The Principle of Vulnerability

Why are we afraid to be real? Or am I the only one to have this fear? Vulnerability in my life shapes itself in two divergent areas: fear of not being perfect and fear of being real. Perhaps the two are intertwined, but I'll probably figure that out by the end of the post since I think best when writing.

Lets approach the first fear of not being perfect. The disadvantage of being told your intelligent, or being an A student in high school and college is that you suddenly are afraid to be wrong on anything. To maintain your air of intellectual superiority you have to stick to your guns at every turn and defend rather than explore possibilities. I realize that this fear has been one that has grown tremendously in my life after graduating college with a good GPA. I am now afraid to speak my mind or heart in fear of being looked down upon for not knowing the truth, not knowing the real issue, or perhaps even being narrow-minded (for those of you shocked by this statement, just know that I often hold back!).

This fear is not near as pervasive as the fear of being real. I have long struggled with the idea that we must continually be infallible within the church. When you go to worship you hardly ever see someone suffering, and if someone is failing to be "joyful" they are avoided like the plague. Why is this? My theory is that this superficial surface-level image that is brought to church is a reaction to the legalism we experienced in the church growing up. The modern church (correct me if I'm wrong oh wise Reformation scholar) taught Christians that the one true way to heaven was to be morally and spiritually perfect, a standard which was impossible to uphold. So instead of admitting that we are fallen we tried to portray that we are perfect and free from sin.

The interesting thing is that vulnerability is extremely healthy! My good friend Ann and I used to discuss this principle and how it often brought people closer together even though it seems antithetical to conventional wisdom. I have secretly hated James 5:16 for much of my life. To quote the New King James (boy I'm old school!): "Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed." What a thought!

Ok, so I didn't figure it out whether these fears are intertwined, but then again, maybe I'm not supposed to...


ann said...

The vulnerability principle... one of my favorite Blake-isms. I'll reassure you that you're not the only one with these fears , because I have them deeply seeded within me, also. I remember the first time you presented this idea to me I was extremely reluctant to buy into it, because like you, weakness had never been something I was willing to show or admit.
But you're right-- real relationships are often founded on vulnerability. I know that at one point in my life I was frustrated with the fact that I couldn't seem to develop meaningful friendships. I had built a wall of goodness or service or intelligence or holiness around myself to protect my ego or my reputation or whatever, but was frustrated that no one could get over that wall to get to know me. I finally realized (with the help of the vulnerability principle!) that it was up to me to be the one to take that wall down to let others in. I remember the first day I tried to impliment this. One of my friends asked me how I was doing, and I suppose I could have blown it off with a Suzie Sunshine Sunday-school answer of great or wonderful or anything else, but I was honestly having a really hard time. When I revealed that, my friend in turn opened up to me about some of the things that he had been struggling with recently, too. Knowing the other's burdens, we were able to minister to each other and serve one another, and our friendship grew stronger.
So all this to say that I completely agree with the vulnerability principle. :) Of course I think there are limits... we don't want to run around spilling our guts to every stranger on the street... but there are people who care about us and want to truly get to know us, so we should be open to take the risk in developing those relationships.
Great post, Blake. Much more my speed than post-modernism. :)

Anonymous said...

While I agree that our church culture has attributed to the "plague syndrome" you alluded to, I also think that our fast-paced, seld-centered American culture has attributed to it as well. We are so used to just sticking to the basics with everyone -- the "hi, how's it goin'" as we sprint past -- that we let this mentality leak into the church. And so "being real" becomes so foreign to us that it is uncomfortable -- so much so that one might say we fear it.

I believe that the fear of not being perfect and the fear of being real are the same fears because in "being real" we are presenting ourselves as flawed individuals. So in a sense, you really only have one fear to overcoming... That could be seen as a bright side. Another bright side might also be that you have your entire life to overcome this fear; you don't have to have it all worked out tomorrow.

Gabe said...

I know I'm behind in posting (at least 2 legnthy posts, with only one half-written), but I still want a new post from you!

Peter Rice said...

I second Gabe's opinion--give me something new to read!