Do you hate Lent?
Well, maybe hate is too strong a word.
Do you wish we could just skip Lent and go straight to Easter?
I have had several folks tell me that, and I have found “where one or two are gathered there Jesus is in their midst.” No, that’s not it. It is, “Where one or two have made comments there are many who think and feel the same way but are not willing to say it.”
It’s all about shame.
About a year ago I read Dr. Brene’ Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. It moved me to discover in how many ways shame is a part of my life, and so I read her second book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. I read both books devotionally. That is, I would prayerfully read a chapter every few days and then reflect on it.
I am still working on understanding it and putting her ideas into practice, but I have found her research and conclusions to be both a guide to wholeness and firmly within a Christian understanding, even if she does not use “churchy” language. Maybe that is why I like it so much. I dislike “churchy, preachy” language and most often I dislike it when I do it. (Sorry!) J
Brene’ is a shame researcher, a story collector and a story teller. What she does is listen to thousands of stories, codify what is the essential component, and then look for commonalities between people who live courageous, healthy, whole lives and those who live fearful, unhealthy, restricted lives. What makes her research and story so powerful is that after she had come up with the list of those who live whole-heartedly (as she came to call it) and whose who lived otherwise, she noticed that she was living straight down the “shit list.” (Her word, not mine. I would never use such a word in a pastor’s blog.)
So she set out to change her own life before she began to write about her conclusions.
(I will not tell you that I struggle not to live down that same not-to-be-named list.)
A I have reflected on how shame works and incorporates itself into our lives, it is apparent that shame is a driving force between how many people approach Lent.
It is not that shame is the problem or that Lent is the problem. The church is the problem. Ever since Christianity turned from being an underground religion to a state religion, shame has been the major motivating force in the practice and teaching of Christianity. Since that all happened under Emperor Constantine in 324, you have always lived under that understanding and cannot remember it being any differently.
Well, that’s not exactly true for there have been fleeting glimpses of the grace and freedom of Christianity here and there. Undoubtedly, if you are a Christian it is because you have caught that glimpse and struggle to live differently.
But, wherever the CHURCH says, “You do THAT and God is going to judge you, punish you, and send you to hell,” that is shame speaking, not Jesus. It is motivation by fear. It is motivation by power, “You WILL do what I say! You will not ask questions! Because, I SAY SO!!!”
The world is changing and the CHURCH cannot get away from that message any more. Much of what is called the decline of the Christian values is really people saying, “I see the shame and fear behind what you say and I choose to live differently.”
Which, of course, is really the wooing of the Holy Spirit who invites us to live in the freedom, grace, and power of the Message of Jesus. It is in an invitation of love drawing us away from that shame-based, fear-motivating, love-less way of living into whole-hearted living (Brene’s words), into Gospel living (Martin Luther’s words), into resurrection living (Jesus’ words).
The problem is that shame is in all of us to greater or lesser degrees and we find ourselves responding to it in hurtful and destructive ways. For some of us the shame sensitivity is quite high. If you know anything about a sound board, you know that there are two buttons which control the volume. The main one adjust how loud or soft the speaker’s voice comes through, but there is a second one that is called the gain. This knob also controls the volume but does so with a high degree of sensitivity. A small adjustment makes a huge difference in the volume. The purpose of the gain is to match the volume of different speakers or singers so that the louder one can be muted slightly and the softer one increased slightly.
For those who have had a great deal of shame in their life it is like the gain button has been turned way up high. Even the slightest twitch of shame feels like an overwhelming shout. This Lent we are going to learn how to turn down the gain and to turn down the volume and to live shame resilient, to live whole heartedly, to live in the resurrection freedom of Jesus.