To Know What We’re Talking About

To Know What We’re Talking About January 8, 2019

I love words. I always have. Words have become part of my identity, my self-awareness. I’ll pick a new one and use it frequently, especially when I think it conveys an old idea in a new way.

Recently I began using the word “circumspect” in conversation. I felt like the word had a feel to it, even the way it came out of my mouth.

After using it for about two months, I sat down today to write a piece about the word. My goal was to show how being “circumspect” was helpful to the journey of spiritual formation.

It turns out I thought I knew what it meant, but I didn’t.

The word “circumspect” means “wary and unwilling to take risks.” I had been using it to me “intellectually honest and realistic, even to the point of being critical, of oneself.”

In the words of Indigo Montoya, “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So, as an exercise in “self-awareness” I confess here and now something I know about myself. I am a person who will use a word because it sounds sophisticated and unique. Honestly, it keeps up my “intellectual profile” and gives me the semblance of brilliance.

While the whole thing is somewhat laughable, it also makes a point.

There is such great value in critical, honest self-awareness.

In fact, the road of Christian spirituality opens wide to those who are willing to tell the truth about themselves.

Christian tradition has a practice called confession that embraces the act of telling the truth about oneself. Of course, confession is often the religious trope of a film to set up awkward or comedic situations. This is the lighter exposure of confession.

The darker portrayals of confession reveal our trust betrayed, advantages taken, and shame passed on like a virus.

I honor the experience of people who have had their spirits seared by impropriety in churches. It is so difficult to imagine what the sting of our own confession used as a weapon against us feels like.

In the practice of confession, however, there is a kind of goodness.

The goal of healthy confession is healthy humility.

Humility is the mind of the Jesus who forms us through his spirit (Phil. 2:5-11). I believe humility is the moderating force in relational and political disputes. The ability to say, “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” are not native to our human wiring. They are learned and cultivated confessions. To say anything along the lines of “I was wrong” requires the awareness to say “It is possible for me to be wrong.”

Like I mentioned before, humility.

For example, if someone in a presidential debate said “I’m not sure” or “I don’t know” their campaign ends before the last word leaves their lips. Yet at the same time we complain about being lied to in political campaigns.

Perhaps it is a “supply and demand” question?
We demand power and confidence instead of humility, and it is dutifully supplied.

The truth is we honor humility in clergy, but we want bulletproof politicians.

The reason we feel this way about politics mirrors the reason we bristle when we hear the word “confession.” True self-awareness – seeing our thoughts, words, and deeds from the perspective of others – reveals our mortality.

The most spiritual move we can make is to acknowledge that we’re mortal. Transcendence comes when we process our own immanence. Salvation only comes through bear-hugging our own damnation.

While I hear more and more people saying, “This is who I am” and talking about being “authentic, warts and all,” I also see a gap.

I believe true confession, true self-awareness, doesn’t simply make us humble. It also increases our margin for extending grace to others.

If our authenticity only allows for our mistakes, while throwing stones at the failures of others, what self-awareness have we gained?

How can we claim every drop of grace we need while restricting the vapors of that same grace from others?

Jesus came to give us the courage to explore self-awareness as individuals and gathered tribes. The grace that we find there is a “dish to pass,” however. It is a gift to be shared.

Grace gave Peter space to deny knowing Jesus, but then he was to care for the deniers.

The same grace that came to Thomas as he said, “I need proof” is the grace he passes on to the other doubters.

A confession of my prideful desire to be seen as intelligent becomes grace to me. Then it becomes grace I’m to pass to the other prideful wordsmiths I will encounter.

Confession doesn’t help us say, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Instead, it helps us say, “I’m going there, with Jesus, and so is everyone else. Let’s just be good companions along the way.”

Confession is our claiming what is true about ourselves so it will be redeemed along with the world into which it we were born.

When we look at the last conversation we had, what do we notice about our responses? Our thoughts and attitudes? Are there some signals in that conversation we need to pay attention to?

Did we withhold grace on an issue for which we’ve been shown grace?

Perhaps “confession” and “self-awareness” are words we need to bring back into our vocabulary today? To be formed by the humility of knowing ourselves and giving grace to what we know of others? To find what “confession” and “self-awareness” mean, and to live within their meanings?

Yes, it is risky; especially if we are circumspect people.
There, I made up for the last few months.

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