Archive for March, 2011

Vulnerability

Some weeks ago, I was listening to a TED talk by Brene Brown. (TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design, a non-profit organization promoting the best in human advances across business and academia.)   Brown is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate School of Social work.  Her TED talk centered on the whole idea of vulnerability in human relationships.  Her background and research revealed that relationships are at the heart of who we are as human beings.  Clearly we were built to relate to others.  She discovered that those who live the most wholeheartedly and who experience the most happiness in life are those who have been able to build the strongest relationships.  Now of course, this is a wonderful conclusion to reach.  The question then is: how can a person cultivate such relationships?  Her answer surprised her and also threatened her sense of self.  Strong relationships require vulnerability.  The problem with this is that vulnerability is risky.  It opens us up to rejection and pain, the very things we would all like to avoid in life.  Most of us live with deeply entrenched self-protective strategies crafted to keep us safe.  It seems that those very strategies that are meant to protect us actually keep us from getting close to people and finding joy and happiness in life.

Now as a pastor I read this and it reflects what I have seen anecdotally.  I’m not a social scientist like Brown is, but my experience confirms what she has learned from her research.  I see people hungry for connection but also deathly afraid of rejection.  I see people numbing themselves to the pain in their lives and as a result feeling more disconnected.  What is the way out?

Her solution to this block is that we need to let go of those things that hinder us from being vulnerable.  We need to let go of what people thing about us, let go of perfectionism, let go of our self-numbing strategies, let go of comparing ourselves to others, and our need to always be “in control.” When I read the gospels I see Jesus living in just this way.  Unlike the Rabbis of his time, he befriended his disciples.  He opened up his life to them.  He freely showed his emotions expressing anger, indignation, and shedding tears publicly.  Often he was moved with compassion in ways that others could see.  He loved freely.  He was no stone faced savior.  He lived vulnerable and free.

I am grateful to Brown for her solid research and helpful books.  My view does differ with hers, and perhaps, where things matter most. We part company in what the source of our cure is. She believes we need to give ourselves compassion and to come to believe that we are worth it and valuable.  I believe this, but I also believe there is a deeper source for personal value and worth, and a deeper source for the kind of compassion that enables to see ourselves as the broken people we are and yet with beauty and value.  I believe that comes from God and is far more powerful that any words of self-affirmation could ever be.  It is to be loved by God and given infinite value in his eyes. His compassion transforms us and gives us a security that opens the way for healthy vulnerability and significant relationships.  Jesus made himself vulnerable, as vulnerable as anyone can be, so that we might have the assurance of God’s love for us and acceptance of us. I believe the more secure we are in who we are through him, the more vulnerable we are able to be.

Brown’s TED talk:  http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Wedding Words

[Note: Below is the scripture passage and text shared at my daughter’s wedding.  Rachel wed Joseph McDaniels on March 12, 2011.]

Philippians 2

1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Rachel, I remember first holding you in my arms, all 10 lbs 2 and ½ ounces of you. We were delighted at the sight of you.  God gave us a bundle of joy.  I cherish the memories of those early days holding you. Being your Daddy. We laughed together. We Wrestled.  Do you remember me singing to you?  Do you remember the songs of your childhood? Your mom and I learned early on how you loved music.  When you were a toddler, when you didn’t want to go to bed, we wrote the going to bed song.  You loved singing it with me. For some reason, you believed if you were singing the words, you should be going to bed.

My little girl has become a woman.  You have grown in beauty, in character, in faith. We marvel at the unique mixture of strength and compassion God has given you, a determination and tenderness that makes you such a loving servant.  But, your life journey has not been all easy.  All of us remember with tears the year when our family moved to Miami.  You wept for months.  We wondered if you would ever be happy again.  The only world you had ever known was stripped away from you.

But there in such a dark place, God did not leave you alone. He literally put a song in your heart.  As you sang with the chorus at Westminster Christian School we saw God’s healing grace flow into your life.  Indeed, he gave you a new song.  God pierced your veil of tears and drew you out with his love.  He transformed your tears into songs of joy.  As one of the prophets said:

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

God sang over you as I had so many years before.  God didn’t allow those days to be wasted, but I believe He worked in you to develop a deep compassion for those who are hurting through which he has given you your calling in life.

As the Apostle Paul said: 1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Rachel you know this encouragement from God; you know his comfort and his love; you know his tenderness and compassion.  Now as you are married to Joseph, what you have learned from Jesus is to be seen in your love for your husband.  In your unity with him.  In like-mindedness and love.  In service and in sacrifice.

Then Joe, you show up.  I knew this day would come.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.  Rachel is our treasure.  By the time Rachel became old enough for boys, my feeling was, all boys are predators. Rachel told you from the start it was going to be hard for any man to get our approval to take her off into the sunset.  But we watched how God brought the two of you together.  Sharing a love for Jesus and for each other, and desiring to live for God.  During one of the first visits to our home, you picked up Andrew’s guitar and began to sing.  You weren’t trying to impress us, you were taking up the song.  Many a night Sandy and I reveled in songs of praise and songs—well, at times we didn’t know what you were singing.  Sometimes Nate joined with his fiddle, Rachel played piano.  Andrew grabbed another guitar or played the jembe.  You shared our family song; you took up Rachel’s song.

This is the power of the gospel message.  God doesn’t come to us and force us to follow him.  He doesn’t coerce. He sings over us.  We know his love, and one day, we take up his song.  He captures us with the melody-line of his truth and he calls us to join in with the harmony of his purpose for the world. We don’t join up, we love him and his song becomes the song of our heart and our reason for living.  This is why it is so beautiful.

Okay, Joe, one day to my deep dismay, you posted a facebook message about loving Rachel.  By that time, Sandy and I had spent enough time with you that we could see God’s wisdom in bringing you together.  Rachel flourished in your love. I posted a comment on your post saying, “Rachel’s father approves of this message.”  Did I approve of you?  What was I saying?

The answer is yes.  You have my support and you have my little girl. Joe, you and Rachel are an amazing match. We also love you and receive you into our family.  We rejoice in the wisdom God has given to you, we thank God for your deep faith.   Today the call to you both is to follow Jesus.  As the Apostle Paul calls us to love and unity he says:

4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

God has called you to each other not for what you can get but for what he calls you to give. In marriage you really are giving yourself away to another person.  Saying, I am yours.  I will be with you and for you.  We will joined as closely as two human beings can be. Then we are told how this is possible:

5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7 but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

It will happen as you follow the way of Jesus.  Self-emptying.  Servanthood.  Humble obedience.   As you live in his unconditional love for you.

Our problem is that we live under the delusion that it is our responsibility to make God happy with us. But, we can’t do it.  And, we know it.  This frustrates us, and distances us from God because. Why?

We come wrapped in imperfections.

If we’re really honest, we can see how broken our lives really are.

We’ve made poor choices in life.

We live aware of how much we fall short.

Because of this… we feel that if there is a God, he couldn’t be interested in me.  Maybe somebody else, but not me.  This is why the message of Christianity, and the plan of Jesus is such good news.  Jesus came to show us that God knows you completely and loves and delights in you.

He loves each of us despite the mess in our lives.

How can we know this?

God sent Jesus.  He is the source of all of God’s good gifts. In Jesus God gives us the gift of peace with him.  The forgiveness of our sins.  He gives us hope for a future with him.  Hope that our own lives will be filled with his presence and with his power.  Joy in forgiveness and acceptance and a changed life.

But, the greatest of these gifts is the gift of His love.  Why would God want to take on human flesh?  Why share in all the things that we struggle with?  Why face pain and rejection and uncertainty?  Why enter a world of brokenness if you don’t have to?

Because Jesus loves you.  He is not willing to leave you alone. He wants to share his life with you. This is the unconditional love he wants you to have toward each other.  In doing so, he invites you to join his great love song.  Sing to each other.  Share his melody with the world as you live for him.