The last week I could go to your Wednesday service, you were away in Tennessee, fighting for social justice within your denomination, so you had a woman come in to speak. She preached on Jonah and the Whale, and her theme was accepting our own vulnerability.
I spoke on Jonah as a story about calling, and how calling is easy to ignore but hard to get away from. Usually today, the belly of the whale is to be trapped in the belly of the street whale, the mini van, but it is still about how we separate from others, how we are consumed by the day to day. I know well the cost of calling, the cost of resisting it because it seems so bloody queer, and seems to hold such a cost of separation from constrained society.
But as I have thought about how much she wanted to talk about vulnerability, I have been confused. There isn’t one of us who doesn’t know we are vulnerable. We know we are not invulnerable, know that every moment carries risk. The question we have is how we embrace that vulnerability: do we try to get crusty, to wall ourselves off and be protected, or do we believe that the only solution to vulnerability is exposure, to be naked enough to hang with other people and live in this moment? Is our safety in our walls or in our connections?
I suggest this, that the real challenge of embracing vulnerability isn’t accepting our vulnerability, but rather it is accepting the vulnerability of others. We so often want to dump the costs of our pain and fear onto others, because while our vulnerability is obvious to us, theirs is not.
There are so many ways people deny the vulnerability of others to justify the choices we make.
One is trying to wall in their children, teaching our kids to lie to us because we want to hear what comforts us, what we want to hear, rather than to engage the fact our children have to deal with their own vulnerability everyday. As long as we want to believe that the walls we have created are protective, the idea that the walls we created are constraining, and that to grow, our kids have to sneak out from those walls and explore their own vibrancy — their own passion, their own bliss, their own Eros.
Some of us are so focused on keeping comfortable in money or other ways that we can’t engage the vulnerability of people who pay the price to keep a stratified society. Underclasses are fine as long as they stay invisible, because we are vulnerable and need our walls.
And for people who are normal but not normative, children of God but not children of convention, well, demanding that they surrender themselves to keep us from feeling vulnerable, keep us believing that our protective walls work and have no negative cost, that seems perfectly acceptable. After all, they brought this on themselves by being different, and their vulnerability can be dismissed in favour of what we need to do so as not to feel vulnerable.
We do have to embrace our own vulnerability, but only in a way that we see that our vulnerability is intertwined with the vulnerability of others, not in a way that our feeling of vulnerability justifies the choices we make that make others more vulnerable, make them take the brunt of our fears.
Your presenter is feeling vulnerable, I get that. And she doesn’t want to deal with the cost of calling. But what she didn’t seem to get that the real issue in accepting vulnerability is not accepting our own, but accepting that our vulnerability is not a reason for separation from others, but rather a reason for connection.
If we don’t let our own heart breaks lead us to bigger and more open hearts, then we miss the point. It is possible to decide that our broken heart justifies the choices to build bigger walls and defenses, to push the pain and hurt and price onto others, but that decision is a decision for separation and not connection. And to me, that makes it unholy.