Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shame in the Wilderness

This weeks scriptures are Exodus 32:1-14, 19-24 and Luke 22:54-62.

These passages are about shame. Specifically they are about the shame that human beings feel when they have turned their back on God; when they have denied their faith; when they have rejected the One who has cared for them in favor of other gods. This rejection is often....almost alway....based on fear.

Shame is one of the most profound emotions with which we as human beings deal. As a pastor and as a therapist I have found that shame underlies much of the work that needs to be done whether the issues are those of trauma or of questions about God's care and love for us. As for me personally I have found that underneath many of the struggles in my life has been an ongoing issue of shame...both in relation to shame about specific behaviors on my part, and a pervasive sense of shame about simply being...and my experience has also been that I am not alone in these struggles.

One form of shame that is particularly diffficult for many of us stems from the feeling that there is something inherently wrong with us, that we don't measure up to some unseen standard. Many of us got this feeling early on in our lives when we got the message that our parents wanted someone different from who we are. Perhaps they wanted a child who was another gender, or had different abilities, or a different disposition. When we're carrying a sense of shame for just being then our shame at something we've done takes on a darker, more pervasive quality. It is no longer a healthy shame that leads us to repent, to change, to apologize; but an unhealthy shame that leads us to say things to ourselves like, "see, you can't ever do anything right. All you do is hurt people's feelings, mess up their lives, wreck their plans. No wonder mom and dad were never happy with you." Can you see how easily it is to move from one to the other?

Unhealthy shame takes us out of the conversation. Because we feel like the thing that is wrong is part of who we are we see no way out, no way to change, and so we retreat, we hide. Peter did this after Jesus' crucifixion. The beauty of his exchange with Jesus by the fire that morning when Jesus asked him, "Simon Peter do you love me?" was that Jesus drew him back into the conversation. Jesus made it clear that Peter's denial was not the end of the conversation, that Jesus still wanted to talk; still wanted a relationship; still had work for Peter to do.

The Isrealites had reason to be ashamed. They had moved quickly from the point at which God was closest to God's people to trading that intimacy for an idol that they could manipulate and control. Aaron had reason to be ashamed. His excuse, "I threw the gold in the fire and out popped this calf" is a piece of minimization and avoidance of responsibility worthy of an Oscar (any time someone begins an explanation with "all I did was..." you can be sure they knew exactly what they were doing). Peter had reason to be ashamed. He denied the man who he had followed and loved and believed was the Christ. And if the story ends here it is all bad news.

But the truth is found....and the grace is found....in the fact that the final story isn't ours-it's God's. We find ours story in God's story. God's story isn't controlled by our shame. God doesn't allow our shame to end the conversation. Jesus is going to keep talking to Peter. God is going to call Moses back up on the mountain and re-issue the commandments. God will keep the conversation going.

Because this is true, because God is faithful in staying in the conversation even when I try to exit it; I can talk to God about my shame. I can (often very gradually) come to believe that my shame is not the defining word in God's view of me. And I can come to trust that God's love for me is not only not controlled by, but can cleanse and free me from my shame....whatever its source.

This is Good News. This is terrifying news as well. Such a love is beyond my ability to understand. But just because I can't understand it doesn't mean I can't accept it and rejoice in it. It is a redemptive love beyond my control or my comprehension. But it is a love that I can say yes to and recieve with joy.

Hope to see you Sunday.

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