“Looking at Shame,” by Paul Miller

Message at Durham Friends Meeting, March 3, 2019

Today I would like to talk about shame.   As a counselor I deal with lots of shame in the people that I work with. Shame binds us and closes us down.

The biblical passage that comes to mind around shame is the passage in John 7.  The passage reads like this:

   Jesus went to the mount of olives.   At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again: and as all the people came to him he sat down and began to teach them.

So lets just a pause there for a moment we are talking about the Jewish temple at the time and the fact that Jesus is sitting down teaching.   He knew this could challenge the authority of the Pharisees. Yet Jesus is there and starts to teach.   So lets see what happens next.

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery, and making her stand there in full view of everybody.

So rather than dealing with there frustration with Jesus teaching in the temple we now have the full display of a woman who is accused of committing adultery. What a wonderfully unhealthy way to deal with the issue of who has authority head on.

They say to Jesus, Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery and Moses has ordered us, in the law to condemn women like this to death by stoning.

What have you to say?

They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him.

So now you have the Pharisees throwing the Mosaic Law at Jesus saying so what are you going to do now buddy?  We know the right answer and if you do not agree with us you will be wrong.  Jesus if you say the wrong thing we can shame and condemn you for not following mosaic law.  But Jesus bends down and starts writing on the ground with his finger.  There is some interpretation of this that Jesus might have been writing there sins on the ground.  After they persist on this question Jesus does respond and says,

If there is one of you who has not sinned let him be the first to cast a stone at her.   After this the bent down own the ground and continued writing and they all left one by one beginning with the eldest until Jesus was alone with the woman who remained standing there. He looked up and said where are they. Has none condemned you. No sir she replied.  Then neither do I condemn you.   Go away and don’t sin any more.

Jesus calls them on the fact that they are human and have all sinned.   With the woman he refuses to condemn her.  In essence Jesus is saying we are all human and are not perfect and need to be willing to look at ourselves.

I don’t know about you but I would love to be perfect, however I keep discovering over and over again that I am human. Leaning and growing are part of the human condition and that growth and learning can at times be painful and difficult.

The reason I wanted to look at this passage today is to look at the contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees.  The Pharisees are caught up in the interpretation of the mosaic law as a way to be Holy and separate in order to justify everything and potentially anything. Jesus on the other hand refuses to condemn. Jesus refuses to cast unfavorable or adverse judgment. Jesus refuses to be at a distance and releases this woman. In another biblical story Jesus asks for a person to be unbound.

How often do we separate ourselves from the human condition?  I am so glad I am not them. Guess they made their bed and have to lay in it.

The thing we have to come back to is the fact that we are all a part of the human condition. We can insulate ourselves with objects, excuses and platitudes but we all are human and imperfect.

The reason I am bringing this forward is this is the basis of shame. If you did this “right” you would be ok in my eyes. But you did not do this right therefore, I get to throw stones at you?   I get to accuse you because now I have more power than you do.  This is what shame looks like. When we take power away from others and call them bad and demand that they justify themselves to us.  So you might say not me, I would not do that.   How often do we put ourselves above others and tell them what they need to do to be acceptable in our eyes. Our mother, father, sister, wife, husband friend, coworker.   We separate rather than deal the fact that something is uncomfortable her and we have run smack dab into the human condition. It is much easer to separate than own. It is much easier to push away than to come along side.

We are all human fall short and in some way are capable of hurting each other, what do we do with that?

The first step is to come along side rather than hover over. To recognize that we are both human. It might look something like this, I deeply respect you even though I am mad at you because you did something that is human and I got hurt. I do not condemn you, how can were work on our connection so we do not hurt each other. I am proposing here that sin is our own unwillingness to own our discomfort rather than choosing to talk about it in a way that respects the other person. This means that as I face the other person I am also facing myself and my need to justify being right.   This means I am willing to face the way that I am disconnecting from those I care about in order to be right.

My husband David will sometimes confront me on a way that I acted that is self-centered.   One of those times that I poured myself coffee and not him at breakfast. My first response is to be defensive and say that does not matter because that is a little thing and after all he could pour his own coffee. In actuality it is a big thing because our relationship is built on a deep respect of one another and acts like being of service to each other are a part of our day-to-day relationship.   I am called to see him as a sacred person that I have chose to be in relationship with and to respect what the two of us have agreed that means day to day.

He gets to call me out. He gets to say you are human and I deserve to be respected and he is right. Just as I get to call him out when I am not feeling respected.

When I start to move away from that deep respect of David begin to walk away from the human condition and say things like I am better him because I can do some things better. It is at this point I have to stop and remind myself we both have gifts that are different and I need to respect and honer his gifts just as much as he needs to respect mine.

In doing this a sacred closeness and emotional intimacy continues to develop that says, I will always respect you even when it is difficulty to do so. I am always willing to learn about the human condition from you even when it is difficult to do.   The key is asking the other person to be with us in the same place of learning rather than telling them what to do. Calling the other person to be present at the same level. Letting go of the need to be right in order to connect at a deeper level. This means listening evening when its hard to listen. This means I might be wrong and might need to look at things from another point of view. This means I am willing to learn new things about myself that I might not looking at. This means I choose to own rather than shame.   Connect rather than distance and love rather than condemn.

My mother likes to say that we live in the awkward place in history between the already and not yet. It is in this place that we are 1000% human.   In being human we are vulnerable, naked and easily hurt, yet can love each other in ways that can be immensely powerful.

So in good Quaker tradition I want to leave you with some questions.

  1. Who is the person or persons that you have committed to treat in a sacred way?   How do you show that deep respect and ask for it in return.
  2. What is the way that you tend to separate yourself from others as the them, or the other?
  3. Can you think of ways that you can treat other in your life with deep respect, listening to them, holding and honoring them and asking them to do the same even when it is difficult?

May the God who created us be honored in the sacred way that we treat each other.

This entry was posted in Messages and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply