“Its time to shed this masquerade. You cannot love in moderation. Dancing with a dead man’s bones. Lay your soul on the threshing floor.” Gungor, “Land of the Living”
I’m grateful to be a part of a church that encourages me, as the band Gungor sings, “to shed this masquerade” and to “lay (my) soul on the threshing floor”. There is an unmistakable call to love wholeheartedly although I find it hard to pinpoint how my church has championed this message. We haven’t had a sermon series or even a weekend seminar on “7 Ways to Achieve Authenticity”. Instead, there has been an insidious culture of vulnerability developing church-wide. People are sharing, in appropriate manners, how they’ve been hurt, how they’ve hurt others and how God is bringing healing. Even though appropriate, at times it is admittedly awkward. I’ve found myself squirming in my seat or staring at the floor in an effort to avoid eye contact, especially when someone else’s struggle sounds all too familiar.
I am convinced that other church members have embraced the same message though because our conversations are changing. We talk less about how clean (or dirty) our houses are and more about how we struggle with the pursuit of perfectionism, not only in our homes but also with our children and our bodies. Topics such as pornography, alcohol abuse, same-sex attraction and eating disorders are no longer about “those people”. My own cultural and racial biases are being uncovered as I consider my lack of relationships with people who don’t look like me or live like me. There is also a greater recognition of my attempts to jam in a self-soothing pacifier, usually through disengagement, distractions (addictions) of various sorts and anger. Against my every inclination, the message is loud and clear: stop trying to outrun pain and downplay desire.
This exhortation is not a passing wave of self-help repackaged with a dash of religion to make it church-approved. The language and culture of our church is undoubtedly inspired in parts by great books like The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. What Brown communicates in these books, as well as her wildly popular TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en), are actually a repackaging and reshuffling of what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels. The uncomfortable prodding and digging into the heart of matters is most clearly seen in Christ. Below is an example from a paraphrased conversation He had with a woman at the well from John 4:
Jesus: “Give me a drink.”
Woman: “I’m so surprised you are talking to me. I’m a Samaritan and a woman. You are a Jew and a man.”
Jesus: “If you knew how to recognize God when you saw Him, you’d be the one asking me for living water.”
Woman: “You don’t even have a bucket!” Who do you think you are?”
Jesus: “The water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Woman: “Hmmm….having this kind of water would make my life easier. I wouldn’t have to come to this well all the time and draw water.”
Jesus: “Go get your husband and come back here.”
Woman: “I have no husband.”
Jesus: “True. The man you are with now isn’t your husband and you have had five husbands before him.”
The Samaritan woman’s misplaced search for fulfillment is easy for me to relate to. Not only did Jesus know she was a Samaritan; He knew she was unchaste. Through this socially awkward and culturally inappropriate conversation with Jesus, the futility of her worship was bluntly revealed. In no way did He condone her idolatrous lifestyle but he made it clear that His love for her was not altered by her sin. She was exposed and simultaneously shown love.
By the end of their time together, she recognized Jesus as the Christ and told her neighborhood about how Jesus knew her story. Although she was undoubtedly impressed with His prophetic qualities in knowing her past, this alone wasn’t what convinced her that He was the Christ. She encountered love – the divine type that is all-knowing and still all-loving. Being known and loved in this way also gave her courage to expose herself by telling her story. Her vulnerability made possible through Jesus’ love brought the gospel to Samaria as people joined her to worship Jesus and proclaim “…we know that this indeed (is) the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42b)
The perfect, all-knowing love of Jesus “sheds this masquerade” and allows us to “lay (our) soul (s) on the threshing floor”. The paradox of the gospel (death=life, weakness=strength) brings us new life and enables us to love each other daringly and deeply. Herein lies the missing element of the self-help message. When we fail and/or the world is critical of our efforts, our hope is in Christ who loves us and will never leave us. There is immense value in embracing our imperfections and in encouragements to live boldly and unafraid of the world’s critique. However, the conversation of vulnerability and wholehearted living is incomplete and inadequate without Christ because, after all, it was his idea from the beginning.