Guest column by Rev. Mike Denton
Brené Brown has been getting a significant amount of attention the last few years. Her TED Talks have gone viral; her books have been bestsellers; and her speaking engagements attract hundreds. Her topic seems like it should be something simple but isn’t, at all. Through person stories, psychosocial behavioral studies and her own research she shares about the challenges and gifts of living lives that are authentic, vulnerable and true.
One of my favorite quotes of hers is from the book “Daring Greatly” where she writes this:
“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
We have all been at that point when we don’t know whether opening up and sharing with another person will help us or hurt us; whether what we share will make a relationship stronger or damage it beyond repair. All too often we’re more afraid that opening up will let in more of what will hurt us than set us free from that which has bound us.
All to often, institutionalized Christianity has made this kind of vulnerability more difficult. Shame has been used by the church as a shortcut to modify “non-conforming” behavior at the expense of the spiritual lives of those being shamed. The most authentic self has been described as essentially sinful and in need of constant monitoring. Honesty and truth have not always been honored especially in instances when that honesty and truth disagreed with the teachings of churches.
However, this way of thinking isn’t just reflected in churches’ treatment of the individuals that are related to their congregations. We’ve internalized it and institutionalized it, too. The fact that “Transparency within Religious Organizations” is the topic of this Saturday’s Coffee Talk (10 a.m. at The Gathering House Cafe) is a kind of proof. Transparency becomes an issue when there’s been a basic failure in communication, vulnerability and truth telling.
Even though conflict is normal and healthy, we’re ashamed of the conflict within our institutions. Even though many of our churches are in financial difficulty, we’re frequently ashamed to speak of it openly. Even though we’re volunteer based organizations, we’re ashamed of some of our occasional poor collective decision making and speak of it in gossip and whispers. Even when we’re challenged on, well, our lack of transparency our first reaction is usually to deny it and insist that the information could have been found if one had just looked in the right place or cover the lack of transparency with the vague, corrosive cover of confidentiality.
Transparency is usually spoken of as an administrative challenge but, for Christian communities, its primarily a spiritual one. In order to live in to our collective faith life, we have to have faith in God and each other enough to risk being vulnerable with each other. How else can we be truly open to the gifts of Christian community? How else can we forgive and ask for forgiveness? How else we deepen our relationships with each other? How else can we be the communities of risk, love, service, justice and compassion that God calls us to be?
Rev. Denton has served as Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ since 2008.