It’s Monday Grace!
Why is shame such a part of the performance system? You know what I mean. Certain actions make a person unacceptable. Those who do them are supposed to feel that rejection, that disgrace. Certain lifestyles, choices, histories, are said to be shameful. The church, particularly the performance-based church, wants people to feel the shame that goes with these choices.
But it isn’t enough for the church to use shame as a deterrent. Some seem to use shame as an anchor to hold others in their place. If you have been divorced. If you had a baby without a husband. If you made a wrong decision at some point in life, the system labels you and keeps you in that place. You are made to feel unworthy of acceptance.
Shame is a tool. It establishes and supports a type of hierarchy within the church. It allows classifications of people. Some are superior, some are striving, but others may never be fully acceptable no matter how hard they try. Yes, the one who overcomes his or her shame by working within the system may be put in front as an example to others, but their success usually serves only to bring more shame. If they can do it, why can’t you? And the one touted as the success may never be allowed to forget the path that brought them to the present time. In other words, they will continue to be the person who made the bad choice and had to go through the approved process to be accepted.
The performance system shames some to help others feel better about themselves. Jesus told of the prayer of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was better than others. He spoke of how he kept the rules while others did not. Next to him was a repentant tax-collector. The Pharisee referred to the broken man and lifted himself up.
I suspect that the performance system needs shame. It needs to have a lower class, some unacceptable ones, to use as negative examples and to motivate the striving ones to work harder and stay in obedience to the system. Most of us grew up hearing our parents refer to someone and tell us that we didn’t want “to grow up like that.” Just as the success story is important to motivate upward, so is the failure.
But who is shamed in the system? The weak, the hurting, the downtrodden, the disgraced. It isn’t the system leaders who are shamed, not usually. The pastor and elders often get by with gross sins and incompetence. The denominational leader is rarely exposed and shamed. No, only those who cannot fight back, who have little or no political power. Otherwise the system itself is shamed, and that cannot be allowed.
What if I were to suggest that shame is a lie? There is no shame in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, shame is a sham.
Okay, I love to play with words. We really don’t know the origin of the word, sham. The best guess of the scholars is that it is actually a pronunciation of the word, shame. How sham came to mean a falsehood, a scam or a trick, no one really knows. But I have a suggestion.
I can just imagine a situation where someone played a trick on Mama. They sold her something that didn’t work. When she learned of their deception, she said, “Well, that’s a shame! That person should be ashamed of his self.” If she was from a certain part of the country, she might pronounce shame as sham.
However we explain it, the words are connected. Shame is a sham. Believers do not live in shame, either for what they have done in the past or for what they have done today. There may still be consequences for sin, but guilt and shame were taken to the cross by Jesus. We may participate in things that reveal our flesh and make us look like we have forgotten who we are in Christ, but there is no shame attached to us.
There is another word intricately attached to shame: disgrace. Think about that. The performance system would have us think that there are believers who do not have the benefit of grace, who have been removed from grace because of their actions or decisions. They are dis-graced. Most of us would interpret that as losing our salvation.
But, no, you will not be kicked out of God’s grace by a stupid decision. You may suffer consequences and the decision may be truly stupid when you finally count the cost, but you will still be under grace. Grace is not license or freedom to sin. Grace is the power of God overcoming sin in your life. Grace is the fact of Christ’s work applied to your life. Grace is what God has done and is doing for you. You might feel like you have lost grace as you walk in sin, but grace is something you and I cannot remove and cannot lose. Grace is God’s business.
So, shame is a sham. The performance system uses it to manipulate and compare. It needs it to make others feel good about themselves. But it is all a lie, a trick. They should be ashamed of themselves!
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