Daring Greatness

Daring Greatness” a sermon by Rev. Brian J. Kiely   November 24, 2013

Video Reading: TED Talk by Dr. Brené Brown “The Power of Vulnerability” http://youtu.be/X4Qm9cGRub0

I recommend the entire TED talk, but the reading included the excerpt from 4:30- 10:50


Today is the 101st edition of the Grey Cup.

Breathe…this sermon is not about football.  If you want to read my thoughts about the game, check out the Ministerial Musings blog on the website.

I only have two simple gridiron thoughts to offer as sermon illustration:

This will be a contest between two groups of athletes who are daring to be the greatest team this year.

To become the greatest, they are willing to risk failing in front of a millions of people.

The building blocks of greatness in a human being are many and varied, but the one constant is the willingness to fail.  It’s not the love of failure, no, just the acceptance that failing is a necessary part of the story.  Consider these quotes:

“Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great. ”  ― Cher

“I would sooner fail than not be among the greatest.” ― John Keats

Now I am not talking about wondrous Nobel Prize winning professional accomplishment here, or even getting a contract to star in a glitzy Las Vegas show.  No, I am talking about being a great human being.  It does not matter what you do for a living, or if you even have a job.  It does not matter if you are the picture of health or fighting for your life. Being great, daring to be great is something each of us can do everyday in anything we do.  Because being great is not about what we accomplish, but about how we go about it. It is not about how people see us, but about how we see ourselves and about how we live into being whatever is good and whole, principled  and real about us.

Greatness is not a spotlight shining on us -though that may be a by-product.  Greatness, rather, is a glow emanating from within us.  People sense and see that glow, and they are dawn to it.  In the Book of Luke, Jesus famously said, “No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, that those who come in may see the light.”  His parable was about the inner spirit, the inner greatness.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine!”

It was about this time of year that my grade six teacher told me I could not sing in the Christmas Choir because I couldn’t sing.  She was right.  I learned, because I love to sing.

The thing is you have to be ready for people shouting “Hey! Put out that light!” or worse, throwing a bucket of water on it.  Daring to own your own greatness requires risking failure.

That’s hard.

I have a long time friend.  She has worked as a professional actor her whole adult life, and she is about my age.  She is good at it, and has made a career, but you wouldn’t know her name…she’s not a star, just a person good at her craft.  Do you know what it’s like to be an actor?  In order to get 12 to 24 weeks of work in a year, she has to show up 30 or 40 times to audition…and get told ‘no’ 90-95 per cent of the time.  I cannot tell you the depth of admiration I hold for my friend – for all actors – who go through that,  week in and week out.  My friend has been doing it for 40 years now.

And then… when she succeeds? she has to go up on stage in front of anywhere from 20 to 500 people and risk having them not like her, six nights a week and twice on Saturday.

That takes courage.

Brené Brown talked about courage.  Let’s hear her again.

VIDEO 8:40- 9:38  What do these people have in common? I have a slight office supply addiction, but that’s another talk. So I had a manila folder, and I had a Sharpie, and I was like, what am I going to call this research? And the first words that came to my mind were whole-hearted. These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data. In fact, I did it first in a four-day very intensive data analysis, where I went back, pulled these interviews, pulled the stories, pulled the incidents. What’s the theme? What’s the pattern? My husband left town with the kids because I always go into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing, where I’m just like writing and in my researcher mode. And so here’s what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute. Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly. And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

Who has the courage to be imperfect?  Who has the courage to own their imperfections and see that showing them is simply the cost of living well?

Well, Dr. Brown answers that…it’s people who have the compassion to be kind to themselves, who are willing to think well of themselves, who will take the risk of believing in themselves.  That gives them the courage to live and sometimes fail whole-heartedly.  Sometimes this means throwing off years of childhood learning that we don’t measure up, that we aren’t good enough.  Sometimes it means getting rejected 90% of the time but going on believing. That’s hard…immensely hard…  If you don’t believe in yourself and your passion, you can not keep doing it.

This is a church.  We look at ideas of belief and unbelief all the time.  Believing in Jesus is way easier than believing in yourself, isn’t it?

I know. There was a turning point in my childhood.  I know I have told this story here before.  I was 8.  We played baseball for a house league team…no try outs.  The next summer my friends tried out for the next league up.  I didn’t because I was afraid of shaming myself by failing.  I spent the summer watching my friends play.  I promised myself I would never again not try, never again let fear of failing stop me from attempting.

I would like to say that was my guide and standard for the last 50 years, but the truth is I bailed lots more times than that.  I bailed on trying out for theatre until the choice was taken away from me.  I quit high school football until the coach made me more ashamed of quitting than failing…heck I didn’t even ask a girl on a date until I was 19 and then only after she had practically taken out a newspaper ad inviting me!

But each time the not trying gave me a little greater resolve to not let that happen again.  Somewhere along the way a switch tripped.  I learned to not care about looking foolish, to not care about failing or even downright embarrassing myself.  I learned to like myself for who I was, to laugh at myself along with everyone else,to accept myself – warts and all as they say, not for who I thought I should be.  If I have had any success as a human being – as a Dad, or a partner or a minister or a friend- it comes from that.

“Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.”

Judy Garland

Brené Brown nails it in a part of the talk I have not shown yet.

VIDEO 9:38-10:50  The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

“What made them vulnerable made them beautiful”

But she adds we are terrified of vulnerability.  She points out that we are the most numbing society in history.  “We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”

We numb ourselves by trying to mask vulnerability with shopping, with plastic surgery, with drugs and alcohol and food.  I know I do sometimes.  But she adds, you can’t numb selectively.  When you dull the senses in order to shut out the threat of physical or emotional pain, you shut out the good too, shut off the capacity for joy.  When we try to protect ourselves from failure, we remove the possibility of greatness as well.

Daring to be great is just a matter of risking our vulnerability.

Not many people can live whole-heartedly and with courage 24 hours a day, but I bet we can all begin by liking ourselves for five minutes more a day than we do now.

I bet we can all make the choice to answer one more question – from a lover or a coworker or a child or a parent – with a real open truth about ourselves.  Not every question, but maybe one more now and then.

I won’t pretend to promise you a perfect outcome.  i won’t promise that it won’t hurt. I will promise that you will grow to respect yourself more, and that your light will glow the more brightly.