Arguing with Brené

book cover, Rising Strong

Brené Brown has become a prophetic voice of late. Her research and writing on vulnerability and shame have made waves throughout the West as millions are finding help and healing in her work.

However, such universal praise causes one to ask whether or not she is as right as everyone thinks she is. After all, legendary philosopher Søren Kierkegaard warned us of dangers of following the crowd.

So I thought I’d pick up one of her books and see for myself. Unbeknownst to me, the book I picked, Rising Strong, was not her latest book because another was released in the time it took me to read this one.

In the end, Rising Strong turned out to be one of the more important reads of my life. Brown is, somehow, better than advertised. That doesn’t mean what she says is easy to hear. In fact, much of it is counterintuitive and downright irritating.

The book itself is all about what Brown calls the process of getting up from getting knocked down. Because anyone who leads a life of courage and vulnerability will get knocked down. The question then is HOW to get up. That’s the meat of the book. Reckoning (getting curious with our stories), rumbling (getting honest about our stories), and starting a revolution (writing a new ending to our story).

Along the way, Brown’s insights are both wonderful and weighty, insightful and infuriating. Most of these can be applied in any context, but any church leader who isn’t reading Brown is likely missing out on a key moment in our culture, and will be a worse leader for it. What follows are some of the best ideas in Rising Strong that I resisted at first, but now see as profoundly true. I have resisted the temptation to provide commentary because I think it best to make space for fellow leaders and ministers to argue with her as I have and find that she might just be as close to a prophet as we can get these days. There are also great exercises to go along with the great ideas. [1] But be warned; Brown isn’t playing around. And that’s certainly a good thing, because leadership is no joke. And neither is she.

“Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back” (5).

“People who don’t stay down after they fall or are tripped are often trouble-makers. Hard to control. Which is the best kind of dangerous possible. They are the artists, innovators, and change-makers” (54).

“No person is ordained to judge our divinity or to write the story of our spiritual worthiness” (83).”

“Self-righteousness starts with the belief that I’m better than other people and it always ends with me being my very worst self and thinking, I’m not good enough” (103).

“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be” (113). [2]

“I explained that very early on in my work I had discovered that the most compassionate people I interviewed also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries” (114). [3]

“Boundaries are hard when you want to be liked and when you are a pleaser hell-bent on being easy, fun, and flexible” (115). [4]

“Most of us buy into the myth that it’s a long fall from ‘I’m better than you’ to ‘I’m not good enough’—but the truth is that these are two sides of the same coin. Both are attacks on our worthiness. We don’t compare when we are feeling good about ourselves; we look for what’s good in others. When we practice self-compassion, we are compassionate toward others. Self-righteousness is just the armor of self-loathing” (119). [5]

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them” (123). [6]

“Forgiveness is so difficult because it involves death and grief” (150). [7]

“When perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun” (194). [8]

“Look behind an act of violence, from bullying to terrorism, and you will find a frantic attempt to escape powerlessness” (201-202). [9]

“Regret can be the birthplace of empathy” (212). [10]

[1] Such as the need for SFDs. Page 85. It’s like journaling, but more honest.
[2] Okay, I said I wouldn’t comment, but this one idea, that “everyone is doing the best they can” is, simply put, a life-changer for ministry and leadership. It’s also one of the hardest things for me to believe. The question is why I need to think the opposite. This entire chapter (Sewer Rats and Scofflaws) is a MUST READ for all leaders. As an aside and in a similar vein, do yourself a favor and watch David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” to supplement this chapter’s education.
[3] Seriously? Sorry to interrupt again, but WHY DIDN’T ANYONE TELL ME THAT BEFORE I BECAME A MINISTER? This can’t be true, right? If it is, no wonder people keep burning out, because we seem to teach the opposite.
[4] Hey now. Too close.
[5] Mark 12:31.
[6] Sounds like a great way to get fired. But maybe that’s what needs to happen in most places.
[7] Brown makes a great point here that forgiving means burying something. Usually the story that someone wouldn’t or couldn’t do what they did. It’s such a very helpful idea. And I hate it. Because it’s easier to believe that the people who hurt me are monsters instead of humans who fall short, especially of my expectations of them.
[8] Stop it. I’m uncomfortable.
[9] Okay. Sure. But that really messes with my theory that some people are just jerks.
[10] I hope that’s true for anyone who regrets reading all these footnotes. 🙂

Adam Daniels is a freelance writer who has worked in ministry for 12 years, most recently as the Campus Minister at the Campus View Church of Christ in Athens, Georgia. Despite his years of experience in full time ministry and working through a couple of theological degrees, he still has more questions than answers. He is a husband to Jessie, a lover of books, a stumbling disciple of Jesus, and the worst player on his church league softball team. He blogs occasionally at https://idlefaith.wordpress.com.

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Author:  Publish Date: December 7, 2017

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
Dr. Carisse Berryhill
Dr. Jason Fikes
Karissa Herchenroeder
Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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