Sunday, August 28, 2011

Shame, Shame, Go Away

shame: [noun] a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior

Revelation is a funny thing. It can be some huge and dawning realization but--for me, anyway--it's more often the little things. The shades of meaning, the nuances and subtleties of words. And looking into those nuances can cause a totally new perspective on the world.

I was at a worship service last night, and I have been trying to figure out how to put that in context for people who don't participate in a faith body. I'm sure it would seem the craziest thing--call the cops or the men in white coats--to be seen from the outside. The best explanation, as usual, is the simplest: it's the provision of environment for expression. Music is typically central, but different people respond in different ways, just as in everything else. Expression has to be individual for it to be authentic. And while similar expressors will tend to find themselves together, there's a certain beauty in the cacophony of each person finding their own means of communicating the cry of their hearts.

In this worship service last night, one of the lead singers stopped at one point and encouraged the audience (a strange and inaccurate term) to seek a new revelation from God, a new experience. Not for the sake of experience itself, but to understand, on a real and emotional level, something new about God. And while I agreed with her that this would be good, if I was honest I would admit that I didn't really ask for this for myself, because if I'm not careful, I find myself in a I Know All This Already default setting.

But revelation doesn't always wait for an engraved invitation.

The new subtlety that divinely arrived in the brain last night--it could be dismissed as me just dipping deeper within myself, but I know I'm not that deep, so that ain't it--was fairly simple, but it has not let me go for, what, 26 hours or so: In addition to sin and death, God--Jesus--has taken away my shame. This is a phrase I'm familiar with, and have used often, but I registered last night that I have been thinking of it, using it, incorrectly. Because I looked up the definition of the word, and it's not actually what I've been thinking it was.

Here's how I saw it: Shame is an actual, perceivable thing, potentially outwardly so. Like Hester's scarlet letter, it is a sign and a remnant of what caused and came before it. And so the sacrifice of Christ--His taking on what would otherwise separate us from God--takes that away, cutting through the threads that would mark us as shamed. In a different metaphor, our sin leaves a scar, and the sacrifice is the balm that brings full healing.

But shame is not a scar, it's a feeling. Just look at the definition. It's what lingers, even after the letter is torn away, even when the scar is gone. And this is what the big deal is, to me. It would be enough--too much, in fact, even so--for Christ to have taken our sin, and its resultant death. How much more absurdly kind of Him to take away the outward appearance of it? But He doesn't stop there: He wants my shame, too. Not just the outward, but the inward. He wants the piece in me that still knows, that growls of what I am capable of. He can take that, too, because what good is a clean thing that acts as though it is not? It makes both absolute sense and absolute lunacy, and maybe that's why it's occupied my thoughts so much. Jesus Christ died so that I wouldn't feel bad about myself?? Are you kidding?

And yet, true. And I think this is where the acceptance aspect comes in. Christ can pay for my sins, can rebuild the broken connection between God and me, but until I act like that is true--until I accept that He didn't patch me up or give me a quick fix-up, but completely restored and remade me as new and unblemished by this Old Thing--it's useless. I found myself wrapped up in mental images last night: The first, of me being cleaned out, like scraping mildew from an old tub. You scrape and scratch until everything is cleaned off; but as the image faded in my mind, I realized that wasn't good enough. Being cleaned out isn't any good if it just leaves you empty.

And in the same way, our sin and shame aren't taken away so we can be vacuums. If I am truly freed in Christ, if I really am set free from the trap of thinking of myself all the time, what could I be at liberty to do? Because I'd still be thinking about something. I'm sorry, but I can't get behind an idea that perfection is nothing. And so if I'm no longer thinking about myself, I'm focused on God, right? And focusing on God would lead me to love others through Him. Because a vacuum isn't good enough. A vacuum will just fill up with whatever crap is lying around. But a scraped, cleaned out self, refilled with the grace of a perfect God? That could be a self worth driving around the world.

...Again, I'm afraid I haven't spun an entirely sensical narrative. But again, that's why it's a blog. Leave your thoughts, if you would...

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