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On this episode of Unlocking Us

In Part 2 of an unforgettable and transformative conversation with Father Richard Rohr, the Franciscan friar and I really go there — asking and answering hard questions about certainty and the ego, a cosmic God who’s bigger than what Christianity often espouses, and the spiritual yearning of today’s up-and-coming generations. It’s a deeply holy discussion that I hope will resonate with you no matter where you fall on the spiritual spectrum.

About the guest

Father Richard Rohr

A Franciscan friar and ecumenical teacher, Father Richard Rohr bears witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism and traditions of action and contemplation. Father Richard teaches how God’s grace guides us to our birthright as beings made of Divine Love. He is the author of numerous books, including The Universal Christ, The Wisdom Pattern, Just This, and Falling Upward.

In 1987, Father Richard founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because he saw a deep need for the integration of both action and contemplation. You can learn more about the center here.

Show notes

Father Richard has authored 30-plus books, including:

Father Richard’s mention of “the cult of innocence” within our conversation was first coined in a tweet by Nadia Bolz-Weber and has become a theme of Brian D. McLaren’s new book, Do I Stay Christian?


Brené Brown: Hi everyone, I’m Brené Brown, and this is Unlocking Us.


BB: Thank you for joining us for part two of my conversation with one of the people whose work and whose teachings have completely made a difference in my life, really been transformative. I’m talking with Father Richard Rohr, and we’re talking about certainty and ego and uncertainty and social justice, and the right and the left, and a cosmic God and Jesus that are bigger than what Christianity has espoused. We’re going there and we’re talking about it all. And I’m glad you’re here for it, because for me, it is a very holy conversation. Before we jump in, let me tell you a little bit about Father Richard, he is a Franciscan friar and an ecumenical teacher. He bears witness to the deep wisdom of Christian mysticism and traditions of action and contemplation. Father Richard is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I love contemplation and action, both. Action without contemplation, not so good, contemplation without action, not so good. Together, endless love. Father Richard teaches us how God’s grace guides us to our birthright. Which is as being people made of divine love. He is the author of many books, I think 34, including The Universal Christ, The Wisdom Pattern, Just This, and the one that was like probably the big introduction for me Falling Upward.


BB: I’m pretty sure that this quote is in at least one of my books, but I think it’s two where I quoted you. It’s a long quote, but I want to read it and I just can’t wait to hear you talk about it because it’s actually hanging up in my office too. You write, “My scientist friends have come up with things like principles of uncertainty and dark holes, they’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution, and clarity, while thinking that we are people of faith. How strange…” you write, “that the very word faith has come to mean its exact opposite.”

Richard Rohr: That’s right. You got it. You know a lot of my quotes to focus in on.


RR: It’s come to mean, I have faith means “I’m right.” The cult of innocence again.

BB: Where does cult of innocence come from?

RR: The ego’s need to feel separate and superior. Those are the two needs of the ego. Feel separate and feel superior. And if you follow those voices, you might go to church but you’ll never be a spiritual person.

BB: Wow.

RR: I know, I know. It breaks your heart. Doesn’t it?

BB: It does.

RR: And I’m not trying to say this to make myself right, because I know I’m constantly fumbling with these verbalizations. It’s like a recent president we have. If you want to know what he’s calling someone else, he’s talking about himself. [laughter] Always, always.

BB: Yeah.

RR: And this is the way the ego is, it sees its own fault in other people.

BB: Yeah, I think to myself all the time, or I’ll post something on social media, especially something that has to do with social justice, racism, or the anti-trans stuff, and the angrier and more hateful people are…

RR: Yes.

BB: The more scared I know they are about something within them. It doesn’t hurt me less. Sometimes I wish I could rise above, but I can’t always. But I know it’s some place in my heart. And it’s not my brain, it’s my faith heart.

RR: Yes.

BB: Where I know there’s some kind of pain there being projected on me, and I need to scoot out of the way sometimes, but I’m not good at it. Sometimes I like to catch it and then ball it up and make it even meaner and then throw it back.

RR: I’m just like you. Thank you for admitting it. [laughter] That’s the ego making its last stand.


RR: A new way to be right, to be right for God.


RR: As if God needs that.

BB: As if God needs that.

RR: You get what I’m trying to say. Thank you. Forgive my voice. It’s getting so weak.

BB: No. Again, I can hear you loud and lovingly.

RR: Can you? Oh, okay.

BB: Yes. But I think it’s so funny that when you say, “I get it,” It’s because you’ve been my teacher. I mean, Joan Chittister, you.

RR: Joan.

BB: Yeah, in the Buddhist tradition, Roshi Joan Halifax.

RR: Oh, also here in New Mexico.

BB: Yeah. bell hooks and so.

RR: bell. Yeah.

BB: Yeah. So, I think if I get it, it’s because I’ve been taught well. And it probably helps that I’m a vulnerability researcher. [laughter] But I think I’ve been taught well.

RR: God is using you, Brené. Where does the name Brené come from?

BB: I have such a sad story. Do you want to hear it?

RR: Yes.

BB: I hated the name growing up because I couldn’t… When we’d stop at a truck stop on I-10 between Houston and San Antonio, everyone would get spoons or shot glasses or something fun with their names on it, and I could never find Brené.


BB: And so I was convinced that it was French. And so when I was 17, I graduated from high school and I left for six months, hitch-hiking. So when I got to France, I was like, “I’m here, Voila Brené.”


BB: I’ll be able to find… And the first thing, the first thing a person from Paris said is, “Brené, what kind of name is this?”


BB: And I was like, “What?” I was like. “It’s French. I’m one of y’all.” “No, you know what? We call you Pamela, because we like Pamela from Dallas. The show Dallas.


RR: Oh, no. [laughter] Oh, God.

BB: So, as it turns out, Brené is solidly south side San Antonio, Texas. My parents just made it up.

RR: No kidding.

BB: Yes.

RR: Wow. So you grew up in San Antonio?

BB: San Antonio and Houston, mostly. Yeah.

RR: I taught seven summers at St Mary’s University, in San…

BB: That’s where I went.

RR: You’re kidding?

BB: No, I went… I was there for… Don’t look at my transcripts, it was an exploratory time in my life. Father Richard, very exploratory, but I was there when John Moder was the head, Father Moder.

RR: Yes.

BB: Yes. What did you…

RR: I was there ’77 to ’83.

BB: I was there from ’83… No ’84 to ’87.

RR: Oh, you came after I left, yeah. I was trying to teach Catholics who don’t know much about scripture, how to interpret scripture. So for seven summers, I taught scripture in San Antonio. I loved it. Yeah.

BB: I lived in Our Lady of Lord’s dorm. Yeah, no I was there.

RR: What a small world. [laughter]

BB: Yeah, I had a boyfriend that lived in Chaminade dorm, yeah… It was St. Mary’s…

RR: Chaminade?

BB: Yeah.

RR: Yeah.

BB: Alright, before we get down that rabbit hole of San Antonio, that’s a good question, like, as a Catholic Episcopalian.

RR: Yeah.

BB: I cannot win a dueling scripture war…

RR: No, no.

BB: With a good Baptist.

RR: No, you don’t have a chance. [laughter] But it’s a war you wouldn’t want to win anyway, because the premises of how to interpret the scripture, forgive me.

BB: Yeah, it’s true.

RR: Now, I’m trying to be right, but they’re useless. You know if God intended the Bible to communicate truth, it was called Biblical inerrancy by the Southern American Christians, then why are there four Gospels, in which every story is told in a very different way. Which one is…

BB: Different voice? Yeah.

RR: Mathew, Mark, Luke or John? I mean it’s written in plain sight. There is not one correct way. And we just… It’s like recent politics, fake news, just don’t bother me with the facts. I’m going to believe what I want to believe.

BB: Ego again.

RR: And every word of the Bible is inerrant. Of course, we Catholics did the same thing with the Pope, the poor Pope. We made him infallible, you see? And both of us were searching for certainty, not faith. Yeah.

BB: Ooh!

RR: See.

BB: Ooh!

RR: Yeah.

BB: That’s… Oh, boy, the Catholic…

RR: You get it.

BB: The Catholic version of the certainty is our Pope, that’s why everything has to kind of… He’s the intermediary between God, like the Pope, yeah.

RR: You need something that’s absolute, the Protestants took the Bible, biblical inerrancy, we took the Pope, papal infallibility, you see?

BB: Right.

RR: And both of them emerged in the middle of the 19th century. We got along fine without it before then.

BB: You know? I’ve got another quote lined up.

RR: Go ask me, go ahead.

BB: This is the most exciting.

RR: I can’t wait.

BB: Okay. This, wink-wink, I’m asking for a friend. Okay?


RR: Yes.

BB: Ready? “Much of the work of mid-life is to tell the difference between those who are dealing with their issues through you and those who are really dealing with you.”

RR: Oh, yeah. Wow.

BB: I’m going to read it again because I kind of messed it up.

RR: No, it’s good.

BB: That was a Rohr-ian slip, instead of Freudian slip that was a Rohr-ian slip that I said.

RR: But did I say that? Did I say that?

BB: Yes, you did, you said, the right way… This is from Falling Upward, which is…

RR: Oh, Falling Upward, of course.

BB: Oh, man. Good.

RR: Yeah.

BB: “Much of the work of mid-life is to tell the difference between those who are dealing with their issues through you…”

RR: Through you.

BB: “And those who are really dealing with you.”

RR: Yes.

BB: So this is about projection, right?

RR: You got it, you got it. What got me into my men’s work, were my first year’s teaching in a Franciscan High School in Cincinnati, then being a jail chaplain here in Albuquerque for 14 years.

BB: Wow.

RR: Is that I recognized how many people have what I called a father wound, a really tragic relationship with their father. And what I learned early on, of course, we Catholics asked for it by being called Father, but it’s so many people who are talking to me and raising their hands, waving in the room, they weren’t dealing with me, they were dealing with their dad. And they needed to change me, because they hadn’t met me yet. They assumed all kind of things about me, and because I’m white and American, clergy, so I can understand, but so many people were dealing with their issues through me. Now, once I learned that, and I stopped resenting it and fighting it, and began to allow it, I can let them hate me, I can let them mistrust me, the doors broke open of committing counseling relationships, but if I would try to defend myself in vulnerability…

RR: Basically the healing relationship was over. But I think the father wound, I haven’t taken a statistic, I don’t know. But after preaching in 46 countries, I think it’s the most universal psychological wound that human beings have on this planet. Which is probably because I look at everything theologically, but why Jesus called God, Daddy, Abba. He knew that that masculine image had to be radically healed, and God was not a father in any sense in which you understand male power.

BB: Oh, God.

RR: Or male authority in any sense, he knew God wasn’t male, but he said, even whatever part of God is male, is good. Until you heal that, everybody’s dealing with male authority figures. This is the rebels on the left and on the right. Those on the right agree to conform, those on the left say “I am going to keep fighting it.” But it’s both a mistaken battle. [chuckle]

BB: Can I ask you a question about how much of the father wound is driven by toxic masculinity?

RR: Oh, most of it, yeah you named it right there. Because even a little child is healthy enough to know my dad is screwed up. You know what I mean?

BB: Yeah.

RR: That they recognize toxic masculinity. And they just prefer to avoid him after a while. And for many people that never changes, it takes a different form in women and a different form in men. But you said it, yeah.


BB: I’m going to try to tie two things together that we’ve talked about and you…

RR: Go ahead, go ahead.

BB: And you can untie them or retie them if I’m off. But how much of the toxic masculinity power over instead of power with and power to, how much of that drives us to create a God with an ego?

RR: Ah, I would say you could draw a direct line.

BB: Okay.

RR: Yeah. Yeah, that’s the model of maleness we’re familiar with, men who’ve got to be loud and boisterous and bullies, frankly. Look, that we’d elect a bully president of the United States shows how blind we are to this.

BB: And where we see it as strength and people try to emulate it.

RR: Strength.

BB: Yeah.

RR: Exactly and that the whole Russian world is now behind their bully. [chuckle]

BB: Yeah.

RR: Come on.

BB: And so we take that idea of masculinity and we create God the dictator, instead of God the lover.

RR: There you go, there you go. We gravitate as you well know, Brené, toward what we’re familiar with.

BB: Yeah, for sure.

RR: And if our dad was a bully, a rageaholic, alcoholic, we’ll take that rather than somebody kind.

BB: Because we see that as weakness.

RR: I remember when I… Yeah. When I was at the jail, some young prisoners who I thought I had a trust relationship with, I would call them Son. And usually they loved it. But once in a while they’d just come back and say, “Don’t you call me Son, I’m not your son.” [chuckle] And they were right I shouldn’t have presumed, but the word itself was abhorrent to them. Not beautiful.

BB: Yeah.

RR: They had never been…

BB: Lovelessness.

RR: A beloved son, they’d only been a loveless son. Oh, you get it all. Thank you, thank you.

BB: I’ve had good teachers.


BB: I went through your list of 33 books and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is like, this may be an obsession on my part.” I think I’ve read them all.

RR: You’re sweet. You’re humble, go ahead what else?

BB: I have one last question for you.

RR: Alright.

BB: It’s… I don’t know how to word it exactly. And this is where Brené in her Catholic school uniform at Holy Name of Jesus is scared to ask the question, but grown up Brené is going to ask.


BB: The world goes back so much further than the theology that I was raised with.

RR: Yes, yes.

BB: I just have to believe. I believe, I don’t have to believe. I believe that God predates the narrative of my faith story.

RR: Or he is not God…

BB: Oh, whoa!

RR: That’s right. That’s right.

BB: What?


RR: Trouble is, you get it too quickly. You understand all the implications.

BB: What do you mean? If God started with Christianity, then God’s not God. That is the most…

RR: Well then God only started 2000 years ago. And you and I know the universe is 13.6 billion give or take a few years. We’ve got to have a God that is at least as big as our cosmology. Our understanding of creation, and that disconnect between creation and God is much that we’re facing now especially with your children’s generation who are educated in science. They just, it doesn’t compute.

BB: No.

RR: You know that… [chuckle] So if we discover another planet with life on it, did Jesus go save them too? I mean that’s… [chuckle] It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work.

BB: It doesn’t compute.

RR: And these aren’t rebellious people.

BB: No.

RR: They’re just sincerely thinking people. Yeah.

BB: So my kids are Gen Z and…

RR: Yes.

BB: I think there is a mythology about the Gen Z kids and the millennials, the young adults who are millennials, you know, the nones, N-O-N-E-S, not in NUNS.

RR: Oh, yes. Got you.

BB: Yeah. That they have no spiritual yearning. But I think when I look at my kids, they have a deep spiritual yearning that says, “I believe deeply in something that doesn’t make me choose science or faith. And I want something deeply that doesn’t tell me, my Muslim friend is wrong or my Buddhist friend is wrong.” So it’s not that they don’t have a spiritual yearning. It’s as deep as mine.

RR: Of course, of course you’re right.

BB: What do you make of that?

RR: It’s only in the 20th century that we became capable of that kind of wide angle lens seeing. It wasn’t malice. People were at the blue level of consciousness. Forgive me. I’m back into spiral dynamics where everything is seen tribally.

BB: Mm-hmm.

RR: When you think tribally, well, you’ve got to fit God into your tribe and he likes your tribe the best.

BB: Mm-hmm.

RR: And that’s understandable. I can forgive it all. I’ve been saying lately that what it means to be old is to be able to forgive everything more and more. It doesn’t have to be my way. It can’t be my way. I’m one little billionth, you know? Yeah. We just have the eyes to be… to more inclusive seeing.

BB: Mm-hmm.

RR: Whereas religion up to now largely defined all of the world religions, not just Christianity or Judaism by exclusion who wasn’t right, who was going to hell, who God didn’t love as if we could know. [laughter] It’s so silly, but more and more, I can talk to people the way we’re talking and they don’t fight me, but my preaching days are over. It’s all out there. If people want to hear it. You’re a delight. I’ve got to get back to Austin.

BB: Oh yeah. I’ll come see you, too. Like you all heard it here first, right now I’ll start walking. I’ll start walking west.

RR: Oh, aren’t you sweet.

BB: I want to end on this note. So are you saying it’s possible for the people out there, especially the young people who have a spiritual yearning to find community? And to me, the cadence of the liturgy, I’m a liturgical girl living in a cosmic world. Like I’m really trying to figure it out.

RR: Ooh, yeah.

BB: So are you saying it’s possible for them to find this bigger than one theology God and a community that is also not so loose that it loses meaning?

RR: There you go. It’s that middle point. Where you hold onto essential order, the non-essential order, you know? Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

BB: They can find it.

RR: That’s the difference between intelligence and wisdom. Wisdom is what you’re describing, where I can hold on to what’s good about order, include what I’ve discovered that we… First of all, call disorder, and that’s the new order. When you can put order and so-called disorder together. I’ve got a new book out. I’ll tell ’em to send it to you.

BB: Oh, I would love it.

RR: Yeah. That’s the wisdom pattern; order, disorder, new order, or re-order.

BB: Father Richard Rohr, man. You have put so much depth and breadth of love in the world. A thank you it’s so insufficient, but that’s all I have, but it’s just, I’m so grateful to you.

RR: You’re beautiful. I look forward to meeting before I pass. [laughter] Thank you so much. God bless you.

BB: God bless you, too. And just… May just the wonderful peace be with you.

RR: It is coming through your eyes and your smile. Thank you.

BB: Thank you.

RR: Can you see me?

BB: I can.

RR: Oh, oh.

BB: I got to watch a dog right behind you that was on the…

RR: Oh, That’s Opie.

BB: That’s Opie?

RR: Can you see Opie? Opie, do you want to see Brené?

BB: Oh, Opie is great.

RR: Isn’t he cute?

BB: Oh, God. He’s cute. Look at that tail.

RR: He’s a Jack Russell Terrier.

BB: Oh my gosh. So cute.


BB: Thank you, Father Richard.

RR: Love you.


BB: You can find out more about the episode, more about the Center for Action and Contemplation, all kinds of links on the episode page on Thank you for being here. Stay awkward, brave, and kind. Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil. And by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design is by Tristan McNeil and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.


© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, April 27). Brené with Father Richard Rohr on Spirituality, Certitude, and Infinite Love, Part 2 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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