Palm Sunday, 2016
I wish that you were shameless.
I wish that I were shameless.
But not shameless in Webster’s meaning of the word:
“(of a person or their conduct) characterized by or showing a lack of shame.”
“Synonyms: flagrant, blatant, barefaced, overt, brazen, brash, audacious, outrageous, undisguised, unconcealed, transparent; immodest, indecorous; unabashed, unashamed, unblushing, unrepentant.”
I wish we were all Shame Less, as in “having less of shame.” Shame is a part of all of our lives, but we usually are unaware of its influence. I hope, if you have been a part of our Lenten Journey about shame that you have become more aware of how shame influences you and how you can become shame resilient.
Dr. Brene’ Brown, the shame researcher whose work has influenced me and this Lenten theme, argues that everyone has shame but it is possible to be less dominated by shame. Brene’ says that being shame resilient comes from cultivating compassion, connection, courage, calm and creativity. She calls these practices “whole hearted living.”
I call it “Gospel living,” because Jesus frees us from shame and its power.
Let me explain.
I begin by once again describing what shame is. Shame is nakedness. It is the stark revealing of our physical bodies, of our souls with all their emotions, of our minds with all their thoughts and motivations, and of our spirits with the distilled essence of who we are. In particular it is the revealing of our imperfections, faults, inadequacies, and destructive actions. It is all that is wrong with us, all that is less than perfection, all that is less than absolute truth and all that is less than flawless beauty.
Shame makes itself known in the intense feeling that we are wrong, flawed, and worthy only of rejection. It is such an intense emotion that we hide from it, cover it up, or, perversely, flaunt it. To be shameless is tobe so full of shame that you act as if it matters not, when in reality it matters so much that you pile shame upon shame until you are numb to it. But most of the time we simply cover it up.
We are afraid to show our real self for fear that if others would really know us they would reject us. We are afraid to be authentic and vulnerable for then people would know us for who we are.
And we transfer this same understanding to God. If God really knew us, then God could not accept us. We find ourselves hiding from God just like Adam and Eve. Guilt and shame go hand in hand for when we do wrong we feel guilty. We can ask forgiveness for wrong actions and, to the extent that it is possible, we can make amends. Thus guilt can be reduced or even removed. Unless the wrong is so great that it is unfixable.
And that traditionally has been the story of Christianity. We are told that our wrongdoing creates such an enormous debt that there is no way that we can repay it, but there is One—Jesus—who pays the debt that we could not pay by offering his life for ours. We do nothing to earn or deserve such grace that we can only receive it in faith as a gift.
That understanding of the death and resurrection of Jesus works well if you have done terrible wrong. And you know it. And you feel guilty. And the guilt will not go away. Until you receive the grace of unconditional forgiveness.
But what if that is not you?
What if you are an ordinary, good, decent hard-working person who has never done anything terribly wrong, wicked or evil?
Should you try to feel more guilty than you are?
Maybe the words of Jesus can help here. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus takes the Ten Commandments and ups the ante. Anger equals killing. Lust equals adultery. Oath taking equals swearing allegiance to the evil one. And Jesus ends by declaring, “Be perfect, therefore, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.
Pursuing after perfection can indeed make a person feel guilty, for perfection is an impossible goal. You never actually get to perfection, so you always can feel guilty!
Now you really need Jesus!
But what if something actually quite different is going on?
What if the pursuit of perfection is really shame pretending to be guilt? For guilt is feeling badly for what we have done wrong, but shame is feeling badly for being wrong. Shame is not living up to the models of perfection that we are shown every day.
Our everyday world thrives on images, and the subtle—thus the more powerful—message is that you must live up to the perfection of body image, beautiful possessions, glorious children, outstanding achievement… The images are endless. One estimate estimates that we see 300-700 marketing images per day. And each one of them names a need and the means to fill it.
Is it no wonder that we feel unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and restless?
Thus our world provides the perfect medium for growing shame and, even worse, the way Christianity is often preached makes that shame toxic. Whenever we hear, “Jesus suffered so horribly and died so terribly so that you might feel guilt and shame and thus repent, “ what happens is that our shame feelings intensify. So instead of running to Jesus to be freed of our guilt, we run away from and ignore the cross of Jesus.
What if we were to understand the cross of Jesus differently?
The Gospel, the Good News, is that shame was crucified on the cross of Christ, was buried in the tomb of the body of Christ, and the authentic, real self was made alive in the resurrected Christ.
Jesus was perfection, but considered the desire for perfection—to be like God—was of lesser value than humbly receiving the life he had been given, being authentically human without any pretense or mask, and being vulnerable even to that which would seemingly destroy him?
As it says in Philippians 2: 5-8:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross.
Jesus hung naked on the cross. Physically he was shamed.
Jesus was mocked on the cross. Emotionally he was shamed.
Jesus was abandoned by his friends. Socially he was shunned and shamed.
Jesus was abandoned even by God. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Spiritually he was shamed.
After he had died his body was hurriedly showed out of sight in the nearest tomb. Shamed. No eulogy. No parade of mourning friends and family. No remembrances. To be quickly forgotten.
And, Jesus would have been forgotten quickly, a shameful end to such a brilliant life, but…
God raised Jesus from the dead!
God ascended Jesus into heaven!
God seated Jesus at his right hand and highly exalted him!
This is the very opposite of shame.
This then is our hope. Yes, we can practice shame resilience through the courage, compassion, and connection, as Brene’ demonstrates. This is the power of the human will. But, even more deeply we can allow every experience of being shamed to die with Jesus on the cross and to call upon the Holy Spirit to fill us with the courage, compassion and communion with the Risen Jesus. As he disregarded the shame, so can we. As he gave himself into God’s hands, so can we. Shame Less. Freed from the dominating power of shame.