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In Need of Healthy Shame

We have just entered the season of Epiphany in the Christian calendar. One central story of this period is that of the Magi, those foreign seekers who travel from afar, following a great light to meet heaven’s king. As the story progresses, things become increasingly complicated as they enter into the narcissistic orbit of King Herod. Herod is a monster. After these sincere seekers untangle themselves from his self-serving web, he orders what is now known as the “slaughter of the innocents.” Why? Simply because he is paranoid, insecure, and threatened by the presence of a lowly, newborn king.

Let’s not sugarcoat what happened yesterday at our nation’s Capital building and what it reveals. The light of Epiphany moves in two directions, illuminating both the presence of Love’s humble incarnation and the horrific shadow of Love’s pernicious enemies. Those of us who are guided by Epiphany’s light, who—like the Magi—draw near to the Christ child even in this dark era, must also decry our “Herod.”

This is not a political move. A time to point fingers, rationalize, or justify. It is, rather, an invitation for each one of us to engage in extended, raw, and rigorous soul searching. It is a time to experience what Jim Wilder labels “healthy shame.”

Shame has fallen on hard times, and, by in large, rightly so. “Toxic shame” is a personal and collective cancer that destroys life even as it consumes its host. However, the recovery of a “healthy shame” can serve a vital purpose today. Healthy shame is an instructive and corrective guide that helps us discern communally “what we and our people do and what we don’t do” in certain circumstances. This kind of reflection serves us well IF we make room in our lives to feel embarrassed or suffer regret for the attitudes we’ve fostered, the words we’ve spoken, the actions we’ve taken or not taken.

A series of questions is often all a sincere individual needs to “come clean” with him/herself and God. Here are few for starters:

· What person or what group of people have I fostered a hateful or judgmental attitude toward? (Matthew 7:1-5,12, I John 2:9-10)

· In what way are my attitudes and actions motivated by a lust for greed or personal power? (James 4:1-3, II Timothy 3:1-9)

· Whose rights have I wantonly stolen or needs have I wantonly dismissed in favor of my own rights and needs? (Matthew 25:34-46, I John 3:17)

· What unbridled, careless, and caustic words have I spoken that have hurt others and stirred up division? (Matthew 12:36, James 1:26-27, 3:3-12)

Our hope and prayer as people of Epiphany is that we will all STOP. Be still. And let the loving weight of “healthy shame” speak to us and reveal our self-serving delusions. For this is not a time for political posturing or maneuvering, but a pivotal moment of collective crises that can only be metabolized by raw, personal, honest inventory. Each of us has been complicit in contributing to the demise of our democratic experiment and the deep division in our country. If we are to survive, let alone thrive, we must all acquire increased clarity as to how we as the people of God are to act or not act; and how we are to remind one another how we are to treat one another. Let’s waste no time.


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