Shame, Blame, and What Should Have Been

luma-pimentel-1vnB2l7j3bY-unsplash
Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Early Days

My parents married when I was already on the way. This was supposed to be information we never figured out, I guess. Both had come out of unsuccessful first marriages. Dad had four kids; mom had two. Both had full custody. You could have called us the Brady Bunch, but that would not have been an appropriate comparison for how we made it work, which, apparently, wasn’t that well.

I thought we did. I was the youngest of seven—what did I know except that our happy world centered on me, the baby? I had no idea until later it wasn’t so happy for the others.

I was the product of the marriage that should have been, I think. The only child of the one that worked. Neither ever spoke of their first marriages. I suspect my parents wanted to forget, to forge ahead into the family that “should have been” had their “mistakes” never happened. But that’s impossible when the evidence of those relationships surrounded us daily in the form of six siblings whom I considered absolute sisters and brothers but time has proved not so much.

That focus on what should or could have been cost us all dearly.

This Sounds Familiar

foto-pettine-IfjHaIoAoqE-unsplash
Photo by Foto Pettine on Unsplash

This is where we are in the Bible story. Rebekah and Isaac married and had two children who struggled, literally: Jacob and Essau. Their issues were nothing compared to the drama of Jacob’s not-so-blended family hot mess.

if you’re not familiar with the story, read it here.

TL;DR: Jacob wanted to marry Rachel. Through some extreme (fairly deserved) trickery, he got Leah instead. He eventually got both, and after ten sons he finally had a son by Rachel—Joseph. Instead of making everything all better, though, this turn of events made it all worse.

Joseph represented to Jacob all that should have been. He was the son who should have been first. The son from the marriage that should have been the only marriage. Joseph should have had the firstborn fatherly blessing if life had played fair with Jacob (a pot calling the kettle black scenario if ever there was one).

So foolishly, Jacob makes happen what his dreams and regrets believe should have happened. Even though the evidence of his other relationships in the form of ten children surrounded him. Joseph, as the youngest before Ben came along, probably looked at his ten big brothers and thought they hung the moon and stars. He probably considered them his best friends, adored and wanted to be just like them.

I know how this story goes.

ben-rosett-RBouLnm0L0Q-unsplash
Photo by Ben Rosett on Unsplash

Share the Love

His sibs were not on board with all that. Jacob so absorbed himself in his alternate universe where all the should’ve would’ve could’ve’s in his head had finally come true, that he neglected to consider how it might affect the other ten real people. He played them like extras in the chorus and expected somehow that they would love the star of the show as much as he did.

The fact that they sold Joseph into slavery instead must have come as something of a shock to dad much later when that little tidbit came to light.

It’s a big mistake to live in dreams rather than reality.

It’s the breeding place for resentment, blame, and shame. Three solid curses that come straight out of the Fall.

Shame.

You know those brothers first convinced themselves that had they been better sons, Dad would have loved them more. They didn’t understand the dynamics of his life before them anymore than I did my parents. Assuming they were to blame for his lack of attention makes sense. Most kids do that. The deep shame they must have felt for being “inadequate” sons fueled the smoldering fire of anger at little brother more than anything else, I’m sure.

marcos-paulo-prado-YMQiKI2L1z0-unsplash

We see it as a story of jealousy. I believe shame came first.

Do We Do This?

For a long time, I’ve condemned myself for not being further along in my career. Why aren’t I where I want to be/should be? Why didn’t I work harder? Why didn’t I put in more time/effort/networking etc to be living a different professional life?

I’ve finally looked those lies straight on and realized the terrible attacks they are.

There are a number of reasons for where my career is, and lack of a will to work is not one of them. It’s easy to look at all the should have beens and blame yourself for them. Rarely do we look at all the other factors we had no choice in. Focusing on the fantasy world of where I should be shames me into not being what I could be now.

The brothers focused on what they should have been to be loved, but the lie was in the one who didn’t love, not in the ones waiting for it. They were never deficient. They had no choice. The fantasy world lie shamed them and kept both brothers and father from being the parent and siblings they could have been in the now.

If I had chosen a different career . . .

If I had gotten better grades . . .

If the pandemic hadn’t hit when it did . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on me.

Blame and Resentment.

So the brothers shift their anger at themselves to another target. Little Bro. Little Joe. It’s all his fault. He’s daddy’s favorite. He’s full of himself. The truth they’re not admitting that makes them so resentful though is this—He’s got what they want. All of daddy’s love.

It’s not Joseph’s fault, and they know it. He makes a good scapegoat though, and blame and resentment don’t care about collateral damage. They only want someone to hurt the way they’re hurting.

jaime-spaniol--L0N74GWsq8-unsplash
Photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash

Yes, We Do This

As a teen and young adult, I was very good at resentment. I disliked everyone who had what I wanted, and I wanted a whole list of things, primarily acceptance. Acceptance looks like so many things that we don’t think we have, from good hair to a good job.

I’m still good at it if I let it happen.

If I had married someone else . . .

If my parents had done a better job . . .

If my boss saw how valuable I am . . .

All of these are birthed in the same lie.

I should be at a place in life that I’m not. Shame on them.

Good Shame Versus bad Shame

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t fight for good, valuable things that should be. Never stop making God’s good kingdom a reality on earth as it is in heaven! It also isn’t to say, “Hey, if you had lousy circumstances just accept it and move on.” God’s people are called to right wrongs and bring justice forward. Especially in this time, do not confuse unhelpful blame and shame with helpful calling out of societal shame and brokenness. Living in a communal world of “what ought to be” is a very good thing.

What I am saying is this. Living in a personal world of should’ve would’ve could’ve’s destroys the life we have right now. It ruins relationships. It paralyzes us in the present. It blinds us to opportunities in our abundant present life.

It does no favors for the future, either.

Lies of a fantasy world we could be in but aren’t help no one in living the life we are in. If only’s only convince us a better option would be easier than working to hold on to the one we have. Let Jacob be a warning echo. Fighting for and appreciating the good in what is brings far more joy than imagining, pretending, or resenting what isn’t.

Jesus the Feminist

DP809195

Last week, we looked at the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus refuses to condemn her, escaping the trap the teachers of the law have set for him, and her, once again.

The fact that she is freed, not only from death but from her life of shame, is the first amazing part of this story. But it’s not the only amazing part.

As modern people far removed from first century Palestine, we can’t really recognize the revolutionary things Jesus did. We don’t know that culture, and we often don’t see his actions as they would have. We usually are left to take the obvious moral and assume Jesus meek and mild except for that tossing temple tables aberration.

But Jesus was not about the status quo then, and he isn’t now either. Jesus doesn’t play, and he was never meek and mild in the face of evil. One of biggest areas he refuses to play is in the just  treatment of women. Make no mistake–that’s what’s going on in this story. We have to get into the minds of the audience to see it.

Jesus doesn’t play

He isn’t solely about setting her free here, although he certainly is about that. He’s about much, much more. He’s about the way we treat women, still, oh so horribly, sadly, still treat women, two thousand years later.

He wasn’t having it then, and he’s not having it now.

Look at some details.

She is surrounded by a circle of men willing to sacrifice her for what they want. Isn’t that relevant?

It doesn’t matter who she is or what she’s done for their purposes — but yet it does. They’ve waited for this woman  and this sin.

ep1972.145.5.bw.R

Think about it—there are sinners all over the place. All they had to do was find some disobedient teenager and haul him in front of Jesus. It could not be too difficult to find. Being disrespectful to your dad would warrant the same sentence, according to the law, and they could have probably found that on any block. Why not do that, rather than create a convoluted, contrived, completely confusing drama with this woman and adultery?

Why?

Because women and sexual sins were easy targets, just like they are now. It was easy to blame them then, and it still is. It was, and is, simpler to stand aside, pretend that since we don’t sin like that we can feel like the better person.

She’s got a big red “X” on her chest, and not much has changed for the pharisees of the world.

Last week I said that sometimes, we’re the woman in this story. Sadly,

Sometimes, we’re the pharisees.

“It is terribly important that the ‘accused’ in the story is a woman. In the first century, Judaism had stereotyped women as instigators whenever sexual sins were committed and labeled them as lacking the spiritual and moral fiber needed to uphold the law. The sexual passions of adolescence, for instance, were viewed as coming from the seductive attractions of females. The absence of the woman’s lover in the story is crucial. (Gary Burge, The NIV Application Commentary)

In other words, what was she wearing? What did she have to drink? Where was she walking? When? How did she lead him on?

You know the drill.

DP248893

Jesus saw no man present at the kangaroo court. He did see a whole mess of men throwing blame at a woman. He saw a story that had been and has been since played out a thousand times. He saw a woman, a co-image of God, used as an object of someone’s passion and then blamed for the outcome. The man got a pass.

Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t relevant. 

For every #MeToo story out there, Jesus knows. He saw it. He refused to let it go by.

This isn’t the only time he made it clear that blaming the woman was not OK.

I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. (Matthew 5.28-29)

He contradicts every evangelical modesty lesson ever right here. Nope, guys. It’s not her. It’s you. Take responsibility for your own stuff. Stop blaming the women. It’s. On. You.

Eye gouging is serious language.

It’s radical. Revolutionary. Jesus was so insanely pro-woman, but his followers are still having the same issues the pharisees did. Times do not change. There should never have had to be a #MeToo if the church was really following Jesus.

Sometimes we’re the woman. Sometimes we’re the pharisees. And,

Sometimes we’re the audience.

It’s a gambit that has not changed. Vulnerable women are used by the powerful for their purposes. We see the news stories every day, and we don’t even register a reaction anymore to the Harvey Weinsteins, Larry Nassars, or Andy Savages.

The crowd watched the woman dragged half-naked before them, and they knew this was wrong. Yet no one stepped forward to say so. No one. They were too afraid of the powerful religious establishment.

It’s too tempting, and too dangerous, to watch #MeToo and #ChurchToo move across our vision, be outraged for a moment, and then move on.

Jesus confronts the whole mess. He sees a woman de-imaged before him by the religious leaders. When he forgives her and gives her back her dignity, he sends a powerful message to his audience.

See these women. Hear them. Don’t turn away.

DP824010

If we’re the audience, we have some things to ask ourselves before we move on from Jesus’ question—Does no one condemn you?

  • Do we listen to women’s stories?
  • Do we disallow the tired stereotype of women as emotional creatures, or temptresses who make up stories to trap men?
  • Do we let judges know that slaps on the wrist for assault on women are not acceptable?
  • Do we raise girls who will respect themselves?
  • Do we refuse to shame them or burden them with the sins of men and boys?
  • Do we teach our boys that we are all responsible for our own sin?

Sometimes we’ re the crowd, too afraid to speak up. Afraid to contradict the religious leaders of our day as well.

I love Jesus even more after this story. He’s not having it. Not then, not now. He won’t stand for people using women or for meting out unequal justice between the genders.

It’s radical. It’s beautiful. And we need to see it for exactly what it was and is.

Where Are Your Accusers?

28577346_10155612894023318_5959143521799768759_n

Rerunning some of my favorites this August:

 

I grew up on cop and courtroom shows. I loved the drama of catching the bad guy or seeing a lawyer convince the jury, in commanding tones of injured justice, that the defendant was innocent. I planned to become a lawyer up until my last two years of college.

Having worked in a law office and served on a jury, I’m now aware that television doesn’t portray a courtroom exactly . . . accurately. There’s a lot less drama and a lot more drudgery. We don’t show justice quite as it happens. (But if you want to see a humorous video of all our favorite dramatizations, click here.)

This is nothing new. Courtroom scenes have always been played in different ways, sometimes in ways far from just.

Today’s story — and the question God asks—isn’t just a story about one person, or one trial. And it is so relevant to today’s world.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. (John 8.1-6)

 

So here’s the setting. A crowd. Jesus teaching. And what happens? This group of men interrupt the teaching (rude) to deposit a woman, most likely with little clothing, in the middle of the crowd. It’s wrong on so many levels.

IMG_3448 (2)

Most Embarrassing Moment

Have you ever been embarrassed in front of a group? I remember one particular 10th grade spelling bee. At some point, I looked across the room at my crush. And he was looking at me. I looked back. I flirted a little. I smiled, made eyes, and was generally overjoyed that he was looking right at me.

Until I realized that everyone was looking right at me. Because it was my turn. And the entire classroom had seen my awkward tenth-grade attempts at flirting.

I have no idea if I spelled the word correctly.

This woman is completely vulnerable, at risk, and humiliated. They’ve made sure of it.

The wording says they “put” her in front of the crowds. Like she is a stray fork or a plate of bad cafeteria food they can toss wherever they like. She is, in fact, their tool for entrapping Jesus. Little more.

She has no agency at all in this matter.

In a trial that should have been private and should, by law, have involved the guilty man as well, the men decide to make her shame public instead, because she fits their agenda.

Does this all sound vaguely familiar?

It’s the way women have always been treated. And Jesus isn’t having it.

Keeping the Law?

For men so intent on keeping the law, they break several.

1 —They could and should have brought her privately if they wanted a court judgement. They brought her in public, to shame her and challenge Jesus.  They wanted a dramatic lynching, and they wanted him holding the noose. It’s not about justice, and it’s not about her. She’s collateral damage.

2—They could and should have brought both guilty parties. Except a man would have demanded his rights. He would not have been as vulnerable. She had no rights. She was an easy target. People who want power choose easy, vulnerable, targets with no ability to make their own case.

3—They could and should have brought the required two witnesses forward immediately. Except, well, for two people to actually witness adultery? They had to see it at the same time and place and have the same story. In other words, they had to have set her up. No one accidentally witnesses adultery, certainly not two people. Yet these witnesses don’t materialize.

4—They could and should have tried to stop the sinner out of compassion. That was the law. Obviously, no one did. They watched and waited.

That’s just a start at the injustice of it all.

IMG_3449 (6)

Grace or Law?

It was a test of grace or law. Would Jesus lean too far toward grace—let her go— and break the law? Or would he lean too far toward law —agree to stone her—and invalidate all he’d taught?

Either way, the leaders are back in power. That’s the point.

They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. (John 8.7-9)

They kept demanding an answer. They are impatient, wanting condemnation on their terms, their timeline.

Jesus Replies

Jesus gives his answer. Fine. Toss a stone. Throw it. Hard.

But only according to the law that you so carefully keep—the two witnesses have to go first. The crowd would know that was the law. The accusers would, too.

He demands that her accusers be the first to begin taking a life. If your testimony is absolutely truthful, he hints, this should not be hard. If you haven’t misrepresented anything, exaggerated, told one white lie—you’re good. Go ahead. Throw a rock.

And no one does.

Jesus is keeping law for them, but enacting mercy for her all at once.

Never cross Jesus when death is on the line.

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”  (John 8.10-11)

Didn’t even one of them condemn you?

The truth here, in Jesus’ beautiful question?

No one has power to call you guilty except the Lord of grace and truth.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 8.1-2)

Sometimes we are this woman.

DP263905

In this life, People will shame you, hurt you when you’re vulnerable, treat you like an object to use, humiliate you, judge and condemn you. I know they have.

But they don’t have the power to make that call. Don’t let them have that power.

Has no one condemned you? No, Lord.

In calling Jesus Lord, she is transferring power. She is admitting him as her master. And she is transformed. Her accusers no longer have power over her. They can’t bring her shame, judgment, or hurt. Only he can. But he doesn’t.

Look into face of your Lord. Hear his words. “Neither do I condemn you.” Let them cover you with grace and truth.

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8.33-34)

No one has power to call you guilty except the Lord of grace and truth.

There is more to this story. We’ll get into it next week. For today, though, remember, shame has no place in God’s kingdom. The answer to Jesus question is—no one. No one can condemn us. Only Him. And he doesn’t. Let it transform you in all those deep places of fear, humiliation, and shame.

She is free at the end of the story, in more ways than one. He offers the same thing to all of us.

Men Prefer Women Who Love Jesus (but that’s not our goal, anyway)

The-Transformed-Wife-6

A blog post went viral this week. Not one of mine—I could wish. It was another one. Perhaps you saw it.

Men Prefer Debt Free Virgins without Tattoos.”

“Do you know how much more attractive debt-free virgins (without tattoos) are to young men?”

Well no, I don’t, because you never actually proved that point with any research at all. But I digress . . .

Perhaps it made you angry, or perhaps it made you feel shamed. I know it had me all up in my “smash the patriarchy” righteousness.

The premise of the blogger was simple: If young women want to be married, they should make themselves into the kind of woman Christian men want to marry. Presumably, debt-free virgins. But more importantly, according to The Transformed Wife, a young woman who has rejected an education while she waits for her man to supply her the thoughts, beliefs, and ideas she is supposed to have.

The-Transformed-Wife-1

(“The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.”)

I used the barf emoji. Five times.

Because I know the Bible pretty well, I took issue with her theology.

Because I raised three daughters, I took issue with her philosophy.

Because I know my husband, I laughed uncontrollably at the idea that he was really looking for a woman with no ideas of her own when he accidentally fell in love with me instead.

If you were bewildered, enraged, or hurt by that post, please know that, while I have no objections to debt-free virgins (tattooed or not), being a transformed wife is not your goal. Here’s what I know.

God didn’t create you for the sole purpose of finding a man.

You are complete. You are whole. You are not waiting. Your life is now, not when someone else comes along to fulfill you and tell you what you need to know. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image, and there is nothing incomplete about that.  (Psalm 139.14, Genesis 1.27) )Nowhere in all of scripture does God tell women to wait for a man so that they can fulfill their purpose, except to wait for Jesus himself, who gives us all purpose with no exceptions and no hierarchies.

Whatever you do in this life–marriage, children, or not–do not sit around waiting for a day when you are good enough or complete enough to be used by God. That day is now.

God chooses women.

You are part of a long heritage of women of faith who stood on their own beliefs and their own ideas and used them to act. Esther. Ruth. Mary. Hannah. Deborah. Priscilla. Lydia. Miriam. The Hebrew midwives. Joanna. Abigail. The women at the tomb. The woman at the well. The unnamed hundreds who inhabited that world and never got “credit” this side of eternity but served God anyway with all they possessed. Not one of these women was passive. They were great actors in God’s story, with or without a man, and you are, too.

(I mean seriously, Abigail, you should be ashamed of your lack of submission to your man. Shouldn’t you? I guess God didn’t think so.  Don’t know the story? You really should read it.)

They were all born “for such a time as this,” (Esther 4.14) and so were you. They all defied the ethos of their culture, not because men would not or because they were unique or someone gave them their beliefs and ideals. They did it because God gave them his fire. He’s given it to you, too.

The-Transformed-Wife-4

God created you to uniquely further his kingdom as you, not as your husband’s helper.

God created women because he knew that humans need one another. It wasn’t good for one to be alone. God called woman “strong warriors” and “corresponding partners” in the task of making this world into his kingdom. We were created as equals—see the real translation of Genesis 2.

He put us beside men to do the work as a team, not as solo practitioners. It’s true—we cannot do this kingdom business alone. It’s not true that we can only be sidekicks to the real work. If you’re married, your husband’s calling is amazing—support it. Your calling is amazing, too. Find it. We need every person to use her gifts in the kingdom of God. It’s a travesty and downright blasphemy that so many things that could have been for the kingdom are not, because women have been hindered from changing the world in their way.

The-Transformed-Wife-3

There is no one between you and your Father.

No one. Jesus came and brought freedom and access. The curtain in the temple was torn in two. He did not do that and then tell the women standing around the cross, “Oh, hey, now go find a man who will explain all of this to you. I just broke down the barriers–but not for you. It wasn’t quite good enough for you.”

How insulting to our Savior. His sacrifice was not enough to break all the barriers of access to God and his word? Women still need a man to tell them what the Bible means? Nonsense. (I could use a stronger term, but . . . ) He has gifted you with his holy word to learn, treasure, keep in your heart, and obey. He says this is not too hard for anyone, and surely that includes all the women ever created.

Yes, Paul told women–uneducated, curious women–to ask their husbands what some things meant. To satisfy their craving to learn, not to quench it. To strengthen the bond of marital love and compatible faith, not to create a subservient, childish dependence.

More than that, he has gifted you with his Holy Word–the Word made flesh, to know, love, and obey. No gender requirements. You have access. Know and love your Savior, with all your heart, soul, strength, and glorious mind.

The-Transformed-Wife-2

God didn’t create you to be ashamed of who you are.

(Unless, of course, who you are is really a jerk.)

It doesn’t matter if you’re married or unmarried. College educated or GED. Childless or house filled. Loud or shy. Assertive or conflict avoidant. Old or young. Strong or slow to speak at all. God wants to use the woman he made for his purpose.

He didn’t give you a mind to only have it be filled with other peoples’ thoughts. He didn’t give you a heart to have its passion reined in by someone else’s ideas of where you should spend your time. He didn’t give you a desire for purpose in order to limit it to the sphere someone else tells you is the only one you can inhabit. God gave you dreams, and a big heart, and a curious mind. He likes you that way. Don’t ever let someone else tell you he can’t.

 

God loves you. He loves you so stinkin’ much he died for you. I truly believe that love is lost on people like this blogger. People who don’t experience the great, full love of Christ try to make up their acceptance by creating rules. They believe that if they make enough rules, and get enough people to follow them, they will find that acceptance they’re looking for.

It’s not different than the Romans or the Canaanites who tried so hard to appease their gods that they would do anything, even sacrifice their children, to be accepted.

I refuse to sacrifice my children. Or the young women who already teeter tenuously on the belief that maybe they’re not enough wherever they are. I won’t give up the women He has equipped to march headlong into his kingdom, ready to use themselves up for his cause, because someone told them they can’t on account of their gender.

I won’t make the sacrifice.

The-Transformed-Wife-5

Marriage and children are great gifts–but they are not destinies. And men? You are too wise and good to believe you are so shallow as to be intimidated by a smart woman pursuing her calling. We know better. We know this is insulting to you, too, and you are better people than that. We love you for it.

I pray that today you will find yourself drowning so deeply in the love of God that the only rule you need as a woman is to love him back. Oh, the places you’ll go.