Bringing Back Ragamuffin: Why Radical Vulnerability is Making a Comeback
On Instagram, I recently saw a picture of a smallish blonde woman named Jennie standing in her intentionally casual blazer and fun kicks near crates labeled “weight” and “sin.” She carried two of the crates as she spoke to a stadium of around 60,000 college students at a Christian conference:
“What the enemy does is build a wall of shame and what you do is hide behind it. We do little dances in front of this, but our souls, our secrets, ourselves are actually tucked behind a wall because dare we tell anyone about the…”
And then she led the students to confess. Out loud.
That’s right, confess. Get it all out there. The dirty, semen-stained truth. The weight: what cannot be controlled. The sin: what can. The secrets from childhood. The lies. The conceit and pride.
When I swiped right on her post, there were pictures of students bending, arm-in-arm, in small circles. Dreadlocks, hoodies, so many perfectly manicured eyebrows, 90s fashion (oh my), and all the other outward signs of the younger generation. But inwardly? In my mind, I imagined the shaking, the fear, then the sweet release that only honesty—radical honesty—can bring. Shining light coming out of the dark. Just like I’ve witnessed in addiction recovery spaces.
It was beautiful.
It was real.
I wondered what would happen if this became common practice, not just during mega-evangelical events, but every Sunday. Every day. What if in all communities, this public confession became a part? What if in Lori’s living room, we smashed our tea cups against the wall and tipped over tables in anger at the injustice of what women experience? What if we sang aloud our own secret transgressions and held each other as the guilt shattered like glass?
“Hello, I’m Caroline and I’m a mess.”
Making a Comeback
Brennan Manning was a Marine, Franciscan priest, and alcoholic in recovery who left the church to get married and then divorced. He has shared about his secretive struggle with alcohol, sin, lust, the gambit of the human experience over decades of writing and speaking and leading spiritual retreats. Even in his last work, All is Grace, he hints at more dishonesty and struggle, further solidifying him as an unlikely saint who is stained by the world, but somehow, paradoxically, on fire for God. His life was a “ground zero for the explosive power of the scandalous message of grace that possessed [his] heart, then rippled outward.”[i]
In his writing, Manning describes the ragamuffin as a pilgrim in recovery, a wandering seeker not in flowing vestments, but in tattered rags, who comes to the cross of life with tired, yet joyful eyes. They understand the depth of healing that can be found through reckless honesty. Not putting on airs or pretending to have it all together, but being real about the soul transforming (sometimes soul crushing) life.
Why Vulnerability is a Strength in Recovery and Life
In western culture, vulnerability is often linked with weakness.[ii] To be strong and silent about struggles is strength, while sharing weaknesses implies deficit or lacking. We should be able to manage on our own. Keep it together. Hide our dark secrets and shameful pasts under a mask of strength. Just get through this.
The word vulnerable has its Latin roots in the word “vulners” meaning wound. Early on in my recovery journey, my first sponsor showed me the counter cultural power of vulnerability, of taking our wounds and sharing them with others. I saw how walking through things like “the steps” and whispering around an open table several nights a week (confession) started healing the wounds in me that festered for years. Bringing my aching soul to the table started changing me. Tamara Dottin says that radical vulnerability “is a concept that honors being vulnerable as a radical act of healing for the self and the community.”[iii]
How Do I Practice Radical Vulnerability?
Have you ever walked into a room with an open circle of chairs, maybe some stale coffee, and heard a resounding and lovely chorus of me-toos? Have you had an encounter like the college students who listened to author and teacher Jennie Allen at that conference of passion? Have you experienced a ray of vulnerability that cracks the cement of hearts and over time, hour-by-hour, heals lifetimes of hurt? Have you, like Brennan Manning, let your inner ragamuffin out?
A friend of mine says:
“If I share that something is wrong with me, then I have to own up to the fact that it is. And worse, I have to do something about it.”
Here are a couple tips for getting it all out there if you are feeling a pull to be more vulnerable in your own life:
1. Find one person that you trust and tell all
You don’t have to tell the whole world your story. Your story belongs to you. You can start by sharing with one person and see what happens in your heart.
2. Recognize your faults, weaknesses and character defects can serve a purpose
Even though the world may say that we should hide our weaknesses and struggles, we can trust that sharing them serves a purpose. Think back to the first time you heard someone share openly about their struggle with addiction or mental health. Did their own vulnerability help you? You can have that same impact on others.
3. Join a community of fellow ragamuffins
"Sweeping social change often begins as a ripple in quiet places: conversations around the kitchen table, in church basements, on school campuses," recovery advocate and author Ryan Hampton said in a recent article.[iv] There are millions of people in recovery being vulnerable and learning from each other. This vulnerability is impacting individual lives and also the collective life of the recovery community, too. It's also happening in churchy and church-ish spaces.
Maybe it’s time you find your fellow ragamuffins.
Brennan Manning’s vulnerability shows me a simple, lovely truth. Jennie Allen’s boldness reminds me how I can step into the light and out of the shadows. When I open up and share my true self with others, healing can happen. And how tenderly God looks on his ragamuffins with love.
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[i] Retrieved from https://relevantmagazine.com/faith/ragamuffin-legacy/. [ii] Andi Schwartz (2020) Radical vulnerability: selfies as a Femme-inine mode of resistance, Psychology & Sexuality, DOI: 10.1080/19419899.2020.1810745 [iii] Retrieved from https://www.huemonize.me/blog/2020-06-30-radical-vulnerability-8ryyn. [iv] Retrieved from: https://www.statnews.com/2022/02/04/recovery-community-organizations-need-more-than-bake-sales/.