ZZ Top gave us this classic line over thirty years ago, and it still holds. I mean, that is what it’s all about, right? Having the right clothes, the right look? The right amount of intelligence. The right job. The right children. The right theology. The right political party. The right reaction to my controlling supervisor. The right business strategy. Working to look and be perfect in every way to demonstrate that my life is wrinkle-free, that there are no mistakes, no problems, no weaknesses. I do everything I can to clothe myself such that my deep vulnerability will be covered. Will be protected. Will be hidden from anyone who might shame me if they were to know. If they were to know the truth that in fact I am vulnerable. I am often wrong. I am needy. I am broken and imperfect. I am all those words that in some way represent the sum total of what it means first to be human.
It strikes me how we speak of having to “be” vulnerable. As if it is something we have to choose. As if I were choosing between water or iced tea for my meal. As if vulnerability were an option. But here’s the news about the brain, and about whom we were first made to be. To be vulnerable is not something we choose to be. It is something we are. The reason the brain is encased in solid bone is because it is vulnerable. It does not need to decide to be. What creates so much of our heartache is about how much we work—mostly automatically—to not be, or at the very least to pretend we should not be vulnerable. For since the beginning, evil did its best to splice shame together with our awareness of our nakedness, of our vulnerability. But it was not always so.
Think about it. There are few creative acts in which we humans are involved that are more beautiful and glorious than having sex and having babies. Each of these acts requires (at least at some level) that we are naked. And each is very messy. And our first parents in the Garden of Eden? Their potential for creativity was never more boundless than when they too were naked—vulnerable, in need of each other. In fact in need of someone wholly other in order to have dominion and rule over the earth. Their destiny as a king and queen was directly linked to their vulnerability. Directly related to the degree to which each would have to say, “I need you because I do not have what it takes to create fully on my own.” Their vocational blossoming was intended to be realized through and only through their deep and passionate need of each other’s capacity to provide that which the other did not possess.
Not so for many of us Westerners. I can put my pants on all by myself. Not only do I not need or want your help, but also the fact that I might even feel as if I do is a sure sign that there is something wrong with me. Shame, channeling evil, would love nothing more than for each of us to remain committed to the notion that we need to work harder, study harder, parent harder, do everything harder—but mostly that I should not be asking for help in any of that hard work. Otherwise I will be found out to be inadequate, inferior, and vulnerable to your discovering who I really am…and leave.
As such, I find ZZ Top to be helpful. I can only imagine that people will be crazy about me if I am sharply dressed. How strange that all those clothes in which I am so fashionably attired—my education; my assurance that I am married to the most attractive spouse in the room; my six-figure income; my home’s zip code; my health; my technology or alcohol addiction; my gluttony—all the duds in which I wrap myself and behind which I hide, are the very things that keep me from creating as God would have me create. The very things that with enough layers, leave me vocationally straitjacketed, that keep me from being partners with others who also long for Jesus’ coming kingdom of goodness and beauty. Moreover, how even more strange, that the greatest act of mercy, strength, and beauty the world has ever known involved a man being stripped naked before he was hung on a tree. And that same man would bid us to come and follow him. But then–how even more amazing that it was explicitly through the nakedness of Good Friday that we were led to the glory of Easter.
With whom are you vulnerable? With whom are you discovering new vocational freedom and creativity in the way you were born to create, following Jesus, doing what he did, scorning shame along the way? Who could have imagined–a vulnerable God who leads a vulnerable people into a kingdom of goodness and beauty.
I only hope I’m properly dressed for the occasion.