malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Month: February 2012

The Power of Vulnerability

I recently watched a video on TED.  I love this website.  It has some of the most inspiring videos of special talks that I have ever heard.  This is one of them.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.

Brené Brown reminds us that if we want to understand “wholeheartedness,” we will have to begin with vulnerability.  Click on the arrow below, and enjoy.

Brown’s last two paragraphs say,

This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.”


Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls “Wholeheartedness.”

The Well Worn Path

OT Reading:  Amos 5:6-15NT Reading: Hebrews 12:1-14Gospel Reading: Luke 18:9-14

If you prefer to listen to this blog post, click on the arrow below.

“Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others.”

I wonder if you are like me in some of the following ways.

I try to be kind and respectful to all persons when I see them in the line at the grocery store, or sitting in a restaurant.  I am well groomed in proper, public Christian behavior.  When I see persons in the community who are “different” than me, I go out of my way to be nice to them, and also think to myself, “bless their hearts.”

I give a tithe (10%) to my church, or at least most of the time I do.  Ok to be honest, recently I haven’t met that goal but I am doing better than I was.

If it is Sunday, I’m almost always in church.  I know many of the prayers and hymns by heart.  In my church, I know when to bow, cross myself, kneel, stand, and sit.  You probably have your own spiritual routines.

I am religious about my morning and bedtime prayers from the Daily Office during the week.  Maybe you have your own type of meditation or daily prayer or quiet time?

But when I read this parable that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel, I begin to squirm on the pew of my heart.

Why?  Because I realize that Jesus has nailed me.  Jesus is talking to me.  And maybe to you too?  He knows exactly what we’ve been thinking.  He knows who we really are.  And if we are honest, that’s not always good news for us. Read it again with me.  Luke 18:9-14 says:

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even  like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who  humbles himself will be exalted.”

We are caught, we are guilty, and we know it.  We could come up with some great excuses, but Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  And when we try to fool Jesus about who we really are, we are the foolish ones.

So I give up, Jesus.  I know you are telling this parable to point out the error of my ways.  And you are absolutely right. I’m not the person I want others to think I am.  To be honest, I’m not even the person I think I am.  I’ve fooled myself, but never you.  I know the gig is up.

Forgive me, forgive me, forgive me.  Please God, forgive me.

Whether you observe Lent or not, this is the path that can lead or return us to God.  Beating our breasts and crying out, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”  At the very least, we acknowledge this truth in our hearts.

This path is the walk of humility before God.

And this is the well worn path we are called to walk on this Ash Wednesday, and every day that we want to reconnect with God.

When Jesus Cussed

(If you prefer to listen, click on the arrow below.)

Believe it or not, I grew up in a home where I never heard my father or my mother cuss.  That’s pretty remarkable in and of itself.

But I believe Jesus cussed a few times to get his point across when he walked the earth, especially when he saw what the religious people were saying and doing to others.  There may not be any four letter words said, but believe you me, Jesus gave them what we would call a “coming to Jesus talk” here in the South.

For just a minute, put aside that mild mannered image of Jesus.  Hear what he said to the most educated religious persons in his day.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23: 27-28)

If this isn’t enough for you, there’s plenty more where that came from in Matthew 23.

When Jesus looks you in the eye and tells you that you are in a heap of trouble, and compares you to a grave that looks nice on the outside, but you are dead bones on the inside, one better sit up and listen.  Dang hypocrite!

Our problem with this passage of Scripture is we always thought Jesus was talking to “them” in our society.  You know who they are.  In reality, Jesus is speaking to us, and all the rest who say religious words only.

And by the way, before we get too defensive when someone calls us a hypocrite in our faith, we better just drop the bravado and say, “You know what, you’re right.  I’ve got a lot of stuff I’m working on with God.  I don’t have it all together.  Thanks for the reminder.”

That should be enough to keep us busy for awhile.  We won’t have time to go after all those sinners out there, because now we know they is us.

Without grace, without forgiveness, we are all in trouble.  Every single one of us.  No exceptions.

But when we know how much we need it, we see the wisdom of asking for it, and sharing it with others.


God Questions

This is the tenth in a series on My Faith Journey.  (If you prefer to listen, click on the arrow below.)

Chaplain Mark Allen Johnston and wife, Lisa Compton Johnston

I was going to ask God ‘as there is so much suffering in the world and you are able to do something about it, why don’t you?’ but I was afraid God might ask me the same question.”

Chaplain Mark Allen Johnston posted these words on Facebook today while serving overseas in Japan with the U.S. Army.

Mark’s reflection stopped me in my tracks.

I am aware that I regularly play the role of investigator and ask God most of the questions.

Maybe for a change, I need to stop asking God for all of the answers, and listen to some of the questions God might be asking me?

Questions like:

“Malcolm, when are you going to stop worrying about all of the little things that distract you from living life fully?”


“Malcolm, why do you think it is your job to discover something really big you are supposed to do, when there are people you overlook in front of you every single day?”

I think some of God’s questions begin with:

  1. Who is your neighbor?
  2. What are you doing about persons who are sick?
  3. When are you going to feed the hungry?
  4. Where is the help for the least of these?
  5. How are you going to clothe the naked?
  6. Why are you waiting for someone else to do these things?

What question(s) is God asking you these days?

It’s our turn to listen.

Maybe it’s our turn to answer.

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