The beliefs I grew up with go back to Eve in the garden eating that freaking apple and therefore damning all of eternity to things like pain in childbirth. They say an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in my world apples are nothing but a prescription for a one way ticket out of paradise, so no thank you very much. I always picture the apple that Eve picked as one of those very dark red shiny ones. You know, the same as the kind as the one that Snow White ate, that really forked her up as well. If history is supposed to teach us not to repeat our mistakes, it’s clearly not working. With people like that in our lineage, we were screwed as women from the get go.
I came from a place of equal parts grace and shame. Where Jesus died to forgive and save you from all your sins. And also, your job was to live a life like Him, which was also impossible, because sin. Quite a conundrum. Nevertheless, you would try to be like Jesus and fail to be like Jesus the rest of your days and thus the shame piece, because well, sin is so bad, isn’t it?
It might sound like things were all bad. I mean, the shame was bad, but the people, they were another thing entirely. I have never met more sweet, caring individuals, aside from a few rotten apples (see how that apple keeps coming up?) I wouldn’t say these particular bad seeds had the devil in them, but he was definitely operating in close proximity.
My people believed in love and potlucks, and boy, were there potlucks. Every dish you could imagine, covered in flies, mind you. But we took over Rose Ann Vuich Park with our casseroles and KFC and wicker paper plate holders. I grew up dirt poor, but somehow my family still had those wicker plate holders like our life depended on it. My mom was thrifty, though, she took advantage of all the little stamps you could collect at Alpha Beta, or IGA or whatever, and eventually came home with a complete set of free dishes.
The best part of Rose Ann Vuich Park was the playground. They had an honest to god stagecoach. You could ride inside like a lady, or climb up on the top and be the driver. There were even those metal horses up front that rocked back and forth wildly. After stuffing your face with potato salad and potato casserole and potato chips, us children would try to be the first to the playground so we could take over the stagecoach.
Love and food and community, what could go wrong. But life wasn’t all rainbows and potlucks. No, there was that shame piece. That feeling that you could never add up, never be enough. I was constantly ashamed. Ashamed that I didn’t read my bible enough, that I thought door to door evangelizing was embarrassing, that my mind wandered during prayers. I was ashamed of my body. Ashamed that I liked to flirt. Ashamed if I dressed in a way that would cause a boy to have impure thoughts. I was ashamed if I thought that girl’s bodies were beautiful. Ashamed if I wanted to have sex. Ashamed for watching R rated movies, ashamed for having dreams about other men when I was married.
One of the definitions I just came across for shame was “A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” Do you hear that? Humiliation. Distress. This is not “I’ve done something and I feel bad about it”. No, this is humiliation, “I’ve done something and now I am bad.” Big difference. I don’t believe there’s any place for shame in the church. Shame makes you want to hide. Shame makes you feel like a failure. Like there is no fixing what you’ve done. Shame is a negative message about who you are as a person. It’s a message about whether or not you add up. To me, it was about if I deserved to be loved or accepted. If I was enough.
I’ve walked away from the beliefs I held as a child. They don’t serve me anymore. But I still like to think that there was once a man named Jesus who hung out with the “untouchables” of his time, and taught a message of love, kindness, acceptance and inclusion. A man who taught you how to be free from shame. That’s the kind of person I want to be.