Friday, December 22, 2006

The Other Shameful Shoe

[Crossposted to Street Prophets ]

Frankly, I have been a little surprised at the reaction to my shame post (Street Prophets, Brain Cramps for God). A few things lurked in the back of my mind as I wrote it:

  • The shame/pain which drives the addiction of my brothers in FMO

  • By extension, the shame/pain that drives the addictions of alcoholics, gamblers, drug users, shoppers, etc.

  • The shame/pain that has driven folks away from the Body of Christ because they have felt they were told that "who they were" was wrong.
Holiday seasons bring this out like no other time of year. Happy families meeting and having fun together just increases the pain for those whose shame is based on family horrors. For many the emotional pain of our shame shows itself as loneliness, inadequacy, panic, hopelessness and particularly anger. These all get highlighted this time of year.

At Street Prophets, I expected more of a discussion of the universal worth of human beings; and whether "what we do" is, or is not, equal to "who we are". I also expected less of a pass on the (at least perceived) judgmentalism of conservative evangelicals that I self-describe myself as. I even hoped that some folks might talk about the impact of shame in their lives; and how they have (or haven't) overcome it. Instead, I ended up with a discussion fringing on "cultural diversity vs. natural law" (yuck), and perhaps relativism (yuckier yet). Oh well - one of the interesting things about blogging is that discussions do not go how we expect. At least I had the opportunity to check a piece of information I have been carrying for 45 years and confirm it was true; and perhaps get folks thinking and talking about shame.

I haven't really heard from the theologically conservative side of my circle of friends - but the link at WorldMagBlog was titled: "A Valuable Emotion Considered". (Valuable? Hmm) How do I expect conservative Christians to respond?
  • I expect criticism of my contention that no one is bad considering Christ said no one was good (even Him) except God. I did not mean any of us are good in comparison to God - only that God values us all and desires a relationship with each one of us. God does not do that because we are worthless; or because he made any junk.

  • I expect to hear about total depravity. Again, I agree with this concept, and even Calvin recognized we all have, at our core, good overflowing from God in the form of our conscience - that can lead us to be try to do right, resist evil, and seek God. Lewis called this a residual of our pre-Fall perfection that whispers to us that we can be more.

  • I expect to hear about the necessity of our pride being broken in order for us to take ourselves out of the center of our universe and seek God. This is indeed the most valuable good that comes from shame and the action of the furies: breaking our ego. Until we "hate ourselves" we may not seek God so that God can show us who we really are. Budziszewski is correct that the furies will drive us to destruction in order to give God a chance to save us. That is a value of shame. However, this does not overrule that God loved us enough to sacrifice His Son. Again, can any of us be without worth? Are any of us "good for nothing"?

  • I expect the question of our universal capacity to sin (not the sins themselves but our sin nature) to come up as something we all carry that we indeed need to hate about "who we are" and indeed is "flawed".
  • If the internal forces represented by the last two points cause us shame I have to trust that we will find people we will help us realize we are valued and loved by God - even while our interior life is demanding a remodel. I also have to trust that God, if He initiates that process, will protect us from the destructive elements of shame.

    As Bonnie at Intellectuelle said:
    of course, no one wants to talk about shame, not only because of their own sense of humiliation but because of the devastatingly hurtful way that others often receive those who fail, or are vulnerable in the area of shame. This dynamic can become a self-perpetuating downward spiral.
    What is my job, as an evangelical Christian, for those I am in personal contact with who are going through that interior process (or even the external one I will talk about next)? Helping shame along? Pointing out the "rotted core" of the humans around me? Helping "crank up" people's shame level until they break? No, that comes from their conscience, and the furies, driving them to righteousness. My job is not to "convict someone of sin" but to show how the love of God, through His Grace and Mercy, frees me from the pain and destruction of shame. John Roberts says that the place of the church is also not to make us "feel more guilty" -- it is to provide a place of healing and hope.

    However, it is not those interior forces I am really hitting at in these two posts - it is the external forces that cause shame and pain. Pure Desire lists three major areas that shame us and start the shame/pain/wrong pleasure cycle -- what the author called the "addictive root":
    • Family dysfunction -- abandonment and abuse (mental, physical, sexual), divorce, etc. "Don't feel; don't talk"

    • Personal trauma - severe stress that leaves deep emotional scars requiring special coping techniques. John Roberts talked specifically about the "father wounds" that nearly every sexual addict carries.

    • An addictive society -- encouragement by society to see yourself as less; and to pursue wrong ways to be more
    John Roberts in Pure Desire:

    Our nation is getting trounced in this area . . . the torn tapistry of people's lives is blowing in the winds of abuse, abandonment, and personal trauma.

    God created us to be in families, which either become the place of our connectedness or our bondage.

    . . . they didn't understand we are as sick as the secrets we hold

    A vast number of folks carry shame issues in these areas; and, if they haven't come to grips with them, are "keeping secrets" that affect their self-image and all of their relationships. What haven't you told your significant other about your thoughts, history, etc? What pain and weakness are you hiding rather than dealing with?

    I suppose "everyone knows this". However, in case you haven't done so: examine yourself for those areas where you think there is something wrong with "who you are" rather than "what you do" - and work to break the shame/pain cycle in your life if you find one.

    For those who have faced the shame, and its pain, in their life, and are working on breaking its grip on you, the comments would be a good place to offer ways you have found to deal with this process.

    Merry Christmas!

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    How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
    1. The Golden Rule
    2. You cannot read minds
    3. People are not evil
    4. Debates are not for winning
    5. You make mistakes
    6. Not everyone cares as much as you
    7. Engaging is hard work
    8. Differences can be subtle
    9. Give up quietly