church nonsense, faith


A blogging ally commented on my last post with a link.  On the other side of the link was a series of clips from a talk on addiction and shame.  Boy do I wish I had internalized those concepts 25 years ago.  I wish every parent and parent-to-be had them ingrained in their brains and tattooed on their hands.  Even as I write this post, I am pondering how I might incorporate them into the parent workshop I will be giving next month.

The speaker in the clips, John Bradshaw, talked about toxic shame, shamelessness and healthy shame in the context of the family.

But my mind extrapolated it to the church:

“Healthy shame is permission to be human.  It lets you make mistakes.  A [healthy] family [is one] that has a rule that allows people to make mistakes and understands that mistakes are occasions for learning.”

“If you live in a context where you can never make a mistake, what a terrible way to live.  That’s a life without any grace; that’s a life of law; a life of rigidity and legalism.  Grace is riding easy in the harness.  It’s like it’s okay to make mistakes.  We know that humans are going to make mistakes 15% of the time.  And so parents need to know that.  Parents need to quit acting shameless.  When parents acts shameless, they act like they never make a mistake.”

“When parents are shameless, they are also spiritually abusing their children because they are playing God.  One of the healthiest things shame brings you is the realization that you are not God; that you are limited; that you need help.  So healthy shame is an enormously healthy emotion… I think healthy shame is the source of spirituality.  It’s what we used to call humility.  It’s also, interestingly enough for me, a source of creativity and learning.”

John went on to quote something he heard at a conference once:

‘When you think you know you’re right, you’ve killed your creativity.’
“If you think you’re right there will be no new searching for information.  So what healthy shame does is let you know there’s a lot more to learn…”

Ding, ding, ding! That is why I have grown so impatient with dogmatic doctrine.  It is arrogant.  It is shameless.  It believes there is no more to learn.

The evangelical church is all about having a close personal relationship with God, and all the while teaching that God has nothing new to say.  How do you have a vibrant relationship with someone who has nothing new to say?

The church would argue that His complete Word is new to the discoverer, that the canon is closed but the book is open.  They would say that every time we read it we can discover something new.  And that’s great for us, but not so great for God.  If I were God, I’d hate it if my children decided I had no more to say, and therefore stopped listening to me and for me.

The church is not God, the church is limited, the church needs help.

John Bradshaw said children need structure in order to develop a healthy shame.

God, being the perfect parent, gave us structure.  He gave us the Ten Commandments: a short, simple frame work for right behavior and right relationship with Him and with one another.

And then to that open-but-solid structure the Pharisees added the Talmud – which contained so much brick, mortar and plaster that Jesus finally said,

“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”  Luke 11:46

Then He pared it down to this:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  Matthew 22:37-40

Suffocating people with shame-filled legalism kills their creativity and their spirituality; it defiles many a masterpiece. Which is why, I believe, Jesus told His disciples to “Beware the yeast of the Pharisees.”

And so now I am just going to say it:  What if the writings of Paul are to the New Testament what the Talmud is to the Old Testament?  After all, Paul was well-schooled in the Talmud, and old habits die hard.  Really, really hard.

And what if the church – who stones, shuns and/or silences anyone who questions their dogmatic doctrine – is a stale, shameless parent?  An unwitting ally of the enemy?

Just wondering.

Seema Krishnakumar, Creative Commons

Seema Krishnakumar, Creative Commons

The greatest poem ever known
Is one all poets have outgrown:
The poetry, innate, untold,
Of being only four years old.

Still young enough to be a part
Of Nature’s great impulsive heart,
Born comrade of bird, beast, and tree
And unselfconscious as the bee-

And yet with lovely reason skilled
Each day new paradise to build;
Elate explorer of each sense,
Without dismay, without pretense!

In your unstained transparent eyes
There is no conscience, no surprise:
Life’s queer conundrums you accept,
Your strange divinity still kept.

Being, that now absorbs you, all
Harmonious, unit, integral,
Will shred into perplexing bits,-
Oh, contradictions of the wits!

And Life, that sets all things in rhyme,
may make you poet, too, in time-
But there were days, O tender elf,
When you were Poetry itself!
– Christopher Morley

But there were days, O tender elf, when you were poetry itself!

And He said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 18:3

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014


8 thoughts on “Shameless

  1. His books delve into greater detail and give meditations and practical applications for group therapy sessions(quite effective) and also this man was studied theology for years and was just shy of becoming a Catholic priest when he realized his calling was to help people in a different way.
    Thank you so much for bringing more awareness to this man’s anointing to help many…very, very grateful!


  2. I grew up, as you did, in the Baptist church. My dad was a pastor. I’ve read and heard so much that is similar to what seems to have been your experience, and it makes me very sad. It was not my experience. I never felt shamed simply because of my human propensity to sin. Any shame I felt was usually because I knew I had hurt someone else. There was balance in my dad’s preaching, in our home, in the churches he pastored. It was not rigid and rule-bound, and we were not held to a list of thou-shalt-nots that would have discouraged anyone from even trying. I think I was blessed to have come up in the era just before the kind of stuff you’re describing became so prominent in some Baptist circles, and I’m thankful for that. I guess what I’m wanting to say here is that not all Baptists are hard, cold, self-righteous rulemakers who have no mercy, no grace. It is sad that those who are like that give the rest of us such a black eye.


    • Hi Linda,
      Thanks for your comment. Just to clarify, I did not grow up in the Baptist Church. I started life in the Catholic Church until first or second grade. We stopped going just prior to the time I would have made my first communion. You can read about it in the comments under
      I did not become reacquainted with God until just after college, when He revealed Himself to me in an unmistakeable and glorious way. After which I attended an Evangelical Presbyterian church and learned a lot through the Navigators 2:7 discipleship course and then through BSF. I sort of married into the Baptist church.
      As I hit the publish button for this post, I wondered whether readers would understand what I meant. Your comment lets me know that it needs clarification, so thanks. I wasn’t writing about shame due to a propensity to sin, I was writing about shame due to being a woman. The shame that is inflicted on me every time my husband is invited to participate in certain things (simply because he is male) and I am not (simply because I am female). Wasteful, wasteful, wasteful non-use of God-given gifts all because of dogmatic – and very likely incorrect – doctrine. The shamelessness of the Baptist church is its unwillingness to admit that it could be wrong about anything. Its doctrine is locked down way too tight to allow any further search or discovery.
      Yes, some Baptists shoot their wounded. I was shot up pretty brutally after my first husband left me – his sin, not mine – but that didn’t matter. But I can live with, forgive the humanness of that. What I am having trouble abiding is the doctrinal shame. It is very discouraging to know that those in my church/denomination who have studied the Scriptures in the original Greek ignore things like the gender of pronouns, etc. in favor of their traditions.
      But I might be rambling here… I am very happy to read that your dad, your home and the churches he pastored were not rigid and rule-bound. The one I attend isn’t either – on the surface. I’m not so concerned that they are giving other Baptists a black eye. They dropped “Baptist” from their name years ago, went contemporary, no longer frown upon drinking, etc. I’m more concerned that they are giving God/Jesus/Christianity as a whole a black eye with their refusal to revisit the role of women in the church. And now many of them are all into Mark woman-hater Driscoll, so that doesn’t help.

      God’s image is 50% female – as per Genesis 1 – which means they are dissing 50% of God. And that breaks my God-loving heart.


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