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Letting Go of Shame

She didn’t believe me when I said the US is a shame-based culture when it comes to our sexual bodies. I was surprised at her immediate pushback until I noted her ultra-thin body and chiseled biceps, the stilettos and cleavage she was showing. Then I wondered if my statement was perhaps hitting too close to home? For, yes, particularly for women sexual shame permeates our lives so much so that it is second hand and, like the air we breathe, is not even noticed.

We are ashamed we are not thin enough or pretty enough and of course, when one adds in the racism and classism, we are ashamed we are not the “right” color or have the “right” amount of money. And, of course, this is not limited to just females.

Shame is believing something is inherently wrong with us,  the overwhelming feeling that, “I am bad.” This is different from guilt which is believing “I did something bad.” With guilt one can always apologize but how does one apologize for body type,  sexual feelings and our needs and desires -- for our very nature? Carrying shame about our bodies is actually saying, “I am bad. I am bad. I am bad.” But there is no correlation between feeling shame and positive outcomes. Neither is shame ever a motivator for it can never make us a more compassionate people who turn outward toward others. Rather, shame keeps us focused inward ultimately toward self-destructive behaviors and more shame.

At its core shame is the fear of disconnection according to researcher Brene Brown. It is the fear that says because we have not lived up to some standard or accomplished some goal we are unworthy of connection. Thus, sexual shame is particularly pernicious for, at our core, we are sexual and sensual people  longing for deep intimate and ecstatic connection with people (just to be clear, this does not have to include sex). So, because this is the essence of being human this fear of being unworthy of connection separates us from our own goodness --in these bodies -- and we easily turn to self-loathing.

But shame has no place in the life of faith and a sex-positive church will not habitually harangue about specific sexual acts that humans engage in -- especially when those behaviors are respectful, with consensual adults, and no one is being hurt. Instead, the Apostle Paul teaches that our bodies are the temple of God and, at least in my book, this makes them beautiful. Since the Bible is clear that what matters is what is on our hearts this will always trump obedience to rules of a society about the body or sexual behavior.

So here is the real Christian message:

Our sexual bodies are good – beautiful in fact. Our sexual feelings -- all of them -- remind us it is good to be alive. And our sexual actions – whatever we choose to do – are to be guided by compassion -- for ourselves and others. And shame? To hold onto that sense of unworthiness violates and contradicts the core teaching of Genesis 1 that the Creator declared that creation is “very good.” So, who are we to contradict that? Wear the stilettos or show the cleavage or work those muscles and show them proudly -- or no -- if it makes you feel more beautiful but don't do it out of a sense of deficiency or as an over-compensation for shame. Shame has no place in our lives.  Enuf said!

Eddy, 02-16-14 10:00am:
I'm amazed how God works sometimes where you could be thinking of something and then days or weeks later someone shares exactly what your thoughts are regarding a particular subject.

This piece about shame fits my life alot where having to deal with it kept me from moving forward into other areas of interest because "God, what would happen if they found out who I had sex with".
Now I'm dealing with shame and putting it in a place where it belongs--out of my life. I'm a sexual being and why be ashamed of this beautiful thing God has given us? Thanks for this entry Rev.

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