If you read this column with any frequency, you know that I wonder a lot. Lately I’ve been wondering about wondering.
I wonder about how wonderers engage with the world that is different from non-wonderers. I wonder how wondering fits in with, or is different from, knowing. And it’s occurred to me that not knowing (and being OK with that) requires that a person have a certain level of comfort with ambiguity and can be intentionally vulnerable – vulnerable in the sense of choosing to stand undefended, to be radically open.
All this sounds thoroughly antithetical to what many see as American, whether on the right or on the left of our political and religious divides. It all sounds just too mushy. Too uncertain. Too weak and indecisive. We need to stand up for what we believe in, right? “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Remember that? So, why would anyone want to be vulnerable?
Likewise, many of us who follow in the way of Jesus were raised to the rallying cry of “Stand up, stand up for Jesus.” It was as though Jesus needed us to stand up for him. We were taught that our main raison d’etre was to convert “lost souls” and to “save the world for Jesus.” I have to wonder if that is because we’d read the Gospel stories about how Jesus didn’t save himself when he could have – how he didn’t do the manly thing and fight back. I wonder if deep down in our guts we suspect Jesus wasn’t up to saving all those who needed it, or at least who we’d been taught needed it. Even if he did stand up for the poor and the sick and the socially unacceptable, dag nab it, he was just too vulnerable. Jesus needs us to save people, because he was really, what? A wuss?
David Whyte, a poet and philosopher said in the April 6, 2016, edition of the podcast “On Being,” “Without vulnerability there is no conversation,” something I expect many of us feel a great need for in our country these days. Until we can talk with (not at) one another, there will be no way out of our sorry divisions.
Many would agree that listening to one another is what provides the groundwork for true conversation to happen. Whyte would add that a willingness to be changed by that conversation is even more foundational. When we avoid being vulnerable we may feel we are being strong, certain, and assertive. What we are, in reality, is stuck. Stuck in our fear of being insufficient. Stuck in our compensating behaviors. Stuck in our superficial selves that we present to the world as though they were our authentic selves when, in fact, they are constructs behind which we hide. It is the nature of reality to be vulnerable.
The stories of Jesus show him walking among the powerful as one who did not run from his vulnerability. To know that, all you have to do is to look at the cross. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, the apostle Paul while struggling with his own vulnerability says that Jesus told him that “power is made perfect in weakness.”
The narrative line in the gospels, without exception, is a movement away from imagined control to accepting the nature of reality in which vulnerability is built into the framework.
I wonder, were Jesus to walk among us today if we would be able to recognize him. Much more, I wonder if we white/cisgender/ climbing the ladder toward wealth, position, and influence folks who make up the dominate culture would give him the time of day. I wonder.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.