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?
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