Over the last year or so, I've especially appreciated seeing the story behind the story as Chip and Joanna have frankly shared their faith through a number of interviews. Most notably, in a recent I Am Second video, I watched these two people share tender, vulnerable pieces of their personal make-up, their laughably different personality types, and their deep admiration for one another as individual people. It takes a lot of vulnerability to love well on camera, and it is their vulnerability that speaks so simply and endearingly into this battle-scarred heart of mine.
So I happen to find it unfortunately timely to see these folks dragged into public controversy at a time when I've been examining the ministry of vulnerability. In recent weeks, I've reflected so far on the vulnerability of disclosure and the vulnerability of proximity, and if you've been following along, then you know the next item on the list is the vulnerability of presence.
What does "presence" have to do with some celebrity internet scandal? Aren't digital communications the direct opposite of personal presence? Well, stick with me for a minute, we'll get there.
So these past weeks, I've been dismayed but not surprised to see the couple being attacked for their Christian faith. And right in the midst of it, in an always-on, media-fueled culture where presence is now defined primarily in terms of one's online platform, I was struck deeply by a quiet demonstration of vulnerability. First, for a week of the "controversy," while online media and social networks were blowing up with outrage, the Gaineses were noted more for their lack of presence. Their intentional absence from the conflict was what caused a stir. As one source described, "the husband/wife pair was noticeably less concerned" than anyone else about expressing their views.
Then, in the wee hours of December 3rd, Chip Gaines acknowledged the situation for the first time via Twitter. After a week of being ripped to shreds across social media for having the audacity to stand against requests for comment over a so-called "scandal" that doesn't deserve the dignity of a response, @chippergaines said this:
Regardless of our decision to make a statement about all this craziness, or not, I ask that people please! respect @KateAurther & @ginamei"
In a weird world where one's personal presence has become a ubiquitous mix of sound bytes and social media posts, this situation strikes me as keenly demonstrative of the vulnerability of presence. In the face of blatant attack intended specifically to harm and destroy him, Chip's request to his fans speaks directly to each of his attackers, "I stand by you, fellow human being."
That is a strongly biblical move. That is, in a way, in our oddly Web-skewed modern context, the vulnerability of presence: showing up and letting ourselves be seen, standing by one another in the midst of conflict.
Fundamentally, the vulnerability of presence is that we risk a loss to self by adding our presence to the life of another. For Mr. Gaines, standing by his opponents meant drawing criticism from his supporters. Last week, the headlines were all about how the Gaineses were refusing to comment; this week, the headlines are all about how Chip Gaines "finally responded" just to stick up for the attackers. Not everyone respects his request. That's not the point. The point is that this man accepted the value of his presence. He let himself be seen. He stepped into the vulnerability of a high-profile conflict to stand by a couple of fellow human beings. He risked a loss to self by adding his presence to the lives of others.
Now, for the non-celebrities among us, the vulnerability of presence usually means something more like physically showing up and bearing with one another. When we accept the value of our presence, when we choose to be present, we risk collateral damage. We'll be seen, for one thing—and a lot of us prefer not to be. We'll also get drawn into situations that don't involve us. Or we might miss out on something somewhere else. We might not be appreciated for our sacrifices of time and attention. The value of our presence is not always factored positively into other people's experiences until later—if at all. We might suffer misunderstanding, misinterpretation, or straight-up malice.
In the present, in the heat of the moment, in messy moments of community, we can become an unintended consequence of someone else's circumstances. When we least expect it, someone we support might turn on us, maybe just because we're not against the people they're against. And if we're intentional about being present in the lives of people around us, it won't be long before someone takes out their anger on us, just because we're the ones who are there.
So when it comes time to show up or shut up, it feels like a lot of people aren't worth the trouble. We start making up dialogues for them. We tell ourselves they won't want us there or they won't miss us if we're not there or they won't appreciate us anyway so why bother being there. It's one thing to say we care or we support someone; it's another thing to go out of our way to stand next to someone. It's complicated and inconvenient and unpredictable. Especially if someone is not in a good place. Especially if they're hurting or needing or rebelling. Especially if life is going basically well for us and we're not in the mood for other people's drama.
But when we stop to look back, almost all of us can see someone who stood by us through a time of doubt, grief, anger, struggle, or ugly. We see someone who came along and lifted us up when we were down. We remember the people who showed up for us. We remember the people who stuck with us through the chaos, conflict, and confusion. In the best of times, in the worst of times, we remember who was there—and we know who is still there today. Sometimes, being there is all it takes.
Next >>> Being There Is Enough: Pastors in High Heels, and More About the Vulnerability of Presence