This last week has been insane. Family sickness, repairs, car issues, multiple calls from school nurses, including one in which the nurse expressed concern my 7-year-old son had been bitten by a brown recluse spider…and just when I thought it couldn’t get worse…viral pinkeye. Two puffy, leaky, red hot swollen eyes and multiple doctor visits to get the same message: there’s nothing we can do to make it go away; you just have to let it run its course.
A canceled business trip…
I dunno how people with cancer do it.
But the insanity of recent days reminds me once again of an inherent lie we human beings often tell ourselves in the throes of daily life. The lie says, “I am invulnerable.”
Pinkeye that destroys any shred of vanity.
That won’t happen to me, we can tell ourselves—if not about pinkeye, something worse. Or, if it could happen to me, I can protect myself from it, we say, at least subliminally.
So top athletes take steroids, and politicians blame their party rivals for their own mistakes—to make themselves invulnerable to loss.
And doctors use medical euphemisms to prop up the lie that the modern-day patient is invulnerable to death. (Heck, I’m still waiting for that cure for viral pinkeye.)
And those who are rich tell themselves that the way they’ll save themselves from being poor and needy and insecure—vulnerable—is to keep acquiring more and more and more.
And nice, well-behaved, God-fearing types secretly make a bet with God that if they tithe 10 percent and are regular attendees in Sunday worship, they’ll be invulnerable to life’s most painful curve balls.
But of course we can’t protect ourselves really. We would just like to pretend we can. We would really like to believe that with a little hard work or lucky stars or whatever, we can be invulnerable. And worse yet, the more we try to tell ourselves we’re invulnerable, the more weak, insecure and disconnected from ourselves and others we really are.
If you haven’t yet watched social scientist, therapist and author Brene Brown’s TEDTalk The power of vulnerability, here it is below. In her endearingly lighthearted and self-deprecating way, Brown articulates how across years of studying issues related to human connection and alienation, the people who exhibited the most connection with the world around them were those who were willing to acknowledge their vulnerability and to live wholeheartedly in that space of vulnerability, loving those around them.
Strikingly, Brown has also suggested that we can try to make matters of faith invulnerable, too, which is one of the worst things we can do for awe-invoking things entailing mystery and wonder. Rigid Christian apologetics and church growth strategies are, I suspect, an extension of trying to make the church invulnerable, which is a pipedream, (and all pipedreams by definition are inherently false).
Besides, I can’t think of anyone more “vulnerable” than Jesus. Isn’t that what the three temptations in the wilderness are about? The devil is offering Jesus the chance to become invulnerable. Jesus chooses, instead, to be anything but that. He chooses vulnerability. He chooses humanness and the fragility of everything that entails—and then he lets himself be killed. Churches that reject or implicitly judge fragile human beings for the sake of being “more successful” or “bigger” are rejecting Jesus Himself.
Maybe one of the reasons AA is so successful is that AA doesn’t do this. You can come just as you are, however sick that may be, and you’re accepted in all your vulnerability, with the recognition that your vulnerability is what brings you there.
But…what do you think?