And Advent is upon us! As I make my way into this first week of the holy season, these images return to me: a teenage Mary who is pregnant; a radiant angel with big news; a baffled bachelor named Joseph; doors closing at the hands of (perhaps unapologetic) innkeepers; a bright star overhead; and a blanketed olive-skinned babe laying atop a bed of straw. And I marvel on the historic narrative informing this Advent season. This is a tale of woe and wonder. It’s a tale of adversity and mystery. It’s a tale of ache and awesomeness. It’s a tale that at its core, lays bare a God who chooses to come to us in this frail human form: as a child born into poverty, squalor and strife. I think, “This Incarnation is something to behold.”
On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, Sr. Katherine and I attended a leadership event at Macalester College sponsored by InCommons – Supporting the Courage to Lead. The “Social Innovation Lab” as this event was referred to, was on “Vulnerability as a Resource for Innovation.” Visitation Companion, director of St. Jane house and northside community leader Brian Mogren invited us to attend this event organized by a former Visitation Neighbor, Michael Bischoff. It was a perfect sort of Advent experience.
As the room of 120 or so participants convened, we were invited to reflect on a time when we had led from a place of vulnerability.
Q: What do we mean by vulnerability?
A: Uncertainty, risk, transparency, and openness to diverse perspectives.
A goal for our gathering was to help shift the dominant view of “judging vulnerability as weakness to valuing vulnerability as a positive resource that takes strength and courage.”
My thoughts went immediately to Christ. To Mary. To Joseph. To the cast of characters that make up the gospel story of Jesus’ birth. I thought, “How many of Jesus’ encounters depicted in scripture are about a person who leads from vulnerability?” I took a breathe and then considered, “What is God inviting us to do today and everyday?”
Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.
There are some very important disclaimers to make about vulnerability. First of all, it’s something we must choose if we are seeking to lead from this place. Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son. It’s a space of incredible privilege, however, to elect to see vulnerability as a gift and to act on it. This is my second disclaimer: To have power wielded over us that renders us vulnerable, or to be in deep crisis, instability or mentally unwell and be invited to lead, is not what the conference leaders meant by their invitation; and I would assert is not what Christ meant through his humble example as servant leader and as the son of God.
What is your story of vulnerability? How do you seek to align yourself with the swaddled babe or the teenage mom or the baffled boyfriend-turned-father who are all homeless? How are you choosing uncertainty, risk, transparency and openness this Advent Season?
Blessings as you meditate and respond.