I can tell right now, this may not be a popular post with some of you. You may decide to publicly shame me for this.
And I have to say I struggled with this one. Yeah, I’m actually advocating more shame.
Let’s start on a lighter note though…
An Ohio woman, Shena Hardin was stuck behind a school bus in her car. Such common knowledge about stopping for buses evidently does apply to Hardin, who chose to drive around the stopped school bus…on the sidewalk.
So when she went to court, the judge got creative. He ordered her to stand on the street corner for a couple of days with a sign reading “Only an Idiot Would Drive on the Sidewalk to Avoid a School Bus.”
I laughed. Nothing like some good old-fashioned public shaming.
And as I’ve thought about that for a little while, I’ve realized that shame gets a lot of flack. Shame is a dirty word. I think shame is mis-defined, misused and misunderstood, like the weird goth kid at school.
…But maybe shame needs to be rehabilitated. Maybe shame needs to make a comeback.
Pure Unadulterated Shame
The problem with Shena Hardin was that even when she was serving her sentence, she wasn’t just standing with the sign.
She was smoking, listening to headphones and texting.
I know we can’t put people in the stocks anymore. But the woman obviously felt no shame about being an idiot. The judge had to actually order her to look more ashamed the following day.
I found the judge’s sentence amusing. And it had nothing to do with rehabilitation or repaying a debt to society, like most of our justice system. The sentence was designed for pure, unadulterated shame, the way a fine or community service just would not accomplish.
Shame Is Natural
The thing about shame is it is a natural human feeling.
It’s like fear. Or hunger. Or sexuality.
There is healthy shame, like healthy fear or healthy sex. Shame in its rightful place tells us that driving on the sidewalk is idiotic. It keeps our destructive urges in check. It is a natural human response to our depravity, as old as Adam and Eve, and it is the gateway to our redemption. What burden can Jesus take from us if we feel no shame in the first place for sin?
I certainly have felt plenty of healthy, godly shame in my life. And as painful as it is, it makes me run to God all the faster. It’s exactly when I stop feeling shame for sin that I remain far from God. If I’m not ashamed of my sin, then I’m justifying it, living with it, loving it.
When Shame Becomes a Weapon
The problem is that every human feeling so easily becomes warped into something it’s not intended to be. Fear is meant to keep us out of reasonable danger, but some people become excessively and irrationally fearful. Hunger is intended to tell us we need to eat, but it becomes warped into compulsive overeating. And sexuality…well, you get the idea.
Human emotions become weapons to wield by some, and weak places to puncture and enslave human hearts.
So many people have been abused spiritually, physically, emotionally, sexually. People are ostracized and marginalized. They’ve been enslaved and belittled. They’ve been denied justice and equality. And all of these things are build on a foundation of shame in the victims. (Joy Bennett wrote a fantastic blog about this on Wednesday. Emily Maynard, just yesterday at Prodigal Magazine called shame a thief that makes enemies out of people.)
Only Through Shame Can We Be Free
Meanwhile, the victimizers, the traffickers, the abusers, the villains seem completely shameless. The only way I can explain the inhumanity of some people is that they have suppressed their natural “shame reflex.” We need shame for the sex trafficking, the child laborers and soldiers, the sweatshops, the depravity, the cruelty. The church desperately needs to feel shame for its inaction in such atrocities, while it has busied itself foolishly heaping shame on its own people. Feeling anything else other than shame for these things makes us less human.
I’m not advocating more shame in the world…just a better distribution of shame. For many of you, it’s time to break the chains of shame that someone else has placed on you and be free in Jesus.
And then we pray that the forces that have worked evil in your life would feel shame for what they have done. We pray that we would feel shame for the wrong we have done, ignored, or idly watched.
Yes, only through shame will we be set free.
Please share your stories. Tell me if I’m onto something or way off base. (I’m feeling unusually self-conscious because of all the contrary opinions floating around the blogs.) Tell us about the shame you’re freeing yourself of, or the shame that freed you from some trap. Tell us about when shame was unfairly put on you.