To Our Shame

To Our Shame

No matter how bad it is for any of us, it simply isn’t true that there is no place for shame in a society, whether dystopic or Christian or any other kind. Though I don’t wish or pray for the experience for anyone, searching through the rubble for something good, I find I am grateful that my children have been able to see wicked people—who were also good to them—fall. My own children—all of them–will sin in their lives. They need to see how injurious it is to do the wrong thing. How it ruins people’s lives. How selfish it is.

In the course of 2022, which is mercifully wending its way to its demise, two people who my older children have looked up to in the latter parts of their teenage years became publicly discredited. In the first case, many months ago, the shaming that took place and subsequently made its way to the internet, at least at the time, appeared to be appropriate for the offense. The second’s Twitter litigation is mostly wrapped up, with no consensus reached on whether public shame was a necessary or useful development.

Viewing both of these occasions as a parent, it is not too much to say that I took it harder than my children, who are yet bright with optimism about the future and human potential. It was with trepidation that I talked to them both. They were shocked but, to my surprise, by no means unmoored. Pondering what might be the reason for this strange thing, it occurred to me that, though they can’t empathize with a person suffering public shame in the same way that a middle-aged person such as I might be able to (the young know nothing of suffering), yet my children have been given a good and useful gift. Being raised in a place that is best likened to a hospital for wicked people, they know in a heart kind of way that people are, in fact, wicked. They themselves are wicked—I can say without reservation for they are my children—but they are by no means unique. So is everyone else. All of us have together fallen short of the glory of God.

No parent ever makes this particular request, but when my children were very young, on more than one occasion, they were given the strange and difficult gift of seeing up close how wicked people can be. My desire to shield them from seeing human iniquity was not granted to me by God. At the time, I was most put out that the sins of the church came before their young eyes, and filled their delicate ears which, as a dear friend said about her child, “are always on.”

And yet, in consequence of early visions of human treachery, they (my two oldest children) are now able to see that God does not lose control of his church, however badly people behave themselves. Those early lessons properly oriented their expectations not only for their peers but for people who have authority over them, people to whom they owe honor. And so, in these two instances of people they know disappointing literally everyone, it seems they have been able to hang on with gratitude to the ways these two failures nevertheless treated them with love and humanity.

And yet, it should be—indeed must be said—both of these people were failures. For the community to see and acknowledge the failure means the certain shame and humiliation of the offender. And so I am brought once again to consider the place of shame in our social and cultural malaise. Brené Brown, the person whose writing kicked off my curiosity for the subject, posits that shame has no place in a good society. Men, for example, who have abused their wives should suffer no public shame, as some law in Texas apparently decrees. Why? Because, says Brown, a shamed person will not go home having learned a valuable lesson.

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