Author Archives: hearthie

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.

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.

Magic Pill vs. the Fruit of Wisdom

Our society is set up to believe in magic pills.

I think that’s because we don’t have very much wisdom operating, and because we just can’t handle the whims of fate.

Wisdom will tell you that fresh air, exercise, and a sensible diet are healthful.  Logic will tell you that if you make healthful choices, you are more likely to be healthy.  An understanding of life and fate will tell you that you can’t offset everything.

Magic Pill thinking says that there is one absolutely perfect diet, and that if you find the absolutely perfect diet, all of your aches and pains will go away, you’ll be transported on clouds of ease to your perfect weight and muscle tone, and you’ll never know a day’s illness.

Because we have so many fools in our society, who have no interest in wise living, when one of those fools starts eating well, the change can be almost magical.  I have a friend like this – every time she stopped drinking soda,she’d lose gobs of weight, nearly overnight.  Then she’d start drinking soda again… well, that’s on her.  But I haven’t had a soda in over a decade, and I haven’t been a regular drinker ever.  Why do I struggle with weight? If I surrender to Magic Pill thinking, I’ll get mad and depressed.  “It didn’t work for me!”

We do this with pregnancy.  We do it with child raising.  We do it with where in the country you should live.  We do it with the details of family life.  We do it with marketing your business.  We do it with the mating dance.  And on.  And on. And on.

Magic Pill thinking is destructive, because although wise choices bring better results than foolish choices, they’re not magical.  Wise choices aren’t a guarantee.  But our society has lost nearly all of its ability to differentiate.

We see the foolish people, we see the wise people, and we want what the latter has… and we don’t want to wait for the fruit of wisdom, we don’t understand that fate has its hand in the mix, and we want a simple solution to complex problems.  And most of all, we want to put our faith in something of the flesh, something much easier than, “Thy will be done, Lord.  I’m going to get in the game, I’m going to do things as well as I can, and then the results are up to You”.

Magic Pills don’t exist.  God does.

Noblesse Oblige vs. Comparing Oppressions

I feel a lot of guilt for the gifts that I’ve been given in this life.  Family, finances, eye color, love…

Today, I’m daring myself to confront that guilt, and talk a bit about how our mutual guilt might be tempting us to indulge in comparative oppression, whereas Christianity urges instead, noblesse oblige.

Noblesse Oblige:  In French, “noblesse oblige” means literally “nobility obligates.” French speakers transformed the phrase into a noun, which English speakers picked up in the 19th century. Then, as now, “noblesse oblige” referred to the unwritten obligation of people from a noble ancestry to act honorably and generously to others. Later, by extension, it also came to refer to the obligation of anyone who is in a better position than others – due, for example, to high office or celebrity – to act respectably and responsibly. (Merriam Webster online, emphasis mine)

The first sentence of this essay contains a key word to slay my guilt, and that word is, “given”.

In the truest sense of the word, none of us “earn” anything – God gives all.  But in my case, much of what I enjoy has nothing whatsoever to do with me.   I have been blessed.

My reaction has been gratitude, certainly – but not unmixed with a substantial portion of shame.  I know myself undeserving, and because one of my spiritual gifts is Counsel, I hear a lot of horror stories.   Who am I, to be given so much?

I am not alone.   Many of us in the West are extraordinarily blessed, whether or not we look that truth in the face.  It is hard to simply be given things, so a temptation is to reduce the size of the gift by emphasizing the size of the challenges that we have had (or continue to have) to face in our lives.   By becoming oppressed, we transform ourselves into someone deserving of blessing while simultaneously reducing the amount of gratitude we owe our Maker.

And then, because we our oppression, our challenge, is the reason that we are not crushed under the weight of gratitude, we identify ourselves forever with that oppression.   This shackles us to it, never allowing us to overcome our challenges.  It is a terrible state.

Instead, could we not embark on a life of noblesse oblige?

  • *I* know that my family is loving and I have a warm chest to cry on if I need it… so can I not extend an ear to someone who’s had a bad time of it?
  • *I* am not in any need, so is there really a reason to withhold forgiveness from the person who stole (yet another) solar light from my front yard?
  • *My* days are generally fairly pleasant, can I not extend grace to someone who is rude to me?

I can never pay back the amount of blessing that I have received, but can I not look eagerly for opportunities to bless others?  Can I not steward my time, energy, and finances to make the lives of those around me a bit better?  Can I not make choices that benefit not just me and mine, but those around me?  People I don’t know?

That is step one, and it’s hard enough.

1 Timothy 6: 17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.

The second step, humble acceptance, is harder.  I’ll not try to pretend that I’ve achieved this, but I’m confronting it, because not stepping up is getting in the way of God’s call for my life.

The second step is saying goodbye to the guilt, forever.  It is the sweet acceptance of a child.   It is a simple “Thank You” to God, and a decision to become the vessel to show forth His kindness, goodness, and grace.

I don’t deserve my life, and making God smaller, my problems bigger, or pressing my face into the dirt won’t change that.   Thanking God, wearing the gifts that He has given me and sharing them as I am able is what He has instructed me to do.  That road, however contradictory it might seem, is the path of humility, for it is but dust we are – whatever else you see is all the hand of God.

Beauty is a window to the Transcendent

dsc05244We all crave Beauty.  And our lives saturate us in faux-beauty.  It’s like feeding a starving man a stack of Pringles instead of an honest potato.   It’s gotten so that we conflate one with the other.  And yet.  And yet.  Beauty, because of its ability to show us transcendence, cannot truly be counterfeited.

We hunger for that touch of the wild, the touch of the pure, the touch of the reality-beyond-reality that true Beauty brings us.   The hunger for Beauty cannot be fed by anything except Beauty itself.    The hunger for Beauty is part of our hunger for God.

So they ask us to define Beauty – is it red lips or pink, roses or eagles or the sound of a violin?  And the answer is … perhaps.  Because Beauty is a window, how can you define it by what you see?  The view is ever-changing.  The definition of Beauty is in the piercing of your heart, the joy that robs you of breath, the definition of Beauty is found in the soul – not in the mind.

Because Beauty opens us to God, opens us to our desperate hunger for His presence in our lives, Beauty is important.  Beauty invites the observer into a place where he can experience awe, can be touched by that which is outside of himself, therefore the creation of Beauty is an important pastime.

Because Beauty is transcendent, it is not always easy to create.  But if we cannot create Beauty, we can at least reduce ugliness.  We can repudiate lies.  We can restore order.  Beauty is true.  It is in truth.  Falseness can never be beauty.

I cannot imagine a culture more fed to the gills with faux-beauty than our own.  The battle to create Beauty, in small things or in large, is important.   Our culture is Laodicean at its core.

Revelation 3:17  Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,

Feeding the hunger for the Transcendent God by opening the window of Beauty and letting His light shine through is a worthy goal, and one in which we can all share.

Pursue Beauty.  Pause and give Awe room in your life.  Allow the sight of the Almighty to transform your countenance, to fill you with joy.   Allow yourself to become Beauty, that others can see Him in you.

Beauty is an intrinsic good.