Monday, October 29, 2012

Walk Away from Shame

From John 8:

They “brought in a woman caught in the act of adultery.” (verse 3).

“In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say?” (5).

“Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone….” (7).

It’s a visual image of the feeling of shame: caught in the act of a sin, guilty beyond all doubt, vulnerable in front of an angry, disgusted crowd that was poised to kill as they screamed at Jesus about her guilt. 

Consider that feeling of shame and imagine carrying it in your spirit every hour of every day for years. You stuff it away and ignore it while you go about your business, but it’s never far away. How would that affect you? 

Would it make you agitated? Would you be defensive over the least little thing and prone to angry, irrational words?

It might be a relief to point out someone else who was guilty too so you wouldn’t have to think about yourself, and for just a moment you’d be safe from others’ scrutiny. You might channel some of that agitation toward another, and perhaps even pick up a rock to throw it. 

In the story of the woman caught in adultery, I think the woman was in better shape than the crowd. She may have been humiliated but they were on the verge of murder.

In the past, I’ve always looked at that crowd with loathing, but Jesus was gentle with them.  In a fit of holy vengeance he could have ripped them to pieces, but he didn’t. He waited for a quiet moment and reminded them that they were just like the woman in front of them. 

And their rage faded for the moment as they walked away. Jesus' words had led them to walk away from a heinous act.  

The woman was in a position to receive even more help than the crowd. When Jesus told her to go and sin no more, he was telling her that she was not trapped in condemnation. She could walk away with freedom, dignity, and strength to start again and be better than before.

For her, for the crowd, for you and for me, the New Testament message is very clear:

“Neither do I condemn you…” Jesus said. (John 8:11).

“For there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus….” Paul said. (Romans 8:1)

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).

Because there is no condemnation, we can drop our stones, our pretenses, and our shame to walk in newness of life. 

The Cover Up

In the beginning, before sin was in the world, Adam and Eve lived happily in the Garden of Eden where we are told they were “naked and felt no shame.”  (Gen. 2:25) But when they disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, the first thing they noticed is that they were uncovered. When they heard God coming, they were afraid to be naked in front of him so they hid.   (Gen. 3:7-10).

I have always thought that the biggest loss they experienced was their utterly genuine relationship with God.  I also think the biggest barrier we have with God, as well as with each other, is the one we put up in ourselves in order to stay hidden, and supposedly protected. 

I’ve never found shame to do anything but make things much worse. It leads us to loneliness, dishonesty, and fear. It causes us to defend ourselves when no one is attacking. The craziness takes us on spiral downward, sometimes making us physically, as well as spiritually sick.

I know from counseling that it can take a long time to peel back all the protective layers so we can begin to find healing. 

I see God as someone who tries hard to help us find our way back to our unfettered relationship with Him.  He gave the Hebrews their sacrificial ceremonies and then gave his Son as the ultimate sacrifice so all of us could lay down our foolish walls, look fearlessly at ourselves, and make whatever changes need to be made.

And yet most of us continue to hide like Adam and Eve, isolated in shame while God waits for us to come out to resume our relationship. 

It wouldn’t fix everything but if we could drop the shame we could make a giant leap of progress in the healing of our souls.  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Holy Meals

The hospital had hired a chef to run the cafeteria. When I had an occasion to visit, I stopped in and saw him behind the counter serving people. I asked about a certain entre in front of me and he launched into a passionate description of how he had prepared it. 

“Sounds delicious,” I exclaimed, and he beamed as he heaped a portion on my plate. 

It was delicious—a Mexican dish with chicken, cheese, tortillas, and marvelous spices.  I realized as I was eating that this was the man’s art.  Some people paint or sculpt. Others write. Others perform music. And still others design great buildings. In fact, most people have something in their lives that is their art. 

This man’s art was in his cooking and he was pleased that I recognized it.  And since it pleased him so much, I went back to the serving area after the meal and expounded on how good the meal was. 

It made his day. 

I’ve been thinking about Barbara Brown Taylor’s thoughts in An Altar to the World, where she says that to bless something is to notice and point out its worth--its holiness.  A Mexican dish at the hospital cafeteria may seem like an unlikely item to be recognized as holy, but on the other hand, it was a man’s joyful expression.  What’s holier than that? 

We can take that thought and expand it to other people and the things that they do.  In fact, Taylor says that everywhere we look there is something wonderful even in the ordinary where God has made something with a purpose.  To recognize God’s work (His holiness) in that thing is to bless it. 

I’ve also come to appreciate the efforts of the waitress, the lawyer, the mechanic, and the teacher. Their work, as well as all other work can be brought to an art form and can be used for noble purposes. 

I also appreciate trees and wheat fields and birds and dogs and caterpillars and mountains and blades of grass, all of which have a place in God’s holy creation.

When we express appreciation we help each other remember our holy place in a holy creation.  So at meal time, I remember to offer a blessing, not just for the food, but for the person who made it.