The Pondering Prophet mascot is old (pictured above).  Not getting old, not slowing down…old.  This story illustrates my point.  I walked through his bedroom door (the interior garage door) to find him on all fours.  He looked like a new born calf.  When the exterior garage door rose for the morning release of the beast, he transformed from a newborn calf into a drunken sailor, walking sideways into the bumper of my car.  I was mortified.  I accompanied him throughout the yard so that his morning business was complete.  While I held him up in our back yard, I cried.  He’s old and every possibility ran through my mind…none of them good.  Anyway, I cried.  Not shed a tear, I was not just “upset”, I cried a river…loudly.   I live in a suburb with other homes as close as 15 yards from mine.  At any moment I could be heard sobbing by a neighbor leaving for work.   But I cried anyway; mostly because I needed the release but also because I felt safe.  All of my neighbors but one had dogs, most of them loved dogs and all of my neighbors loved (or had grown to love) old Moe.  I felt safe to cry.  More directly, I felt safe to be vulnerable, weak and unsure. My neighbors and I shared more than a property line; we shared a common passion and appreciation for the canine creature.  They would understand.  Heck, they may cry with me.  Reflection on that moment of vulnerability brought to my mind a blog post from Rev. Dr. Wes Magruder.  It was picked up by The United Methodist Insight.

Dr. Margruder’s sentiment

In his blog Dr. Magruder expressed his great doubt that the UMC can innovate.  He points out that the current United Methodist system is a “permission giving structure”; meaning blessings from certain people must at attained before new adventures are even considered.  And the UMC wants a sure bet.  The trouble is that the definition of a sure bet means numbers:  money counted and pews filled.  The UMC hasn’t been winning many sure bets these days.

Dr. Magruder makes a great argument.  And I too share the vision of a postmodern church that is not inhibited by the UMC rig-a-ma-roar.  But is there any redemption for our current set up?  Can we be United Methodist without the rig-a-ma-roar?  My suggestion beings with an exploration of a feeling called vulnerability, which is the key to successful innovation.

Dr. Brene Brown

Dr. Brene Brown is a PhD social worker that has written extensively on shame and vulnerability.  In her latest work, Daring Greatly, she speaks about the relationship between vulnerability and innovation.  Vulnerability is defined as the freedom to fail so that risk is welcomed, the anxiety risk brings is tolerated and if failure occurs the missteps become learning opportunities for other ventures (my original definition/run-on sentence!).  Dr. Brown’s amazing discovery on vulnerability within a system (that encourages innovation):  the vulnerability must be owned and exercised by the LEADERSHIP.  And that begins with an internal journey.  Dr. Brown speaks about a sense of worthiness that comes from within, not attached to the efforts, ideas or projects that someone may pour themselves into.  When a person knows they are worthy of love and are capable of loving, just knowing that they are enough fuels the sense of risk.  Risk becomes tolerable because those who venture toward innovation know that if failure becomes reality, if criticism is all they hear, they are still enough – they are still lovable, worthy, respected.  They are enough.  In this way vulnerability gives the courage to dare.

Dr. Brown broke it down quite plainly in her book Daring Greatly.

This idea is the opposite of a sure bet.  It means that leadership humble itself by telling tales of lessons learned rather than bragging about an increase in number from some past glory.  Or worst yet, bad mouthing the pastor that was before them or followed them because those numbers declined.  It also means that leadership speaks openly about risk, what it takes to tolerate the emotions that come with risk, and praise for those who risk and even fail.  Every new venture is presented to clergy and congregation as a risk, the opposite of a sure bet. Finally, bishops who practice the spiritual discipline of vulnerability choose districts superintendents who also practice vulnerability and would encourage pastors and laypeople to do the same.   This does not mean we do not think through new ideas, rather we make them welcome and we do not demand immediate success.

This attention to our inner journey and the freeing idea of vulnerable leadership creates a forum that allows for creativity, fresh ideas and innovation.  New ways of being the church that would capture the hearts of post moderns would be floated, modified and funded with hopes of eventual growth and economic sustainability.  Along the way the map may have to be modified, adjustments made and we will learn what NOT to do.  All of this courtesy of a spiritual discipline called vulnerability.

My vulnerability in the backyard yielded no human comfort.  Simply put, no neighbor heard or responded to my cry.  But the tears represented a release my sadness and fear.  Welcoming that moment of vulnerability enabled me to make that dreaded veterinarian appointment.  The outcome was positive.  Our pondering prophet mascot had an inner ear infection.  He is currently on antibiotics and steroids.  All is well.

May you welcome vulnerability today.