Early this morning I had one of those dreams. You know, where you’re exposed and in a situation beyond your comfort zone. Can’t remember any details - but the sting stayed with me. The sting of being exposed to judgment and shame. The sting of feeling that I’m less than I should be. The sting when that part of my self that I don’t like – the incompetent, silly, stupid, angry, scared or selfish part of me – take your pick – has been exposed to public judgment.
There is power in that sting. My first reaction is to avoid it, get over it, get on with concentrating on my strengths. It feels like a crack in my armour.
But what if I let some more sunlight in there. I’d like to let the tickle of healing light into that stining place. I’d like to find a way to wash away the fear and let in some fun. How else will I grow?
Will I just keep getting better at the things I’m already good at? Or, will I discover some ways to open up new territory?
I want to experiment this fall with inviting adults to play. How to invite adults into a place where they can use arts and crafts and words and drama to express themselves. Really – it’s me that wants to play – and its my job as a minister to find people who want to play along. Right?
Playing with arts and crafts and expressing ourselves can be a very vulnerable place for most of us. All of our insecurities about how we look, how we sound, how worthy for public viewing are our ideas or images – are questions that rise to the surface like bad dreams out of the darkness of childhood – when we stretch our artistic muscles into new expression.
Haven’t we all as adults developed some pretty good armour that shields us from criticism. We’ve learned what we can do well and learned to stay away from the sting of public belly flops.
A conversation I had years ago comes to mind.
I was having coffee with a character wearing some pretty good armour. He had a sick church and a sick minister. He was all about fixing it.
Personally, I had no vested interest in the fix. I was like a consulting physician. He was’nt my patient. I got to ask questions and poke around and make observations.
I wondered “Is your minister sick because your church is sick?”
“No, it’s all his own stuff that he brought with him.” He assured me. He re-assures me by spelling out his own qualifications as a manager of people in business for decades. His helmet if you like.
“Have you experience with keeping staff healthy in a sick branch of an shrinking corporation?” I asked next.
“Yes I do have that kind of experience - excuses are for losers y'know.” He concludes after giving me another whole list of his accomplishments and how he is a Christian at both work and community endeavours. His body armour you might say.
“Have you ever been sick of mind and heart?” i probed further.
“No, I haven’t - but I have many friends who are ministers.” He is sticking to his conclusions and the thing about the minister friends must be the groin armour because I was going for the groin with that question.
As a professed Christian in every endeavour, I was trying to find his compassion. But he was all about strength and victory.
Perhaps he perceived me as a threat. Or perhaps his training as a Christian has only taught him about survival and not about crucifixion. How does the courage of Jesus to walk into the midst of his enemies and speak truth to power get translated today into pointing fingers and blaming those who don’t measure up to the standards of our own circles?
“Perhaps we’ll become friends.” I suggested. Trying not to point my finger.
I can be all about my defenses. I am super aware of threats and potential attacks. I manage to laugh most of them off with bravado. But my computer is constantly monitoring people’s facial reactions, tone of voice, - actions and reactions to me - to detect potential threats to my point of view, peace of mind, security, and health.
Is that too “Terminator” for you? While I am working on being all about soul, I am also animal – my instincts are there working under the radar to ensure I get what I need to serve my family pack.
When my soul gets fed however, I find that I can over-ride these defense mechanisms. Here are some ways God’s grace has fed me this week:
Huge squash plants growing from my compost pile even though I never planted a seed this spring.
A neighbour transforming a few of my wild grape leaves into a jar of pickles.
Friends letting me know that they’ve felt my pain.
My wife forgiving me again.
I did little or nothing to deserve any of those gifts.
Instead of focusing on trying to repay those freely offered gifts of grace – which is a natural survival instinct - what if I focused those extra doses of grace into those cracks in my armour? Could that extra undeserved love help me to trust and risk exposing - just a little - those weak places that I keep well hidden.
It’s the power of random acts of kindness – artfully offered by God or God’s friends. They help my heart to grow. When my heart expands I care more about the hurts of others than all the ways they might hurt me. If I keep letting that love into weak and fearful places – wow – might I even outgrow that armour like a snake shedding last year’s skin?
Where could I learn such lessons? Canadian priest Jean Vanier, founder of the international movement of L’arche communities, teaches that to become human we need to learn about life from those who are most wounded and disabled. They can teach us competent, able, fearful folks about depending on and trusting one another.
It’s not a risk to let someone see your weak side when that’s all that’s showing.
These differently-abled teachers live wide open and vulnerable. Those who sit at their feet are apt to learn something about the gifts that matter most – finding joy in the midst of suffering, finding self in the midst of ego, finding Christ in the heart of every soul, finding God’s kingdom in the midst of a sick world – a world, a church consumed by survival strategies that are killing it.
I’ll leave you with one of Vanier’s thoughts for the day that I get via email
There are more and more groups today oriented toward issues and causes. There are peace movements, ecological movements, movements for oppressed people, for the liberation of women, against torture, etc. If there is a consciousness within the movement that within each person there is a world of darkness, fear and hate, they can then radiate truth and inner freedom and work toward justice and peace in the world. If not, they can become very aggressive and divide the world between the oppressors and the oppressed, the good and the bad. There seems to be a need in human beings to see evil and combat it outside oneself, in order not to see it inside oneself.
- Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p.29