altThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown (Hazelden Publishing, 2010)

I'm reading Brené Brown's books in the wrong order, perhaps. I found The Gifts of Imperfection more accessible than Daring Greatly, though maybe that's because I'm more accustomed to her ideas and style now. I still say that it's good to see Brown on video first, and you can find some on my review of Daring Greatly. Even more, however, I appreciate Brown's ideas as they are filtered and expanded on the Blue Ocean Families blog.

It's easy to look at Brown's words and take your mind to all sorts of places not supported by her ideas. The title, for example, suggests to my mind the cry, from toddler to teenager to street thug to tyrant:  I don't have to follow the stupid rules; I gotta be ME!

But that's not what Brown means, and I believe she has tapped into a hidden problem that is the opposite of what we're always hearing as "what's wrong with the world today."

We're too selfish, too self-focussedWe love ourselves too much and others not enoughWe are takers, not giversWe drank too much of the self-esteem movement's Kool-Aid and think we're God's gift to the world.

Wait. We are God's gift to the world.

Given that the negative message has been proclaimed in loud voices from many eras and all over the world, I'm sure there's a lot of truth to it. Where I'm struggling is that the above description simply doesn't apply to so many of the people I know. They're humble, they are doing amazing work, and in the rare moments they take time for themselves it is always with an eye for preparing to serve others better. The work of their lives is for other people, and yet they are convinced that, deep down, they are lazy, selfish, incompetent, and unable to live up to their own expectations, let alone those of anyone else.

Ask these folks where they want to go to lunch, and they'll starve while trying to discern where the others would like to go.

For such people, the repeated message—from peers, from society, from churches, from self-help books, from their own hearts—is that they are selfish, miserable sinners, or as Brené Brown puts it, not good enough: not smart enough, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not strong enough, not spouse or parent enough, not [fill in your favorite inadequacy] enough. This pours gasoline on lives that already feel as if they are in flames. Like the Pharisees of old, the promoters of such thoughts "tie up heavy, burdensome loads and lay them on men's shoulders" and have "disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men."

When I was a teen, I took a AAA-sponsored driver's education course. The instructor, having dealt primarily with cocky, over-confident teenaged boys, felt it his duty to knock out my confidence and give me a healthy fear of the massive weapon I was driving. He succeeded all too well, and left me with a phobia that handicaps me to this day. We do great harm when we use an axe to approach a job that requires an X-acto knife.

Enter Brené Brown. Her messages of self-care, of loving ourselves, and that we are "enough" to be deserving of love and belonging ring falsely at first to someone who all her life has bought into the message of failure. But it's worth getting over that. She doesn't mean there's no room for improvement!

We are God's gift to the world, but many of us have wrapped that gift up in so many layers of what we think we ought to be, that we no longer have any idea what's inside the box. That unique, authentic I—currently flawed and broken but no less worthy—is the person God created each of us to be. God creates individuals, not clones. If we bury ourselves and our abilities, are we not in danger of becoming the unfaithful servant who was condemned by his master for hiding what he was given to invest? I don't want to carry that image too far; no doubt God's view of a sound investment does not look exactly like our own.  But there's something there, and Brené Brown may be giving us tools for removing the wrapping without damaging the contents.

 


 

Some of the quotations make better sense in their context, but I present them anyway. Most are from earlier in the book, before I ran up against the due-date deadline. Bold type is my own emphasis.

How much we know and understand ourselves is critically important, but there is something that is even more essential to living a Wholehearted life: loving ourselves.

It was clear from the data that we cannot give our children what we don’t have. Where we are on our journey of living and loving with our whole hearts is a much stronger indicator of parenting success than anything we can learn from how-to books.

I’ve learned that playing down the exciting stuff doesn’t take the pain away when it doesn’t happenIt does, however, minimize the joy when it does happen.

If we really want to practice compassion, we have to start by setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior. ... When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice. For our own sake, we need to understand that it’s dangerous to our relationships and our well-being to get mired in shame and blame, or to be full of self-righteous anger. It’s also impossible to practice compassion from a place of resentment. If we’re going to practice acceptance and compassion, we need boundaries and accountability.

True, at the core. But I've found it's certainly possible to do the acts of compassion from a place of resentment.  It's not healthy, but sometimes necessary.

Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.

As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seem to be struggling for it. That one thing is the belief in their worthiness. it’s as simple and complicated as this:  If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

In a society that says, “Put yourself last,” self-love and self-acceptance are almost revolutionary.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

I was shocked to discover that hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process. … Hope is a combination of setting goals, having the tenacity and perseverance to pursue them, and believing in our own abilities.

Herein is one of my frustrations with Brown: In her attempts to nail down certain concepts, she simply defines words the way she wants to. They may ultimately be useful definitions, but it's a bit disorienting at first.

I found in my research that men and women who self-report as hopeful put considerable value on persistence and hard work. The new cultural belief that everything should be fun, fast, and easy is inconsistent with hopeful thinking. It also sets us up for hopelessness. When we experience something that is difficult and requires significant time and effort, we are quick to think, This is supposed to be easy; it’s not worth the effort, or, This should be easier; it’s only hard and slow because I’m not good at it. Hopeful self-talk sounds more like, This is tough, but I can do it.

I’ve also learned that never fun, fast, and easy is as detrimental to hope as always fun, fast, and easy. … Before this research I believed that unless blood, sweat, and tears were involved, it must not be that important. I was wrong. … Hope also requires us to understand that just because the process of reaching a goal happens to be fun, fast, and easy doesn’t mean that it has less value than a difficult goal.

Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly concerned that we’re raising children who have little tolerance for disappointment and have a strong sense of entitlement, which is very different than [sic] agency. Entitlement is “I deserve this just because I want it” and agency is “I know I can do this.”  The combination of fear of disappointment, entitlement, and performance pressure is a recipe for hopelessness and self-doubt.

A critical component of Wholehearted living is play! ... [Dr. Stuart Brown] explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation. ... Brown proposes seven properties of play, the first of which is that play is apparently purposeless. Basically this means that we play for the sake of play.  We do it because it's fun and we want to. ... Brown argues that play is not an option. In fact he writes, "The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression."

We've got so much to do and so little time that the idea of spending time doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of precious time. We even convince ourselves that sleep is a terrible use of our time.

There's no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was "taking the edge off" of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy. Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn't come with guarantees—these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. When we lose our tolerance for discomfort, we lose joy.

All of Brown's references to pop music are lost on me, because she is of a far different musical generation, but if she were of mine, she would surely have quoted Simon and Garfunkel's "I am a Rock."

(For the record, Brown makes it clear that she loves the happiness writings of Gretchen Rubin and appreciates happiness even though she distinguishes it from joy.)

I was amazed at Brown's comments about joy because I was concurrently reading "Dante and Charles Williams," an essay by Dorothy Sayers. In it she says,

The capacity for joy and the capacity for something like despair tend to be found together.... Note that I say joy and not happiness—they are by no means the same thing. Indeed it would scarcely be untrue to say that people of a happy temperament are seldom capable of joy—they are insufficiently sensitive.

Leaving aside the problems of defining joy and happiness and whether or not the different authors mean the same things by those words, these two writers, from different eras, different countries, and greatly different backgrounds, one writing on social issues and the other on literary criticism, have come independently to similar conclusions.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at 7:59 am | Edit
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I highly recommend Jack Barsky's essay on a great danger facing America today:  The Biggest Insider Threat. It's a short piece and worth reading in its entirely.

Given my background as an undercover agent, I often warn about the insider threat when talking about cyber securityI believe that we are currently witnessing the biggest insider threat this country has seen in a long time – and this threat is us.

I am distraught at the internal bickering that has grown to a cacophonous ear-splitting crescendo loud enough to echo around the worldNot only is US credibility and leadership damaged by this, it also takes our focus away from extremely important issues of national securityThis feels like watching a cartoon, except this cartoon is not funny. Are there any responsible adults around?

This selfish political theater must stop – it endangers our very foundation. 

Barsky is short on answers, but the problem needs to be stated and restated until we come up with some.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 16, 2017 at 9:56 pm | Edit
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Today's Frazz says it well.  I enjoy a little competition in my games, but it can't be the main point.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 15, 2017 at 6:20 am | Edit
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Our yard is a wildlife sanctuary. By American standards it's a pretty small yard, but it abounds in nature, especially considering how developed the area is. We lack only a consistent water supply (and the $20 processing fee) to be a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat. We're working on that; the water source needs to be accessible to wildlife (so the pool doesn't count) without being a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Lizards and frogs abound, because we dispensed with dangerous pest control services a few months after we moved here over 30 years ago. Snakes are not as plentiful as they once were, because too many people in the neighborhood think the only good snake is a dead snake. :(  We have all sorts of birds, from mockingbirds and Carolina wrens to woodpeckers of several varieties to flocks of ibises to hawks, owls, and recently a swallow-tailed kite.

There have been reports of bears in the neighborhood, but actually I'd just as soon they give our yard a pass. It's really too small to accommodate a bear comfortably, and bears have been known to rip down pool screens without a second thought.

The middle-sized animals are more fun. Our current little raccoon is too shy (read: too nocturnal) for me to have caught him on film yet, though I enjoy his company in the darker hours. Here is a pair of friends who allowed me to photograph them this morning.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 9, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Conservationist Living: [first] [previous] [newest]

Who would have thought it possible?

It's May the 6th, I have my office windows open, and I'm chilly in my shorts!  It's 63 degrees out, the humitity is low, the sky is blue, and both the sun and the breeze are friendly.  In fact, it's the same temperature here as in Granby, Connecticut!

I want to wrap up this day and bring it out periodically, say from now through October.  Starting with this coming Thursday, when the high is supposed to be 97.

Instead, I'll give myself over to gratitude and take a walk in the beauty of Creation.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 6, 2017 at 9:46 am | Edit
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altDeep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky (Tyndale Momentum, 2017)

Back in March, I wrote a bit about the story of former KGB spy Jack Barsky. (See The Spy Who Stayed.) At the time I was eagerly awaiting his soon-to-be-published book. Rather than wait for the library to get a copy (which it now has)—and also to support the first book of a "friend of a friend"—I purchased the Kindle version to take with me on our recent cruise. I know, I haven't written about that yet, but it will come. Believe me, the irony of reading the story of a KGB spy while in Cuban waters was not lost on me.

Deep Undercover is well worth reading. It's 352 pages but reads very quickly. It is competently, though not excellently written. I hate to admit it, but I've been sorely disappointed by the quality of writing coming out of many Christian publishing houses; I'm happy to say that Barsky and Tyndale have done far better than average on that score. Besides, the imperfections give me more of an impression that I'm hearing the voice of Barsky, not of some ghostwriter. After all, chemistry, espionage, and information technology don't teach you all the nuances of storytelling. 

The story itself is riveting. First, because it is true. This is the real story of a brilliant young East German, born just three years before I was, who was recruited as a KGB spy, infiltrated American society, and ended up sending his daughter to the small, Christian school in upstate New York where my life-long friend had been principal for decades. I wanted to know how he got from Point A to Point B.

Because we are nearly the same age, it was especially interesting to see the contrasts between Barsky's childhood and my own, and to know, more or less, what was happening to and around me during the times he describes. There's a reason the Communists thought of Americans as lazy, undisciplined, and soft. It's a pity that self-discipline is so much harder to acquire when we're not under duress.

It's also sobering to realize how vulnerable the United States is to infiltration and attack. With money, skill, discipline, and smart young people who believe they are fighting for a great cause, it's apparently pretty easy to take on a country primarily committed to liberty and what it considers humanitarian virtues—especially if its people are also soft, materialistic, and somewhat lazy.  The KGB had all of that—and, I may point out, so does ISIS, among other scary entities. Barsky's activities were pre-9/11, but I'm far from convinced that infiltration and more dangerous nefarious activities would be that much more difficult now.

Be that as it may, it was their failure to understand American culture that undid most of the Soviet Union's efforts in America—just as America has been undone by our cultural misunderstandings in Vietnam and in the Middle East. Barsky found an America that did not fit what he had been told all his life.

It didn’t take long for me to see a wide gap between the Communist saga of the exploited worker in a capitalist society and the reality as I experienced it. For some reason, insurance companies were always near the top of the list of capitalist villains in Communist propaganda. But I never felt I was being exploited. Instead, I was quite comfortable in my job, everyone treated me well, and the paternalistic culture of the traditional mutual insurance company was very appealing to my statist roots. The chinks in my ideological armor began to grow into wide-open cracks.

I'm no pacifist, and acknowledge the need for governments to use all legal and ethical means to protect their people. Just being nice won't do. "Be wise as serpents" was uttered in the same breath as "[Be] harmless as doves."  Nevertheless, as far as what ordinary Americans can do, I really think kindness is our best defense. Barsky didn't abandon his mission for political or philosophical reasons. And while I'm not denying the importance of his religious conversion, that came much later. Barsky's heart was turned by the ordinary people he met while living an apparently ordinary American life, and it was the innocent vulnerability of his little daughter that broke through both his harsh upbringing and his hard-hearted training.

So if you fear your next-door neighbor might be a Russian agent, or a potential ISIS terrorist, be smart. Don't give him your housekeys. But genuine kindness might change someone's path for the better—even if he's just an ordinary American neighbor.

I didn't pick out many quotes from Deep Undercover, but here are a few random ones that caught my eye. (The bold emphasis is mine.)

Every evening, without fail, I spent an additional half hour listening to words on a phonetics tape and repeating them— listening and repeating, listening and repeating—ad nauseam. When it comes to basic life skills, repetition is the midwife of excellence.

The Moscow Metro is an example of the greatness that can be achieved if a dictator spares no expense to build a monument to himself.

“This is the final step in your preparation. We think that three months in Canada would be an excellent opportunity for you to practice your English and familiarize yourself with the culture and the way of life over there. After all, Canada is a lot like the US, only colder and with fewer people.” 

While walking between classes one day in early 1982, I saw a bulletin board notice for a current affairs group meeting, and I signed up immediately.

Led by history professor Selma Berrol, the group of about twenty students met on Wednesdays at lunchtime to discuss current world affairs and American politics. For purposes of these discussions, I positioned myself on the left of the political spectrum, with some sympathy for the Western European brand of socialism, but firmly anti-Communist.

Over the next couple of years, this group provided great insight for my reports to the Center about the mood of the country—particularly in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and the downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by a Soviet fighter jet reignited tensions between the US and the Soviet Union that had largely diminished during the period of détente in the 1970s. There was widespread concern in our group that Reagan might push the world to the brink of nuclear war with his aggressive approach to international diplomacy.

Only one person in the group, a guy named Fred, sided with Reagan. Fred was ultraconservative, and the rest of us would chuckle or roll our eyes when he started on one of his rants. “I’m telling you, the Russians are deathly afraid of Ronald Reagan. We need to show them that we are serious. Historically, appeasement has never worked, and it will not work today. And if the Russians try to keep up with us in this race, they will simply go bankrupt.

In his own way, Fred actually expressed historical truth before it became evident.

It is my personal belief that the Russians’ irrational fear of President Reagan contributed significantly to the eventual fall of the Soviet Union—an event that was not yet foreseeable in 1984.

Here's a short video (8 minutes) in which Barsky is asked about Russia's influence on the past election; what strikes me as most important is his take on the clear and present danger of cyber warfare.

And here's an interesting interview that covers some of the stories in the book.  It's long (nearly an hour) but worthwhile, at least if like me you can listen while doing something else.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 8:29 am | Edit
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Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Politics: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

It all depends on whose ox is being gored....

I first became aware of how much a U.S. president can do by executive order when Barack Obama made such lavish use of that power. Mr. Obama's supporters were quick to point out that he was hardly the first president to do so.

President Trump is doing the same, and the complaints are now on the other side.

Me?  I don't want anyone's ox to be gored. The fact that one president's executive orders can be undone by the next president only shows why legislation ought to be done by ... the Legislature. You want change to happen, make it work through Congress. Is that too difficult? Maybe there's a reason—maybe it should be hard. If you're trying to accomplish something that half the country is against, maybe you need to rethink and rework and renegotiate.

There's a reason some religious denominations wait for full agreement before making major decisions. There's a reason a jury's verdict must be unanimous.

I'll grant that agreement on anything by everyone is impossible in a country as diverse and cantankerous as ours, but moving forward on important policies without the support of a healthy majority—and without provision for the protection of the minority—is death for a democracy.

"It's my ball now, and we'll play by my rules" isn't working very well, and it's making a lot of people unhappy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 28, 2017 at 6:00 am | Edit
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altDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (Gotham Books, 2012)

It's possible that Brené Brown's message is as important as that of Gordon Neufeld in Hold On to Your Kids. I'm not ready to say that yet, but I can tell that her work is too important to be missed. I can also say that I would love to see Neufeld and Brown in the same room, discussing their theories. Although they come from different fields and perspectives, when it comes to the problem of peer-orientation (though Brown never mentions the subject) and what children need from their families, I'm sure they'd be substantially in agreement.

Normally I prefer my information in written form, preferably in a book with all its potential for logical organization and corroborating detail, but aside from some tantalizing hints on the Blue Ocean Families blog (from the home page, search for "Brené" to find some references to her work), my best introduction to Brené Brown came from some videos. Here are several to choose from.

The Power of Vulnerability (20 minutes)  The TED talk that put Brené Brown on the map.

Listening to Shame (20 minutes)

Daring Greatly to Unlock Your Creativity with Brené Brown at Chase Jarvis LIVE (90 minutes). Yes, the interview is an hour and a half long. But it's worth it, it's really worth it. Including the questions-from-the-audience part at the end.

There's more, including at least two more Chase Jarvis LIVE interviews that I haven't listened to yet because, well, because they're 90 minutes long. Start with the TED talks.

The only warning I have to give is that Brown's language is not exactly SFG (safe for grandchildren), either in the talks or in her books. It's not all that bad, by modern standards; such language is so common I've gotten used to it somewhat. I do wonder why people feel they have to talk that way, but that's another issue. I definitely recommend that you not let it make you avoid Brené Brown's work.

Now to the book. Daring Greatly is only one of Brown's books, not the oldest and not the most recent—merely the first that was easily available at our library. I had my struggles with it, but that won't stop me from reading the others as I can. I believe a good deal of my struggle was similar to one I had with Hold On to Your Kids. Maybe it's generational, maybe it's because I avoided social sciences and humanities as much as possible when I was in school. Whatever the cause, these people keep using words that I think I know, but which they endow with specialized meanings. It's confusing. It reminds me of the old creeping vs. crawling problem:

Everyone knows that babies first start creeping along the floor, then crawl on their hands and knees, then walk. That's the normal progression. But not to people in the child development and physical therapy fields, for whom "crawling" is on the belly, and "creeping" on hands and knees. In their professions, they know exactly what they are talking about, but it sure confuses the rest of us.

So here. She has specific interpretations of "shame," "guilt," "vulnerability" and more terms that are essential to her discoveries. I'm glad I watched the videos first.

I also struggled with integrating her ideas with my Christian beliefs. Brown makes no apology for being an Episcopalian, but her work is entirely secular. That's not a bad thing: most of the discoveries in this world have universal application, and a secular approach makes them available to far more people. Again, it's a matter of language. Cognate words can help one understand a foreign language, but there are also false cognates, and it all must be sorted through. Her descriptions of love, acceptance and belonging due to our position rather than to our deserving is a very Christian message, but for someone as steeped as I am in the horrors of the sin of pride and in the need to put others before ourselves, her points about self-care, self-worthiness, and treating ourselves well require some wrestling. I totally get the airlines' message to put on one's own oxygen mask before assisting others, and I'm properly horrified that I frequently (read: all the time) say cruel things to myself that I hope never to say to someone I love—but it still requires working through.

There's a lot that requires working through in Brené Brown's ideas. I'm sure I could benefit much from her books, a blank notebook, and a long stretch of solitude. But this is a review, not a confession, and the book goes back to the library soon. I'm not even clear enough to summarize her points, but with the videos above, and the quotes below, you can begin your own journey. (The bolded emphasis in the quotations is mine.)

Brown quotes Lynne Twist’s The Soul of Money, on scarcity.

“For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is ‘I didn’t get enough sleep.’ The next is ‘I don’t have enough time.‘ Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of…. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day….” 

In a culture of deep scarcity—of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough—joy can feel like a setup. We wake up in the morning and think, Work is going well. Everyone in the family is healthy. No major crises are happening. The house is still standing. I’m working out and feeling good. … This is bad. This is really bad. Disaster must be lurking right around the corner.

Over the past decade, I’ve witnessed major shifts in the zeitgeist of our country. … The world has never been an easy place, but the past decade has been traumatic for so many people that it’s made changes in our culture. From 9/11, multiple wars, and the recession, to catastrophic natural disasters and the increase in random violence and school shootings, we’ve survived and are surviving events that have torn at our sense of safety with such force that we’ve experienced them as trauma even if we weren’t directly involved.

My reaction, when I read this, is that this is crazy. We are so much better off than most of the world, for most of history. However, as I wrote in my Good Friday post, if our personal suffering is overall less, our vicarious suffering is off-the-charts worse. Brown acknowledges this later on:

Most of us have a stockpile of terrible images that we can pull from at the instant we’re grappling with vulnerability. I often ask audience members to raise their hands if they’ve seen a graphically violent image in the past week. About twenty percent of the audience normally raises their hands. Then I reframe the question: “Raise your hand if you’ve watched the news, CSI, NCIS, Law & Order, Bones, or any other crime show on TV.” At this point about eighty to ninety percent of the audience hands go up.

I define vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.

Among some folks it’s almost as if enthusiasm and engagement have become a sign of gullibility. Being too excited or invested makes you lame.

Vulnerability is based on mutuality and requires boundaries and trust. ... We can’t always have guarantees in place before we risk sharing; however, we don’t bare our souls the first time we meet someone. We don’t lead with “Hi, my name is Brené, and here’s my darkest struggle.” … [S]haring appropriately, with boundaries, means sharing with people with whom we’ve developed relationships .... The result of this mutually respectful vulnerability is increased connection, trust, and engagement. 

Churches make this mistake a lot, trying to force community like a hothouse bloom, rushing the process through unearned intimacy.

You can’t use vulnerability … to fast-forward a relationship.... When it comes to vulnerability, connectivity means sharing our stories with people who have earned the right to hear them—people with whom we’ve cultivated relationships that can bear the weight of our story. Is there trust? Is there mutual empathy? Is there reciprocal sharing? Can we ask for what we need? These are the crucial connection questions.

Here’s one strategy Brown uses for coming out of what she calls a shame attack:

[I talk] to myself the way I would talk to someone I really love and whom I’m trying to comfort in the midst of a meltdown: You’re okay. You’re human—we all make mistakes. I’ve got your back. Normally during a shame attack we talk to ourselves in ways we would NEVER talk to people we love and respect.

[W]e have to be willing to give ourselves a break and appreciate the beauty of our cracks or imperfections. To be kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other. To talk to ourselves the same way we’d talk to someone we care about.

Shaming someone we love around vulnerability is the most serious of all security breaches. Even if we apologize, we’ve done serious damage because we’ve demonstrated our willingness to use sacred information as a weapon.

Feeling disconnected can be a normal part of life and relationships, but when coupled with the shame of believing that we’re disconnected because we’re not worthy of connection, it creates a pain that we want to numb. 

When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing, and stop fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in.

The two most powerful forms of connection are love and belonging—they are both irreducible needs of men, women, and children. As I conducted my interviews, I realized that only one thing separated the men and women who felt a deep sense of love and belonging from the people who seemed to be struggling for it. That one thing was the belief in their worthiness. It’s as simple and complicated as this: If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

[As parents we] don’t have to be perfect, just engaged and committed to aligning values with action.

What’s ironic (or perhaps natural) is that research tells us that we judge people in areas where we’re vulnerable to shame, especially picking folks who are doing worse than we’re doing. If I feel good about my parenting, I have no interest in judging other people’s choices. If I feel good about my body, I don’t go around making fun of other people’s weight or appearance.

When we obsess over our parenting choices to the extent that most of us do, and then see someone else making different choices, we often perceive that difference as direct criticism of how we are parenting.

Wholehearted parenting is not having it all figured out and passing it down—it’s learning and exploring together. And trust me, there are times when my children are way ahead of me on the journey, either waiting for me or reaching back to pull me along.

It’s easy to put up a straw man … and say, “So we’re just supposed to ignore parents who are abusing their children?” Fact: That someone is making different choices from us doesn’t in itself constitute abuse. If there’s real abuse happening, by all means, call the police. If not, we shouldn’t call it abuse. As a social worker who spent a year interning at Child Protective Services, I have little tolerance for debates that casually use the terms abuse and neglect to scare or belittle parents who are simply doing things that we judge as wrong, different, or bad.

Worthiness is about love and belonging, and one of the best ways to show our children that our love for them is unconditional is to make sure they know they belong in our families. I know that sounds strange, but it’s a very powerful and at times heart-wrenching issue for children.

Engagement means investing time and energy. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their worlds, their interests, and their stories. Engaged parents can be found on both sides of all of the controversial parenting debates. They come from different values, traditions, and cultures. What they share is practicing the values. What they seem to share is a philosophy of “I’m not perfect and I’m not always right, but I’m here, open, paying attention, loving you, and fully engaged.”

What do parents experience as the most vulnerable and bravest thing that they do in their efforts to raise Wholehearted children? I thought it would take days to figure it out, but as I looked over the field notes, the answer was obvious: letting their children struggle and experience adversity.

I used to struggle with letting go and allowing my children to find their own way, but something that I learned in the research dramatically changed my perspective and I no longer see rescuing and intervening as unhelpful, I now think about it as dangerous. … Here’s why: Hope is a function of struggle.

Hope is learned! …[C]hildren most often learn hope from their parents. To learn hopefulness, children need relationships that are characterized by boundaries, consistency, and support. Children with high levels of hopefulness have experience with adversity. They’ve been given the opportunity to struggle and in doing that they learn how to believe in themselves.

If we’re always following our children into the arena, hushing the critics, and assuring their victory, they’ll never learn that they have the ability to dare greatly on their own.

I explained [to my daughter] that I had spent many years never trying anything that I wasn’t already good at doing, and how those choices almost made me forget what it feels like to be brave. I said, “Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.”

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 25, 2017 at 7:35 am | Edit
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Real bloggers include guest posts now and then, right? It's time I moved up in the world. Not, however, by acquiescing to those who e-mail me at the blog address requesting to be invited as a guest poster on my "great blog"—by which they mean they want to use my platform to advertise whatever they're selling. Instead, this post fell into my lap in the form of an e-mail from my friend SW. In response to a recent post, in which I brought back my Good Friday post from a few years ago, All the Sorrows of the World, she shared something she had written in her own journal several months ago. It was not a reply to my post, being written completely independently, but it was such a perfect and sane response to the problem I asked if I might publish here writings here. She graciously consented.


I was trying to self-analyze why going online makes me feel anxious and overwhelmed. It didn't take long to come to the conclusion that it's because, for me, being connected to the whole world feels like a weight I'm incapable of bearing. I read all the hurts, the reasons to fear, the foolishness, the hate, etc., and I think, "It's too much!" My desire to retreat from it actually proves to me that I am a sane person, because of two facts:

  1. I am taking it seriously. I know that every story—even if it's laced with half-truths and some misinformation—involves real, living people. People not as unlike myself as we'd all like to think. And so, naturally, my heart goes out to them. Sometimes I pray for them. But I still feel pretty helpless, because out of the half-dozen stories I read, I may be able to donate help to one, but there will be a new batch tomorrow morning, tomorrow evening, the next day, and the next...which leads into,
  2. If any of us would stop and be honest for just one cotton-pickin' moment, we'd admit that it really IS ALL TOO MUCH. It's insanely too much hurt, too much heartache, too much innocence lost, too much cruelty, too much evil, and, frankly, just too much to wade through if we are actually reading thoughtfully and giving a damn about every human being represented in those stories.

Well, the truth is, God didn't make me able to handle the weight of the world. And in my case personally, when I try, I fail to "handle with care" the FEW burdens He DID give me to carry: my husband, my kids, my close family, my actual (not virtual) friends...actually, I have my hands FULL when I think about all the dear souls whom God has gifted to my care, who are authentically in my circle of influence. If I decide to try to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, the ones I actually owe my attention to will get dropped. I mean, I don't know about you, but my time, my emotional energy, and my financial resources are all finite. I start jumping on the Internet bandwagons and there is less of my time, my emotional energy, and my limited material resources to go around (not saying we shouldn't donate, but seriously, my kids wear shoes so tattered Goodwill couldn't sell them—we're not exactly out of balance in how we spend our money). Mostly, mentally, I get caught up in the "out there" and am far less present in the "here and now" where the needs around me are.

I think the world actually would go around better if more people could give most of their attention to the small but very real, very vital, circle of people (not things) God has given them the privilege of caring for. For me, in this season, it's my husband and kids. But it could be aging parents. Mentally challenged siblings. The refugee family next door. Co-workers. A new widow. Count up about a dozen—or even only a half-dozen—and if I, we, were to really invest our all into THEM, we'd have our hands, heads, and hearts full.

I wish I could solve the problems of the world, but very, very rarely am I a part of any solution simply by informing myself of them. It's a weight I am not equipped nor designed to carry. In other words, God doesn't expect me to have the capacity to "love the whole world." (Only He has that capacity, and He did, and He does. John 3:16.) But my own little circle? I can handle that...I can love them. I can love them well. God told us to "love one another." He gave me that much. So that much I ought to do. Why fail Him in the small area of faithfulness He's given me by claiming "The world is so big, and has so many problems!" I can love well the few I HAVE, and teach them to love well the few they have, who may in turn love well the few they have. I guess that's just me, but I'd rather die knowing I was faithful to the ones God gave ME, rather than attempting (and failing!) to love every person spread across the face of the earth, including the ones who needed me most.


Thank you, SW. Please stop by with another guest post sometime.  :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 5:41 am | Edit
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Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

This is the time of year when Christians make special recognition of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection. I love Holy Week services, from Palm Sunday to Easter and everything in between. Due to extraordinary (but good) circumstances, we missed our Taizé (Monday), Stations of the Cross (Tuesday), Tennebrae (Wednesday), and Easter Vigil (Saturday) services this year. Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services were nonetheless a good preparation for Easter.

Somewhere in the middle of it all, I began to ask myself, What does Jesus think of the events leading up to Easter? Not our church services, but the actual events, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, through his agonizing in the Garden of Gesthemene, his last Passover with his disciples, his betrayal, trial, and crucifixion, and that mysterious time between death and resurrection. What does he think of it all? I don't mean then, while he was going through it, but now. Looking back, if that has any meaning in his case.

I asked myself this question because I was thinking about childbirth. Yes, I realize how ridiculous it is to compare the pains of childbirth to those of crucifixion, let alone the mental, emotional, and spiritual agony of all the sins and sorrows of the world, but bear with me here.

Setting aside the great difference in scale, I think there are important parallels. In each case, there is pain, anguish, fear, physical and mental exhaustion, and reaching the point where you just know you can't go on any longer, followed by the unimaginable, unsurpassable thrill of victory, of success, of achievement—and the birth of something new, wondrous, and beautiful.

Most mothers I know like to exchange birth stories, in all their glorious and grisly detail. Those are "then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars" moments. But the toil and pain are remembered, not relived. We tell these "war stories" because we are justifiably taking credit for our part in the miracle. The pain has been crowned and glorified by its accomplishment.

Nor do we regale our children with the horrors of what it cost us for them to exist, at least not if we're psychologically healthy ourselves. If our child were to start to focus on the pain of childbirth, we would quickly tell him, "You're missing the whole point. Sure, it was a difficult process, but it was worth it. What matters is not the suffering, not the effort. What matters is that you were born! The pain is in the past, and our family is immeasurably greater because of it. The whole world is greater because you are here. That is the point. Be thankful for what I did for you, but don't dwell on it. Focus on using your uniqueness to be the best person you can be, to bless the family—and the world—you were born into. That, not your grief at my sufferings, nor even your gratitude for them, is what makes me happy and overwhelmingly glad to have endured them. Go—live with joy the life I have given you!"

So I wonder. Is it possible that Jesus has similar thoughts?

It's good to be reminded of the events that birthed our post-Easter world, and not to take lightly the suffering that made it possible. However, some people, many preachers, and even a few filmmakers appear to take delight in portraying Christ's agony in the most excruciating (consider the etymology of that word!) detail possible, even, like the medieval flagellants, attempting to participate in it. Even less extreme evangelists and theologians spend more ink and energy on Jesus' death than on his resurrection.

Could it be that Jesus looks back at that time with joy, knowing that he accomplished something difficult, important, and wonderful? Is it possible that he sometimes looks at us and thinks, You're missing the whole point? That it would rejoice his heart if we thought less about his death and more about how to use the new life he has given us?

Go—rejoice—live!

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 5:29 am | Edit
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Hallelujah! Christ is risen! He was OBSERVED by many in his resurrected state.

My serious Easter post is still half written, but thanks to my cousin Stephanie, who shared this from kevinfrank.net, I can give you an Easter chuckle to accompany your Easter joy.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 16, 2017 at 6:58 am | Edit
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I'm bringing back my Good Friday post from four years ago, because I think it's worth bringing to mind again.

 


 

Good Friday.

Remembering the day all the sorrows of the world (and then some) were in some incomprehensible way taken on by the only one who (as fully both divine and human) could effectively bear them—albeit with unimaginable suffering.

I trust it is in keeping with the holiness of the day, and not in any way disrespectful or unmindful of its significance, to consider that as we, in the West at least, pay less and less attention to the significance of Good Friday, we find ourselves taking all the sorrows of the world on ourselves—and being crushed by them.

Consider the lives of our ancestors throughout almost all of history:  Most of them were born, died, and lived their entire lives in the same small community.  Even when they migrated, were taken captive, were exiled, or went to war, for all but a handful, their circle of experience remained small and local.

Our ancestors suffered greatly.  The unbearable sorrow of losing a child was not uncommon.  There was no easy divorce to sever marriages and blend families—but death played the same role.  The lack of sanitation, antibiotics, immunizations, and even a simple aspirin tablet made for disease, pain, and death on a scale most of us can’t imagine.  Starvation was often only a bad harvest away.  Slavery and slave-like conditions were taken for granted for most of history.  I’m not here to minimize the sufferings of the past.

But there is a very important however to their story.  Their pain was on a scale that was local and human.  They suffered, their families suffered, and their neighbors suffered.  Travellers might bring back tales of tragedy far away, but that was a secondary, filtered experience.

And today?  The suffering in our close, personal circles may indeed be less.  But our vicarious suffering is off the charts.  Whether it’s a murder across town, a kidnapping across the country, or a natural disaster halfway around the world, we hear about it.  In graphic, gory detail.  Over and over we hear the wailing and see the shattered bodies.  Full color, high definition, surround sound.

If that were not enough, our television shows and movies flood us daily, repeatedly, with simulated violence and horror, deliberately fashioned to be more realistic than life, so that, for example, we become less the observers of a murder than the victim—or the murderer himself.  (Not to let books off the hook, especially the more graphic and horrific ones, but their effect is somewhat limited by the imagination of the reader.)

No one imagines that the death of a stranger half a world away, much less in a scene we know is fictional, is as traumatic as a death "close and personal."  But a few hundred years of such vicarious suffering is not enough to reprogram the primitive parts of our brains not to kick into high gear with horror, anguish, and above all, fear.  Our bodies are flooded with stress hormones, and our minds tricked into believing danger and disaster are much more common than they are.  We repeatedly make bad personal and national decisions based on events, such as school shootings and kidnappings by strangers, that are statistically so rare that the perpetrators cannot be profiled.  We hear a mother wailing for her lost child, and our soul imagines it is our own child who has died.  We watch film footage of an earthquake and shudder when a tractor-trailer rolls by.  Did anyone see Hitchcock’s Psycho and enter the shower the next morning without a second thought?

Worse still, for these sorrows and dangers we can’t even have the satisfaction of a physical response.  We can’t fight, we can’t fly, we can’t hug a grieving widow; no matter how loudly we shout, Janet Leigh doesn’t hear us when we warn her not to step into the shower.  Writing a check to a relief organization may be a good thing, but it doesn’t fool brain systems that have been around a whole lot longer than checks.  Or relief organizations.

I don’t have a solution to what seems to be an intractable problem, although a good deal less media exposure would be a great place to start.  

The human body, mind, and spirit are not capable of bearing all the griefs that now assault us.  We are not God.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm | Edit
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I've never aspired to be a leader. I learned that in elementary school, when my parents and teacher were talking about "leadership qualities" and I thought, "Doesn't sound like fun to me."  I don't mean I necessarily like to be a follower—mostly I like to do my own thing (child of the '60s) and other people can come along, or not, as they wish.

But a man at our church, who died not long ago, is making me rethink the idea of leadership. I barely knew him, but our choir sang for his funeral, and what I learned about him then made me wish I had found a way to cultivate his friendship.

He was accomplished enough for 10 people. He graduated in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering from Princeton. He was a marine, serving in World War II and Korea. He followed that up by working for the CIA, earning the highest possible award for valor. For three years he endured Communist prison camp in Cuba. His civilian life achievements and community activities are too numerous to mention.

And they played bagpipes at his funeral.

Most amazing of all for someone so distinguished, everyone who knew him remarked about his humility. Churches talk a lot about "servant leadership" but apparently this man actually embodied it. He was, indeed, a "humble servant."

And yet....

The other thing said about him was that people did things the way he thought they ought to be done. He was humble, he was gentle, he was soft-spoken—but you didn't cross him. Somehow, he induced people to see things his way without pushing them around, without exerting his power—which is real power, indeed.

What might the world be like with more leaders like that?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 at 11:25 am | Edit
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When she was in fifth grade, Heather won her school's spelling bee. It was a significant accomplishment—the competition was stiff—and we were proud of her.

Imagine how Edith Fuller's parents feel. The homeschooled five-year-old from Oklahama won the regional championship spelling bee and on May 30 will be competing in Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, DC. The contest is for children through eighth grade. Here she is in action.

This Slate article takes a positive, if somewhat mocking tone, but asks, Why?

Spelling bees have a certain poignancy that, say, a science fair lacks. Being a good speller is like having beautiful handwriting or being an excellent seamstress: It’s impressive, but it’s almost totally unnecessary for most 21st-century adults. If STEM is the future, spelling feels like the past.

To which I must respond, Why basketball? Why golf? Why the Olympics? If the significance of spelling bees, and of spelling as a skill, are questioned "in the age of spell-check," what's the point of knowing knowing how to throw a javelin or to jump long and high in these days when we don't need to hunt for our food and escape cave bears?

It's possible to overdo anything, of course, and not everyone will find it worthwhile to attain Olympic or spelling bee champion status. But developing the mind and body is its own justification.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 8, 2017 at 6:40 am | Edit
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Homegrown Hollywood:  Searching for Family in All the Wrong Places showed up this morning in my Weekly Genealogist magazine.  It's a short and sweet story of a woman's efforts to learn about the grandmother she never knew.  I'm linking to it here because it epitomizes what our country so desperately needs.

A writer from Los Angeles travels to a small town in North Carolina and meets a distant cousin who might as well live on a different planet for all they have in common ... on the surface.

She welcomed us with a warm drawl and a tight hug. We sat on her couch as she told us stories and pulled out pictures. The longer we stayed, the happier I felt and something calmed inside of me.

The author wasn't the only one who'd had doubts about the cultural differences.

"Let me tell you, honey," she drawled in her thick accent. "I was nervous about meeting ya'll, but as soon as I saw you I thought, 'now there is blood kin.' And then everything was different."

The key to healing our fractured nation is real people.  Not stereotypes, not Hollywood depictions, not news stories, but real, physical people who have families and serve dinners and smile at strangers.

She was right. Everything was different.

I had been trying to reach my grandma through gravestones and houses and hats I'd put on in a dusty old attic.

But where I'd actually found her was in people like Shelvie Jean.

Hope for healing lies outside our bubbles.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 7:37 am | Edit
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