Vulnerability: An Old New Way of Preserving a Sacred Value

By Sarah B. Drummond

I know something about what it feels like to build something, only to watch as it is swept away.

Between 2005–2015, Andover Newton Theological School’s leaders — trustees, administrators, and faculty — engaged in time-consuming, hopeful, yet ultimately unsuccessful partnership negotiations with a variety of institutions when its solo structure proved financially unsustainable. With every partnership negotiation explored and then unconsummated, we watched work wash away like sandcastles in a rising tide. Then, in an effort to broaden our mandate, and thus strengthen our base, the School’s leaders created new programs that we are dismantling now.

I do not regret a second invested in previous partnership talks, and I know the programs our School created changed many lives. With every experiment we learned, and with every new program we sharpened our mission and discovered who we, as a School, are, and are not. Yet there were days — oh, were there days! — when the discouragement that comes with doing work, only do undo it, is hard to bear.

For these reasons, when I engage colleagues and friends who feel like every time they watch the news, they watch values for which they fought swept away, I feel like I can relate at a deep level. I also have hope to share, as I am at the beginning of watching new life press through the ground like daffodils testing for spring.

We want to see the ideas we cherish carved into stone tablets, yet we know that tablets crumble, and the wind wipes even the deepest etchings clean. The most cherished stories and teachings of our faith came to us on fragile papyri, so thin a naughty child could have torn them. Our ancestors in faith rolled those papyri into scrolls and placed them into earthen jars that cooperated with the elements, slyly protecting their contents from sand, wind, and rain.

Our Christian faith teaches us that the most fragile of vessels can carry that which changes the world. A bulb in the thawing ground. A clay jar. A fragment of papyrus. A refugee newborn baby. Our strength is in our vulnerability, which is a good thing, because vulnerability, we’ve got. Inside the fragile container that is us is life waiting to burst forth, and life always prevails.