Friday, April 12, 2013
The Gift We Give
We don't give our new members a gift wrapped in pretty paper.
I pray, however, that what we give to everyone who walks in our doors is a gift that can be hard to purchase and sometimes even harder to locate in the city of Washington.
I pastor in a city where words are carefully crafted and somehow empty. Our church is located less than a mile from the Capitol - a neighborhood in which the most popular question asked is not "How are you?" but "Who do you work for?" In our city, we are easily defined by our business card. We allow the words embossed below our name to tell others who we are while being fearful of what might happen if people found out who we really are.
I'm also a pastor. I am in a profession where colleagues shy away from telling each other the full truth of our lives. We are required to fill out a weekly online form that tells our supervisors and other colleagues how many people were in our pews last Sunday and how many people came for small groups. We boast about how much our churches are growing and try hard to explain why when the opposite is true (and sometimes we even stretch the real truth). Rarely do we tell others how we really are.
Vulnerability is not a state we ascribe to attain or embody in the city of Washington or in pastoral circles. It's much easier to present a different front.
If I could give one gift to the people who join our church, however, I would give them a community where vulnerability is tangible - raw - naked to the eye. If I could give new members one gift, I would give them a community where people expect the truth - the full truth - and nothing but the truth.
Brene Brown describes the gifts I long to offer people in our church in a TED talk. She names for us our strong need to be connected. She knows what we in the church know - that God created us to be in community with each other. And she also spells out the fear we all have of what might happen to our connection - how the connection might be broken - if people knew the truth of our lives - our fears, our failures, our dreams, our heartaches, our insecurities, our pain.
Brown speaks about the courage that is needed to tell our whole-hearted truth. The telling of this truth requires that we let go of who we think we should be in order to be who we really are. We are at our best selves when we allow ourselves to be deeply seen by others - when we know that we are enough.
I see glimpses of this truth in the church I serve regularly.
At the same time, I see how far we have to go.
I don't think "fine thank you" should be an acceptable response in a faith community or in a gathering of clergy. As Brown reminds us, we live in a vulnerable world. We try hard to numb ourselves from this vulnerability. But the best way to deal with it is to allow our own vulnerability to be brought to the light of day in a community where people are willing to love us in spite of who we are.
I say every Sunday morning as worship is starting that we are welcome in our church by a God who longs to encounter us just as we are "no matter where we have been or where we have failed to be, no matter what we have said or what we have failed to say, no matter who we love or who we fail to love, and no matter what we have done or failed to do." I believe God loves our whole-hearted selves no matter how many flaws we might be able to see or are trying to hide. God longs for us to bring our whole truth into our community of faith.
While we may loathe admitting it, the truth is that most of us feel like we are hanging by a string that could break at any time. We have great jobs but aren't sure how best to lead. We have relationships that are falling apart and wonder how to bring what has been separated back together again. We are battling depression, seeing more darkness than light. We have beautiful children but wish they came with an instruction manuel. We are behind on our rent, praying that payday will come before the eviction notice is served. We have seen a rash where a rash should not be, and are hoping the doctor does not have to also learn about the night that should have never happened. We have been taking care of the pain on our own and realize how we now cannot sleep without at least two glasses of wine every night. We have a thousand friends on Facebook but no one to turn to or go out with on Friday night.
If I were to tell my colleagues the whole truth, I could name 100 things I'm afraid of, at least a dozen insecurities, and the feeling of being exhausted often because there is just so much to do and so many people to tend to - and how I regularly feel like a failure when people don't get visited or calls don't get made or cards don't get sent.
What gift do we give our new members? I pray we give them a place that longs to know the truth and then accepts the truth, loves the life in which the truth dwells and then does its best to live together in community. I pray we give them a real community that knows how the most faithful pathway to healing is providing space to bring our whole-hearted selves - every pocket and especially the place where our vulnerabilities dwell. That's a church worth getting up for on Sunday mornings, propelled by a God who is worth glorifying.