Posts Tagged ‘vulnerable

13
Jun
20

To Callous, or Not to Callous

My guitarsBlogosphere, meet my guitars. The Martin Dreadnought acoustic is the one on the left and the Fender American Stratocaster (with double humbucker pickup) is the one on the right.

Guitars, meet the blogosphere.

I love these instruments and miss them fiercely whenever Joan and I travel.

Lately I have found that coming up here in the evening and playing them is a great tonic for my soul.

I have been playing for a few years now, but don’t really consider myself a guitarist. I’m just a guy who fools around on the guitar now and then. In case you are curious, there are two foolproof ways you can tell that that I am not a real guitarist:

  • First, I have not named my guitars.
  • Second, I only have two of them.

(It suddenly occurs to me there is a third, foolproof way to verify my “non-guitarist” status: listen to me play.)

Most of the time, I play in order to calm and entertain myself. Sometimes I sit down and try to learn a new song to add to my repertoire. Sometimes I just come to work on simple scales and finger exercises.

Since I am no longer taking weekly lessons or playing in a jam band or the church’s praise band, there is not a regular, external motivation to keep at it.

No motivation, that is, except for the maintenance of my callouses.

Anyone who plays guitar with regularity will attest to the importance of healthy callouses on the fingertips of the fretting hand. Callouses are the toughened areas of skin that keep the steel wires of the guitar string from cutting into you and making you bleed all over the lovely woodwork. If you don’t play with some level of frequency, your callouses will get soft. Playing will become painful.

In that sense, you could say that playing the guitar is the exact opposite of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life.

In the world of the guitar, the discipline and regularity of practice helps BUILD UP and harden your fingertips. It prevents your playing and practice from being painful.

The aim of the spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, is to SOFTEN us… to make us more OPEN and VULNERABLiE to the world around us… to EXPOSE us to the “still, small voice” of God that Elijah heard, or to make us more susceptible to the pain and heartbreak of a neighbor who isn’t necessarily part of our “tribe.”

The goal, in other words, of all the Christian study and prayer and fasting and worship we do should be to heighten our compassion (from the Latin, com passio, “to feel with.”).

When Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) during his Sermon on the Mount, he was talking about exactly these people: the people for whom the callouses around their hearts have worn away and softened.

The culture instructs us to “toughen up” and blast our way through the pain and tragedy and heartbreak of the world around us. “Take charge!” is the battle cry. “Grow thick callouses!”

But a mere two verses later (in Matt. 5:5) Jesus tells us who will REALLY inherit the earth.

Maybe we should listen to him!

08
Jun
20

A Cracked Shell

Cracked egg shellSomething seems to be leaking… and I can’t help but believe that’s a good thing.

In fact, I hope you are starting to leak a little, too.

When you and I first come into the world as babies, we have a soft spot on top of our heads. This spot is also known by its formal name, fontanelle, from a French word meaning “small fountain.”

The fontanelle is only one of many things that makes babies weak and vulnerable. They can’t walk. They can’t talk. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean themselves. Every sight amazes them, every sound startles them, every nerve ending in a baby’s body seems to be exquisitely on edge.

Babies lack any kind of filter to help them stem the onslaught of sensation.

They are utterly defenseless and exposed.

But then, time passes. Then they (we) get older. Then they (we) grow filters. Then they (we) develop coping mechanisms. Then, slowly and steadily, we start to grow exoskeletons that shield us from the white-hot intensity of the world around us.

As we age, we become less soft… less vulnerable… harder.

And sometimes those exoskeletons fit so well and feel so comfy-cozy that we curl up inside them. We close our eyes and go to sleep in our shells while outside us the storms swirl and rage.

And sometimes we forget to wake up… until it is too late.

I can’t help but notice… something has been happening to my shell over the past couple of weeks.

My shell has been cracked. Hammer blows named Breonna Taylor and Amahd Arbery and George Floyd, and Just Mercy, and #blacklivesmatter, and “Am I Next?”, and systemic racism, and Unequal Justice have been raining down on it.

My shell is cracking, and the world is leaking in on me… startling me and arousing me from my nap.

It feels somehow cold and unsafe…

… and yet also somehow exactly right.

I discover that I am slowly awakening. For one thing, I am awakening to the hard, cold implications of what it means to stand on the side of Jesus.

It is becoming abundantly clear to me that if I stand up and tell the world I am on the side of Jesus; I am, in effect, abandoning my shell altogether.

If I dare to tell the world that I stand on the side of Jesus, I understand that I am obliged to join him in saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens. Come to me, all you who are systematically denied justice. Come to me, all you who have seen hope snuffed out like a candle wick. Come to me all you that are hungry, and tired, and poor, and addicted. Come to me, all of you, and I will give you the rest you so richly deserve and which you have been so steadfastly denied.” (Matthew 11:28, with a few editorial additions).

In some ways, my shattered-open shell feels a little like a death.

In other ways, it feels like a rebirth… like becoming as helpless as a baby all over again.

May we each today be blessed with leaking margins and an uneasy soul. May we each be aroused and unsettled and hear the call of our brothers and sisters in pain. May we stand defiantly on the side of Jesus and choose to love those that he loved.

 

Abundant blessings;

16
Apr
20

Safe at home?

Guy in a bunkerLet me ask you: how safe do you feel right now?

I will answer first by confessing that most of the time, I feel pretty safe.

My safety, I am well aware, derives largely from the privilege I enjoy as a white, middle-class, educated, middle-aged, (OK, you caught me. As an OLD…) heterosexual, North American male.

Every one of those demographic categories has privilege written all over it. And with that privilege comes an outsized measure of safety… Safety from violence, safety from discrimination, safety from inherited disease tendencies, safety from rejection, and safety from – in most cases – having to earn your goodwill.

All of this “demographic privilege armor” does NOT, however, make me safe from COVID-19. And so, for one of the very few times in my life I can remember, I find myself looking at the world around me as a place of threat and potential danger.

To cope with that threat, I try to stay inside my house, just like the governor told me to. And when I am out and about, I mask up, I don my nitrile gloves, I stay AT LEAST fifteen feet away from other people, and I wash my hands so often that they are now cracked and dry. Yet even with all of those precautions, I cannot free myself from the idea that a microscopic little virus might still fly up my nose and kill me.

I don’t have to tell you; life in the time of the pandemic feels anything BUT safe.

But this all makes me stop and wonder… are any of us ever really safe? Let’s face it; something is going to get every single one of us someday. None of us is impervious to danger, disease, or distress… no matter how big an arsenal of automatic weapons we own.

And what do we mean by the word “safety” anyway? While we are posing these tough questions, let’s ask this one: just how worthwhile is SAFETY as a life goal anyway?

For answers, let’s go to that timeless source of wisdom, the Bible. Interestingly the word “safety” shows up 33 times in the Old Testament, but only once in the New. And that one time is not even a quote from Jesus. The one New Testament use of the word safety comes in this rather alarming passage from 1 Thessalonians: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, NRSV).

YIKES! Reading that passage you’d almost conclude that the pursuit of peace and safety is a massively bad idea.

I am not sure I would agree with that interpretation of this text. Concern for safety is not really a bad thing.

As we know from the studies of biology and anthropology, human beings are wired for self-preservation. We are not born with shells or poisonous barbs as part of our anatomy, but there are countless other ways that our Designer included systems in our brains and bodies dedicated to helping us “live long and prosper,” to borrow Dr. Spock’s phrase.

Our pursuit of safety gets off track, scripture tells us, in two different ways.

First, we miss the mark when we equate SAFETY with a particular set of external circumstances. That’s because it’s not. True safety is a condition of our hearts. Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:27, NRSV).

In other words, “Hey, don’t worry, y’all. God’s got this.”

Our second error in pursuing safety comes when we believe that it is OUR effort and OUR striving that produces our safety. Wrong again. We can build all the bunkers, fill all the gallon milk jugs, stockpile all the canned food and weapons on earth and not have one ounce more peace than we did before.

Authentic peace and security come from one source and one source only. Jesus put it this way in his parting words to the disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV).

It is only when we surrender our lives completely to his care and guidance that we will find deep, meaningful, and enduring peace.

And that, my friends, is about as safe a bet as you are ever going to make.

02
Apr
19

Padless living

“Sometimes life feels like playing football with no pads.”

–       R. Brown, 2019

Ferocious tackleIn a time long ago and far away, I played football. The American version, that is. The kind that requires helmets, shoulder pads, thigh pads, kneepads, cleats, and (sometimes) rib pads.

There was never a doubt in my mind about the need for all that padding. The player-on-player contact is always forceful and unforgiving. The point – after all – is for me to smash into the other guy with all my might and knock him down to the ground.

Fortunately for me, the playing phase of my football career ended in junior high school after I suffered first a concussion and then a severely twisted ankle. The closest I get to a real football game now is on my living room couch in front of the TV screen.

I know, I know… some of you tough guys are reading that last line and intoning the word “Wimp!” toward your computer screen right now.

And I am totally OK with that.

While I have successfully avoided having my bell rung, ACL torn, or femur snapped on the gridiron all these years, I must confess I have not been quite as successful avoiding injury on the field of LIFE.

I have discovered that sometimes – as the wise philosopher at the top of this page remarked – the game of life bears a striking resemblance to playing football without the benefit of pads.

Sometimes we have an idea… an idea that seems truly inspired and brilliant to us. We take our precious idea, excitedly put it out there in front of other people, and then watch it get tackled, and smashed, and pummeled to bits.

At other times we become vulnerable toward another person… opening up the depths of our heart and soul to them in a way that leaves us truly exposed. And then occasionally – not every time, happily – that person rewards our vulnerability with scorn or (even worse) indifference.

Or we might choose to adopt a cause that is virtuous and noble – capable (at least in our mind) of rendering a genuine, positive change in the world. We wave the flag, beat the drum, call out to rally the troops, only to find ourselves met with a deafening, hurtful silence.

It can feel quite a bit like football without pads.

Sometimes those body blows are instructive learning moments… shedding light on a heretofore-unseen weakness in my idea/feeling/cause. So I use the pain of that moment as a guide to my efforts to “shore up” that which was flimsy and inadequate.

At other times though, my response to those experiences of “full contact rejection” is to retreat to my corner, cower, lick my wounds, and make a vow to never again put myself out there like that.

OK… full disclosure; my first impulse upon rejection is almost ALWAYS to choose the retreating, cowering, licking, vowing option.

Getting back out there again after getting your block knocked off is a really hard thing to do. You know EXACTLY what that bodyslam feels like and you are not anxious to repeat the experience.

And I don’t know if this observation is actually true or not, but it seems to me as if more and more people are lining up these days, taking aim, and eagerly waiting to blast away at risk takers.

Sometimes that pounding is enough to convince you that the sidelines of life is the best place to spend the game… safely spectating.

But I hope you don’t.

I hope you will trust Jesus when he assures you, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

I hope you will keep putting yourself out there… padless and vulnerable.

I hope you will choose to learn from the pain of those bumps and bruises and maybe even come to give THANKS for them.

I hope you will never accept the lie that tells you that WATCHING life is the same as LIVING it.

The world needs your gifts…

… even if we don’t always act like we do.

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
16

THE PURSUIT OF SAFETY

BostonMolassesDisasterLet’s talk about safety for a minute…

Are you safe? Why? Why not?

If you do NOT feel safe right now, what would it take to make you feel safe?

What are the things that cause your sense of safety to erode?

On a list of all of the values you hold, how high on that list is the value of SAFETY?

Last question (for now): Where does safety come from? In other words, what makes us safe?

On a very basic level I am drawn to the idea of safety. Great feelings of warmth and affection wash over me when I remember hearing my mother or father say something like, “It’s OK… you’re safe now.” Or, “Safe and sound.”

SAFETY feels like a warm, impenetrable cocoon that follows me and covers me wherever I go.

I think it is also accurate to say that because of my race and social standing I have come to view a sense of safety as an entitlement… something the world owes me. I honestly cannot tell you the last time I walked or drove anywhere that caused me to actually fear for my physical safety. And that includes walking into the University of Texas stadium for a football game wearing my full MIZZOU regalia.

As important as we would all probably agree that safety is, do you think we are ever guilty of turning SAFETY into an idol… i.e., something elevated to the place of ultimate importance in our lives? And if we agreed that it is indeed possible to worship the idol of safety, I also have to wonder how this posture shapes us and the way we “do community” with one another?

Because frankly sometimes it is just not very safe at all to relate to another person. For starters, they might smell bad. They might have odd habits. They might not be polite. They might hold different truths than you do. They might challenge your faith and ideals. They might be mentally unstable.

Taking the chance of relating to a person you don’t already know could endanger the safety of your body, your mind, and your worldview all at once.

Let’s face it: building bridges is dangerous. Especially if you don’t exactly know what is on the other side of the bridge.

Building walls is safe.

Worshiping safety would probably also mean never trying out an idea that had an uncertain chance of success. Because if you tried out your idea and it failed, you could lose money… prestige… credibility… and maybe even friends.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask anyone who has ever tried to take a new, different, strange, or offbeat idea and make it fly. They will tell you they have lost one or all of those in the process.

In all seriousness, you know what is REALLY dangerous? The pursuit of safety as our ultimate community value… that’s what.

Elevating safety to ultimate importance means taking no risks… venturing into no new territories… initiating no new relationships. It means withdrawing. It means committing yourself to looking suspiciously upon anyone or anything that approaches you. It means putting all of your energy into defending THE WAY THINGS ARE and fighting off the encroachment of THE WAY THINGS MIGHT BE.

Because let’s face it: there is nothing any of us can do to absolutely ensure our personal safety. You might have been unlucky enough, for example, to have been walking down a North End Boston city street in 1919 at the exact moment of the Great Boston Molasses Flood. Caused by the bursting of a large molasses storage tank, the Great Flood killed 21 people and injured another 150. (Source: Wikipedia. That is the picture at the top of this blog post). It is safe to say that none of the victims imagined “death by molasses” for themselves, that day or any day.

Worshiping safety also means you would have to turn in your “Person of Faith” card. This is because we rely on our own devices and not God to provide our security. We imagine that a higher wall, a bigger gun, a deadlier bomb, a more powerful X-Ray, or a better set of laws will give us the safety we seek. Proverbs 29:25 helpfully reminds us, “The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the Lord is secure.” (Proverbs 29:25, NRSV).

The truth is: SAFETY comes from God and God alone.

In his life and preaching SAFETY seemed to exist – if it existed at all – at the very bottom of Jesus’ priority list. Time and time again we see him endangering his personal safety by violating Sabbath laws, eating with the wrong people, pronouncing forgiveness to sinners (“Who is this that thinks he can forgive?”), touching lepers, walking on water, and defying political and religious authority.

And as we watch Jesus work, we know his courage doesn’t come from the heart of a daredevil; it comes from an unshakable faith in the God who created him and sent him into the world on his mission of mercy. Jesus summed up his own views on security pretty well when he said, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33, NRSV).

Safety and security are important. But pursuing these as the ultimate value of life is not only unfaithful to God’s word… it is downright dangerous to the world. As Jesus said to his disciples in his farewell message in John: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN.




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