It may be worth noting up front that our group read Braving the Wilderness in January of 2021, with our first of two discussions taking place just after an attack on the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the process of ratifying Electoral College votes in the 2020 presidential election. This made it a very timely and relevant read for many of us who were struggling to see these acts as anything other than “us versus them.” Having moved even deeper into the divisive and polarized culture that existed four years ago to acts of violence in 2021, Brené Brown’s words from 2017 now seem rather prophetic.
“The flags are flying from every porch and the social media memes are trending, all while fear is burrowing and metastasizing. What feels like a rallying movement is really a cover for fear, which can then start spreading over the landscape and seeping into the fault lines of our country. As fear hardens, it expands and becomes less of a protective barrier and more of a solidifying division. It forces its way down in the gaps and tears apart our social foundation, already weakened with those delicate cracks.”
In this short but powerful book, through her characteristic mode of vulnerable storytelling from her own emotionally raw experiences, Brown lets the reader know she’s seeking truths to help us all cope – not telling us she has all the answers. She challenges us to take a hard look at our responses in the face of fear and anger and whether, in our quest for belonging, we’re doing more than surrounding ourselves with like-minded others and pointing fingers for blame. While her suggestions for moving out of our own bunkers to find a greater sense of belonging absolutely make sense, they’re also no easy tasks: moving in and listening to people with whom we disagree, speaking truth to B.S. in a civil and non-dehumanizing way, and keeping a strong back, soft front and wild heart.
A paradoxical quote by Dr. Maya Angelou, which Brown wrestles to understand throughout the book, is this: “You are only free when you realize you belong no place – you belong every place – no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.” If the key to belonging is feeling bold enough to live authentically in every place, it opens up a lot of questions about how we raise our kids, how we form our identities and relationships, and even how we act as a church. The idea transcends any notion that one way of thinking is “correct.”
Braving the Wilderness sparked a lot of reflection and conversation in our group of like-minded friends, but I can also see it being used as a starting point for open discussion among people who disagree. At any rate, it’s worth reminding ourselves to stay open to that conversation, and that fear of the other must be confronted in order to heal.
— Julie Feirer