bravery

Curiosity and Confidence

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I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.Eleanor Roosevelt

Every once in awhile I start to feel like I live in a fortress. Not the kind from fairy tales where it sits atop a dramatic cliff shrouded in a quixotic mist. I'm talking about the grey kind. The dull kind. The kind made mostly of concrete and located somewhere that's of no interest whatsoever. Like Bakersfield.

This is the fortress I've built out of painful experiences, losses, failures, comparisons, and insults. I think most of us have some version of our own dull and dreary fortress.

Inferiority, or at least the feelings of inferiority, cause us to reinforce the fortress, erecting increasingly impenetrable walls so that we can withstand an anticipated onslaught from the outside. All the while, the greatest battle is usually the one waged within.

Inferiority holds us fast. But curiosity takes us places.

I recently finished the book The Curious Mind by Brian Grazer—frequent collaborator of Ron Howard and the producer of Apollo 13, 8 Mile, A Beautiful Mind, and a whole host of other films. He prides himself on his curiosity. He asks questions. All the time. And he purposely makes himself uncomfortable for the sake of asking questions. He makes appointments with people so that he can be uncomfortable so that he will ask questions. He has made the practice of curiosity his lifelong purpose.

It got me thinking about the use of curiosity to overcome fear… or inferiority.

To be honest, almost any appointment on my calendar elicits a certain level of anxiety. If I've known the person forever, or if the purpose of the conversation is clear as crystal, I'm usually okay. But if we've never met or if I’m not sure where our talk might meander off to, I can feel the walls of my fortress closing in the closer the time comes. I conjure illogical anxieties. I worry that we'll just stare at one another with nothing to say. I wonder if I'll blurt out something that will confirm their assumptions that I'm a crackpot, or a racist, or a bigot, or a blasphemer. Maybe worst of all I worry that they'll find me boring.

Another name for all those fears… inferiority. (Welcome to an area of my brokenness.)

Lately my schedule has been filled with appointments where I can easily imagine all these scenarios playing out. But instead of fear and inferiority I've been choosing curiosity. I've been asking questions. I've been listening carefully to the answers. And I’ve been letting those answers lead me to more questions. Over and over again my fear of being boring has faded into the background as I find the other person increasingly fascinating. The more I lean into curiosity the more I'm finding story. The more questions I ask the more I'm beginning to understand what makes each person tick. When you start to get into the heart of a person it gets hard to hold real interest, empathy, and even friendship at bay.

Sure, I still choose to avoid rooms full of people now and then. Sure, I'm still painfully awkward in conversations here and there. Sure, I sometimes feel a little flutter of anxiety when I see a calendar day full of appointments. But…

Curiosity makes my fortresses fall. And it often seems to break through the defenses of the people I talk with because the more I ask questions the more they begin to trust that I care. And that's good because I really do care. I care a lot, and curiosity is helping me communicate that care.

More than anything, cultivating curiosity has the beautiful byproduct of making me brave, brave enough to relate, to learn, and to wonder. And I’ll choose that over living in a fortress any day.

Be Brave: A Spoken Word

This is new work. New work feels good. I wouldn't say that the work of doing new work always feels good, though, because work is hard.

Work requires bravery. I've been learning a thing or two about bravery lately.

I had the privilege to share this piece for the first time this past weekend, after which a friend asked me where the idea and the words came from.

The answer, first and foremost, is that any new creative work comes from God. After all, my creativity and the output thereof are simply smeared reflections of the God whose creativity filled unthinkable void with all that we now call reality.

Secondly, the work comes from deep inside me. Most every artist will tell you that any worthwhile work is knitted into the fibers of their soul and is an expression of what he or she is thinking about, hunting for, fighting against, or crying over.

So my work comes from God, and then it comes through me. It comes from what God is doing in me. It comes from the things he's saying to me. Sometimes God speaks to me through repetition, finding new ways for me to take notice of the same themes again and again, often over relatively longs spans of time. I've written about this before; I call them threads. Last night I began tracing this particular thread backwards and identifying the ways in which God has been gently repeating the words...

BE BRAVE.

Perhaps you've heard of the Six Degrees of Separation, the theory that every person in the world is only six-steps removed from every other person in the world, only six introductions away from meeting their hero, their crush, their doppelgänger.

Well, these are my Six Degrees of Inspiration, the people and work that have introduced me to the ideas that eventually brought about this spoken word:

Almost two years ago two friends of mine created a series of mixed-media pieces. Working in collaboration, Sarah Carter and Whitney Schey combined their gifts in photography, painting, and collage to create a gallery they entitled "Be Brave." (Of course.) The work they made together was stunningly beautiful and caused a stirring in my heart and the recognition of the beautiful side of bravery.

A year ago my church, ROCKHARBOR, began a series in the biblical book of Acts. In this story we saw men and women facing persecution, isolation, imprisonment, and death for the sake of carrying the message of Jesus' death and resurrection, offering hope, freedom, and forgiveness for all who would believe. Week after week God's word has held up a mirror and asked me if I am willing to be brave.

A month or so ago I first heard Sara Bareilles' single "Brave." Catchy. Very catchy. But more than being catchy, the song struck a chord in me. I played it on repeat day after day. As someone who loves words, her song reminded me that bravery often materializes as language because words are powerful. Being brave sometimes looks like speaking up, filling dangerous silence. As I listened to that song again and again I began to wonder about the vocal side of bravery.

And last week an artist and writer I follow named Blaine Hogan wrote a beautiful piece called "You Are So Brave!" He told the story of his daughter's frightening experience of seeing fireworks for the first time, and he reminded me that sometimes we have to coax bravery out of one another. We have to call and commission one another to be brave.

All of these influences, these flavors, started stirring in the pot together. And finally, it was time to write. The first output of that was this piece based upon a journey through the book of Acts. I wanted my church to see the beauty of bravery. I wanted them to look in the mirror of God's word and be inspired. I wanted to bravely use words to fill silence. And I wanted to call and encourage them to do likewise.

This piece is a call to the church to BE BRAVE for the sake of the gospel.

But this idea is still stirring. I don't think I'm done with bravery.