Vulnerability?

So this post is a response to a friend’s request to look at some Bible verses on a related post. I call her a friend, but I have really only met this woman once and exchanged some words on a mutual friend’s thought-provoking blog.

I call her friend because in spite of our minimal relationship I can easily see that she is an absolutely delightful person, the kind that wears her heart on her sleeve and that heart is made of pure gold. The thing about wearing such a precious thing out in the open is, some people just want to steal it. This is the dilemma of the human condition. A golden heart is even more beautiful when it is held close by another. Have you ever noticed that gold is even more brilliant when it is around your finger or around your neck or wrist? It is as if gold is just meant to be held close to the skin. Such a precious heart should be as well.

But we all have this deep abiding corruption of sin, says the Christian tradition. We were created good and in the core of our being we still are. But sin has invaded every part, like yeast in dough, as the Scripture says. So if we are to witness to redemption by living with honesty and openness, how does my friend know that her golden heart won’t be stolen or just simply vandalized like so many other precious things are? Sinful people do sinful things.

Really, that is what this post is about. Can my friend wear her heart on her sleeve safely? Maybe she is only so open and honest with me because she knows that she can trust the chaplain. I don’t think so, I think this is just the way she is. What will be the consequences of this openness?

In our previous blogging conversation, we agreed that Christians should make it a goal of having open and honest conversations without any hidden agenda. The question is: With whom should we have those kind of relationships? Can we simply live that way with everyone as a witness to our faith and a desire to life virtuously and be willing to take the injury that might come from that? Is that even a goal? Or, do we find a close group of friends that can be trusted and live that openness with them? Like most things, I think the answer is somewhere in between. We live with as much openness as the maturity of a person or relationship can handle. But that is still a judgment call and we need some guidance.

My friend said we need to look to the Bible for our guidance. I probably should have thought of that.

How about Matthew 7:6? “Do not give to dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

I guess Jesus thought some people’s sin was pretty bad. “Dogs?” “Pigs?” Wow.

Honestly, the passage isn’t easy to interpret. It is right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount and the passage right before it is about pulling the plank out of your own eye. Not sure what that’s about. So I have to say that just reading it for what it is, we would probably have to say that Jesus is instructing that the most precious things must be protected from those who would take no regard for them. Dogs and pigs can’t appreciate the value. Ever had a puppy, you shut the bedroom doors to avoid shoes getting chewed and you set anything really valuable just high enough to not be reached. That should give us some advice about what to do with our hearts with people who have no regard.

What about Jesus? What did he do? Well I think he was willing to say the hard thing when he needed to, regardless of what it would cost him. That is obvious from his frequent exchanges with the religious leaders.

But Jesus also had a keen ability to hide his answers among little parables and riddles. He didn’t just say things exactly as they are. “Hey temple administration, your sacrificial practices are keeping poor people from being able to eat AND worship; they have to choose one or the other.” But then again, he did turn tables in the temple and called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” when he didn’t like their evangelism practices.

I tend to think that Jesus’s tendency to hide the truth in parables had more to do with the conversation and teaching practices of his period than a prescription of a way of being. I had a great philosophy prof in undergrad that ALWAYS defended every philosopher that we studied as if he agreed with them. He is a Platonist and I dare say that he thinks Enlightenment rationality is bankrupt, but he defended them nonetheless. It was a teaching tool. Jesus did the same thing. That doesn’t make him dishonest. It made him a good Rabbi.

Paul was a little more straightforward with people. Read the Corinthians correspondence and his harsh rebuke in places which is often preceded by a sincere expression of his deepest love. His introduction to most of his letters expresses deep love and respect for his spiritual “children”. But, then he also tells them what he thinks when he needs to. And when he is in prison, he doesn’t hide his emotions or his pains. Paul wasn’t a Rabbi and he wasn’t speaking primarily with Jewish people. He talked like a Greek to Greeks, which is exactly what he said he would do.

Generation X/Y/millenial/busters, or whatever I and my colleagues are called, tend to be sick of slick advertising and slicker productions on television and at church. We like reality TV because the drama there at least pretends to be real dilemmas of real people trying to achieve a real goal (remember that most of them are games and a game is real!). We also are not interested in our leadership giving us half facts to get us to do what they want or media contriving a false dilemma to make us mad at something that doesn’t matter. This is what made me so angry at Karl Rove’s work in the 2004 presidential campaign. That election should not have been about gay marriage, but he made it about gay marriage to rock the vote. Gay marriage matters, but a lot of other things should have mattered more in that election. That lacks honesty, but it wins elections.

We crave real relationships (and leaders) that don’t hold back info so that we don’t have to interact with each other.
Ever had this conversation:
“How are you doing?”
“I’m fine” — when really you have had a horrible day and your most precious relationships are on the rocks and you aren’t sure how you are going to make your next month’s bills.

We want honesty. I think Jesus would have sat down and told us how he hurt for us. I think he would have told us directly what he thought we should do next. He would have journeyed with us in exploring how others would react to our choices.

At least I imagine that is how Jesus would have taught us and discipled us and been in relationship with us. But of course I may be wrong. But my thinking Jesus would be in relationship that way today is why I conduct all my relationships that way. I try to say exactly what I am thinking and try never to manipulate people with half truths or deflections. Some people tell me that this just means that I lack tact. Maybe I’m not kind enough in soft-pedaling hard opinions. I have heard that in recent years. But, for me that can only go so far because I value this kind of openness so much. One of the ways that this has worked itself out is my refusal to go by titles like Reverend/Pastor/Professor/Chaplain. I am Jeremiah, a person struggling to serve Christ who has had some experiences on this journey…many of them on what not to do.

I should put a good quote up that would give guidance away from how I want myself and others to live. It should challenge my proposal here. And as part of my honesty/full disclosure policy, here it is. This is from Henry Nouwen:

“There is a false form of honesty that suggests that nothing should remain hidden and that everything should be said, expressed and communicated. This honesty can be very harmful, and if it does not harm, it at least makes the relationship flat, superficial, empty and often very boring. when we try to shake off our loneliness by creating a milieu without limiting boundaries, we may become entangled in a stagnating closeness. It is our vocation to prevent the harmful exposure of our inner sanctuary, not only for our own protection but also as a service to our fellow human beings with whom we want to enter in a creative communion. Just as words lose their power when they are not born out of silence, so openness loses its meaning when there is no ability to be clsoed. our world is full of empty chatter, easy confessions, hollow talk, senseless compliments, poor praise, and boring confidentialities” (Reaching Out, 32).

Nouwen thinks that we need to protect ourselves from being too open because we need some things private to be able to engage in honest community. Uhhh…maybe he is right. I just don’t think so. Notice that his concern is too much idle talk and poor praise.

I agree with him on this, and I get the sense that my earlier colleagues in this discussion would as well, which is precisely why the three of us want to have open and honest dialogue and heartfelt discussion. I intentionally don’t give free compliments. I don’t try to flatter people. In fact, I am tired of people telling me nice sermon without telling me how they were changed. I am tired of every other senseless compliments without substance as well.

And you know what I have noticed? People that have known me very long know that I don’t try to flatter people and I don’t give away compliments that I don’t mean. They learn that my compliments come from the heart. And then these words have power because they are honest words. My new friends at UIndy have not known my long enough to know that I don’t pull punches. But my longtime friends know that I can be trusted, if nothing else. I know that my honesty has hurt people in the past. Some of those pains have stuck with them for a long time. But, unlike Nouwen, I think the answer is not to close one’s self off from the other. I also don’t think the answer is to return to empty compliments. For me, the answer is complete and open honesty. That doesn’t mean you say everything that you think, but it does mean that you mean what you do say.

That makes you vulnearble. Returning to my friend. I happen to believe that if someone takes her beautiful heart and steals it away or vandalizes it, her practice of opening herself to others will mean that she has a community around her to give her strength and endurance. More importantly, the grace of God will give her strength and healing from what others have done. At least, this will be my prayer. I think the rewards are greater than the costs.

But, I may be wrong. That is the reason I have included Jesus’ words and Nouwen’s words here. Maybe you have some words to add that I need to hear. What do you think, honestly?

Comments

  1. says

    Hi Jeremiah! I can tell from your blog that you're doing great work at UIndy. I would come at this from 2 sides, one of being hurt by being vulnerable and two of hurting others with your words. I feel for your friend because I too as a college girl had been encouraged to be vulnerable. This translated into my vulnerability (emotionally) in a romantic relationship with a great Christian guy who broke my heart in a way I had never experienced before. This has left a lasting scar that has and still does affect my relationship with my husband. I can't help but caution girls and women to be vulnerable but also to guard their hearts especially in romantic relationships. Secondly I have what I'd call a "sharp tongue." the whole "telling the truth in love" gave me a license for unwarranted and hurtful comments. I now look back with regret, guilt and hurt for those who I've hurt. You mention that you've hurt people with your honesty. What do you think our role as a Christian is in this situation? I don't believe that Jesus or God would want us to harm others especially when we don't always understand the whole situation. How do we go back and offer healing to these people we've hurt or continue to hurt. Is this our job?

  2. says

    Thank you for your gracious comments.I hear your caution to people to make sure they guard their hearts. On one hand I think there is great wisdom in that advice. On the other hand, I feel like the most vibrant relationships (romantic or otherwise) are only made possible with open honesty.Your concern about we do when we have hurt…I think we simply have to be humble enough to admit that we were wrong and ask for forgiveness. This too is an act of humility and vulnerability. I think the real concern for me is when honesty becomes a license to be hurtful. I have had to grow from that. I have had to apologize to people for things I said many years ago that were hurtful. I'm sure I am not done with that yet.Thanks for your comments…

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