Feeling naked at church.

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?

chapel

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.

Advertisements

5 comments

  1. My response to your writing and comments:
    I agree that we need to be more honest. Many individuals are struggling through major issues in their lives, and especially in a church setting – we think we are the only ones. If we only really knew what was happening. It can be a personal hell. I admit, I can relate to you on some of your issues Alice. When people share the issue(s) they are dealing with, my heart goes out, and purposefully am aware and show empathy and more love. However, when they share the details that are very personal about said issues in an open meeting, I become hyper-sensitive and the spirit leaves me. My belief that the details are shared in a closed, more intimate setting. I too have put myself out there when I needed help in an open forum, and was amazed at the response. It made all the difference in how I was perceived and allowed others to open up and show love and concern, and I am grateful. You are right – we are a vulnerable people, but just like playing cards, you need to have the ability to discern when to show them or hold them. I am glad your response was favorable. This will help others to know who you are, and this can be powerful in a positive way.
    Now – my response on the Ted Talks of Brene Brown:
    Loved it. I love research and I love the way she broke this down. I am glad I listened to this after I responded to your comments. The key is helping those around us feel worthy of love and belonging – and I think because we are vulnerable we have the skills to do it! Now I need to have HB listen to these talks – heck – the whole “P” clan!!!
    Love you!

    1. I guess one had to hear the talk know if I succeeded at avoiding that awkward overstep. LG said I succeeded and he is one of the most guarded, politically-correct, tactful person I know so I believe him.

      I do agree that people can really overdo it, usually out of a need for attention or an overneed for support. I don’t think that is defined as vulnerability but codependence. I’ve spent a good portion of the last five years learning the difference.

      However I would rather sit through five hundred uncomfortable confessions that were wrong and see people learning then through none and see people stay stagnant in their emotional progress.

      It takes a lot of being comfortable in our own skin to be able to handle those who aren’t. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t recognize that they have been programmed in a bad way by years of church leaders who teach things like “don’t reveal past transgressions”, “only talk to your Bishop”, and “don’t seek out therapy because God can fix it”.

      I absolutely believe with all my heart that the gospel at the center of my religion is true, I just think that the people have screwed up how it gets into people’s hearts.

  2. That is so true Alice! I always have trouble making friends with church folk because I feel like noone can really be themselves and let down their guard. In my experience, women seem to have more of a problem with this. As you said, it’s often easier for others to judge the imperfect rather than reveal their imperfections. It can make for a lot of shallow friendships and lonely hard times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s