Thursday, January 31, 2013

On Shame.

There is a conversation happening. It's an important one, birthed out of frustration over the modesty wars, purity culture, and a whole host of issues that are, I think, concrete manifestations of our misunderstanding of notions like love and grace. Also, I think it's part of a broader conversation about shame and guilt versus hope and redemption, about oppression versus freedom.

There's just one simple idea I want to add to the conversation. I want to shout this from the aisle of every church, put it in all caps on every internet message board and start a kickstarter campaign to buy some Super Bowl add time.

"There is no place for shame in the Kingdom of God."

This Kingdom is built on a foundation of implacable love, every stone a story of redemption, of hope, of restoration. Our Cornerstone is Immanuel, God with us, and scandalous grace is the mortar that binds us all together in our shared heritage of son-and-daughter-ship.

Shame though, at its base, is about fear - fear of condemnation, of rejection, of not measuring up - but perfect Love - radical, self-sacrificing, other-embracing, redemptive Love - casts out all fear. Shaming then is nothing short of denying the primacy of this Love, and the power of grace. It says that God's goodness, love, grace and kindness are not enough to draw us to repentance. It says that control, not love, is the nature of our relationship with God.

While Shame says "You can go no further because of what you've done,"
Grace says "I have already come all the way to you and further because of who you are to me."

While Shame forces you into the darkness, to hide your face from the pain of condemnation,
Love lifts up your face and shines the light of redemption upon it.

Shame destroys. Grace restores. Love renews.

When Love breaks in, the shame that shackles us to the worst versions of ourselves is cast aside, and we are set free. Bonds are broken. In the solidarity of a family of sinners saved by grace, we find the hope that shame stole from us and the redemption that it denied us.

This truth seems to me to be no small thing, no simple platitude that utter lightly. It is not just a trifle to be put on a bracelet or a slogan to be splashed across a church bulletin. It's a very real acknowledgement of the power of Love to break every chain, to heal every broken heart, to bind up every wound, to give rest to the weary, to save the world from itself.

When we preach shame, condemnation, guilt and oppression, our words ring cold and hollow, empty of the life-giving, words of that Truth. When we shame and condemn, we deny the power of the Gospel.  We can never shame someone into the Kingdom of God, nor scare them into loving community, but Grace makes all things new, and Love makes whole that which was broken.

In the end, Shame says "We can't even start until you fix these things..."

Love says, "It is already finished."

16 comments:

  1. We are often worried that preaching that message somehow gives license to sin. What we don't realize is by stopping short of that glorious message we keep people, ourselves, trapped in our sins.

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    1. "We are often worried..." I think we might be doing it wrong.

      I think you raise an important point though, how this mindset can be damaging to the one doing the shaming as well as to the one being shamed.

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  2. I have been thinking lately about the words spoken to Peter on the roof in Acts 10 and they seem appropriate to this. "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean."

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    1. Me too, Jeff. Peter clung to the certainty of the Law and was rebuked for it. Are we doing the same thing when we try to use shame as a weapon to change people's behavior?

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  3. Oh how sad when we wait to "get our act together" before we attempt a beginning! How much of the journey I have spent looking at the past when there was such a fresh future ahead!

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    1. It *is* sad. We could spend our whole lives waiting to measure up if we let shame define us!

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  4. I love this quote from J. Philip Newell: "I do not believe that the gospel, which literally means 'good news,' is given to tell us that we have failed or been false. That is not news, and it is not good. We already know much of that about ourselves. We know we have been false, even to those whom we most love in our lives and would most want to be true to. We know we have failed people and whole nations throughout the world today, who are suffering or who are subjected to terrible injustices that we could do more to prevent. So the gospel is not given to tell us what we already know. Rather, the gospel is given to tell us what we do not know or what we have forgotten, and that is who we are, sons and daughters of the One from whom all things come. It is when we begin to remember who we are, and who all people truly are, that we will begin to remember also what we should be doing and how we should be relating to one another as individuals and as nations and as an entire earth community."

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    1. "That is not news, and it is not good."

      That is so perfect.

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  5. I tried entering a comment on my phone - didn't work....unless it shows up later. If so, I apologize! Hilary, this is spot on! Thank you so much for posting it here. And Luke - thank you for this thoughtful and important contribution to this conversation. I am grateful we're having this one - I believe it to be at the very heart of what we say we believe.

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    1. Thanks Diana. It does seem to cut to the quick of some of our most basic beliefs about God, doesn't it?

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  6. Thank you so much for this, Luke. I think you're spot on. I remember somebody told me once that shame can never come from God. It is a tool of the Enemy to detract us from knowing the essence of who we are in Christ. it's used as you said to tell us that, "You can go no further because of what you've done" or that "you're not worth anything" because of your past mistakes. Conviction, on the other hand, is from God. It's the Holy Spirit tugging at our hearts and calling us back to God through repentance and forgiveness. There is no shame in the Kingdom of God, that's absolute TRUTH and we are to treat one another as if we believe this with our whole hearts.

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  7. This is the kind of discussion that I constantly have to walk through with my friends that aren't Christians. They have been told all their lives that if they want to be Christians they have to get their crap together first, and THEN go to Him. It keeps them from ever reaching out to God because of the shame and brokenness in their mistakes.
    For a long time I perpetuated that message myself because of my Baptist upbringing, but it's words like yours that have helped me see the damaging power dynamics I didn't even know I had been subjected to. Thanks for explaining that so well, Luke.

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  8. I was having an in-depth conversation with someone today. He was talking about how he stopped doing a particular sin "because God hates sin." I guess I just don't frame it that way. Yeah God hates anything that causes us to be in bondage, but if the focal point is on God's hatred, I don't see how we avoid becoming like the third servant in the parable of the talents: "You are a hard man... so I was afraid and buried your talent. Here have back what is yours."

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    1. I don't either, but then again, we both come from Wesleyan traditions, so maybe that shouldn't really be a surprise. :)

      I hit on this idea in one of the comment threads on one of the purity posts last week (they're all kind of running together at this point), but the general idea was that you can't shame or scare someone into a *loving* relationship. [That sounds much more like a recipe for abuse, to be honest.]

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