Let Your Slip Show: The Power of Vulnerability

 

vulnerable_j_dana_trentSunday Best

My mother arrived during the World War II era, the youngest of five children born to a rural family of industrious farmers, entrepreneurs, and homemakers.

She comes from a long line of women who counseled their daughters: “You mustn’t let your slip show, dear.”

Each Sunday, Mom echoed my grandmother’s words as we paused outside the doors of First Baptist Church for a tug-and-pull of wardrobe adjustments. Even at age 12, I realized that not revealing your undergarments was a metaphor for life. It was proper to hide what’s on the inside: the girdle, the petticoat, the slip—whatever it was that created the illusion of a smooth, perfect outside.

“She is not a Christian!”

We are a culture that thrives on perfection: from our bodies to our ability to analyze complicated current events and our cleverness at cocktail hour, we strive for the flawless work project and pristine creative endeavor. When it doesn’t happen, we numb our way through coping with impossible standards.

But our figurative undergarments must be bared. They are the vulnerable first drafts of us—the real us. They are the behind-closed-doors instances where we don’t always get it right, and we intentionally or unintentionally “let our slip show.”

The literary genre of memoir is a purposeful slip-showing; they are books about peeling off the Spanx to let the cellulite flop where it may.

But last fall, amid the flurry of a successful book tour, national media pieces, reviews on Saffron Cross, I’d forgot my own choice. The “undergarments” I bared in Saffron Cross produced a vulnerability that I hadn’t adequately prepared myself for: extreme exposure and questioning.

Months prior to the book’s launch, my friend Matt asked me,
“Aren’t you worried about sharing so much of yourself and your relationship with everyone?”

My answer was stoic:

“Not if my showing helps someone,” I replied. “Then it’s all worth it—including whatever vulnerability—or cost.”

But was there backlash for such slip-showing in Saffron Cross?

A little. On Rachel Held Evans “Ask a” series, folks questioned the veracity of my salvation; on Juicy Ecumenism, I received worse. Internet commentors on Huffington Post also had something to say, and I was lovingly called “neurotic,” on a radio show (it came from a place of kindness, really).

Some samples:

“She is not a Christian.. Period.. or a baby christian.. Sad to think she is leading others.”

“Religious and LOST! This is by far, the worst article I have ever read about religion or anything! First of all, she has no business being a minister, or a Baptist for that matter.”

“She is not a Christian minister according to God’s scripture; Bishop Pastor etc.. Qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.”

“Dana and Fred are going to hell– plainly put.”

“What a tragic story. Scripture is clear on the issue of marriage and now this Baptist pastor has put herself in an ugly situation.”

“As a former Baptist and an evangelical Anglican, it’s impossible for me to take Dana seriously. She sidestepped each question and has essentially made a mockery of both Christianity and Hinduism.”

“Please don’t take your ideas from this woman.”

“This article is absurd. All the self-justifying, the twisting of both religions, and the self-sat

Letting my slip show in Saffron Cross meant exposing myself and my interfaith marriage not only to those who connected and engaged with the story—but also those who eagerly disapproved. When we put ourselves, our insecurities, or our relationships out into the ether, the possible judgment is scary.

But the payoff is great.

Our Vulnerable Heroes

We love Anne Lamott’s “asshat crazy-making.” Glennon Doyle Melton’s “brutiful” life makes us breath a little easier. Mary Oliver’s poetry awakens us to an authentic life. Brene Brown’s confessions make us laugh, and Malala Yousafzai’s bravery makes us cry.

Vulnerable writers and speakers make our hearts scream, “YES! Hallelujah. I don’t have to hide anymore.” They are our heroes, because they show what we try to hide each day.

We have a choice. We can slap on the layers of name-your-own-suffocating-undergarment, or we can choose to be brave like our heroes, and live our humanity in the public square called life.

Revolutionary Vulnerability

The revolutionary power of vulnerability is connection.

When readers write in to share their own stories of interfaith friendships, obstacles, or the ways in which they connected with the Saffron Cross story, it helps me show my slip. These comments remind me that baring our deepest struggles has the power to connect us with something far bigger and better than ourselves. When we reveal our failures, insecurities, and tiny triumphs, we share in the common spirit that makes us all human.

Not everyone disagrees with interfaith marriage. In fact, the majority of people Fred and I meet support us and want to foster their own interfaith friendships. From the beginning, what Fred and I wanted from Saffron Cross was for it to be a manual of courage for all of us: courage to be vulnerable, ask questions, and step out of our comfort zones.

These readers’ comments made my heart sing:

From G:

“Saffron Cross is honest, vulnerable, real, intimate… It did everything to me that a good book should. It made me reflect on how that form of relating to others is so much more meaningful and deep than the superficial social interactions that humans share. If you hadn’t written this book, Dana, I would’ve never gotten the glimpse behind the scenes, so to speak. I wish everybody wrote books like these so we would actually get to know each other a little better and we would feel more comfortable revealing our vulnerabilities as well as our strengths. I very much appreciate it that you guys had the courage to be so open about your issues, neuroses and quirks, as well as the successes.”

From L:

“I’ve been impressed by the openness and vulnerability you and Fred have shown in sharing your story—at least in my experience, it’s pretty rare to come across other people in our generation so passionate about interfaith work, let alone comfortable enough with their own faith to be willing to try other faiths’ forms of worship and see truth in them.”

Here’s your homework. Embrace the power of vulnerability: let your slip show two inches past your hem line and wear your bra on the outside of your holey t-shirt. Do it! You will make your own day–and someone else’s, too.

Tell us what happens! Share your slip-showing stories below.

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4 comments

  1. Dear Dana,
    I felt that there are hope for my interfaith relationship when I read your story. Although I am Hindu by birth, I am agnostic and my girlfriend is Christian. We have been dating for 4.5 years and want to get married in couple of years.

    I have not read your book, but I definitely will.

    My girlfriend and I are struggling to answer 2 big questions:
    1) How are we going to accept each others’ faiths and worship together in a temple and church?
    I am very open to Christianity and its beliefs, but there are some things about Christianity that bothers me: a) It bothers me that it says “Jesus is the only way to God”; b) “Do not worship idols”, which people have interpreted to mean the Gods in Hindu culture. Also, I am willing to attend Sunday mass and celebrate all the Christian holidays. My parents are open to this as well. However, my girlfriend and her family are not open to Hinduism because they believe that it would be a sin to practice or accept Hinduism.

    2) Which faith will our children be brought up with?
    I do not mind our children being baptized and learning Christianity and going to Church, but I also want them to go to temples and practice my agnostic/Hindu faith with me. I want them to learn about both faiths because they are a whole of two halves (one half coming from me and another half coming from their mother). However, my girlfriend thinks that the Children will get confused and not choose any faith. So, she wants to raise them only to be Christians.

    So, all in all, she loves me very very much, but she is finding it very hard to accept my faith and not follow certain instructions in the bible that may go against Hinduism.

    I was wondering if you would be willing to talk to us (preferably in person) and help us with our situation. Thank you and have a great day.

  2. First, thanks for sharing your story! I hope you will read Saffron Cross, as I think you’ll find it interesting, and possibly helpful given the questions you’ve posed. I don’t know your girlfriend’s Christian denomination, but she may find my experiences to be similar to hers.

    These are indeed two big questions!

    1. Worship: I discuss a lot about worship in the book (see Chapter 6 on Sabbath-Keeping). Fred and I decided early on that we would worship together. Doing so has given us a cherished opportunity for conversation about scripture, worship liturgy, deity worship, and doctrine. I highly recommend this approach–even though it can be challenging. I understand that you are open to worshiping in a Christian setting, but your girlfriend and her family are not. After she reads Saffron Cross (or the two of you read it together!), she may feel differently about the nature of what it means for a Christian to participate in Hindu worship. I have actually found deity worship and the rituals of Hinduism to be helpful in my Christian walk. For instance, we have a home altar with an icon of Christ, photos of Fred’s guru, and photos of deities. I offer our evening meal on our altar (a Hindu practice). The time of offering has deepened my walk. It gives me a chance to acknowledge my dependence upon God as well as my hunger for a more sincere longing to follow Jesus’ teachings.

    When I enter into a Hindu temple, my heart, body, mind, and soul focus on God (with a capital G!). I believe there is a Spirit that transcends our human-made boxes and lines drawn in the sand. This is the same “Spirit” feeling I have in Christian Church, when my mind meditates on and worships Jesus.

    2. Children: Here is a book you both should read: Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family. Susan Katz Miller has profiled interfaith couples (including a Christian and Hindu) on what it’s like for interfaith partners to raise children. Fred and I have no children, so we cannot speak to it personally, but if we did have children, we would want to raise them in both traditions, just as Susan suggests. I think you’ll find her research helpful. Above all, it is essential to discuss and determine a plan early.

    No matter what, communication is key to both the questions of worship and children (as well as many other interfaith challenges). Fred and I have found that it’s not so much about having the same faith as it is about having deep faith. If both of you strive to be the best practitioners you can be (Christian and Agnostic/Hindu), you will grow deeper in your individual and collective journeys.

    Blessings as you continue to navigate what it might mean to be in an interfaith marriage.

    Deep peace,
    Dana

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