On Shame

The two main part of speech are nouns and verbs.  Nouns are people, places and things, and verbs are actions – things we do.  Shame is a word that can be both a noun and a verb.  It can be a thing or an action.

Have you ever felt ashamed? That feeling you get when you know you’ve done something wrong. That feeling that makes you want to crawl into yourself and disappear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes from within because it helps keep us in check. Hopefully, it keeps us from hurting others too much. Shame as a feeling is a noun. It has substance and purpose. It is a thing. As a noun it means embarrassment or discomfort.

Shame as a verb means to humiliate, to mortify. Recently, shaming has become a popular thing. We fat shame, slut shame, and poor shame.  We humiliate and mortify each other. For what? To make ourselves morally superior? To show how “Christian” we are?

What got me thinking about shame are graphics like these:

They get shared on our Facebook pages and people don’t really think about how they might affect others. Think about it. Think about how it feels to open up your Facebook news feed and see this stuff if you are a person who, even though you try your best, can’t feed your family without food stamps.  You know, if your one of the more than half of people on food stamps who work.  How do you think it feels to the guy who searches everyday for a job or the man who worked in a factory for 20 years only to be replaced by a computer?  How does our shaming help those people? What does it do?

Seeing poverty as a moral problem is a practice older than the United States.  I’ve been doing a research paper on poverty in Early America and I find that our views today on poverty haven’t changed much in the last 250 years.  (For more on my views about poverty, feel free to read this)  People say that if someone is poor, it must be because of sin or something else of their own doing. You know what? People use to say the same thing about illness. Would you post about cancer or ALS being the sufferers own fault? No, people don’t do that because we know better now. We know that illness isn’t a moral issue it’s a physical issue. We now know that mental illness isn’t caused by demons. We need to apply this thinking to poverty as well. Considering that the poorest parts of this nation are in the Bible Belt which has the highest rate of church attendance and the most people claiming to be Christians, it seems odd that poverty would be a morality problem.

But the Bible says…….
Yes, the Bible says lots of things that can be taken completely out of context.  My favorite is “work or you shouldn’t eat.”  Have you ever looked at the rest of that chapter? Paul is reminding people that just because the Lord was going to return quickly, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our normal everyday things until He does.  The proverbs, written by the son of a king who never wanted or worked for anything, are used to shame people.  Do you know what else the Bible says about the poor?

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

I could keep going, but I’m sure if you can find verses condemning the poor, you can find more that say to help them.

The Bible also has a lot to say about how we speak to others…

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

See, when we shame others for having less than us, we are putting ourselves above them. We are not following the example Christ gave us.  Christ, above all, was humble. He lowered himself because he knew that humility leads to honor.  As Christians, we are to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”

So, does “shaming” have a place?  When should we shame others? We should call attention to people who harm others. We should shame the rapist. We should shame the racist. We should shame those who hurt children and animals. We should shame those who oppress the poor. Those people need to be made aware that we will not stand by and let them hurt others. We should always be a voice against those who do harm.

Friends, we can stop hurting others with our words. We have control over what we say to and about others. We choose  everyday what kind of person we are going to be. Can we not just choose  to be kind, compassionate, and humble? Can we choose words that build people up – not tear them down? Can we choose to help and not hurt? If we all choose to not let any harmful words pass through our lips or on to our Facebook pages, how much better would this world be?

Before you post things, think about everyone who sees your Facebook page? Is anyone struggling to make ends meet? I’m talking about people you know; your family, friends, people you go to church with. Has anyone been laid off and is desperately searching for a job? Think about them when you post things. Try to put yourselves in their shoes before you shame them, before you mortify them, before you humiliate them. Try to see things from the perspective of those hearing what you say or reading what you post. Maybe then the world will become a little bit more kind.

I’ll leave you with this…

love-pic

On Words

There is a popular country song on the radio right now by Eric Church called “Kill a Word”. I have to be honest.  The first few times I heard the song, I thought it was about fishing. No lie; my brain interpreted the lyric as “kill a worm”.  Let’s face it, I’m not too observant and I expect country songs to be about fishing – not the power of words.

The truth is that words are the most powerful tool we have.  I haven’t always understood this.  I was one of those people who thought the world was becoming too politically correct.  I was of the opinion that it was the meaning behind what was said that mattered and not the word itself.  I was wrong.  This didn’t make me a bad person; it just made me ignorant.  I was ignorant because words had never been used against me.  Maybe they have, but like I said, I’m not too observant.  I also have the blessed ability to not really be affected by much.  I guess you could say I have a “thick skin” or selective deafness, either way the school yard chant about words and rubber and glue kind of resonated with me.  This isn’t to say that I went around hurling hurtful words at people; I’m much too polite for that. These opinions, about words, not people, only came out in private thoughts and conversations.

I can almost point to the day on a calendar when my attitude changed.  I was stranded in an airport reading a book while waiting for my plane to board  when a nicely dressed woman breeze by in a huff.  As she walked away, I heard her say “Those damn #$#$%@ are ruining this country.” This wasn’t something she said under her breath either; the entire terminal collectively gasped at the disparaging remark.  She meant for everyone to hear what she was thinking – not just her target.  We fellow travelers exchanged nervous glances and we mumbled to our companions about how horrid of a woman she was, but not one person called her out or sought out the target of her rage.  Within minutes the normal din of the airport terminal returned and the moment was quickly forgotten.

I was reminded of this incident the other day when I read a comment about President-elect Trump along the lines of “I’d rather have someone I know is a racist than someone who I don’t know what they are hiding.”  This comment sent a chill down my spine.  Suddenly, I was back in that airport terminal witnessing what it was like when a woman thought the world needed to know exactly what kind of person she was.  She too was proud of her hatred; the difference was that the people in that terminal were shocked.

People are no longer shocked by hatred.  In fact, I think it’s become celebrated.  Not caring if your words hurt has become a point of pride.  The attitude that kindness and consideration is nothing more than “PC bullshit” is now the norm.  I use to make excuses for older people because it’s “all they’ve ever known.”  Well that’s only true if they’ve been living under a rock for the past 50 years.  Everyone knows what words are harmful, what words cut so deep that they may as well have been carried in on an arrow.  It’s not okay folks.  I’ve heard people say that our President-elect isn’t a racist or homophobic or any of the other things “the liberals” claim he is.  He may not be, but this week, he just placed the de facto leader of the alt-right movement into a position of influence into the white house.  These are people who carry signs proclaiming that diversity is white genocide.

How many times have you heard the phrase “If you lie down with dogs you get fleas”? This is a phrase that is told to teenagers who are hanging out with the “wrong crowd.”  Well, even if our President-elect had never once said an off-color thing (which he has multiple times) he still didn’t stand against those who did.  While he has had plenty to say about the people protesting him this week, he has yet to speak against the hateful words that many of his supporters have proudly displayed throughout his campaign.  If you are a white, Christian American, please imagine for a second that you are not.  Imagine you’re an African-American mother trying to explain to your children that the men holding the sign saying “make American white again” doesn’t really mean it or that their new president doesn’t really hate them.  Imagine you are a Muslim American family sending your daughter to school everyday scared that she will be assaulted because she’s wearing a hijab.  Imagine you’re a Mexican-American third grader who has only ever known the United States as his home worried that his parents, who have also been here since they were children, are going to be deported because they have never been able to afford to become citizens.  Put yourselves in their shoes for one minute and tell me this is all okay. Tell me these words aren’t harmful – that they’re just words.

So, how do we “kill a word” like the song says?  We kill them first by not using them.  We kill them by reminding people that they are not okay when you hear someone say them. We kill them by replacing them with kind words.  We kill them by realizing that words can hurt.  We kill them by purposefully removing them from our collective vocabulary.  Let’s kill these words once and for all.  Let’s kill the hateful words and replace them with words of love, acceptance, and kindness.  Get up and shake off the fleas. Be kind. Be respectful. Love your neighbor.

 

 

On change

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  I have heard this phrase many, many times.  I have no idea who said it (Gandhi maybe??) – I know I could find out with a ridiculously fast google search, but I don’t really want to – or need to for that matter.  All that matters are the words and I know what each of the words in that sentence mean.

Be – To exist; to live.  Be is the very essence of who we are.  Be is an action.  It means you are doing something.  I am, I was, I have been, I am being.  It’s also not something you have to do alone.  We can all be.  We can all exist in so many ways.

Change – To make different; to transform.  Do you know how difficult this little word is?  A caterpillar has to fight and struggle to become a butterfly – it doesn’t  just happen overnight.  This is monumental stuff.  That six letter word is one of the hardest tasks in the history of tasks.  Think about some of the ways you can change: you can change your heart, your mind, your attitude; these can be wonderful things, but none are  easy – there’s a level of sacrifice involved.

Want – to desire; to yearn.  Want is probably a word you hear all the time.  You want a drink, your child wants a cookie, or your dog wants a treat.    Want can become mundane, but desire – desire is special.  Something you  desire is something you want from the very depths of your soul.

See – To perceive, or more deeply, to discern.  Think about this word as  more than what you do with your eyes.  When we discern, our eyes are  only a part of it.  To discern is to understand – to know.

World – the earth, and all the people, animals, plants and things in it.    Now this is a big one.  Think about how much space you occupy in your house at  any given moment and about how much space your house occupies in  your town, your town in your state, your state in your country, and now your country in the world.  The space a single person occupies is so insignificant that it is immeasurable – the world is just that huge.

 

With a little word play, “Be the change you want to see in the world” becomes “Exist to be the transformation you desire to know in this giant place we call Earth.”

As I sit here thinking about everything that has changed in the last week, it gets to be somewhat overwhelming.  I decided to start writing this blog on a whim because Facebook posts were not enough to contain all the words I had, and now there are over 300 people a day reading those words.  I’ve always had a lot of words, but now, I have a cause.  I have something worth fighting for – worth changing for.

This change has not been easy.  If a caterpillar can’t break through its cocoon, he dies.  It’s not the transformation that kills him, it’s the inability to leave the safety of the familiar and comfortable world he created.   Like the caterpillar, I’ve had to break out of my cocoon.  My cocoon wasn’t made of silk though; it was made of fear, complacency, and social blindness.  My emergence has had a mostly positive reaction.  I’ve been getting a dozen or so Facebook friend requests and messages everyday from strangers who identify with my words; that’s the good part – the easy part.  I imagine it’s how the butterfly feels after his emergence as he shows off his new wings and bright colors to the world for the first time.  This is where the caterpillar analogy starts to break down because his is a change that all of his little insect friends expected – mine was not.

When I get new messages, either here on WordPress or on Facebook, my phone makes a noise.  That noise has started causing a bit of anxiety.  So much so that I’ve started giving my phone to friends to pre-screen the message, or just delete it if I know it’s going to be antagonizing.  I’m not afraid of confrontation, but I don’t want this to make me have bad feelings toward people.  People challenging my views isn’t what bothers me. What bothers me are the people who send me messages damning me to hell or telling me that I’m not a real Christian anymore because of my transformation.  Not one of these messages have come from a stranger; they are coming from people I know – multiple people from different stages and places in my life.  I know this has been shocking to some and I have lost some people who were at one time very important to me, but that is a sacrifice I have to make.

As I said earlier, change comes with sacrifice.  I am willing to make this sacrifice to stand up for what is right.  If my words can make even one person see that there are people being hurt by others in our country – it’s worth it.  If my words can encourage others to speak up when they see hate toward another person – it’s worth it.  It’s worth it because in order for this to become a better world, I have to be a better human and part of that is not being silent.  What we have now is a country full of hate and distrust and the only way that is going to change is by each person making a decision to fight that hate with every word and every action.  I am being the difference I want to see in this world and I’m not going to stop.

My call to action is simply this: stand with me.  Stand with me to fight racism.  Stand with me to fight sexism and misogyny.  Stand with me for our LGBT friends, our Hispanic friends, our Muslim friends.  Stand with me for all the people who are, rightfully so, too afraid to stand for themselves.  Stand with me against hate of all kinds.  Let’s stand together in love, inclusion, and peace because that’s the only way that we are going to stop all the bad things that are happening all around us.