I was having drinks with my friend Devin a couple weeks ago and he asked me to suggest new music. From time to time some friends reach out to me with recommendations for new music because I absolutely love music. And because I have verifiably the best taste in music.
A lot of times people are curious to know how I hear about all this new music. I wish I could give a more impressive answer like I am on a first name basis with Thom Yorke or Sufjan Stevens (name dropping to show how cool and in the know I am) and they send me demos of their latest songs. Or maybe the staff at Pitchfork (another name drop, but come on, Pitchfork is kind of a parody of pretentiousness is it not?) want to run a few new albums by me for confirmation of their relevance.
The truth is far less inspiring. I just pay attention. Continue reading
“I’m a rotten human.”
Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of reading on shame and the countless dangers it poses to our human flourishing, but when a friend of mine recently referred to herself as a ‘rotten human’ I pushed back.
“No, you’re not. You are beloved.” I retorted.
In truth, she wasn’t speaking about herself in a purely negative way. This reminder of her imperfections, was motived out of a heart to see her personal spirituality as a product of the grace that we all need. So, in some ways her words were a noble effort to fight pride.
And that’s what it was. She told me that she wanted to fight against the notion that she has it all figured out or that she is in some way superior to others based on their political or theological opinions.
“Pride is rotten,” she said.
I could agree with that. “Yes,” I said, “Pride is rotten, but you are not rotten. Do you see the difference?”
Maybe that’s just pettiness over semantics, but if you ask me, I think it says something more about the way we see ourselves.
I’m a rotten human is rooted in shame.
I’m a rotten human says that I am inherently flawed.
We are responsible for our choices. I am responsible for my choices. But the moment I begin to believe that I am a rotten human or a failure or an idiot or awful or stupid or fill in the blank, I make it really difficult to see any alternative future. A future where I am not bound the rotten choices we have a tendency to make because we are humans, full of light and dark.
Growing up in church from a very young age you begin to hear that humans are flawed. We are the products of a decision that the first humans made to sin against God, thus, every one of us – you, me, your sweet old grandma – are born with a stain. In Christianity, we call this event “the fall” and what resulted is called “original sin”, the idea that because of the fall we can’t help but be defined by what we’re not.
And it’s a really great shame tactic. I can’t tell you how many times I heard that we are sinful. In many ways that was what was supremely true about us. That we are sinners.
But take heart, God is gracious and good and saves us from that sin. In Jesus we are cleansed of our sinfulness, so long as we accept him as our personal savior. We read in Scripture in Romans that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
And so there God is, gracious, loving, merciful towards us pitiful sinners.
I can bet that many readers will say, yes, but we are sinners. To say that we are not is at best misguided, at worst arrogant.
I will not say that we are not sinful. Of course, you and I are sinful. We sin. I sin. You sin. Yes, I can agree with that, because it’s very much true of my life. And often despite are best efforts we fall into the trap that pursuing a way other than the way of Jesus will satisfy us. I do it everyday. I’m trying to grow and sin less, but we sin.
But there’s a difference in saying that you sin and that you are a sinner. I’m aware that I’m running up against even the words of Paul when he says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
My point isn’t so much to deny that there is a sinful side in us, but to call us to remember that the Bible doesn’t begin with humanity is sinful. It begins in the garden when God sees God’s creation, which includes you and I, and says it is very good.
I’m certainly not the first to come up with this claim. I’m encouraged by voices like Rob Bell and Danielle Shroyer who urge us to begin at the beginning. Genesis 1 is about goodness. Genesis 3 is about sin.
What would it look like for you to begin by saying “I am loved?” We all make choices we aren’t proud of. Some of us even feel trapped in a cycle of making bad choices, but how much harder is it for you and I to make good decisions when we begin with the assumption that we are sinful first and foremost?
I feel much more compelled to do the right things when I believe that I am loved. It is precisely because I believe that I am good, and that this is the way God sees me first, that I am much better equipped to make better choices.
Believing that you are fundamentally a sinner is rooted in shame. Shame is destructive. Shame hides. Shame thrives in the darkness. And hiding in the darkness is a breeding ground for sin to grow. Shame keeps me from telling you about my sin because I’m ashamed that I am a sinner.
However, if I believe that I am loved, that I am good, and that this is the way God sees me even despite my mistakes, I feel less of a need to hide. I don’t need to hide because I know I’m loved. And in the light we find true transformation.
God is just. God despises sin. It is God’s nature to push back against evil, but in such a way to affirm that we are made in the image of God and that image is good.
It is sin that is rotten. Not humans.
So, no, you are not a rotten human. Sometimes the decisions you and I make are rotten, but if there is something that is true about the gospel it is that there is never a moment where you can’t turn it all around.
You are not a rotten human.
God’s first words about you are that you are good.
I pray that you and I would start to speak better about ourselves, because God sees us and sees good.
I just spent 45 minutes staring at a blinking line on my computer wanting something, anything, to come out, but I’m filled to the brim with emotion and unable to pour it out onto a page.
But, I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, and I can tell you that it’s fear that is holding me here staring at a blank page.
If there is something else that I am learning in a real and deep way recently it’s this: When life is scary it’s easier to hide.
It’s easier when faced with the choice of having to talk to people you haven’t talked to in a long time about why you moved back to your hometown after years abroad to avoid it and hide.
It’s easier to not go to places where you might run into people and be forced to talk about what your life is like, while trying to put on your best “I’m fine” face when you’re crumbling underneath.
It’s easier to stay in the shadows, isolate yourself, because talking about how you’re a complex human being, full of light and dark, just seems like too much. Too exhausting. Too scary. Too shameful.
It’s easier but it’s not better.
You know what is better? Vulnerability.
There is a lot to unpack when you talk about vulnerability and it feels so counterintuitive to everything we are taught about how to survive in the world. All you have to do is watch Planet Earth and watch some unsuspecting antelope meet its end at the merciless hands of a prowling lion (Or tiger or hyena or cheetah. I mean are antelopes at the bottom of the food chain here? Goodness.) to know that being vulnerable is seen as a liability not an asset.
It’s funny though, isn’t it? Maybe sad is a more appropriate word here. In hiding what we’re essentially doing is trying to protect ourselves, because life is scary!
You can put your heart out there and get burned. You can lose your job. You can get cancer. Someone you love can get in a car accident or make destructive choices or know just the right words to use that will send you spiraling either into a fit of rage and an abyss of sadness. Sometimes you can even hurt yourself.
And so, we protect ourselves from rejection, sadness, grief, and other emotions that cause us pain. We do this because we think in moving away from vulnerability we are making ourselves strong. Nothing can hurt us if we make ourselves strong. Strength is a highly valued attribute in our culture. While, I won’t argue that it’s a valuable attribute, I will argue that what makes someone strong isn’t their ability to not be emotional.
I’m reminded of this great C.S. Lewis quote from his book, The Four Loves:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Lewis is talking specifically about love here, but he makes a wider point about vulnerability. Without it, we cannot experience the things we want from life.
They all happen, truly happen, when you risk. Vulnerability requires risk, but we are all familiar with the idiom that with great risk comes great reward.
Many of you may already be familiar with Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability (and shame. Honestly that could be a series of posts in and of itself.) from her brilliant TED talk. She’s a wealth of information, a great writer, and gifted storyteller. In her book Daring Greatly, she says this:
“What most of us fail to understand and what took me a decade of research to learn is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotion and experiences that we crave. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.
Does showing up to be with someone in deep struggle sound like a weakness? Is accepting accountability weak? Is stepping up to the plate after striking out a sign of weakness? NO. Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Friends, being vulnerable is one of the strongest things you can do with your life. And the reality is that it is the gateway to meaningful connection. Something every one of us desires.
I’m by no means perfect at it. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my life hiding behind lies and not reaching out for help a long time ago when I really needed it. I still need the help. I’m not there, yet, but I believe that the weird, awkward, scary, sometimes (basically always) uncomfortable, even painful feelings that come with being vulnerable and being truthful, letting down your walls and being real with who you are, all the light and dark that exists within each one of us, is always better.
Without it we cannot experience the deepest desires of hearts to be loved, to be known, and to belong.
Yes, life is scary, but don’t hide! Be vulnerable and discover that in this counterintuitive act of leaving yourself exposed you find you make room for the best parts of life. Especially love.
* I wanted to title this post “Life is Scary,
Hide Be Vulnerable!” But you can’t use strikethrough in a title. Sad. (Nudge, WordPress, Nudge.)
Few performances I’ve ever seen have been as palpably passionate as Arcade Fire’s performance of Intervention on Saturday Night Live in 2007.
You can visibly see the intensity on Win Butler’s face. Neon Bible is an album swirling with references to religion, corruption, family, darkness, and light. Who among us doesn’t brim with emotion as we wrestle with these ideas?
Stick around until the end to see Win smash the guitar and in a visceral way release the emotions we keep inside of us all the time.
May we all ‘smash our guitars.’
A couple weeks ago with students at the American Church in Paris we looked at the endless ways that God speaks to us through culture, from music to film to the visual arts.
One thing culture does it help us to see the pulse of society. The things that people are wrestling with. I’m not talking about your contemporary christian music (some of it is okay, but most of it is merely mimicking the wider culture, which is at best not very creative, at worst capitalistic) but about the vulnerable words of people hurting, hoping, anxious, and loving. Continue reading
The past few weeks I’ve begun to fall in love once more with Father Richard Rohr. If you’re unfamiliar with his work do a quick search on Google and you’ll find lots to digest.
Lately, the Enneagram has been popping up with more frequency into discussions I have been having with people. I’m excited to dig into his book on the topic from 2001, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective. Rohr has been a champion and evangelist of the ways that Christian spirituality can benefit from the Enneagram, but Rohr is also known for his work with contemplative habits and patterns.
Here he addresses what I believe to be one of the central questions the Church must face head on in the years to come – how to read the Bible.