships.

2. Share your ugliness. Yes, this is a good thing to save for groups or individuals you have a certain level of trust for. But if you never put anything out there, whom will you trust?

Leaders, especially, need to find ways to show their own weaknesses before God, so that the community can collectively celebrate God’s grace. If leaders (even unrecognized leaders, like the unofficial leader of conversation in a dinner group) do not communicate safety in sharing weakness, nobody else will go there either.

3. Ask hard questions. Though they are very uncomfortable, the fact is that most people want to be known. If you ask simple surface questions like, “how’s it going?,” you’ll get simple surface answers like, “fine.” But if you have the guts to ask questions like, “Does it hurt you that nobody seems to ask you for help when they need it?,” you’ll find out very quickly just how badly people want to be known.

4. Listen to the answers. Don’t just hear them. Come to terms with the pain and loneliness in people’s hearts. Consider situations that might give you the same emotional distress their situation is giving them, and use that mind exercise to develop compassion. Listen to people’s hearts, and let them listen to yours.

5. Pray for each other, deeply and strongly. Pray for real and ugly things, pour out your sorrow for others before God. You will be shocked at how it draws you closer.

Friends, be proactively vulnerable. It is one of the greatest needs in our sterilized culture, and it won’t change unless someone like you does something about it.


Healthy Interaction About Obama

Hey folks,

Here is a comment left recently by my friend Josh Dove. Notice a couple things. First, it's very irenic (meaning it's designed to be a peaceful interaction, rather than inflammatory) even when disagreeing. Second, he considered all the information that was presented. And third, he has some very helpful points and arguments! I'll put my response at the end, but I wanted to highlight an example of good disagreement between Christians. The beautiful thing, as you'll note, is that disagreeing peacefully actually helps people find more common ground than you might expect!


This is an interesting post. I've thought about the post overnight before watching the YouTube video this morning and wanted to share a few thoughts/ask a few questions.

(A) The whole issue of how, exactly, Rev. Wright's comments should affect Sen. Obama's candidacy has not been thought about nearly enough. Here are a few clarifying thoughts:

1. I accept that Obama going to this church for 20 years does not, necessarily, mean that he holds all the same views as Rev. Wright. We all need to be intellectually honest about this.

2. But, these and other comments by Rev. Wright DO at least raise questions about Sen. Obama's core convictions. Because I don't believe Sen. Obama could have been ignorant of Wright's anti-American positions (and by his own admission he was at the church at least sometimes when controversial statements were made) I submit that Sen. Obama's attendance and support for the church poses the following dilemma. Either:

(a) Obama knew of the church's positions and is sympathetic enough with them to remain in the church, which I think questions his judgment, or

(b) Obama knew of the church's positions, and though he opposed them, said (apparently) nothing, kept giving money to the church, and decided to stay (perhaps for political reasons?). This questions his integrity.

The crux of this disjunction rests on Obama's assertions that racial healing/unity is his core concern. My observation is simply that you CANNOT have racial healing as a core value, in any intellectually honest way, and attend for 20 years a church that, to say the least, borders on racism (or, if you want to be even more precise, I might simply say stokes, rather than settles, racial tension).

Is that fair?

In sum, Rev. Wright has a constitutional right, as does Sen. Obama, to hold to whatever opinion he wants to. This is obvious. But I don't want a President who lends a sympathetic ear to an influential anti-American pastor. Obama may, or may not, sympathize with Wright's positions, but were I, or almost anyone that I know, subjected to such ideology from the pulpit, I would raise strong, public objections and/or I would leave. Obama seems to have done neither. For 20 years.

(B) The CHIEF tragedy of Rev. Wright is how he has made a mockery of the pulpit and the Gospel. Liberation theology is not Gospel theology.

(C) I did listen to Sen. Obama's speech in its entirety, and I thought it was terrible, not in the delivery but in the content. But, that is for another discussion. I merely mention this to evidence that I have taken into account Sen. Obama's response.

At any rate, you can only trust that I submit these comments in a spirit of cordial conversation, rather than that of debate. We should both harbor few expectations of changing the other's mind, but a little clarity and friendly exchange could prove quite interesting.

Best wishes,

Ok, this was a fantastic comment, but I do have some differences. Thankfully Josh has broken his questions down very clearly, so I'll just respond as they were written.

A) Josh suggests that a person cannot attend a church for 20 years while disagreeing with a large political/theological issue such as a severely negative view of America. The fact that he says he did means he is either sympathetic to the views or has a lack of integrity.

My disagreement here rests on two things. First, I believe Obama's membership at his church was partially pragmatic. Nearly his entire career, before an almost miracle run to the Senate and presidential candidacy, was devoted to one local area in downtown Chicago. Anyone who has tried to get something done politically in a largely African-American community knows that the church is the spiritual, cultural, and political center of African-American community life. I'm sure Obama was much more effective as a community organizer and state senator by being a member of that church than he would have at, say, a small church in the suburbs. And to put it frankly, it would have been very hard to find a church with a non-liberation theology perspective. But as Obama himself says, he was invited to church by others, and while there experienced his spiritual "conversion." Whatever you think of his theology, the fact is that it was a powerful experience for him, and that type of thing breeds a lot of loyalty. Combine that with the understanding of the church as "center of the community" (rather than ONLY "place of worship") and you have understandable ingredients for a local community organizer to stay at the same place and become deeply ingrained in that community.

Second, I DO believe you can be part of a church, for a specific reason (in Obama's case, community influence), and disagree with fairly major things. My last church was American Baptist. I disagreed on their egalitarianism, certain church practices, and a host of denominational problems. However, while I was in that city, my wife and I had a specific role and mission there. We had a flourishing ministry with college students, a Sunday School class I taught, friends we had accountability with, and a pastor and his wife who loved and mentored us. We became a close part of that wonderful little community, and we very likely would have stayed if God had not led us elsewhere. Does the fact that my church allowed women to preach disqualify me from being president of the CBMW someday?

B) Josh says the chief tragedy of Reverend Wright is his commitment to liberation theology, which is not gospel theology.

Josh is absolutely correct about this. Liberation theology, as far as I can tell, is a false gospel which I have never seen preach the true gospel correctly. It is wildly popular in poverty-stricken areas, including most inner cities (especially African American communities), the shantytowns and favelas of Latin America, and other places.

Keep in mind, though, that this is true of the Health and Prosperity Gospel as well, which is huge in a lot of white and Asian communities. The church must constantly be speaking to all of these groups, proclaiming the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

And as a matter of politics, keep in mind that McCain is certainly no Christian!

C) I'll be interested to see which things Josh disliked about the Obama speech. As far as I could tell, it was well researched and quite honest. The vast majority of factual information he communicated was true as far as I know and have studied.

But, as Josh says, we'll have to discuss it together when we get the chance. I am also going to spend some time talking with an African-American friend of mine here at the seminary, so that he can give me some insights into some of the things Obama said, as well as how he views his role in a church that he has some large theological disagreements with, but is working to reform (that last bit should tip you off that his mission is very different from Obama's, so I don't mean to equate them. I just plan to get some good insight from him).

Anyways, I hope this and my original post on Obama have been helpful examples of how Christians can discuss contentious issues like politics, race, and abortion in a thoughtful and constructive way.

And yes, I'm planning on doing a post (as I said I would) when I get the time about how a Christian can vote for someone who supports abortion.

Till next time.

What Does the Weird Northerner Read?

I was tagged by Rich. This is new to me, but I suppose I'll play along for the sake of solidarity with my TABC/SBTS/CAPC friend.

Of course, this could be a bit different of an exercise. I'm a little different in my reading habits than the average guy around here. I tend to read a little bit of a lot of books each day, so I get through more books more slowly, and it all averages out. Keep in mind I likely won't finish any of these this week, except maybe the Jane Jacobs book. We'll see what happens.

What are you reading on Spring reading days?

>Things That Count-Gilbert Meilaender. Highly recommended!

>The Revolt of The Masses-Jose Ortega y Gasset

>The Baseball Chronicles-David Gallen, ed.

>Neither Poverty Nor Riches-Craig Blomberg

>Dark Night of the Soul-Saint John of the Cross

>Bernard Malamud: The Complete Stories-Bernard Malamud

>The Death and Life of Great American Cities-Jane Jacobs

>Hope-Jeremiah Burroughs

>The Discoverers-Daniel Boorstin

What do you wish you had time to read?

>The Brothers Karamozov-Fyodor Dostoevsky

>The Structure of Scientific Revolutions-Thomas Kuhn

>Peter the Great-Robert Massie

>The Rise and Fall of the British Empire-Lawrence James

>Hearing God's Words-Peter Adam

What have you decided NOT to read that you were assigned to read?

I suspect certain sections of Theological Aesthetics (Richard Viladesau) will fall by the wayside. Thankfully, having only two classes allows me to miss very little.

What is one great quote from your reading?

On having children-
"But there are no guarentees that the final, 'product,' of this process will be what the parents anticipated. Parents know this, of course, and are therefore understandably anxious about their children's future. However understandable such anxiety may be, it also constitutes a great temptation-the temptation to try to be the guarentor of our children's future, to protect them from all disappointment and suffering. To give in to such temptation would be, in effect, to deny their freedom to be an-other like us, equal in dignity. This means that parents must seek more than their own satisfaction in rearing their children. They must give themselves in faith and hope, recognizing that they are not more than co-creators and that they cannot shape the future."
-Gilbert Meilaender, Things That Count

Why are you blogging? (You’re supposed to be reading!)

Blogging is one helpful way to articulate the things I learn. When we read, learning certainly happens. But the true value of learning isn't to just plug it in and say, "I have read this!" The true value is to take all those inputs from reading and to understand and articulate truth as best you can. This process of learning, comprehending, and articulating is key to helping us conform our physical daily lives to the transcendent truths of Scripture. Certainly none of us would be better off if Augustine had spent more time reading rather than wasting his time writing!

Let's see, we're running out of people to tag. I'll tag brand-new blogger Drew Hickok, the always intellectual Josh Dove, and Mr. Muleshoe himself, Riley Byers.


Improv Everywhere Does It Again! Baseball

I can't get enough of these guys. As I've mentioned in the past, Improv Everywhere entered my YouTube pantheon with their Frozen in Grand Central Station. However, they've taken a direct shot at my heart with this one. I love kids, I love baseball, and I love this mission!

Enjoy watching Improv Everywhere stage the Best Game Ever.

Whoops! I forgot that when I put up links, I want to also remember to put up a Moment of Beauty. Here it is.

Obama's pastor, Rev. Wright, in Context

We as seminarians often say, "You have to look at the verse in context!" It's quite frustrating when someone takes a small portion of a teaching out of context and misuses it.

May I submit to you that this should be true of how information is reported, as well?

Look, I don't agree with Reverend Wright on a host of things. But please be fair and thoughtful in how you evaluate him. The best way to do this is to first read up on and understand the paradigms of liberation theology and the Jim Crow era, both of which formulated his character.

Another way to do that is to listen to the things he says in context. I think you'll find it's not quite so bad as short clips make him out to be.

While you're at it, at least hear Obama out in his response.

And here is the hero of Christians all over, Mike Huckabee, and his reaction to the Obama speech.


The Place of Decision

Sometimes I imagine a large white room. The floors are cold plastic tile, and you wish for a leather chair and deep carpet. The high ceilings give no sense of place or comfort. The lone furniture is a metal folding chair. Sheets of paper covered in 10-font print lie strewn across the floor.

Several dozen doors line the walls. They have peepholes, which allow one to see about a foot beyond but not much more. The metal doors are gray, but you rarely see that because each is covered in hundreds of bits of paper, the type with sticky backing loved by secretaries. These sticky notes are either blue or red. In varying types of handwritten urgency, they make their case.

“It would make Mom happy!” says one blue sheet on a particular door. Directly next to it is a foreboding red, suggesting, “My dad would be secretly embarrassed.”

Moving from door to door, you realize you are in the Place of Decision. The room is the state of mind we all must enter when a time for choosing comes. Perhaps yours is more comforting than mine, but of course I only know my own little corner of the world.

Each door is one answer to the decision at hand. Some are locked- they are not options this time around. Some are unlocked. However, you can only walk through one. And you must first be confronted by those infernal bits of paper. Blue bits are reasons this door is a good one, red bits are reasons it is not.

How do you choose?

Some go by color. Do blues outweigh reds?
Some are cautious. Does this door contain as few reds as possible?
Some are cantankerous. Choose the door with the most reds! It’s the only way I can feel unique!

The variations are, of course, quite endless. I imagine some go to the doors one at a time, peel off all the notes, and sit squirming in the metal chair as they shuffle through each note, one at a time. Some arrogantly pick a single note off the door and ignore the others. Some take the notes to a wall and arrange a hierarchy, designing a system that puts the key considerations at the top. Some simply ignore the doors, and wait until all but one are locked from the outside.

Amidst the diversity of approaches, one universal truth stands out. We must choose. Nobody gets to avoid the Place of Decision; no one can be given a long and unaltered hallway. We must choose.

My room, my Place of Decision, is ugly. It is cold and frustrating and I do not like to be there. And yet it is not a room you can leave behind. Each new wrinkle of life brings me back to that room to face decisions with varying degrees of importance.

So then, let us pretend for a moment that I am a wise man. I am in this room ALL THE TIME. What should I do? Why, I should make it a more comfortable and more efficient place. I should organize and upgrade. I should not allow such a significant portion of my life to be so physically and spiritually empty.

How will this be done? Answer: The Right Tools.

My Place of Decision should be filled with helpful tools and furniture, things that bring guidance and wisdom in accordance with my life commitments. These include;

-a prayer bench with two permanent imprints in the cushions
-a worn and dog-eared Bible
-a telephone with wise mentors on speed dial
-shelves of books, to interact with great minds of the past
-an easy-access door (with no lock) for a close friend
-a diary and family photo album

Much could be said about these items, and about other things for improving my room. That is a discussion for another day. For now, let me emphasize that these items must be IN the Place of Decision.

Too often, we leave these things outside, while life is smooth and relatively free of hard decisions. Then, when we are forced into the Place of Decision, it is cold and barren and scary and stressful. Our furniture is forgotten and ignored.

And so, alone and distressed, we fight through red and blue sticky notes one at a time. By ourselves.

When we live this way, why are we surprised to feel as though God has left us alone?