The most remarkable thing Brené Brown said at Forma 2015
The most remarkable thing Brené Brown said at Forma 2015

Brene Brown at Forma

If you’re a regular reader of this blog and didn’t hear a ton last week about Forma 2015, the annual conference of the Episcopal Church’s grassroots organization of faith formation ministers, then I can only assume we travel in very different online circles. It is quite the coincidence (a happy one, to be sure) that those circles intersect here.

Forma members were enthusing, is my point, and never more profusely than during and immediately after Thursday’s keynote presentation by Brené Brown, a researcher on vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Brown happens (in another happy coincidence) to be a citizen of Forma 2015’s host city of Houston and a parishioner at Christ Church Cathedral, where her talk took place.

“Believe the hype,” was my reply to the playfully jealous tweets I saw from those who couldn’t be with us. Brown is a remarkable presenter and understood perfectly the spirit of our gathering on the ministry of faith formation. More importantly, she is clearly a master of the art of the human connection.

Maybe this is the way effective speakers have always worked, but I was struck by how she seemed to speak in tweetable pearls of wisdom designed to resonate simply with both head and heart. Perhaps we should expect nothing less from someone whose TED Talk is among the most popular ever.

I commend to you each and every bit of Thursday’s encapsulated knowledge, but I’d like to take slightly more than 140 characters to make the case for what I found to be the most remarkable:

This insight, it seems to me, has the power to speak to our church and our culture a message we desperately need and that we might just actually be able to receive.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that the idea of enough speaks to my heart and mind much more soundly than the idea of abundance.

I’m ashamed not because I’ve made an unfaithful theological choice (it would be guilt I’d be feeling in that case) but because I fear it means there’s something wrong with my very being. (It’s nice to get these distinctions clear with some help from a renowned shame researcher.)

I often give an interior groan when I hear about theologies of abundance. They sounds pie-in-the-sky to me, and I’m usually too afraid to believe them. And so I worry that there’s something essentially stingy, essentially mistrustful, essentially cynical and pessimistic and ungrateful, about who I am. I’ve even named this part of my psyche: it’s my inner engineer, a specialist in failure modes and worse-case-scenario thinking.

So Brown’s message was good news in my life because I can believe in enough, trust in enough, hope in enough, take courage in enough. Enough will preach, I think. It did for me.

There’s plenty of biblical warrant for a theology of enough. Sure, we have countless biblical images of God’s abundance, from the multiplication of loaves and fishes to Amos’s ever-flowing stream of righteousness and justice. But the characters in scripture also know plenty about enough.

I’m thinking about the Hebrews in the desert, gathering just enough manna for the day to come. Or the widow of Zarephath, who found that she had just enough meal and oil to make bread for herself, her son, and Elijah until the rains came. Or Jesus sending out disciples with no extra cloak, and no guarantee of welcome in the towns they would visit.

Enough is not the only biblical perspective on God’s providence in scripture. But it is a significant one. There are places and times when we should expect abundance. But most of us are too scared or too scarred. Brown gave us permission to admit that.

She’s not  asking us to transform our lives overnight. She knows that’s not the way most people change.

She’s not asking us to pretend we’re not afraid. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I believe she’s assuring us that when a leap of faith seems utterly beyond us, a step or two will get us through the day. And probably the next day too, but that’s tomorrow’s problem.

I hope in the coming days you’ll take a deeper dive into Brown’s work and its many gospel resonances. I certainly hope to as well, but I know time is tight.

If this week gets away from me and I fail in my intention to drink of these cool waters more abundantly, I trust that this one bit of Brownian wisdom will give me the courage to treat myself lightly. That’s probably just what I’ll need to take a few more faithful steps down the road.

Kyle Matthew Oliver (@kmoliver) is digital missioner and learning lab coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching and a board member for Forma.

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