Psalm 25:1-10 and Shame by Marion Strobel (July 1931)
Sunday February 21st, 2021
Welcome to this first Sunday in Lent! Like many of you, I have been reflecting on what this year has done and seems to be doing with our sense of time. Which day is it? Which month is it? Oh my goodness, I cannot believe it is nearing the end of February. Thank you for joining us today, however you are connecting, whether you are near or far, what a gift to be able to come together, even however imperfectly.
Now is time in our worship where we dive deeper into a message from our sacred texts. So, I invite you to take just a few moments to be present, let yourself show up more fully, to arrive as much as we can to a place of openness. As you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19.
God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame! The psalmist cries out.
Throughout human history, shame has been used by those in government, religion, places of business, child rearing and more as a tool or a weapon. Many Western societies, including the American colonies, used to rely heavily on shame to enforce certain behaviors. But even then, before much science and psychology, they likely knew of the potential damage to the human spirit that shame could cause. Founding Father Benjamin Rush wrote in 1787, that shame “is universally acknowledged to be a worse punishment than death.”
And yet, Nicole Dudenhoefer points out that “Though often tied to personal punishment, public shaming has also been understood to be a positive social practice.
“a long-standing public ritual that helped to uphold social bonds and make sure people within communities were equal and understood the norms, and to ensure no one got too high or mighty,” says Amanda Koontz, UCF associate professor of sociology. She goes on to share an example from the !Kung people, a band society in southern Africa, observed by a Canadian anthropologist Robert Borshay Lee who presented the group with a large ox as a gift. But members of the group made fun of his offering and called it a big “bag of bones.” It was later explained that this “shaming of the meat” practice was standard to keep someone humble whenever they brought back a large kill.”
In recent years, as the use of social media increases, public shaming has taken on a new dimension. You might remember Amy Cooper, a white New York woman who called 911 on a Black man Christian Cooper. Their exchange over her illegally unleashed dog went viral. The backlash from the world on twitter was huge. She was fired from her job. She was later charged with a misdemeanor for filing a false police report. And I am sure the ridicule hasn’t stopped and her name won’t soon be forgotten. She apologized for her actions that day. And I wonder will this change anything in her, with her, for how she understands the construct of race and how it plays out in America and how much harm has been caused in the name of the fear of white people?
Dr. Amanda Koontz writes of the incident, “When you have these forms of public shaming [oftentimes through] filming these interactions, it turns social issues into something that is completely individualized. It puts great responsibility on an individual, and it does not [always] encourage actual societal change. We haven’t taken care of the larger institutional or systemic issues.”
I am left to ponder, is shaming effective? Is shamed used like this generative? Maybe?
Perhaps you saw or read of the uproar this last week over the pictures of Texas Senator Ted Cruz leaving his state in crisis to bring his family to Cancun because his own home was out of power and freezing. The shaming has ensued- highlighting the hypocrisy of taking his family to another country for safety, sharing old tweets of him mocking California for power outages, reminding the world he voted against emergency aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I suspect this shaming will go on for a while. But I wonder, will it make the Senator feel more empathy for those who don’t have the privilege of leaving? Will all of this ridicule help him understand that most of the people whom he is charged to advocate for and legislate for, don’t have the option of a first class ticket to a warm beach somewhere else? I am not so sure. But maybe. If there was a way for him, for any of us, to name the truth and not deny it and not try to hide it but to instead to shift it, so it can be compost for being led to the garden of another truth. And as we heard from the poet Marion Strobel who wrote, “Where black earth falls black upon, The place it is, it is not gone… It will be seen no matter where You bury it…”
That is kind of what the Psalmist says because the lines that follow the plea to not be put to shame go like this, “Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” As if to say- don’t let the public or private shame be forever, instead make me know your way, teach me, lead me to…. Name it and to not deny it or try to hide it and so it can start to be transformed.
So, I wonder if this Psalmist is pointing us to the difference between shame and guilt? One of them can keep us in the ditch and another one can help us shift.
You might already know the difference between the two. Guilt are those feelings of responsibility or remorse for something that we did or imagine we did wrong. Shame are those painful feelings that arise from the consciousness of something deemed dishonorable.
Guilt says I did something that isn’t me and can invite us to ask how can we listen, learn and live better? Shame says, something happened or something about me makes me insufficient and can make us feel like we need to ask how can I hide, suppress, avoid being vulnerable because I don’t feel completely worthy?
It is noteworthy to me that shame is mentioned in such old writing as the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible. It feels important for us to know that so long ago shame was named like this. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame! Because shame is debilitating. And many professionals contend that shame is often what is underneath other hurts that can lead to illness. When many layers are peeled away, what remains at the core, what is revealed as the root cause is often shame. As Hannah Rose writes, shame “keeps us stagnant, keeps us sick, and that keeps us feeling broken.”
If we do not go all the way down deep and deal with our shame, if we live with the belief that “we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Brown, 2012), this may result in our unconscious and conscious need to create barriers and boundaries to receiving love and being included.
Aniko Blake argues that shame creates a fear of unworthiness and rejection, which leads to us to building walls, which leads to the fears coming true. She writes, “This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy: we are choosing to collect and respond to specific evidence, proving a belief that we fear to be true, thus manifesting it into reality.”
Public and private shame can make us close off.
Which is why for the season of Lent, we are exploring mental wellness and our theme is Spiritual Practices for Surviving the Wilderness. We don’t want you to feel that whatever you are holding needs to be buried. We don’t want you to feel ashamed about what is, about your life and about who you are or what you have experienced. We are letting our stories be told and our lives to be seen. Our aim is to create brave spaces for all kinds of conversations.
We want church to be a place where shame is transformed, where we can be unstuck. I have been pondering over this time, the years and prayer and therapy that I have spent undoing stories told to me about what it means to be a woman. Undoing the stories about women being bad drivers or not good leaders. I had internalized so much shame that in my 20’s, I entered a deep depression.
I love what Anais Nin wrote, “Shame is the lie someone told you about yourself.”
So we would hope our Lenten journey, might be a time to unbury old lies, so we can plant and live new truths. We are talking about suicide, depression and anxiety, addiction and recovery. We want to unbury whatever it is that is weighing us down. In the words of the Psalmist, we can be led not in that lie, but instead in God’s truth. So beloved of God, let us unbury and become unstuck, to name it instead of denying it or trying to hide it, so it, so we can start to be transformed and to bloom. May it be so.