Monthly Archives: March 2017

Shame

There is an instinctive push away from even the word, “shame”.  Shame is bad.  Shaming is bad.  Or is it?  What is shame, how does it function, and why is it broken?

Shame is the feeling you get when you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing – and you’re embarrassed about it.   Shaming is the action of pointing out that another person is not doing what they ought to be doing.  But shame and shaming are a soft form of enforcement… the entire experience can be nonverbal, and shame carries no judicial consequences.

Shame requires a common idea about behaviors that one should and should not display.   In the year of our Lord 2017, ones mind immediately goes to sex or body issues – we ‘fat shame’ and ‘slut shame’.   And our society (the World) has decided that shaming people for their sex lives or their waistlines is bad.  But our society does continue to shame people into behaving as it wishes they would…

  • What do you say of someone who lets their dog run loose, habitually?
  • How about litterbugs?
  • People who behave disrespectfully to others (and there’s a whole ‘nother conversation)?
  • People who tailgate, or drive slowly in the fast lane?

I’m sure the reader can continue to think of a long list of things that we shame ourselves or others for…

We pre-shame others by our common talk, the way we tell our stories.  “Well that man just put a penny down for the waitress… and here she was working so hard!”  This kind of speech develops common expectations of “decent behavior” – it’s how we as a group know what decent behavior *is*.

So, shame has a function.  Without involving the authorities, we have a soft system of policing behavior.

Why is it broken?

  1. Because it can easily be overused and misused.  Shame can be used as a weapon not just against those who misbehave, but against those who are simply unlike us, who don’t know the unspoken rules yet, or can’t abide by them.
  2. Because we no longer have a common system of agreed-upon values.  “Don’t you speak that into my life, you don’t know where I’ve been!”  “I’m a proud —”  We are a society of microcultures, and our society has very little that it agrees as universal values.  (That said, holding one standard for your microgroup and another for the surrounding society is a polite way of saying that surrounding society is too weak to live up to your standards).
  3. Shame IS a weapon, and can result in those who shame themselves or have been shamed in taking extreme measures – cutting, eating disorders, festering piles of secrets, suicide – to deal with their hurt.  It is difficult to gauge how much one is shaming someone, and nearly impossible to gauge how they’ll take the reprimand.

Shame is best used as the stick to the carrot of compassion, and it is best used within a community.  You have to want to live up to certain values for your failure to do so to matter, you have to want someone’s good opinion (you have to respect that person) in order to make their condescension upsetting.   Respect is a requirement of shame – if I don’t respect your opinion, I’m not going to care if you don’t like what I’m doing.

But our society is, again, a society of microcultures.  If my behavior doesn’t please you – I can find someone whom it does please.  I don’t have to allow myself to feel ashamed of my actions, I can defy that group and find people for whom my behavior is normal.  I can scream and reverse-shame, publicly calling for the repentance of the person who dared to raise an eyebrow at my choices.

Just to sum up:  Yes, shame has a function.  Yes, our society still uses shame, even though the word itself is in disrepute.  Yes, you have to keep up with what the World considers shameable offenses, because otherwise your attempts at soft-policing others will fail, spectacularly.

And a last word:  Shame used to be a primary weapon in the quiver of Respectable Matrons (of which I am one).  Respectable Matrons aren’t, however, given all that much respect anymore, so although traditionally I ought to be able to shame someone with a raised eyebrow, it doesn’t work that way in practice.   Again, this requires common values – and we don’t have a lot of those these days.

This was just something I was thinking about, that came up in conversation with a friend the other day, I wanted to write it out.  Hope it helps you think about where we are, and why things that ‘should work’ don’t.

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Unstuffing the couch cushions

A quick lesson on the whole “being honest”… one of the things that this month has afforded me is a good look at my weaknesses and fears.

And *that* is an excellent thing.

  1. I can’t pray over something if I don’t know it’s a problem.
  2. I can’t confess a sin I’m pretending not to know about.
  3. Humility lives in understanding my inability to cope with life without Jesus, not in my taking care of things so that He doesn’t have to.

In other words, if my desire to be perfect impells me to stuff the sofa cushions with all my problems, so that even I don’t have to look at them… how can I surrender them to Jesus?

Inside the cup, outside the cup

Matthew 23: 25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

There is a temptation to those of us who grew up in the Church, a profound temptation – it is the temptation to whitewash our tombs, to clean the outsides of our cups, to make everything in our lives look pretty, to look “Christian” – even when the insides aren’t.

If you knew how easy it would be for me to pretend …   But it would be SO easy.  I know all the right answers.  I know the right things to say, the right ways to say them.  I’ve got this.  But I want to be real.  I don’t think it helps to be fake, and quite frankly I think it’s living a lie and perpetuating hypocrisy, which has driven so many from the Church.

So I’m dealing with a little anger right now.  And that’s because I feel like I should talk about one part of my current experience and not talk about the rest of it.

Situation:  Husband has been battling digestive issues and ill-health for quite a while.  Took out gallbladder.  Found out today it was necrotizing.  So, yeah – he’s been off.  Somehow, dying bits of your organs will do that to you.   I have a lot of emotion surrounding the whole experience.  I have a lot of emotion just today!

What I should say:  “I know my husband will be healed completely!”  “I am looking forward to God’s use of this time of trial in both our lives!”  “I can’t wait to see how God will use this experience!”  “God’s grace is sufficient for me”.

ALL OF THAT IS TOTALLY TRUE.

What is also true is that my husband has been off for a long time and I *knew* something was wrong, but I didn’t know what was wrong, and it was stressing me out.  “Have faith”.  Yes, good.  I have faith that God will use all things for good.  I don’t have faith that life will be lived on a bed of roses.  Do I have to lie about how I’m feeling?   I can cheerfully consent to God’s will in my life ***without*** saying, “and I know every minute will be happiness”.  No.  Every minute might be joy – because that’s a gift of the Holy Spirit.  But not every minute is happiness.  Does it have to be, for me to be a spiritually mature Christian?

Waiting for my husband’s surgery day was agony – for him, in the flesh, and me, emotionally.  There turned out to be good reason why he had to wait.  The day of his surgery much was arranged just perfectly… and I am grateful.  But the extra hours in the hospital still sucked.  Tensing for the blow that didn’t come … still sucked.

God uses awful things for good every day.  Why should I be so special that something bad wouldn’t come into *my* life?

Do you think I haven’t been on my knees asking if there is something in my life that is out of order, some sin I need to renounce?  I have a good pastor who teaches that we should ask, “what lesson do I need to learn from this trial?”.   Do you think I haven’t been asking what the lesson is?   Of course I’ve been doing that stuff.  This ain’t my first rodeo, folks.  But I don’t have the answers to those questions, at least not today.

Christian living is supposed to be about faith.  If someone asked you to exchange your pain for someone else’s solace, your tears for someone else’s salvation – you’d say yes.  But then it becomes something that YOU control.  Something for which you take credit, not something for which you are given a crown.   It loses the faith *in Christ*and replaces it with faith in your own ability to stick out a bad time.  It changes your focus to yourself.

And so, I get grumpy.   I know that all of this is for good, and that He will be glorified – but sometimes, things just suck.  And sometimes I get stressed out.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t know in my bones that God will provide, it means that my flesh can’t see how, and my flesh is freaking out.

If I try to say that I don’t have flesh, that I’m not in process, that being refined isn’t always fun… then I have to lie to you, and to me.

I won’t do it.  I won’t lie to make you think that I’m something that I’m not.  I won’t lie because I know what I “should” say.  I want to tell the truth.

And the truth is – I trust God with everything, but sometimes life isn’t fun.