Thomas Watson, Jr., the founder of IBM, said that “Sin has the devil for its father, shame for its companion, and death for its wages.” Mencius, the Chinese philosopher, said that “Men cannot live without shame. A sense of shame is the beginning of integrity.”1 Shame is one of those emotions that people can’t seem to escape, and if you never feel shame, that’s probably cause for a trip to the shrink. “The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from an older word meaning “to cover”; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame.”2 The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia is the largest collection of the artist’s work, but the Art Institute in Chicago has his sculpture Eve After The Fall, which is a masterpiece. The naturalism of the work “shocked critics when it was first exhibited, since Eve seemed to them more like a flesh-and-blood woman than an idealized creation.”3 Those critics failed to realize that in Eve’s shame, in her attempt to cover up the sin that rendered her a little too naked before God, she was no longer an idealized creation. Rodin wins again.
“At the end of Mark 8 Jesus issues a bit of a warning. If anyone is ashamed of him or his words today, then Jesus just might be ashamed of that person at the end of days, too. We’re well aware of that verse but do we always ponder what it means? What happens when we are ashamed of someone? What goes into that feeling and to what behaviors does it lead a person?
“We put daylight between ourselves and the other person in the hopes of saving our own skin, our own reputation, our own standing in the eyes of others. When we are ashamed of someone, it’s because our attention is focused 100% on ourselves and so we will do anything, say anything, deny anything to prop ourselves up, even if that means someone else needs to be injured, diminished, put down.
“Being ashamed of Jesus and his words means that when he tells people that the secret to life is giving that life away, we take a few steps away from Jesus. We find ways to explain away what he said. We find ways to tell people what Jesus REALLY meant, and it was not that you actually have to live sacrificially he meant . . . be nice. Be kind. Work hard. Seize God’s better dream for your future!”4
I think we have all been guilty, at one time or another, of using God as a means to make ourselves better or even as a cosmic grandpa, the old guy who will give us the candy that Mommy said no to. On some level this isn’t all bad – we all like people (or gods) who are nice to us rather than people who are not nice. Even St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that not only should we love God because it is what He deserves, but also because loving God does not go without reward. Bernard’s reward in this case was heaven, but the same thought could be applied to any affirmative answer to prayer.
But this view of God is just too shallow. This would be a God who we would go to in our best moments, in our Sunday clothes with our hair brushed and shoes shined. But what I want is a God that I can go to at my worst moments, a God that I can go to in my shame.
You see, in our rebellion, every time we choose a sinful path rather than the path of Jesus, we are essentially saying that we are ashamed of what He has given us, and even worse, we are ashamed of even knowing Jesus. “ I do not know the Man,” we say along with Peter. Every sin of omission, every time we feel the Holy Spirit prodding us toward the good but flinch at the effort, every time we should comfort or strenghten or even rejoice with those who need it but fail to do so, every time we should tell someone about our Lord or our church but wonder what people might think, well, “ I do not know the Man.”
The bad news is that we are all guilty of all of that. I’ve found that it’s actually easier to walk around with a collar on because people expect me to talk about Jesus – I can’t hide like I do without it. The good news, though, is that Lent gives us a reminder of how to get right: as the BCP says, by “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” I hope you’ll join with me this Lent in striving to get it right, so that there will be no shame between us and Jesus.
1Ying Wong & Jeanne Tsai, Cultural Models of Shame and Guilt, http://psych.stanford.edu/~tsailab/PDF/yw07sce.pdf
4Scott Hoezee, This Week.