The Right Kind of Shame
Your people say, “The way of the Lord is not just,” when it is their own way that is not just. When the righteous turn from their righteousness, and commit iniquity, they shall die for it. And when the wicked turn from their wickedness, and do what is lawful and right, they shall live by it. – Ezekiel 33:17-18 (NRSV)
It’s human nature to want to distance ourselves as much as possible from blame or shame. Ezekiel calls this out when he says the people have projected their guilt onto God.
We wouldn’t know anything about that. I know I’ve never said, “Things are going so badly and this is all your doing, God. You’re the all-powerful one. Get in here!”
On the other hand, many of us feel a lot of guilt and shame—about the wrong things. We’re ashamed of our bodies, our abilities or lack thereof, of things other people did to us when we were too young or powerless to stop it. We’re ashamed of our natural desires for food or intimacy or companionship, and ashamed of our need for help even when doing hard things.
In the meantime, if we could just feel proper shame for the proper things—the good we have failed to do and the harm we have done, our pride and pettiness and selfishness and temper—we might be able to let shame do its best work, and free us to do better.
We will all die someday. But as Ezekiel reminds us: when we do harmful things, or fail to do good, it robs us of life-force sooner than it might. And turning from temper or transgression will give us a larger and more beautiful life than we’ve ever imagined.
God, mute the shame that doesn’t serve, and turn up the volume on the shame that, acknowledged, will bring me back alive again.
Molly Baskette pastors at First Church Berkeley (CA) UCC. She is the author of several books about church renewal, parenting & faith, and spirituality. You can connect with her by subscribing to her newsletter, Doomsday Dance Party.