Practicing Vulnerability

At the 2016 National Gathering, Roy Howard and Shelby Etheridge Harasty led a workshop called “Practicing Vulnerability – God and Us.” The description of that workshop and its accompanying slides (in PDF format) follow:

What does the vulnerability of God teach us about faithful practice at the crossroads? We will combine theological and Biblical reflection with the insights of Brené Brown to develop models of Christian practice that display vulnerability and courage. The practical ways that vulnerability can influence pastoral leadership and congregational ministry will be explored. Finding courage to be vulnerable – as God is – can deepen the ways we lead our congregations and live our lives.

Lament Service Prayers of the People

This prayer was used during the 2016 National Gathering at the Monday afternoon lament service.

God of breath and life,

who tiptoes through graveyard valleys

and sees possibility in skeletons, hear our prayer.

 

We are skeletons of our former selves, ancient and aching.

Can these bones live? O God, you know.

You better know ‘cause we sure don’t.

And we long to hear the whisper of your calling

to inhale your promises in our deflated lungs.

 

Fill us with hope, God who is our breath . . . our life . . . our past . . . our future.

We’re beyond bandaids.

 

So . . . Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

We are deflated, O God,

cut off, dried up,

haunted by days gone by and fearful of the unknown ahead.

 

We are deflated by

“for sale” signs on sanctuaries,

the hospice days of Sunday School,

by our cultural abandonment of the Lord’s Day – your day – as sacred,

by the constant ache of “not enough”

not enough money, not enough millenials,

not hip enough or relevant enough or traditional enough.

 

We are deflated by memories of our former selves,

the tedium of website management, the necessity of branding.

 

We’ve had the wind knocked out of us

by the loss of cherished Saints

and sister churches to dissolution or dismissal,

and members who fear the tension of the unknown

and the hard work of discerning our future,

by gazing at budgets like crystal balls.

 

We need a breath transfusion.

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

God, who tiptoes through the valleys,

you have seen the carnage,

the many crumbling and dried out on the desert floor.

And we can’t deny,

it’s not just the world’s fault, or culture’s fault, or bad luck.

Our dried-up selves are often of our own making.

 

God of baptism,

of encounters beside wells in the heat of the day,

of creation born of watery mess,

heal us of our complicity in our drying out,

for the times we’ve worried more about self-preservation

than gospel proclamation,

for the days we’ve been chained to “used to”

afraid to loosen the grasp of how we used to look, used to be, used to do

for chasing trends – forgetting how to be in the world but not of the world.

 

Heal us of our complicity in our drying out

for preoccupation with who is on your naughty list,

for racism, sexism classism, and all matters of that-person-doesn’t-look-like-me-ism;

for not speaking up when the world bears down on the vulnerable,

for tiptoeing around the hard conversation,

for money mismanagement and disputes over what’s your, mine and ours,

for not being able to see the lives touched, the moments transformed, the hope infused                                 because our barometer needs readjustment

and our eyes are trained on those headed for the door.

 

May we die to all that makes your church a place of fear,

misplaced power,

and jadedness.

And then dust us off, O God.

Like the cool trickle of baptismal hope,

may your breath infuse us with renewed hope that these old bones may live anew.

 

God, who tiptoes through the valleys . . .

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

God, who sees possibility in the graveyard,

it seems dramatic to say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost;

we are cut off completely.”

And yet . . . we are . . . some are

hope-deficient and lost and alone.

 

And so we pray for pastors and church leaders

who feel the pressure to prophesy without the words for their mouths,

for clergy who’s well of energy and enthusiasm and imagination and love

has long run dry,

for the strain of ministry on health and relationships,

for church leaders who have crossed the line and churches picking up the pieces,

for those balancing “call” with putting food on the table,

for energetic new seminary graduates navigating vocation

while traditional ministry models are on the surgical table,

for the loneliness of leadership

even in the great company of your saints.

 

Put your spirit within us, O God, that we may live anew.

 

God, who sees possibility in the graveyard,

Bind these bones together. Grant us healing. Make us whole.

 

Refrain

 

Breathe on us breath of God. And hear us as we us as our voices hold on to the tried and true prayer of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

Our Father, who art in heaven . . . .