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Friday, March 1, 2019

A Year of Civil Conversations Religious Leader Reflections: "Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart" and Humble Spirit | by The Very Rev. Judith A. Sullivan

How can we fulfill our biologically hardwired desire for belonging and restore our intrinsic human connection at a time when we are so deeply polarized by political differences? In her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, social scientist Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW, explores the pain and fear that has driven so many to the “ideological bunkers” that are centered around a common hatred of the same people. While these groups are tribal in nature, Brown asserts that they do not meet our shared human need to be part of something greater than ourselves and have only contributed to a deepening spiritual crisis of loneliness and isolation.  

A little more than a year ago, in a conversation interestingly entitled “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart,” Brene Brown and Krista Tippett discussed how we might, with integrity and authenticity, move beyond divisive antipathy and recover a sense of true belonging.  Brown asserts that this movement to satisfy our deep longing for genuine connection “doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” She identifies true belonging as a “spiritual practice of believing in ourselves and belonging to ourselves so fully” that we can appreciate the “sacredness” of being part of a meaningful group.  At the same time, we can also possess the strength and courage to risk standing alone, apart from the group, when it becomes necessary to speak important truth. 


What is required, in Brown’s assessment is a “soft front” to overcome our fear of being vulnerable with someone with whom we disagree. “People are hard to hate close up,” she says, so be curious and move closer.  Ask questions, she advises, especially this one, “How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?” The “strong back” is needed to speak our own truth without dehumanizing or degrading truth understood by others.  The” wild heart” is requisite for the courage to hold the tensions inherent in these conversations with the loving determination to listen with the same respect that we would seek for ourselves.  And finally, Brown advises that we “Hold Hands. With Strangers” by finding opportunities for the sharing of common joys and sorrows because while our intrinsic connections may be forgotten, they can never be severed. 

It is often said in my tradition that we cannot be Episcopalians alone.  We understand that the human desire for belonging is far deeper than biology.  We hold that the human family is made in the image of the Creator and is inextricably bound together in God’s intention for the world.  In our shared heritage, we all receive glimmers of God’s truth, capacity to love and be loved, and ability to think and reflect upon our experience. Because we are human, however, and our perceptions are limited and shadowed by self-interest, we can only know and see imperfectly.  We humbly need the insights of one another to discern truth more fully and to come to know God and who we are.  As we consider Brene Brown’s deeply compassionate recommendations for repairing the breaches that exist among us, I would add just this: May we adopt a posture of deep humility about the truths that we claim and assert as our own, and a healthy reverence for each holy encounter with each fellow child of God who challenges and expands both our evolving sense of belonging and our hope of God’s dream for a world of mutual respect, justice, and mercy.  May it be so. 

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