“Vulnerability”

Worship Script 3


 

Worship Script (3 of 5)

The Shadow Side of Vulnerability

 

OPENING WORDS

We, too, were once seeking home By Erica Hewitt

We welcome all of you to our service, especially those of you who are searching for a spiritual home. Many of us were once, too, seeking for something larger than ourselves to which we could belong: a sense of rootedness to hold us as we create meaning together. We do that well here—though not perfectly. In this congregation, we strive not for perfection but for authenticity and connection.

Whether it's your first time in worship with us or your hundredth time, we hope that you’ll find here questions that stretch you, people to befriend you, and liberal religious values that challenge you to join us in loving boldly, living justly, and welcoming radically.

 

HYMN #359   When We are Gathered

 

FIRST READING

Excerpt from Love and Death by Forrest Church

My children helped me teach this lesson. One day we were almost killed crossing the street right in front of our apartment building. I was walking them to school. Three-quarters of the way across, with the light in our favor and all of us dutifully holding hands, a car burst out of nowhere, hurtling around the corner at breakneck speed.

Deeply shaken, I did the obvious thing. I got angry. Nt at the driver of course. She was long gone. I vented my anger at the children.

“Did you see that care? It could have killed us. It almost hit us. It really did. We might have been killed.” But neither of them had done anything wrong. They were holding my hands, walking with the signal. I had nothing to teach them.

Only this, perhaps. Our lives are beset with trapdoors. Whenever the ground seems most secure, something out there has its hand on the lever. A massive coronary, an embolism, a drunk driver, a vagrant cell multiplying with moral vengeance secretly within our body[...] When a trapdoor springs, we haven’t time for regrets or second chances. It just happens. Swoosh. No goodbyes.

Trapdoors have one saving grace. They add to our appreciation of life, even as they threaten to extinguish it. Later that very day, walking my children home from school, they looked different to me, more vulnerable and precious. As we talked about their last day in school and summer plans, I loved them desperately.

 

SECOND READING
Excerpt from A Natural History of Love by Diane Ackerman

Yes, lovers are most often reduced to comparatives and quantities. “Do you love me more than her” we ask. “Will you love me less if I don't do what you say?” We are afraid to face love head-on. We think of it as a sort of traffic accident of the heart. It is an emotion that scares us more than cruelty, more than violence, more than hatred. We allow ourselves to be foiled by the vagueness of the word. After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives, strip naked, then invite him to stand close. What could be scarier?

 

HYMN #307The Human Touch Can Light the Flame

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
From “A Brilliant Way To Teach Children Which Friends To Trust” An Article from Huffington Post, on Dr. Brene Brown’s conversation with her daughter Ellen.
 

It all began when Brown’s third-grade daughter, Ellen, came home from school and immediately broke down into tears. Brown recounts the memorable moment during a talk for OWN’s “SuperSoul Sessions” speaker series.

As a mom, Brown was frightened and asked Ellen repeatedly what had happened.

“She pulled herself together enough to say, ‘Something really hard happened to me today at school and I shared it with a couple of my friends during recess. And by the time we got back into the classroom, everyone in my class knew what had happened. They were laughing at me and pointing and calling me names,’” she says.

The incident had been so disruptive that Ellen’s teacher issued a consequence to the whole class: She removed marbles out of the classroom “marble jar,” a marker for the students’ behavior. When the children make good choices together, marbles are added. When they make poor choices and are disruptive, marbles get removed. When the marble jar gets filled, the class gets a celebration.

Though the consequence was issued, Ellen was no less devastated by the time she got home.

“She said, ‘It was one of the worst moments of my life,’” Brown says. “She looked at me, just with this face that is just seared into my mind and said, ‘I will never trust anyone again.’”

Brown’s immediate reaction was to launch into mama-bear mode, but she settled down so she could clearly explain the concept of trust to her teary daughter in a way that Ellen would understand.

“I took a deep breath and I said, ‘Ellen, trust is like a marble jar… You share those hard stories and those hard things that are happening to you with friends who, overtime, you’ve filled up their marble jar,’” Brown says.

In other words, like receiving a celebration from Ellen’s classroom marble jar, trust is a reward that must be earned.

This explanation was exactly what Ellen needed to hear. “[I asked], ‘Does that make sense?’” Brown says. “That’s what Ellen said: ‘Yes, that makes sense!’”

 

MEDITATION

Excerpts from The Human Spirit by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley

"Our spirit's healing temple is someone else's available and understanding heart,"
says Howard Thurman.
And so we pray that there will be those who offer
a listening ear, a healing touch.

We pray that there will be those who will not shrink from our untidy suffering,
for it is through the support of these souls that we might find a balm, a salve, and begin to
heal our pain.

We pray for strength, for
a few more morsels of faith
a few more nuggets of time when we can empty our minds of it all
and little spaces in our days and nights when we can touch another soul, and be held in someone else's embrace.

Help us to find the hope that lies
beneath what our eyes can see and our ears can hear.
Help us to hold fast to the belief
that there is still goodness in this world.
Help us to respond out of love rather than out of fear.
Help us to trust again, knowing that
"the arc of the moral universe is long" and that it does indeed "bend toward justice."

Mend once again our brokenness, and guide us toward the path of peace.

Blessed be. Namaste. A' Salaam Alakim. Ashe, Shalom, and Amen.

 

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

The Shadow Side of Vulnerability by Rev. Roger Bertschausen, executive director, UU Partner Church Council
 

A while back I was able to go with several minister colleagues to London for a visit, and during that trip I had the pleasure of meeting a British Unitarian minister named Jane. I liked her instantly. She led a beautiful evening vespers service; her voice cast a peaceful spell over the room. But we really didn’t have much of a chance to talk. There were rumbles at the retreat that Jane was struggling with cancer.


Later, Jane, another colleague and I had a wonderful dinner together in Liverpool. She had just returned to work after her latest extended, cancer-related absence. It felt like one of those moments when a deep connection is made in spite of spending such a short time together. Jane’s worry about a few new unexplained lumps and her not feeling very good cast an anxious note on our conversation.


We got a pint at a nearby pub, and then bid Jane goodbye as she jumped into a cab. It was the last time I would ever see her. Shortly after returning to the U.S. a month later, I learned that Jane indeed had a recurrence of the cancer and that it was hopeless. She resigned from her church position, moved in with her parents, and entered into hospice care. Jane died soon after.


Even though I’m in the line of work where I might have to do three memorial services in three days for people I love, at least a lot of the time I live in denial of death. And even though cancer loomed large over our conversation with Jane, it was a shock to me that she was gone only four months later. While I was settling back into my normal life, Jane was dying. I’m not sure how to wrap my heart around this.


We human beings are incredibly vulnerable. Four months from now, any of us could have gotten really sick, entered into hospice care, and died. The late Unitarian Universalist minister Forrest Church used the image that we are all walking on trap doors. One day, the trap door opens and woosh—we are gone. Is there anything more you need to know about the inherent vulnerability of human beings?


So a basic spiritual question is how we’re going to live with this fact of our vulnerability. Are we going to express our vulnerability or are we going to wall it off? Like many others, I’ve made a case for expressing rather than walling off our vulnerability. But I want to temper that sentiment by saying we also need to develop a streak of steel within ourselves. I’m not sure most of us could survive without some steel within us. Maybe a few Buddhist souls could. But not most of us.


The need for a streak of steel within us is even more important if we find ourselves in a population labeled “vulnerable” — if we are a person of color, or poor, or not in the majority in terms of our gender and/or sexual identity, for example.


As a straight, relatively affluent, white male in the U.S., I am emphatically not in a vulnerable population. This is the nature of my straight, affluent, white male, American privilege. I don’t generally have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or whether there’s going to be a roof overhead when I go to sleep tonight, or about my partner assaulting me or getting beat up because someone thinks I’m gay or shot if I listen to loud music or wear a hoodie.
In recent years, we Unitarian Universalists have often lifted up the need to express our vulnerability as a virtue. So I ask: Is expressing our vulnerability always a virtue? Is it an absolute good?


Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against expressing our vulnerability. Without vulnerability, genuine connection with our deepest self or with other people is not possible. Vulnerability is a gateway to connection, the birthplace of authenticity, accountability, joy, creativity, belonging, love, innovation, inspiration, spirituality and adaptability.


But it’s also true that being vulnerable with others is not always a good thing. We need to express our vulnerability, and we need to make sure that streak of steel is there, too. We need to be aware of when exercising our vulnerability muscle isn’t such a good thing.


I can think of three circumstances in which expressing our vulnerability is not a good thing. The first is when we are in an oppressed position and being vulnerable exposes us to increased danger. Being vulnerable, of course, is always a risk. For example, in being vulnerable with a partner or another family member, we risk their misusing whatever we shared with them to hurt us.


To connect deeply, we need to be vulnerable anyway. But when we are in a situation of oppression, the risk in expressing our vulnerability is not necessarily worth it. Those among us who are privileged need to beware of preaching a gospel of vulnerability to others who are not so privileged. (I should add here that if a person is in a relatively privileged position, chances are good that the person would do well to get in touch with his or her vulnerability.)


A second circumstance in which showing our vulnerability is not a good thing is when such expression is motivated by a desire to manipulate others. Let’s say I majorly screw up at home. It’s good to admit that I’ve done so, to admit the exact nature of my wrongdoing. As I do so, it might be good to show my vulnerability—unless in so doing I’m consciously or unconsciously trying to diminish or pre-empt my partner’s anger. I need to avoid expressing my vulnerability with the unspoken message of “See how vulnerable I am. Now don’t be a meanie and stay angry.”


I have seen folks use their vulnerability as a way to manipulate others. I’ve been manipulated by folks who have used their vulnerability in ways like this. And, if I’m honest, I can think of times when I’ve done the same to others.


The third circumstance in which expressing our vulnerability is not a good thing is when it’s little more than a symptom of self-centeredness or even narcissism. Rather than opening ourselves and giving space for others to share their vulnerability, we hog the floor. “See how vulnerable I am? I’m sharing my deepest feelings with you. And while I’m at it, let me share another vulnerable piece of me. And then this piece. I’m just a wonderfully vulnerable person.” And no one else gets a word in edgewise.


So there’s a need to express our vulnerability skillfully. (I’m using “skillful” in the Buddhist sense.) Here are good questions I might ask myself before showing vulnerability: Is there a power difference between the other person and me, with me at the low end? If so, will my sharing my vulnerability expose me to unnecessary danger? And what is the motivation for my expressing my vulnerability? Is it to open myself to genuine connection with the other person? Or is it so I can manipulate her or him, or keep the focus on me?


How might we skillfully convey our vulnerability in a marriage or other form of life partnership? I think we need to be wary of revealing our vulnerability if there is a power differential between us and our partner—especially if we are on the receiving end of any sort of abuse in the relationship. And we need to share our vulnerability deeply and openly if the relationship is truly mutual. This is incredibly difficult. The writer Diane Ackerman captures this truth well in her A Natural History of Love: “After all, love requires the utmost vulnerability. We equip someone with freshly sharpened knives; strip naked; then invite him (or her) to stand close. What could be scarier?”


But the depth and power of the relationship is directly proportional to the extent to which we can take the leap of faith in communicating our vulnerability. At the same time, we need to avoid expressing our vulnerability as a means of manipulation or to keep the focus on us.


How might skillful expression of vulnerability manifest itself in how we raise our children? (I’m using “children” here very broadly—not just our biological or adoptive children, but also our grandchildren and any other children whom we mentor.) Child-rearing is all about teaching and reinforcing impossible and paradoxical balances. Demonstrating vulnerability is no exception. We need to help nurture our kids’ small streaks of steel. They’re going to need the steel. We also need to help them learn how to express their vulnerability openly and honestly.


We need to help them be able to put up walls around their vulnerability when they need walls, and to tear down the walls when they don’t need them. We also need to teach our children not only to convey their own vulnerability, but to listen to others sharing theirs. Whatever our age, however, the balancing act of vulnerability remains a vital growing edge as we navigate this complex world.


I’ve adapted a perhaps familiar passage into what I’m calling the Vulnerability Courage Prayer: “God, grant me the courage to have a streak of steel when I need it, the courage to express my vulnerability when I need that, and the wisdom to know when to do which.”
 

HYMN #1021 Lean On Me

 

BENEDICTION

By Alice Walker

love is not concerned
with whom you pray
or where you slept
the night you ran away
from home
love is concerned
that the beating of your heart
should kill no one