My friend Jenna shared this great post this morning where a fellow Christian voiced his frustration with a big problem in the Christian realm. I like to call the problem, “let’s all talk about how awesome we are.” It can be rather annoying when the majority of people at church don’t admit out loud that they have weakness. Perhaps it’s actually more damaging than annoying. Check out this article about shame. And, yes, we are creating a society of shame if we aren’t willing to talk about weakness.
I hate to admit it but I belong to a church body that flourishes at shame – they don’t mean harm, they just don’t know any better. I don’t solely blame my church. Like so evident in The Scarlett Letter I think that religion and shame just naturally go together. It’s not that anyone is purposefully teaching everyone to shame each other or that the people are bad or hateful or judgmental. It’s just that they don’t know how to be vulnerable. It’s a lot easier to look down on other people for their problems then admitting our own.
I’ve been through hard trials in my life where I have just wished that I could find better support from my church body. That support is so hard to get when “perfect” people were all I had to choose from. I can’t tell you how many times I have said to myself, “What does that person possibly know about this… I can’t talk to them about it, they’ll avoid me like the plague.” Let’s face it, if we can’t get support at church, doesn’t that make church kind of pointless?
So, wouldn’t God want us to help each other? Wouldn’t he want everyone to feel like church is the best most loving place? That leaves only one question: how do we change a culture of shame?
We change it one vulnerable person at a time. I was that person this past Sunday. I had to speak in church. I believe what I said was inspired, but it was also extremely vulnerable. I told the people at church (whom I hardly know since I just moved here) about how I was going to write the prophet a letter and tell him to take my mission call to Utah and shove it. I told them about my struggle with weight. And *gasp* I told them about how I almost got divorced. I also told them how God helped me through all of those scenarios and more.
I wish more then anything that other people could do the same. I wish that those with same-gender attraction, alcoholism, porn addiction, and victims of sex abuse could use church as a safe place too, but honestly the things I talked about seemed shocking enough for now. That saddens me. There is so much suffering of which we are all unaware. How can we support each other?
Do you know what happened after I stripped down at the pulpit? Besides the fact that I wanted to throw up when I got done. Instead of running out of there and curling up in a ball in bed at home and hoping that I could somehow find the courage to go back some day, I pushed myself on to Sunday School. Guess what happened on my way? No less then twenty people came to me and told me what a beautiful job I did and that we need a lot more talks like that at church.
When we got home, my husband said the same thing happened to him. In fact, these were his exact words, “Alice, I had triple the amount of people tell me that you gave a wonderful talk, then I did when I spoke two weeks ago. It’s funny. The whole time you were talking I was just so worried about how you might embarrass me, what you might reveal….I couldn’t even feel the spirit of what you were saying….and then when all these people told me how they were touched and how they could relate, I realized something about myself. I am way too guarded.” (O.k. he didn’t use a run-on sentence) I gave him a kiss, told him I loved his talk, thanked him, and replied, “Don’t feel bad, it’s just the power of vulnerability.”
We all need vulnerability. Especially at church. How else will we understand that we aren’t the only ones who feel like we suck half the time? How else will we find the courage to keep trying? Yes, we could find those things solely with God, but it makes the journey a lot less lonely and a lot more hopeful when we can share the ups and downs with other mortal beings.
Less shame. More vulnerability. You can even keep your clothes on.