Sunday, December 27, 2015

The dirty little secret

Shame.  There, the secret is out.

It's everywhere.  At first, I was going to talk about the church - because there is a whole heaping lot of shame in the church, from Sunday school on upward into the sanctuary - ashamed people shaming people to make their own shame not seem so shameful. (Sighhh...)  But, truth be told, the church doesn't have a monopoly on it.  A better term would be (I suppose) religion - inclusive of pretty much all religion worldwide.  

Or maybe it goes even deeper than that.  Maybe it's part of human nature.


Shame is always, ALWAYS evil.   It is pervasive: it slinks in like a venomous snake and yes, it can kill! (Check the suicide rates!)  It ruins everything it touches.  Moreover, it touches everything ... and it is the hardest poison to eradicate from our psyches because it runs so deep.

Listen to what Dr. Brené Brown says about shame:

I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection. 
I don’t believe shame is helpful or productive. In fact, I think shame is much more likely to be the source of destructive, hurtful behavior than the solution or cure. I think the fear of disconnection can make us dangerous.  

Photo "Chain and Hand" courtesy of
worradmu at
Dr. Brown also said in one of her writings (sorry, Dr. Brown, I can't remember exactly which one! :(  ) that the difference between guilt and shame is the difference between "I DID something bad." and "I AM bad."  That's an important distinction to make!

Would it surprise you to know that according to the Bible, we are not created to feel shame?  Check out Genesis 2:25 (this was before the great temptation) "Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame." (NLT)  This was life the way God intended - shameless (that is no shame, not even a conception of shame) because of a loving relationship with the Creator.  

And yet the first thing that the first people did when they did the first thing wrong was jump past guilt ... to shame.  Genesis 3:7 - "At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.  So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves." (NLT)  

Shame is a human construct.  Humans created shame - not by disobeying (as is the common teaching) but by believing that God - who had only ever loved them - would stop loving them as persons if they messed up.  

And we have been doing that ever since.  Not only that, but we have been doing it to each other ever since.  The moment we suddenly believed that love had conditions: ifs, shoulds, and musts ... was the moment we, both as a race and as individuals (including Christians) fell from grace.  Grace is the highest, the best, the ultimate position; the moment we add conditions to it, we have slipped back into eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (aka morality) and all the judgment of self and others that goes with that.  And that, friends, is shame.  We have convinced ourselves that we are (or someone else is) "unworthy of connection" (B. Brown, see quote above).  

Shame naturally makes us want to do two things: (a) cover our own perceived inadequacies to make ourselves feel better (thus making it easier to point the finger at someone else), and (b) hide from what we think will be certain punishment.  I often wonder what would have happened if Adam and Eve had just admitted what they had done without trying to pass the buck.  I guess there's no knowing that for sure - but knowing God's love as I am starting to - things might have turned out differently for them.

We - like them - underestimate the love of God and turn it into a contract: we do this and He does that.  It's not like that at all.  He loves.  No matter what we do, how far we go, He loves us and is delighted in us.  He has already redeemed us, loved us without measure from before the foundation of the world, embraced us before we even knew He was there.  It's a fact, not dependent on our behaviour but dependent on His character, even more dependable than the sunrise.

Unconditional love kills shame.  Oh, that we could understand how deep this goes!  

In the words of a song I learned once, 

Chains be broken, lives be healed,
Eyes be opened, Christ is revealed.
            - - "You'll Come" - by Brooke Ligertwood (Hillsong)

Yes. Yes!  Chains ... be broken!

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