Archives For Brené Brown

Calvin quote John CommentaryBuilding a stronghold against our insecurities means being honest with ourselves about our strengths and limitations.

There is the issue of anxiety, of course, but once insecurity is pushed back, the natural response we feel when we experience anxiety can be used to fuel those strengths and improve any limitations.

As Brene Brown (2010) brilliantly highlights in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’, any extreme uneasiness that we may feel is unmanageable becomes instead an energizing motif that motivates us to be free, but responsible, with our vulnerability.

Wholeheartedness requires ordinary courage…Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary’[i].

This doesn’t expel with reason and boundaries, in what and how we communicate. Brown’s conclusion involves discernment as much as it involves seeing that extraordinary courage is about being wholeheartedly courageous in the ordinary.

There have been times when I’ve ‘dropped the ball’. I struggle with the echoes of a broken past and I’ve encountered issues with insecurity in communication. These are times when I haven’t kept or been able to keep insecurity and anxiety in check. An example of this is the headline of a post a few weeks back where I misspelled the word ‘disposition’ (since corrected).

I’d like to think that those posts and mistakes are extremely rare, and only exist as an anomaly in an otherwise informative, (albeit eclectic?), sometimes deep but accessible, theological blog. It would be unrealistic and ultimately unhelpful to think that those flaws didn’t exist.

Those of you who are writers with dysfunctional upbringings, or those who are regular readers here will know what I mean.

My point is that we all in some way combat our own sense of inadequacy and no matter how hard we try, the stress caused by that battle, like scars, will sometimes show.

Think about how many times you may find yourself fighting off self-condemnation when we fail to nail that ever elusive ‘perfect’ blog post.

Insecurity can hinder our goals, which for me is seeking to make Karl Barth, et.al, more accessible. If I gave in, I’d post nothing, fearing rejection; that any contributions to theology that I might make is seen as superfluous because of where I come from. However, to give in to this would be a mistake because it means surrendering my strengths, by allowing myself to be overwhelmed by my limitations – some inherited, some conditioned and others of my own making.

{I don’t mean the careful editing process any writer needs to allow room for; I’m referring to the O.C.D tendency that is attached to excessive editing caused when a writer or artist compares their style of writing and content to others we may see as being ”better than” ourselves.}

In the end our writing and the publishing of that work is an act of faith.

In the end it belongs to God. It requires resting broken, fallible words into His infallible hands, for Him to mold and use as He wills.

There, in our nightmares, we who cry out almost breathlessly, ‘Jesus please help me’, will hear the words “Jesus is Victor” spoken back to us; and as the nightmare fades on our hearts realignment with this truth, God, through the Holy Spirit, will teach us how, even in the midst of our breathtaking-tears, we can still find life.

This is where one of Calvin’s statements in his commentary on John finds traction today:

Christ’s voice gives life; As Christ is the only mirror of the grace of God, we are taught…that we ought not to judge the love of God from the condition which we see before our eyes’[ii]

Once we neutralize our insecurity by telling ourselves the truth, by trusting in God’s claim on us that says we are capable, accepted, and loved, we begin our journey towards eliminating the obstacles that stop clear and effective communication.

This will, from the beginning, make us better people, more authentic Christians and better communicators.

Sources:

[i] Brown, B. 2010 The Gifts of Imperfection Hazelden Kindle Ed. (p.12-13)

[ii] Calvin, J: 1509-1564 Commentary of John Sourced from CCEL.org (p.364-365)

 

One evening, a few weeks back, I came into contact with the work of Canadian, theologian and preacher Jamie Howison. The impetus of this discovery was my quest to answer the controversial question ‘is preaching a performance?’ Howison had recently published a book entitled ‘God’s mind in that music: a theological exploration through the music of John Coltrane’[1]. Being an amateurish Jazz enthusiast and budding theologian, I was immediately intrigued by this link between music and theological expression.

For context, I rate among the many that view anything ‘polished as false and sloppy as genuine’ (Dixon, 2013). There is justification for thinking like this, although ultimately it is flawed. For example, I am conditioned to think this way because of my negative experiences with churches that valued appearance, wealth and status above people.  Therefore my immediate, natural reaction is to reject any notion that preaching is a performance.

As so often can be the case my embedded theological position here was challenged by the deliberative theology I found myself immersed in. As a result I was corrected, and redirected beyond my predisposed cynicism. As difficult as it has been to shift my thinking on this issue, I find myself stating in the affirmative, preaching does in fact involve performance.

In order to come to this new point of view I had to differentiate between ‘putting on a show’ and the importance of performing, as being an important element within the art of effective communication.

Thankfully, my collegial brethren were there to force this distinction to the surface. As this truth unraveled, not too much unlike an approaching storm, I began to see the relevance that Howison’s work had to my newly found appreciation for performance. He is right to state that ‘every time any of us goes to hear live music, we are at least potentially a part of its creation’ (2012, p.10). After all, “theology is worked out in community’’, right?

My research prompted me to dust off some significant examples that were right there in front of me. Such as: Johnny Cash who as an artist points to, and is one of the better examples of combining preaching with performance, or theology with art.

Cash himself stated that

‘I don’t cram anything down people’s throats, but neither do I make any apologies for it, and in a song introduction, I have to tell it like it is’ (‘Cash: the autobiography 1997, p.275).

Likewise Hollywood actor Stephen Baldwin makes the plea for the Church

‘to do whatever it takes to develop and distribute culturally relevant, artistically excellent materials that will make the world sit up and take notice’ (‘The unusual suspect 2006, p.248).

Whilst this could rightly be viewed as an overstatement, it is worth noting that Baldwin balances this by stating that

‘relevance does not mean adopting the culture’s methods to the degree that you lose the message’ (2006, p.245)

For Howison, ‘the very idea that the preacher (and the musician) has a significant role in the shaping of a shared intellectual life is important’ (2012, p.12). This is also reflected in Michael Quicke’s book ‘Preaching as Worship’. Quicke is an advocate for the use of social media. He ingeniously promotes the art of blogging in order to invite his faith community to participate in the sermon creation process.

The final words, at least for now, go to  lead-worshipper and teacher Kathryn Scott ,

‘’what we do spills out of the strong quiet knowledge of who we are’’ (2013).

In other words, when we are centered we don’t need to ‘put on a show’.  This is because our performance is found in ‘our vulnerability, the willingness to give of our best to others on a wholehearted level’ (Brené Brown). Out of this flows a natural performance because ‘our stories begin and end with God’ (McManus 2005, p.63). By it we take up the invitation to participate ‘with’ Father, Son and Spirit, and lay our self-righteous attempts to do anything ‘for’ Him at the foot of the cross. Here, right now, we are invited to serve directly from whose we are and who we are ‘becoming’ (Guthrie 2011, p.47).

Bibliography:

Baldwin, S. 2006 The Unusual Suspect, Faithwords Hachette Book Group New York, NY
Cash, J. 1997 Johnny Cash: the autobiography HarperCollins Publishers New York, NY
Guthrie, Steven R. (2011-05-01). Creator Spirit: The Holy Spirit and the Art of Becoming Human . Baker Book Group. Kindle Edition.
Howison, J. 2012 God’s mind in That Music: theological explorations through the Music of John Coltrane Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock publishers OR, USA.
McManus, E. 2005 the Barbarian way: Unleash the untamed faith within Nelson books Tenn, US.


[1] (the title is named after a Carlos Santana comment about John Coltrane).

Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, a professor of theology wrote in Modern Christianity, that Gospel-spirituals were ‘chants of collective exorcism’ (2010 p.317).Duggan was inadvertently pointing out that being passionate involves an audience/community – it invites participation.I think that when we consider the difference between passion and being passionate we can identify more precisely what the word passion truly implies.

I consider having passion (noun – passive/static) and being passionate (adjective – active/dynamic) separate – the former is based on appearances the latter is based on tangible evidence/substance. To be sure this is a subtle distinction falling closely inside the realm of semantics. However it is fair to suggest that being passionate is different from simply just having passion. For instance: a working thesis of mine is that a lot of people like the idea of something or someone’s existence, yet they do not like the reality that that something or someone exists. This shows we can have passion which is expressed in our attraction to an idea or, we can be passionate which is expressed not just in our attraction to an idea, but also to its reality.

This observation is helpful in understanding the distinction between the words passion and passionate. For example: having passion is passive, it is always receiving and it essentially goes nowhere. Alternatively being passionate takes joy in existence. It is the description of a dynamic-active acceptance of something or someone. In theological terms this is evidenced by the idea of worship which involves a willingness to be ‘vulnerable’ and contribute (Brene Brown’s Gifts of imperfection, 2010). Worship in this sense is the grateful acceptance of an invitation, one handed mysteriously to us from the Holy Spirit. This is an invitation to join the living, breathing life of the Divine (Phil.2:1, 2 Pet.1:4).

Possibly the best way to explain my point is visually. Take for example Mahalia Jackson (linked). It is difficult to just sit by and witness her ”passion” like an indifferent spectator would. This is because we are moved and drawn in by her authentic passionate response. The Holy Spirit inspires change and her gratitude is deep and authentic. I think we could probably say that what we are witnessing is her passionate, active and dynamic participation with Father, Son and Spirit. Hers is a Holy participation and we are invited to hear (Rom.10:17) and then be enabled to move beyond ourselves. In this way our worship becomes a ‘chant of collective exorcism’. Instead of consuming the message we are consumed by it! Similarly when we witness the cry of a martyr, through that experience we become martyrs (Tertullian).

This fits with my premise that having passion is to be considered separate from being passionate. Subsequently we either accept theinvitation to participate or we sit back and eventually switch off. The Holy Spirit’s role in igniting human passion is a primary elementin the creative formation and delivery of any passionate message and response. Whatever forms that message may be the Holy Spiriisthe one who inspires movement. The Spirit does this by inspiring change towards an inclusion into the content of that often disturbing message. There His life giving breath (Job 33:4 ESV) is whispered into our hearts summoning us to the ‘freedom of response and fellowship’ (Barth C.D II/2) with God. Consequently we will almost ALWAYS walk away ‘disturbed’ (Barth C.D. IV/II 1958, p.524) by a decisive and deliberate encounter with the transcendent God. The ‘Free God’ (Barth) who has chosen to make himself known in that time and place.