Action On Injustice (Day 23)

Acknowledging privilege and taking action on injustice require constant vigilance. Brené Brown

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh (‘privileged’), I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:4-7)


Continuing story…

Several months later, I attended another church leader gathering in our area. A guest pastor and his team were sharing about their work in western Africa. These men were faith-filled and genuine, but it was obvious that they do not consider women co-equals in leadership at home or in the faith community.

At the end of the presentation, someone asked all the pastors in the audience to come forward and pray for this team. I was the only female who went forward in a sea of local male pastors. Once we were in place, the event host asked my colleague Scott to lead the prayer aloud, to which he replied, “I think Katie should lead it.”

Once again, Scott was passing his privilege to me.

My story relates to Paul’s warning in Philippians: Don’t trust in ‘the flesh’.

For the purpose of this reflection, I’ve paraphrased “flesh” to “privilege”. When Paul refers to the ‘the flesh’ here as well as Galatians and Romans, he is talking about the pride of physical descent, in which the Jews placed their confidence. Paul admits that ethnic privilege had been his confidence too.

Ethnic privilege was big in the ancient world, and continues in our day. And there are many other forms of privilege in our society: race, gender, sexual orientation, class, family status, age group… Privilege means that you can afford to look the other way, because you are not the one being harassed, underpaid, pulled over, deported, lynched, shut out, etc…

Paul’s message in Philippians 3 is that he had taken a long, painful look at privilege and decided to pick it apart and remove it from his life. I don’t think he’s bragging. I think he’s telling a painful story of ‘humiliation leading to transformation’, which we can only hear if we listen without judgment.

And Paul is now clear in his thinking: If I passively rest in my privilege, I cannot be the distinctive light of life that God has created me to be—I cannot be the transforming presence that the children of God are made for. Furthermore, whatever privileged identity I am resting on will eventually fall apart and no longer be able to support True Life. (Hence Paul’s choice of the term ‘flesh’ that decays.)

In the rising strong process, The Rumble is for doing deep work with two things: 1.) Painful emotions and 2.) Human need (Chapter 8). Within the scope of human need, Brené Brown addresses such things as connection, self-worth, privilege and asking for help.

I invite you to read Chapter 8 of Rising Strong alongside Philippians 3. What is Paul teaching us about rumbling with privilege? We’ve heard Paul’s story, Brené’s story, a bit of my story. What is your story; and how does it lead you to take action against injustice?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help my awareness of my privilege embolden me to look injustice in the eye and take action.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week 4, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 7-8 of Rising Strong. The topics are: Rumbling with difficult emotions and human need.

It’s Our Privilege (Day 22)

I’ve learned enough about privilege to know that we’re at our most dangerous when we think we’ve learned everything we need to know about it. Brené Brown.

Finally, my dear family, rejoice in the Lord!  It’s no trouble for me to repeat myself, and for you it is a safeguard. Beware of the religious elite! All they are interested in is protecting their image. True believers trust God’s Spirit, follow Jesus’s teachings, and place no confidence in their privileged status (My paraphrase of Philippians 3:1-3)


I entered the meeting space late and overheard the guest speaker asking the event host to move the audience to a smaller room. The speaker had noticed that the room was only half full. He prefers to speak to a crowded room. (I get that!) The host explained to him that the conference room would not have enough seats for everyone. To which the speaker replied, “That’s good! I like the energy when the room is over capacity. Once the conference table is full, set up some chairs around the perimeter.”

My heart began to race, and I immediately lost my appetite. I was turned off by this speaker’s philosophy of event management, but why did I feel upset by it? If this guy wants a dopamine hit to get his energy up for speaking, why do I care? Then I realized: This whole scene is a ‘values violation’ for me; and being in a room full of male clergy always ‘triggers shame’ for me. (More on values violations and shame triggers later this week.)

Back to the story… I lingered in the auditorium, until the final few of us were ushered into the smaller conference room. Expecting to sit on the perimeter, imagine my surprise when my colleague Scott was already reading the situation, setting up chairs, and motioning to several local guests to sit on the edge of the room with him. When I made eye contact with Scott, he raised his eyebrows, smiled, and wryly motioned for me to take an open seat at the table.

This would not be the last meeting where Scott takes action. (I’ll share another story tomorrow.) Being aware of the power and privilege in the setting, Sam was making room at the table for others and me.

You may or may not have thought about the kind of religious privilege Paul writes about in Philippians 3 or I encounter at male-dominated clergy gatherings. Brené Brown addresses other types of privilege in Chapter 8 of Rising Strong.

How does privilege affect you on a daily basis? Either the privilege you have or the privilege you don’t have?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, teach me more about my privilege. Help me make the choice to connect with people outside my privileged group.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week 4, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 7-8 of Rising Strong. The topics are: Rumbling with difficult emotions and human need.

Courage That Cares (Day 21)

When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. But when we are defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Brené Brown

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5


As we practice the rising strong process, we will encounter the gap between our own strength and the emotionally resilient person we long to be.

In Psalm 23, the shepherd-king David poetically bridges this gap. He describes what it feels like to walk through life as a vulnerable human being AND also one who is deeply connected to God’s strength. It’s like being fed and cared for when you’re tired. It’s like going through death and darkness, while tethered to God’s light and life. It’s like God affirming you out loud in front of your critics and enemies.

In Rising Strong, the author describes a healthy pathway for dealing with the critics in our lives. It’s not as simple as NOT caring what people think. Criticism hurts; and sadly both loved ones and strangers will attempt to control us with criticism. We might try the tactic of “I don’t care what you think”, but that’s actually a form of emotional armor that will fail us. For me, the armor fails when I’m tired, my heart opens up and suddenly the hurt rushes in.

Brené Brown writes in Chapter 10:

When we stop caring what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. But when we are defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. The solution is getting totally clear on the people whose opinions actually matter. On a one-inch-by-one-inch square of paper, I want you to write down the names of the people who really matter. This is a sacred little space. If you have more names than can fit on a square this size, you need to edit. These should be the people who love you not despite your imperfections and vulnerabilities, but because of them. When you’re facedown in the arena, these are the folks who will pick you up and confirm that the fall totally sucked, then remind you that you’re brave and they’ll be there to dust you off the next time. You should also include the people who are brave enough to say “I disagree” or “I think you’re wrong,” and who will question you when they see you acting outside of your values. I carry my square in my wallet.

I’ve learned that spiritual strength is something God forges in us as we do spiritual practices. The 1×1 square paper exercise is a spiritual practice for staying connected in the midst of criticism. So is meditating on Psalm 23, especially verse 5.

Bible scholar Howard Macy writes: In subtle and even surprising ways [The Psalms] show us the “real world,” they draw us ever steadily toward authentic wholeness, and they bring us to see and delight in the God who is with us.

So, who are the people on your 1×1 square and why?

Now picture yourself seated at the foot of a long dinner table with your trusted people seated on your right and left and God (Parent God, Sibling Jesus or Holy Spirit) at the head. The critics in your life are also at the table, but God and your trusted friends are in charge of this dinner, and God has provided food, drink and a place of belonging for everyone.

How do you feel about this picture? In what ways does it change your view of being criticized?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me get clear about the people whose opinions really matter.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are moving into week 4, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 7-8 of Rising Strong. The topics are: Rumbling with difficult emotions and human need.

Eye Contact (Day 20)

We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to. Brené Brown.

Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need… Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:25-30)


Paul ends Philippians 2 with some storytelling around his needs and the people who care for him. Apparently his support system is largely the Philippian church and two men named Timothy and Epaphroditus. It’s easy to bounce over these types passages when we read Paul’s writings. After all, they seem like personal details that would only be important to Paul and his people. His words here don’t sound like something to build your life on. Certainly not the significance of “I can do all things through Christ who give me strength” or “Make my joy complete by being of one mind.”

I could go on typing famous sound bites from Philippians until sundown. But here’s the point. These other little paragraphs are a big deal too. They give us a window into Paul’s heart. If all Paul’s writings were dense, abstract theological statements and moral instruction, we would have never known him as a human being.

Chapter 8 of Rising Strong is all about being human and ‘rumbling’ with human need. For some reason human beings tend to look away from need. When someone is grieving, dying, homeless, addicted, psychotic… we may want to look away. We also look away from our own deep need. We also find it hard to accept help from others.

In her research, Brené Brown discovered the people who rise strong are more willing to make eye contact with human need—in themselves as well as others. And she found that the two are correlated: The willingness to accept help is abundant in people who are themselves truly helpful.

How are you at making eye contact with your own needs? The storytelling in Chapter 8 is eye opening.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me take a long, loving look at my own need.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity). If your discussion group has completed session three, begin reading Chapters 7-8.

Learning to Care (Day 19)


What do people with strong relationships, parents with deep connections to their children, teachers nurturing creativity and learning, clergy walking with people through faith, and trusted leaders have in common? They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort. Brené Brown

I hope to send Timothy to you soon… I have nobody else of his quality: he will care quite genuinely about how you are. Like a child with a father he has worked as a slave alongside me for the sake of the gospel. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:19-23)

I can’t remember when it happened, but one day I woke up and realized that my own daughters, whom I used to goad and nag to help with cooking, laundry, gardening or entertaining—even proof reading and editing—had become highly skilled and reliable in all of those things. They had learned to care about their work and the people they serve.

I realized that over years of working closely together, we had come to share a brain and a heart. And now, I have the blessing of their helpful companionship. Sometimes we work side by side as partners. And when they do work on my behalf, I know they will do an excellent job.

This is the ultimate joy of parenting, leadership and teaching in any setting. And Brené Brown’s research reminds me of an X-factor in any good apprenticeship—the factor of caring. Brené discovered that good students have been taught empathy and emotional resilience by their parents and teachers, coaches and pastors.

We learn in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that he and Timothy have worked together like father and son—in a culture where most children follow their parents into the family occupation and learn how to work by watching and copying. Now, an intimate bond has formed between the two, so much so that Paul trusts his young friend to represent him anywhere.

It’s interesting that he doesn’t endorse Timothy as a “wonderful teacher”, or a “devout and holy man”, but as a caring person who can be trusted to serve people with love and expertise.

In what ways were you taught skills like empathy when you were growing up? In what ways are you practicing them now and passing them on to others?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, guide me into caring relationships where I can learn, grow and influence others for good.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity). If your discussion group has completed session three, begin reading Chapters 6-7.

New Awareness (Day 18)

We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we are not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating—it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Brené Brown

Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:14-16)


Dave and I are remodeling a midcentury ranch home near downtown Loveland. This spring and summer we found our energies divided between our current residence and the shiny new project. I had to force myself to put the usual effort into potting flowers at home, because the realtor insisted it must be done!

The house sold quickly (It must have been those flower pots!). And one day, Dave and helpers brought all the gorgeous, blooming containers to our next house and plopped them down in the middle of a construction zone. It was depressing.

I felt a number of things: Guilty that the yard was taking such a beating during the build; overwhelmed at the landscape and patio work we now have ahead of us; and confused about where to put these beautiful flower pots in an unfinished environment. They seemed out of place.

Now, I am not a young woman! But I had cherished this sort of opportunity all my life. So I took a deep breath, and we began arranging the pots in the future patio spaces. Instead of forgetting about these flowers, I decided they would be ‘a thing of beauty’ in a work zone.

Life is often like this. The Apostle Paul writes about looking forward to the day when God has finished the work of peace and justice in the whole cosmos. Until then, the children of God are to be shining lights—a beacon of hope—a sign of God’s beauty in the midst of unfinished work.

The rising strong process relates to this. In Chapter One, Brené Brown explains what it will be like if we choose to be brave with our lives. Once we identify our arena, and show up and take a stand, we can never go back to our old life; and that’s hard. Sometimes this is depressing. However! We now have the opportunity of a lifetime: We have new awareness and bigger, stronger hearts. The rising strong experience can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our most treasured values. We are as Paul says, “shining like stars in the world.”

Can you name a ‘thing of beauty’ that gives you hope in the midst of your unfinished life?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is doing in me and around me as I practice rising strong. Help me stay encouraged by the beautiful signs of progress.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity).

Everyday Spirituality (Day 17)

When our intentions and actions are guided by spirituality—our belief in our interconnectedness and love—our everyday experiences can be spiritual practices. We can transform teaching, leading, and parenting into spiritual practices. Brené Brown

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:12-13)


Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12-13 is layered. First he says to work out our salvation. Then he says God is working in us. So which is it, Paul? Who is the savior: God or me? Or are we in some kind of salvation-collaboration?

I love N.T. Wright’s heading in his commentary on Philippians: How Salvation is Worked Out. Thank you. I’d like to know!

Truth is, verse 12 is hard to understand. It’s not quite the principle of “The Lord helps those who help themselves.” Salvation is God’s grace-based process from start to finish. But God wants us to work out for ourselves what this business of being saved means in practice. And I wonder if Paul is driving home the point that Paul himself is not responsible for the sanity of those whom he leads and influences. He is trying to get them/us to take responsibility for the day to day management of living into the saved-status God has lavishly supplied.

This maps nicely with the principle Brené Brown found in her research: Those who have learned to rise strong again and again view the rising strong process as a spiritual practice.

How does this align (or disconnect) with your view of spiritual practice? In what ways does it encourage you? In what ways does it challenge you?

I’ll start: I’m encouraged by the wisdom that says I need to DO something in order to experience transformation. This helps me know that I’m not crazy (entirely). When I’m loafing around expecting God’s goodness to make my life easy, I’m going to be disappointed. I’m also challenged. If I’m responsible for partnering with God in the transformative process, I’ve got some work to do– every day, in every setting.

What say you??

Starter Prayer

LORD God, give me spiritual eyes to see, and spiritual ears to hear, what the Spirit is directing me into– every day.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are in week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity).

True Power (Day 16)

We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. Brené Brown.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 9)


People in the ancient world revered Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) as divine. In his twenties, Alexander ruled Greece and conquered the rest of the world. In Paul’s day, the culture divinized the emperor Augustus, who ended Roman civil war and brought peace to the whole known world. Other leaders copied the formula: military might and organizational genius make for god-like leadership.

Historical context makes sense of the poem in Philippians 2. It’s a summary of Paul’s gospel message about Jesus of Nazareth whose death and resurrection prove that he is the world’s only true Lord. For Paul, Christ is the true reality, and Alexander and Augustus are imposters. Jesus taught this truth: Worldly rulers lord it over others, but you must be different. With the children of God, the great ones are also the servants, and whoever is highly gifted must be the slave of all; because the Son of Man came to serve and give his life to free many. (Mark 10:42-45)

Most people in Paul’s world were shocked at the idea that God’s power works through our vulnerability rather than our certainties. People in our world find this difficult as well. In every age, religious people are trapped in false (and dangerous) pictures of God and power.

Understandably, this picture of vulnerability is quite a challenge: God is best understood in the person of Christ Jesus who clearly demonstrated a new pattern of thought and action—put down your armor and function out of humility. Really? The message is so threatening to false power that religious people will detach themselves from the real meaning of Philippians 2 and make it about correct beliefs getting them onto the winning team.

Part of the rising strong process is the task of reclaiming childlike vulnerability (also a Jesus teaching). There is a passage in Daring Greatly that summarizes this well:

As children we found ways to protect ourselves from vulnerability, from being hurt, diminished, and disappointed. We put on armor; we used our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as weapons; and we learned how to make ourselves scarce, even to disappear. Now as adults we realize that to live with courage, purpose, and connection—to be the person whom we long to be—we must again be vulnerable. We must take off the armor, put down the weapons, show up, and let ourselves be seen. Brené Brown.

This is what we are learning to do as we rumble with difficult emotions in the rising strong process. The Rumble is where we learn how to engage with our difficult emotions rather than using them against ourselves and others.   

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me to understand true humility and rejoice in the power of vulnerability.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are beginning week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and Living BIG (Boundaries, Integrity and Generosity).

You Are Not Alone (Day 15)

Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘You’re not alone’. Brené Brown

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 2:5-7)


I staggered into the hotel coffee shop at 6am, unsure of how I would face another day or another person. I had been so excited about leading this two-day conference. Attendance had double from the previous year. Likeminded people were coming together to learn and grow. But the previous day had been a logistical train wreck. Equipment failed, tech bombed, a musician was sick and the speaker ran way over time.

I hadn’t slept all night, and there was my ‘boss’ right in front of me at the espresso bar. She said hello, and I said: I’m sorry; that was a disaster. She didn’t say, “no worries.” She didn’t say, “I hope today goes better.”

Instead she said, “Things like this happen. When they happen to me I feel awful. Every leader has been where you are now, facing a big day after a hard day. We’re in this together, and you’re not alone.”

I had never heard such comforting words. My colleague didn’t give me advice, didn’t judge my performance, didn’t feel sorry for me or herself. She convinced me that she understood what I was experiencing and feeling and that she would not turn away.

Our conversation changed my perspective then and now. Prior to this healing, I had no category for the transformative power of empathy. I thought that leadership and parenting are a lot about helping people grow. But I’d never considered sitting next to someone as a means of helping them grow in wisdom. I’d had many compassionate moments with hurting people, but I didn’t realize that with empathy, the medium IS the message. I didn’t realize that empathy is a powerful tool of compassion that helps people rise.

Jesus was compassionate and empathetic. Compassionate: He recognized the light and dark in our shared humanity and he was kind to himself and others in the face of great suffering. Empathetic: He had the emotional skill to respond to others with genuine understanding and caring. He didn’t feel our emotions for us, but he felt our pain with us. Jesus stuck with us to the bitter end, never leaving or forsaking.

When we see another person suffering, we can walk away, we can feel sorry for them and express sympathy from a place of separatness , or we can be like Doreen and Jesus. We can say: As a fellow human being, I understand how you feel; and you are not alone.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me to empty myself of the tools of judgment, comparison and sympathy. Fill me with true compassion, and teach me the skill of empathy.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are beginning week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 5-6 of Rising Strong. The topics are: The Rumble, and learning to live BIG (boundaries, integrity and generosity).

Sleep and Play (Day 14)

If we want to live a Wholehearted life, we have to become intentional about cultivating sleep and play, and about letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth. Brené Brown

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Psalm 23


In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown develops the Ten Guideposts for Wholehearted Living. #7 is Cultivating Play and Rest. In her research she found that the ‘oddballs’ she calls ‘the Wholehearted’ have a secret: They prioritize rest and fun in their lives.

The 23rd Psalm celebrates the same secret. The poet describes God as a wise shepherd who knows where the green pastures are from season to season. God leads us right to them. God also knows when it time to stop working and restore energy by a cool stream. God provides what we need in a way that is not only adequate– it’s generous.

From time to time I follow Brown’s advice and update my “ingredients for joy and meaning” list. Today, I’m going to make a fresh list of the specific conditions that are in place when everything feels good in my life. Then I’ll check that list against my to-do list and my list of goals. The results are always surprising.

What about you? It’s lunacy for us to head out on an adventure like Rising Strong without a deliberate life plan for rest and enjoyment. So how about it? Who will join me by making a list of your “ingredients for joy and meaning” in life?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, lead me on the right path for Wholehearted living. Help me integrate the hard work of Rising Strong with the gift of being well loved.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are well into week two, and heading into week three, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 4-5 of Rising Strong. The topics are: Reckoning with emotion, the rumble and Living BIG.