Book Review – Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick by Jamie Arpin-Ricci

by Mark Votava


Vulnerability is often times one of the most difficult things to practice in an individualistic culture that celebrates pride, violence, arrogance and power.  But I have found Jamie Arpin Ricci’s book Vulnerable Faith so encouraging to me as I have longed to embody a vulnerability within myself in everyday life as I share life together with others.  Oftentimes we do not have much of an imagination for vulnerability.  So we see a lot of the church live in its arrogance, wealth, consumerism, mobility and apathy toward all that is rooted in being an expression of love.

Jamie shares in this insightful book about the story of St. Patrick’s life.  How he was enslaved and came back to the land of his slavery after his escape to be an expression of compassion, humility and love.  St. Patrick lived out of his vulnerability and because of it influenced many people throughout history.  The story of St. Patrick’s life is used by Arpin Ricci as an example of courage, vulnerability and perseverance in the midst of the struggles of life.

He also couples this with the wisdom from Alcoholics Anonymous.  Creating a culture of vulnerability, honesty and humility that AA promotes is very helpful when it comes to how we live in community with one another.  Community is best lived through vulnerability.  In fact, I have learned that St. Francis of Assisi thought that complete vulnerability was the central message of the gospel.

I really love this book and am so grateful that Jamie has written it at such a time as this.  When the church is struggling to find its way in our postmodern culture and institutional religion is decaying rapidly, we need a new imagination for what is truly authentic for us.  Jamie has called us to a communal imagination that is embedded in vulnerability through the stories of Little Flowers Community, St. Patrick’s life and the principles of AA.

When we do not desire vulnerability, we will struggle to love others.  We will struggle to love ourselves and our actions will be attached to guilt, shame and fear.  But what freedom we could experience through an open embrace of vulnerability.

In vulnerability, we will learn that the essence of God is vulnerability.  Vulnerability actually makes us strong, courageous and wise.  When many men in our culture think that vulnerability is the ultimate weakness, I am learning that this is a fabrication of our false self.  Men often times are afraid of the authenticity of vulnerability.

But it is in vulnerability that we find our true selves in the midst of everyday life.  I have found that a contemplative way of life where we practice awareness, listening and silence is almost impossible without vulnerability.  Vulnerability always leads us to a sense of creative compassion.  Vulnerability leads us to a way of life that is rooted in truth and life.

I highly recommend Jamie Arin Ricci’s book!  It is one of the best books on vulnerability and its essential role in creating community among us that I have read in a long time!  This is essential reading for anyone interested in authenticity in the twenty-first century.  He also wrote a fantastic book called The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis and Life in the Kingdom back in 2011.

  • Presenting a false face to others

“All of us are prone to this instinct toward pretense.  It is ingrained in us as a way of thinking and acting that we are rarely aware of how often we present a false face to others…”

  • Hope in honest brokenness

“There is more hope in honest brokenness than in the pretense of false wholeness.”

  • Retreating back to some form of pretense

“When our pretense is exposed, whether by circumstances or by choice, what lies beneath is all the fear, shame, and uncertainty that we have worked so hard to deny, ignore, and conceal…  It can produce in us a deep sense of panic, a loss of control, spurring us on to attempt to restore order and stability, usually by retreating back into some form of pretense or another.  After all, the appearance of stability feels much more preferable than acknowledging the chaos that lies beneath the surface.”

  • The so-called freedoms we enjoy

“…too many of the so-called freedoms we enjoy are mere illusions, pretenses covering over the truth that we are, in fact, enslaved to fear…”

  • Learning the disciplines of peace

“…we are well served in learning the disciplines of peace, both internal and relational.  Practices such as meditation and reflection are so important…”

  • Community is the inevitable and essential result of faithfulness

“Community is the inevitable and essential result of faithfulness, inseparably linked to the work of God in our hearts and in the world…”

  • Seek to restore relationships at any cost

“In truth, the most compelling witness to our faith can be a willingness to humbly accept responsibility for our failings and seek to restore relationships at any cost.”

  • Community is a grace

“Community is a grace because of how it serves us in the very process of transformation…”

  • Can we trust each other enough to be that vulnerable?

“Such community, by nature and necessity, reflects relationships of deep intimacy and vulnerability.  This raises the inevitable question: can we trust each other enough to be that vulnerable?”

  • Building and sustaining community

“The practices and disciplines of building and sustaining community could fill volumes (and has).  From mystics to anthropologists, we learn how critical that quality of a community is to the health and well-being of people.  Yet, community remains one of the most elusive goals to so many… in our individualistic Western societies.”

  • Openness and vulnerability are what we are called to

“In fact, vulnerable faith produces in us a grace and patience for the same failings in others that we have admitted in ourselves.  We are no longer motivated to judge others to bolster our own sense of righteousness or protect our own moral purity, but are drawn to those who need grace and hope.  I have to keep reminding myself that openness and vulnerability is what I am called to…”

  • Faithfully embracing love right where we are

“…faithfully embracing love right where we are at can turn the course of empires…”

  • The centrality of love

“Above all is the centrality of love at the heart of vulnerable faith.  Vulnerability will thrive only where love abounds – a love that is generous, gracious, patient, compassionate, humble, curious, joyful, and full of hope…”

What comes to mind when you think of vulnerability?