Thoughts from the Sukkah 2019/5780 Day 1

I have had a lot of focus in the past few months on the difference between guilt and shame and it seemed the perfect focus for the High Holy Days. I thought I would continue it in my ponderings this year from the comfort of my sukkah.

So here I sit and ponder the difference between guilt and shame. Because there doesn’t seem to be a difference in Scripture and when you read the writings from the Rabbi’s. But when you read the meanings of what is being discussed a very distinct difference emerges in our modern language.

View from my Sukkah
This is the beautiful view I have as I sit and ponder the meaning of life

It turns out what is translated as ‘shame’ is more akin to guilt but a little more than we might mean in our casual usage. It’s more like ‘guilt’ is the state of being guilty and ‘shame’ is the feeling that naturally accompanies knowing you did something wrong. It’s that feeling of regret – that awareness that you should have done differently that leads to a conviction to do differently next time. I think this is why there are no sacrifices for intentional sins . . . . in order to commit intentional sins you have to feel no guilt at all about what you’re doing and no regret. You knew it was wrong ahead of time and you made the choice to do it. It’s where we get sayings like “have you no shame?”

“Guilt is a good thing when it’s your conscious being aware of the damage you’ve done and driving the choice to make changes in your life and do differently going forward. “

Crystal Lutton

I made a point in parenting each of my children to highlight that feeling of guilt and use it to help develop empathy and teach repentance. Turns out it takes some years for a child to develop empathy – the awareness that others have feelings and they can impact them. If you’re paying attention, though, you see that lightbulb come on. You see that healthy shame hit them like a ton of bricks and turn their countenance downcast.

When I would see this I would take them aside and sit with them for a bit. Quietly, peacefully, non-judgmentally. I would validate their feelings. “I see you feel bad about how that went down.” Wait for their response – verbal or not. I would describe their feeling . . . “Does it feel like there’s a darkness on your heart that is heavy and sad? Does it make you want to slink away and not be seen?” Usually they would say yes, or add their own description for me. I would name their feeling. “That is guilt. It’s healthy. It means you know you did something wrong. God teaches us how to get rid of that feeling and it’s not always easy but it’s worth it.” I would teach, “When you feel that guilt you go to the person that you wronged and you own it. ‘I did X and it was wrong.’ Then you take responsibility for it. ‘I’m sorry.’ Then you commit to not doing it again. ‘I won’t do that again and I want the chance to earn back your trust.'” This moves you through repentance and into reconciliation and is a necessary step to really heal any damage you did.

Turns out the process is the same whether you do something big or something little so I took those opportunities when things were little to let them practice this. It’s a much harder lesson to learn when you get bigger. It’s also important to model and when I would realise that something I’d said or done had wounded my precious ones in any way I would step up and do the hard work myself.

Because when we talk about shame we’re talking about something different from the natural feeling that accompanies guilt. Somehow in our modern world we’ve managed to misunderstand this so terribly that we’ve created a type of shame that goes into a person and defines them as shameful. We’ve taken that dark heavy feeling in your heart you feel when you do something wrong and through punishment we have driven it deeper until it becomes the essence of their self awareness.

When we talk about shame today we’re talking about that feeling of worthlessness that overcomes us when we do something wrong – something simple, usually. It causes us to not be able to take correction or criticism in relationships or on the job. We no longer operate in that place of, “Oh, that was wrong, I feel badly about it and won’t do it again. Let me go take responsibility.” Instead we operate from a place of, “I am wrong, I always mess up. I hope no-one sees me for the horrible person I really am.”

The good news if you currently live in shame is that you can change this. You are more than what you do. Who you are is worthy. Learned behaviors can be unlearned and new behaviors can be learned. This is what I’m thinking about this week and what I want to talk about. I hope you’ll join me.

What we, the Church, can learn from Josh Duggar

With all of the talk about the Duggars that has been happening for the last several days, the one thing I am troubled by most is the message being sent to the world when the main supporters of how this was handled by the Duggar family are Christians who are demanding everyone should be okay with what happened, that it was a “mistake”, that anyone saying anything negative must not be a Christian or, at the very least, doesn’t understand grace.

I’ve heard loud declarations from posts, tweets, and blogs, that “this is an attack by the left-wing media/liberals/progressives.” I admit there have been some hateful things said.  I expected worse considering the Duggars, and their staunch supporters, are the very same people who openly attack everyone who doesn’t believe like them for being guilty of so many things – including the blatantly unsupportable accusation that everyone in the LGBT community is just waiting for access to molest children.  And we all know that molesting children is the worst thing you can do!  Unless you’re a Duggar and you say ‘sorry.’

I admit the responses have helped me to see this seeming hypocrisy through a new lens and I believe I finally understand their position on the Transgender and bathroom access, as well as their objection to gay couples adopting.  They sincerely believe that all anatomically male humans are equally at risk for molesting women and children if no one is looking.  They believe this is universal and the only way to keep women and children safe is to 1) limit access, and 2) encourage each boy, as early as possible in his life, to find a woman who knows her place and understands that through dressing modestly (to not bring inappropriate sexual violations on themselves by someone other than their husband) and willingly providing him with sex that satisfies every sexual urge that might arise within him, she is doing her job of making sure he is never put in a position to experience those urges in a way that might result in him needing to have sex with someone else or turn to the children around him to satisfy his urges.

I finally figured this out after several people actually came out and said that “anyone” would do the same if it wasn’t for the threat of punishment from the legal authorities.  The only response I find myself able to come up with for that one comes from a wonderful friend, who happens to be an atheist, who will be the first to say if the only thing keeping you from violating other people or committing heinous crimes is a belief in God, please please don’t ever abandon your belief!

The truth is, NOT “anyone” would do the same thing given the chance. But a big thank you to those who are saying that – you are making it even easier to identify people I should keep myself and my family away from.

I’m just left thinking about what it means to be a witness for Jesus and a testimony to the world and I can’t let go of this Truth: When atheists are clearly seeing that what a publicly professing Christian did was disgusting, immoral, and requiring of punishment, I have to believe that Christian has lost their moral compass. I’m not just talking what a 14yo did. I’m talking about the parents, their community, and every single person who is adamantly defending them!

My dear friend Rebecca Diamond​ reminded me of an amazingly appropriate passage that speaks directly to this situation and I wanted to share it with you. It is a reminder that “grace” doesn’t mean sin stops being sin, and that having received grace doesn’t mean everyone else has to pretend you didn’t do anything wrong.

I am sharing this so that those within the Church can be reminded of what God thinks about this situation and how it was handled, AND so that those outside of the Church can know that God’s response is not what they are seeing from the defenders.

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.” Ephesians 5:1-13

This isn’t being said about unbelievers.  This isn’t an instruction about how to call the World out for their sins. This is about how to deal with these very things within the community of believers. This is about the response God expects from the CHURCH!

I’ve heard some Christians dismiss this entire passage by quoting the part of the passage that says, “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”  This is NOT saying that it’s shameful to call out what the disobedient do in secret – because the entire passage is saying that it requires being called out!  What it’s saying is that what the disobedient do in secret is so shameful that if you find yourself even talking about doing those things yourself, the way to stop yourself from doing it is to call it into the Light!  Don’t do these things!  Don’t even talk about doing these things!  If these things are being done by people in your community, call it into the Light and do not pretend that it’s not a big deal – no matter what anyone says!

So I will pray for the Duggars, but I will not support them while support means pretending like this isn’t really a big deal and since he said he’s sorry it all went away.  I will not be deceived with empty words. I want nothing do with fruitless deeds of darkness and I am willing to be among those exposing them.

Ultimately what I hope the Church learns is this …

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  Matthew 7:15-23

If those of us within the Church who are shepherds, charged with tending the flock – and this is the purpose of Pastors – fail to identify and call out the wolves, driving them far away from the sheep, then we will answer to God for that failure.  When we become shepherds who tend the wolves while beating the sheep, we become protectors of the workers of lawlessness.  I will not be among those who defend lawlessness under the guise of grace.  That is not grace. That is denial.

I choose to be on the side of God’s purpose of protecting the sheep from the wolves. I absolutely believe God can turn wolves into sheep!  I just don’t believe he does it by killing the sheep and draping the wolf with pelts.

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