Monday, May 25, 2020

Enough Already: The Wisdom of Brene Brown and why it's not Working for us in Lockdown.

Frankly, I admire Brene Brown. The renown academic, best-selling author and celebrated podcast host has an earthy, unforced wisdom that reaches way beyond the ivory tower of academia and into the worlds of Ted Talk and Netflix. She has a unique way with words and seems comfortable in her own skin, which may be the key to a career that has unlocked its own industry. If you google Brene Brown, what pops up first is 'Etsy quotes by Brene Brown.' That's telling.  Her quotes have sparked an Etsy craft craze which is a sure sign that her truisms have found a home in our collective psyches. They seem to resonate broadly with men and women while avoiding the shallow cliche' of a Hallmark card.

I was surprised to hear that Brown's teachings had reached the shores of my homeland, South Africa. I suppose I shouldn't have been. While listening to a podcast by our old physiotherapist friend turned life coach, his guest referred to Brown's concept of worthiness.  "As Brene Brown has said, too often we connect our self worth with our net worth. This Covid-19 pandemic has robbed most of us of our net worth and therefore we feel robbed of our self worth. But we need to realize that earning lots of  money, having a big retirement,  a big house and a new car should not define our self-worth. We are enough without those things." The podcast guest was referring to the more pithy saying by Brown, "I matter because my story matters. I am absolutely enough." Brown's quote explores our universal yearning for a sense of worthiness, insisting that humans do not need to achieve or acquire in order to be deemed worthy. "No matter what gets done I am worthy of love and belonging and joy."  

Being absolutely enough is a beautiful, Etsy-worthy idea. In fact, it's a Biblical idea that humans are endowed with value and beauty because they, more than any other species in creation, are unique image bearers of their Creator. Their worth cannot be achieved or earned any more than a pot could tell the potter what price tag it should carry. Our worth is determined by our Creator and cannot be negated or diminished by created beings. In that sense, Brown has unearthed a great truth for our striving, self-worth culture. In that sense, we are absolutely enough.

The problem is though, that Brown's mantra about being absolutely enough is a half truth, because it underplays the nagging sense of unworthiness we all feel to some degree. Why is it that so many of us have felt frustrated by our lack of productivity in lockdown, unable to breathe and enjoy the slower pace of life forced upon us by quarantine?  Of course, there are the obvious reasons of  economic loss and uncertainty, but deeper reflection will reveal a low-grade hum not silenced by stimulus check or payment protection plan. Our self-worth is so tightly bound up with our work, our planners and our vision flip charts. Being absolutely enough is a nice idea until the laces get ripped out of the boots of progress.

We see it most clearly in athletes, don't we? I'm reminded of the line from the movie, Chariots of Fire, in which Eric Liddel's rival said before his 100 yard Olympic sprint, "I have ten seconds to justify my whole existence." More recently, in the final episode of The Last Dance, the ESPN documentary about the Chicago Bulls' championship team of the 1990's, the interviewer asked Michael Jordan,"Were you maddened or gladdened by retiring after winning your sixth NBA championship? Jordan's response. "Maddened. I should have won seven."
Would one more really have been enough though?

Apparently, feeling absolutely enough is more illusive than Brene Brown would have us believe.
 Our need to justify ourselves, not so much through one more good work as through one more great achievement, is a stubborn streak in the children of Eve.

I find I lack the authority to convince myself that I am absolutely enough. My self-talk sounds hollow to my Jordan-shaped soul that feels unworthy no matter what I achieve. I need the Author of my life to silence my repeated strivings to justify my existence and prove my worth. I need Him to speak a better word than the word of Brene Brown. I need Him to justify me with Jesus' work so that I can finally rest.

 John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker poet, wrote so poignantly about our need for God to silence the hum of our strivings to be enough in his 1872 hymn, "Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind."

"With that deep hush subduing all
Our words and works that drown
The tender whisper of Thy call,
As noiseless let Thy blessing fall
As fell Thy manna down.

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess,
The beauty of Your peace."

I am not absolutely enough. But when Jesus drops the still dews of quietness into my striving soul,
I am able to whisper, "He is enough for me."
Which may not get onto any Etsy store wall hanging, but it's a truth I'm willing to hang my hat on. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Our Way Back to In-Person Gatherings

If the last few months have shown anything, it is that the church cannot be stopped. Even if we cannot meet in person, we are still the church. Come what may, we will always be the people of God. Worship, evangelism, the preaching of God's Word must continue. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Matt. 16:18). Southlands Brea, you have been formidably generous, compassionate, creative and brave during these strange and uncertain days as Jesus has empowered you. I've seen Him glorified through you in a myriad ways these last two months and I am filled with gratitude and love for you.

Still, it is good to lament what has been lost with the absence of in-person gatherings, and it is right to long for the day when we can gather again. We are blessed to live in a time when technology allows us to gather virtually and stay in contact easily, but nothing virtual can fully replace the embodied gathering. So, as we anticipate what it will look like to resume physical gatherings, I want to call us to do so with a posture of prudence, patience, courage, and love.

We have spent many hours as an eldership team praying, talking and consulting with wise specialists within and beyond the Church in order to come up with a plan for in-person gathering. These have included the Pacific Justice Institute, One Table Pastor's Forum and the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The Plan consists of our Posture, Precautions and  Plays for In-Person gathering.  

I. A Posture for In-Person Gatherings

Prudence will continue to guide Southlands Brea as we discern the right way forward. Prudence means wise and thorough planning, with special care for the most vulnerable populations in our community. Prudence also means partnership with and submission to governing authorities (Romans13). Rest assured, we will take great care to abide by the guidelines of the government and err on the side of reopening only insofar as the authorities allow.

Patience must also guide us in the days ahead. Patience with a timeline that might be too slow for some. Patience with a process that will doubtless be clunky. Patience with leaders feeling the pressure of this complex situation. Patience with the fact that much will be different about church, even when we can gather in person again. And above all, patience with one another as we humbly, gently bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2).

This coming season will require not only prudence and patience, but also great courage, in a season of great fear. Our courage will not be cavalier, but we want to remember, even amidst the new precautions around gathering, that God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of love, of power and of a sound mind. (1 Tim 1:7)

As we begin to implement the plans outlined below, let’s prioritize Christlike, sacrificial love—a love that leads us to harmony amid genuinely disputable matters (Rom. 14). Some of us will feel comfortable attending physical gatherings at the earliest opportunity. Others of us may need to stay home and watch online for an extended period of time. Various levels of comfort will exist everywhere in between. We must love and respect one another, wherever we stand. At a time of great cultural division and anger, let’s be a community characterized by unity and love—glorifying God and demonstrating the truth of the gospel in honoring one another with an abundance of grace. 

II. Precautions for In-Person Gathering 

1. Plan and Prepare (in accordance with the Pacific Justice Institute)

A. Observe CDC and Federal Guidelines

Visit the CDC’s website ( for relevant updates on coronavirus and social distancing. We will prepare to observe social distancing during essential “life-supporting” services, including, but not limited to, religious assemblies, wedding ceremonies, and funeral services (the Indoor Service) The CDC advises that part of social distancing is limiting face-to-face contact with others and staying at least six (6) feet, or about two (2) arms’ length, from other individuals unless the individuals or family live together (Households).

B. We will Clean and Disinfect

We will review and follow relevant CDC and state guidelines to clean surfaces and the building interior that will be used for the Indoor Service. Were will follow these full cleaning procedures before and after every service or other use of the indoor space.

2. Social Distancing and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

C. Guidelines for Attendees
We will post notice to invitees (including pastors, staff, and volunteers) to observe social distancing throughout the entire Indoor Service, and: We will maintain at least six (6) feet of space between Households; and wear masks or face coverings as described by the CDC (Face Coverings).
Speakers and worship leaders will wear masks to the meeting, but will take them off for the moment of preaching or leading worship.

D. Use PPE during the Indoor Service.
Federal guidelines suggest Face Coverings be worn in public places during all phases of the pandemic. We will make hand sanitizer available in the building; the CDC recommends sanitizer have a minimum of 60% alcohol.

3. Physical Layout of Interior Space

E. We will modify seating arrangements, if necessary, to accommodate social distancing. We will reduce total seating for each Indoor Service, if necessary, to facilitate social distancing.

III. Four Plays for In-Person Gatherings

In the coming days, as the state of California “reopens,” Southlands Brea will begin to offer a mixture of online and in-person experiences.

Out of concern for those who are vulnerable and appropriately cautious, we will continue to create meaningful online experiences of Sunday worship, community, and equipping.

Once California officials give the greenlight for some in-person church gatherings to commence again, Southlands will begin offering meaningful in-person experiences for those who want to participate in them, as outlined below. These in-person experiences will happen in accordance with the guidelines provided by federal health officials.

Just as an offense will call a play based on what the defense shows them, we will be reading the moment and understanding the guidance of state and local officials as we call these “plays” for future gatherings. It is important to note that we will likely be calling multiple plays at any given time, allowing us to most effectively serve all members of the Southlands Brea community. These plays are not linear in their progression and we believe this model will allow us to nimbly adapt to any changes that may come our way in the coming weeks and months.

While we expect our in-person gatherings to feel more “normal” as we progress in the reopening process, like the rest of society, the way we interact with each other may look a little different for a while. We’re going to continue to modify the parts of our services that required physical contact before (such as communion, prayer groups, greeting each other with handshakes), and we’re doing everything we can to keep our facilities clean and safe. Even if you see more face masks (and a lot more hand sanitizer), when we gather together again in-person, we hope it will feel like coming home.