By Mark Moore
I have a confession to make.
I really don’t like confessions because they constitute an admission of inadequacy, as well as require some modicum of vulnerability. I truly do know that I am inadequate in any number of ways; I just don’t want anyone else to know. Failings, faults, deficiencies, flaws, limitations. I view all these traits as weaknesses, and I suspect that you do as well. But, confess I must. There is some island (perhaps just a sand bar) of honesty about myself that exists in my heart, periodically compelling me to “fess up” to those who find themselves entrapped in my circles of operation.
All my life I have heard that confession is good for the soul. I also know from experience that the habit of concealing inadequacy can be personally harmful. In light of these realities, it appears more and more advantageous to this pre-elderly gentleman to explore the atmosphere of vulnerable confession. Engaging in occasional and carefully selected confession appears to have some merit. It seems that we now live in a cultural environment that values people who admit their flaws and failings. This activity is referred to as “being vulnerable,” and has a healthy appeal to it. There once was a time when the word vulnerable meant “in danger of being slain by one’s enemies.” Now, however, it is more often thought of as a positive and endearing character trait.
Vulnerability, along with pretending to enjoy kale salad, have become trendy in our time. Being a veterinarian, I have lectured my rabbit-owning clients for decades about limiting dietary produce and certain hay varieties that possess a high calcium content. It settles out in the rabbit’s urinary system and, over time, can cause major problems. Kale is one of the biggest calcium offenders in the bunny world. I suppose bunnies want to be trendy also; they seem to like kale when given the opportunity to partake. I recently heard that kale has now become so fashionable among certain human demographic groups that physicians (AKA: “real doctors”) are diagnosing hypercalcemia in people! Too much of a “good” thing.
Don’t tell anybody, but I really do not like kale. Not a fan of the texture nor the taste. Add to that a subtle cultural pressure to be trendy, and my non-conformist tendencies kick in. It seems insincere to pretend that I like something just so I can be viewed as a hipster. And, nowadays, this vulnerability trend affects people (myself included) the same way. The difference is this: you can confess to me that you hate kale, and it comes off as personal preference. It’s easy for you to admit and it’s easy for me to hear. But, when you confess to me something of a personal nature – especially something that might put you in a bad light in my mind, then you are taking the risk of being judged (perhaps placing yourself in danger of being slain by your enemies). Vulnerability brings with it certain potential liabilities: admitting weakness, the possibility of disclosure to others, setting up one’s self for being assessed and perhaps shunned by me (at least) and perhaps by the others with whom I might share your confidential “little secrets.”
Secrets have power over us as long as they remain secrets. None of us like being controlled by something or someone. Confession really is good for the soul. I believe we’re hard-wired for that. But it comes with a price: the gamble associated with opening ourselves up to the scrutiny and value judgement of others.
Becoming vulnerable isn’t like turning on a light switch. You don’t exist as a non-vulnerable person one minute then “poof!” you’re all-of-a-sudden vulnerable. Because of the risk involved in vulnerability, the rheostat method seems to be the safest way to go. What I mean is that you engage variable resistance in order to slowly advance from the dark room toward a more beneficial level of brighter light. The full-on intense brilliance of LED illumination probably shouldn’t be the immediate goal when it comes to vulnerability. In fact, what is the goal when seeking to become more vulnerable?
When I was a much younger Christian, I lived my life in terms of differentiation. I defined what I thought and did based on an “us vs. them” orientation. Much of this comparison emerged from a growing awareness of how well Christianity seemed to make sense as an ideology. If you’ve ever been to one of my Christian Education classes, you have likely heard me state that I think “Christianity explains better than anything else the way things are.” That means that “us” have a pretty solid and sensible and rational belief system. It doesn’t, however, imply that the “them” side of the equation is devoid of truth and value and meaning. It simply means that Christianity explains “the way things are” better and with more intellectual integrity than the other options. Once you realize this, you tend to get excited that you have “discovered the truth.” But there usually exists a certain immature liability that underlies that excitement. What I mean to say is that knowing the truth and applying it to one’s self and others are two very different things. It’s the difference between Orthodoxy and Philosophy of Ministry.
As I enter year 45 of being a Christian, I find myself gradually leaving differentiation and living life more in terms of inclusion. I tend more to define what I think and do based on a “Him and me” orientation, and find myself less likely to evaluate others in light of assorted differences and distinctions. There seems to be a growing inclination to recognize that all believers are on their own God-tailored journey – a journey that does not progress through the same intersections, stopovers and signposts that characterize my own personal history.
So, shouldn’t the changes that accompany my aging bear fruit in terms of the way I view myself and others? I myself should be less judgmental, less likely to withhold validation of others, and less of a “litmus test” person. Most rational folks would agree that I shouldn’t treat others differently for their kale preference. Neither should I make them feel undervalued based on a current inability (or disinterest) in becoming “more vulnerable.” It’s also inappropriate for me (and demeaning to them) if I consider them to be my project. Change is the work of the Holy Spirit. The journey is mapped out by God Almighty. The whole personal project is underwritten by Jesus’ work in this world and on the cross.
As Richard Rohr so aptly writes in his great book, Falling Upward: “Holier-than-thou people usually end up holier than nobody.”
Oh, now back to that confession:
I am broken, fragile, frail and faulty. I am occasionally a hypocrite. That means that I occasionally eat kale and I sometimes feel the pull of acting vulnerable in order to gain your litmus test spiritual approval. Sum it up to say that I often want to look holy more than I want to be holy.
There! I’ve exhibited a modicum of vulnerability, and put it down in black and white. This confession of mine might also apply to you and to all who inherit the sinful, fallen human condition. May God have mercy on our souls!
I Love You:
“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” Mark 7:6
“…the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Romans 4:13b