This morning I made a terrible mistake. This morning I picked up the first book of many that I will be reading as a result of my time engaging in the Academy for Spiritual Formation. The book is entitled “God’s Unconditional Love: Healing Our Shame” and is written by Wilkie Au and Noreen Cannon Au out of Loyola Marymount University and the CH Jung Institute of Los Angeles respectively.
I say it was a mistake to dive into this book because I was unprepared for the depths to which this book would delve so quickly. I started keeping a list of potential blog-entries and had to stop after a few pages. This is a book that will require chewing, digesting, and redigesting later. I wish I had a brain as effective at digging through ideas as a cow’s stomach can be at munching through grass. I need a good four brains right about now.
Let me explain what I mean through an example. A question was raised in the book on the effect of shame in our spiritual lives. Shame can affect the way we relate to other people in our lives, but do we stop to think about how shame can affect the way that we see God? My first reaction is that shame definitely affects the way that we see God. The authors are right when they say that shame affects all of our relationships.
Let me give an example. When I was first married I decided that I wanted to be a fly-fisherman. I may or may not have watched “A River Runs Through It” a few too many times. I bought a pole, broke a pole, bought another pole, built a pole traveling case to protect the pole, learned to cast, and I spent hours sending a piece of yarn back and forth over the yard. I cast, cast, and cast again. I was pretty happy with my casting.
Unfortunately, I had two problems. First, my vision was beginning to deteriorate due to keratoconus and I couldn’t see very well into the water to find fish. I needed help learning where to cast as I couldn’t see what I needed to see below the surface. I had to learn to read the surface. Second, I didn’t know all that much about how to reel in a fish once I caught it. I knew I needed to strip the line, but I wasn’t quite sure how that worked. I kept casting and casting.
On our anniversary my wife and I went camping. I went fishing at the lake shore by the campsite. I caught a little fish and it went flying behind me. I didn’t even realize I caught it. My wife found it hilarious. She mounted a little plastic fish as a playful reminder of my encounter with a wild fish. It was funny, but I stopped fly fishing. I was so embarrassed by my fishing that I couldn’t bring myself to ask anyone for advice. I was ashamed of my ability. I stopped because it was easier than admitting my failure to any one of a number of friends who would have gladly helped me.
Shame stopped me in my tracks. The question becomes whether or not there are things in my life that stop me spiritually just as hard as my fear of being “found out” as a bad fly-fisherman. Yes, there certainly are things that weigh me down through spiritual shame.
When I was a kid I had a nightmare at a summer camp that the devil was going to steal my soul after a particularly rough Bible study told us about sin. The camp counselor was loving, kind, and helpful, but let’s be honest, I still carried around the image of a God who would abandon me to such a fate if I didn’t do things just right. I still carry that idea around. When people talk in church about shortcomings of an institution that is far larger than me, I sometimes see that divine head shaking at me. When people talk about younger folks who don’t come to church, I sometimes see that divine head looking at me and challenging me to do something worthwhile and amazing. I live with a lot of shame that more than likely doesn’t belong on my shoulders alone. I do live in a community, so why does everything that happens feel like it is my fault alone?
Jesus said that His yoke was easy. Why does my shame add such weight to the things I carry through my life? Why does the church (or at least church folk) sometimes seem to have an addiction to that sense of shame? Why does shame put a weight on all of us? Is shame what is killing the church rather than people who sometimes act cruelly and (ironically) shamelessly? Interesting questions to ponder…
Meanwhile, I both recommend this book and invite you to be careful. There’s a lot to chew on in these pages.