The Shame Game

Call to worship: Shame

Music Video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPlBBLc6vno&sns=em

I hope you found that video as powerful as I did.  The images made me feel ashamed, ashamed of what we as humans have done to each other and to our planet.  It made me ashamed that I have not worked even harder to make it better.  Maybe some of you reacted the same way.  It is the shame game that we have all been taught to play.

The lyrics to the song, however, offer a different game plan.

Some of you may have heard the song, “What I’ve Done,” by Linkin Park before, and some of you haven’t.  In either case, you may not have caught all the lyrics.  Let me read them to you.

In this farewell

There’s no blood

There’s no alibi

‘Cause I’ve drawn regret

From the truth

Of a thousand lies

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done

I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest

What you thought of me

While I clean this slate

With the hands of uncertainty

For what I’ve done

I start again

And whatever pain may come

Today this ends

I’m forgiving what I’ve done!!!

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done

I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

What I’ve done

Forgiving what I’ve done

How about we all try and do what the lyrics advise? Step outside the shame game and let mercy come and wash us clean.

Shame is very much a part of this culture.

The concept is even in the book of Genesis, where Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed until they ate from the tree of knowledge.  The popular interpretation of this is that they sinned in doing so, committing the so-called original sin, which defined human beings for all time as inherently sinful.  Adam and Eve covered their bodies and the rest of us are forever covered in shame.

Shame is a tool of social control.  You should be ashamed of yourself because you…fill in the blank.

The thing about shame, as opposed to guilt or remorse, is that it is not just about something we have done or not done. When we feel ashamed we feel like we are a bad person, sinful, weak.  We can hate ourselves.  It is who we are and change seems impossible.  There can be no forgiveness, no renewal or rebirth, and even no real restitution when we are consumed by shame.

“I’m just bad, kill me now.”  Shame is often one of the emotions that can lead people to consider suicide.

What a waste!  What a crime it is to shame another human being, to tell them, in essence, that their life is not worth living.  People are shamed all the time just for being who they are – too fat, too skinny, too gay maybe.  “Your clothes are funny, you can’t sing, why don’t you get a better haircut?”  Those of you in junior high know that the shame game begins early.  Even if you don’t buy into it, you are forced to play.

Shaming someone for something they can’t help is really terrible.  But it is also just a terrible way to treat anyone for any reason.  No matter what someone has done, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Does that sound like our first principle?  Yes, if we truly affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, then shame does not belong in this faith tradition.  Yes, people do bad things.  We have ALL done bad things.  But we are not bad people at our core.  We sin but we are not “sinners.” Labels like that just don’t make any sense to me.

So what can we do?  How can we cope with the realities that were pictured in the music video we watched?  We are all, collectively at least, responsible for all of the evils shown.

Some of what we can do, of course, is try to balance the horror with the good things.  The video also showed images of people helping people.  Part of spiritual maturity is the ability to witness tragedy and still know that there is good in the universe.  We aren’t a bland, “everything is OK; God has a plan,” kind of religion.  We also aren’t a “wait for heaven where everything will be OK,” kind of faith either.

Unitarian Universalism instead calls us to live in this world, to face uncomfortable realities, and to try and make things better in the here and now.

I am going to say that again, because it is important.

Tweeters, get ready.

Unitarian Universalism calls us to live in this world, to face uncomfortable realities, and to try to make things better now.

Shame doesn’t help us do that.  It holds us back.  It leads us to despair.

Instead of playing the shame game, if we are guilty of something, we can try to make amends.  We can learn from our mistakes.  If someone else does something we believe is wrong, can we criticize the action and not the person?  Can we be emotionally open enough to accept criticism without taking it personally and feeling ashamed?

We’re going to play a game now.  Let’s call it the Get Rid of Shame Game.

I have a balloon in my pocket.  OK, you can’t see it, but trust me, it’s a balloon.

Guess what?  You all have a balloon in your pocket too.  If you don’t have a pocket, look in your purse.  If you don’t have a purse or a pocket, maybe in is tucked into your right sock, or even – tucked behind your left ear.

Ok, got your balloons?  Are you ready to play?  If not, it is OK to just watch.  Every game needs a few spectators.

Take the balloon and think of a time you have felt shame, either because someone has shamed you or because you have done something bad.  Take a deep breath, and slowly now, blow some of those feelings of shame into the balloon.  Keep blowing until you are out of breath.  My balloon got bigger, did yours?  Take another breath and blow some more shame in.  Wow!  What a heavy balloon!

Tie it off.  We don’t want to let any of the shame out; it is scary stuff.

I know it is big and heavy, but if you can, toss that shame-filled balloon as high and as far away from you as you can.

Watch out!  Someone else’s shame is about to land on your head!  Catch it!  Quick!

Hmm.  This one doesn’t seem as heavy to me as mine did.

How about you?  Are the one’s you are holding lighter too?

The balloon you have now is full of another person’s shame.  Quite miraculously, I know you all caught one from someone else.  Except for the spectators of course.  Their hands weren’t up so the shame just bounced off the tops of their heads.  Not a bad strategy, actually.

Our own feelings of shame are almost always worse than what others think of us.  Not always of course, because sometimes other people are just wrong.  But this one feels way lighter to me than whoever had it first.  It is MUCH lighter than my own.

We should be tender with other people’s feelings.  Give the balloon a gentle pat, stroke it, maybe a quick kiss is even in order.

OOOO!  It is getting even lighter!  Healing is happening!  Hallelujah!  Do you feel it?

Wow!  Now it feels like a regular balloon! Want to bat them around for a bit?

Ok, now something else is going to happen because I don’t want anyone to feel ashamed because they had too much fun in church today.

In my other pocket, guess what?  I have a needle. Maybe some of you have one too.  Hold it in the air and as a shame-filled balloon comes by…..well, you know what happens when a balloon lands on a pin.

All of that was a rather silly way to demonstrate a few of what I think are truths about shame.  It helps to recognize that shame is what you are feeling.  Name it as shame and don’t get it confused with anger, remorse, or another emotion. Get someone else’s perspective.  Maybe what you did wasn’t so horrible after all.  Maybe it was, but it was something you did.  It isn’t who you are and you don’t have to do it again.

We need to go back to the song lyrics now.

“I’ll face myself

To cross out what I’ve become

Erase myself

And let go of what I’ve done

Put to rest

What you thought of me

While I clean this slate

With the hands of uncertainty

For what I’ve done

I start again

And whatever pain may come

Today this ends

I’m forgiving what I’ve done!!!

So let mercy come

And wash away

What I’ve done”

Let mercy come.  Let us end as we began, with the words we heard earlier by Beth Lefever:

“We are whole, even in the broken places, even where it hurts.

We are whole, even in the broken places, the places where fear impedes our full engagement with life; where self-doubt corrupts our self-love; where shame makes our faces hot and our souls cold.

We are whole, even in those places where perfectionism blunts the joy of full immersion into person, place, activity; where “good enough” does not reside except in our silent longings; where our gaps must be fast-filled with substance, accomplishment, or frenzied activity lest they gape open and disgust.

We are whole where we would doubt our own goodness, richness, fullness and depth, where we would doubt our own significance, our own profoundness.

We are whole, even in our fragility; even where we feel fragmented, alone, insubstantial, insufficient.

We are whole, even as we are in process, even as we stumble, even as we pick ourselves up again, for we are whole. We are whole.”

Amen and Nameste.

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