a few weeks ago at the bold boundaries sacred friendship gathering, hugo schwyzer, an amazing writer & speaker & professor from LA, shared this little gem: “the church’s witness is to heal shame and division.”
that is what we are meant to do: heal shame, heal division in this crazy mixed up world.
for the most part, i don’t think that is what “the church” is known for. in fact, in so many ways we are known for just the opposite–for creating shame, for promoting division. i had plenty of shame on my own before i came into the fold of christianity, but the truth is that for a long time, my shame actually ramped up instead of decrease. a lot of my shame came from somehow falling short as a christian, not measuring up to what i was supposed to be doing, and a weird pervasive feeling that somehow being “me” wasn’t really what God had in mind. the amount of energy i spent on trying to be someone else was really exhausting, and i am ever-grateful for continually breaking free from some of those bonds.
when it comes to division, this has unfortunately become our signature mark. instead of being peacemakers and bridge builders, we are more often known for promoting who’s in, who’s out, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s on God’s side, who’s not. as a christian of a more conservative persuasion in my earlier years, i did my share of dividing. i remember how passionate i was about making sure i wasn’t “of the world” and ways i put myself above other people for self-protection. what’s interesting, though, is as i have shifted and changed, i can see, too, how some of what i have done has just created a different kind of division. this time, i am aligned on the other side of things, against some of what contemporary christianity represents.
but division is division.
and the church’s witness is to heal shame and division.
to me, the church is not a building or a system or a program. it is people gathered together to learn and practice the ways of Jesus and pass on love, hope, mercy, and justice in a broken, weird world.
our responsibility is to play our part in healing shame and division. i don’t think that’s a new kind of legalism or asking too much of us. (thanks, jamie).
as far as i can tell, this kind of healing primarily comes through relationship with one another. healing from shame and division isn’t the kind of transformation that drops out of the sky into the quiet of the night. it somehow happens when people bump up against each other and give and receive presence, mercy, grace, understanding, challenge, encouragement, love, truth, hope.
it happens in friendship. in relationship.
inequality, deep grooves of hierarchy, and stereotypes of men & women, rich & poor, liberal & conservative, gay & straight, black & white, healthy & sick, educated & uneducated perpetuate shame and division. the way it is healed is through breaking down divides and finding ways to live together as friends, as brothers & sisters, as human beings.
i love h. norman crosby’s thought about the church as a place where we collapse into God, collapse into each other. we can’t collapse into God or other people if we are filled with shame and divided from one another, if we shame others and separate ourselves from one another.
our best hope is finding our common humanity in the upside down ways of Jesus.
discovering our shared experience.
our willingness to engage in real, raw relationship with each other.
learning to be honest about how we feel about ourselves. how we feel about others. how much we are guided by fear. how much we need God’s help to change. how we can’t change the world tomorrow, but we can start with changing us.
some questions we can maybe ask individually & collectively as little pockets of love are:
how are we entering into deeper and more meaningful relationships with other people, even if we are scared?
how are we building bridges instead of bombing them?
how are we honoring and respecting people who are different from us, even when we don’t agree?
how are we keeping our hands open instead of clenched? our hearts soft instead of protected?
how are we recognizing our shame so it can lose its grip?
how are we becoming better human beings, less divided, more free?
how are we learning to receive and not just give?
and most of all, how are we helping each other feel less shame, less division, so have a much better shot at collapsing into God, collapsing into each other?
today i have a post up at sheloves magazine as part of the monthly “down we go” column. the theme this month is “soar” and my thought is that maybe we could redefine what that means. it’s called flapping, flailing, flying: “what might look easy for one person is incredibly hard for another. what might look insignificant to some might be a miracle to another. what looks like flapping, flailing, barely-flying for one is actually soaring for another.” i’d love to hear what it stirs up for you.