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Category: In the News

Shame

02

I’m embarrassed about a lot of the things I did in high school. And no, I’m not talking about the time I convinced my 4-year-old brother to climb into the clothes dryer. Or the time I turned on said clothes dryer. Or the hundreds of times I repeated the story – of how I’d convinced him, of my mother’s screams, of the thrill – over the following year.

In public.

With volume.

Granted, that incident – and quite a few like it – is one that probably should cause shame. But even now, as I’m typing, I’m also smiling. At the memory. Of how stupid I was. And I’m thinking about who hasn’t already heard that story because I’d kind of like to tell it again.

That’s part of the problem. People hear stories of the things I did –

an under-the-radar, pay-day loan service I ran during the lunch hour;
a series of letters to the Oregonian, urging editors to fire a certain columnist I didn’t like;
a faked disorder in which I semi-secretly and pseudo-obsessively consumed paper products for attention (for two years)

– and conclude that there couldn’t possibly be more.

But there is. Few people know, for instance, that I once took part in a public protest.

I was on the news.

I was standing on a street in Portland.

I was holding a sign: Abortion Kills Children.

My friends at church (assuming they read my blog) are probably starting to wonder where I’m headed with this. My other friends are probably wondering how they didn’t know I was THAT kind of Christian. Some of you just want me to get on with it already.

So there I was. At my first public protest. And I was being POLITICAL. I was making a STATEMENT. I was standing up for the TRUTH. And something funny happened.

This car came around the corner. It was moving slow. A woman leaned out the window, and as the car passed, she looked at me and asked, “Why don’t you just keep your penis in your pants?”

For some reason, I thought that maybe my fly was down. I put down the sign and checked. Nope. All good. When I looked up, the car was gone. And it dawned on me why she didn’t stick around for my reply. It was already on my sign.

I hadn’t taken any communications theory at that point. And I wasn’t skilled in cultural exchange analysis. But I knew that sign had a message. And as messages tend to be, it was aimed at someone.

Abortion Kills Children.

Sometimes my brain doesn’t work as fast as I’d like, but I realized, looking up, reading the sign, standing on that street in Portland on a Sunday afternoon, that my sign was aimed at women. What women were most likely to physically feel the sign’s message? Women who’d had an abortion. Women stuck between one bad choice and another. Women who were doing the best they knew how in a world that didn’t love them. And certainly didn’t understand.

I was holding up a sign that was intended to shame people.

Poor people.

Powerless people.

The abused.

The assaulted.

The already-ashamed.

For more than half my life now, I haven’t really thought about that time in Portland. Didn’t want to. Didn’t need to. Even now, writing about the incident, I feel a mixture of shame (I was once one of THEM) and relief (but I’ve CHANGED). The shame is real. But the relief is not. Because I’m still one of THEM. And even though I don’t take part in that kind of protest, I also fail to protest the protest (if you know what I mean). This little blog post is my relatively weak attempt to change that. By telling the moral that I learned that day:

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people. Even people who could have killed their brothers by sticking them in clothes dryers.

I want to love people, too.

There is no such thing as an issue. There are only people. Jesus loved people.

To Be Human

08

I read an essay not so long ago, written by a woman who received a Facebook friend request from a man who 13 years earlier had raped her. Although she never accepted the request, she did call him. Opened her woundedness. Asked him to talk about what he did and why. She writes that this “hour-long phone conversation with the man who raped me . . . was more helpful than 1,000 hours of therapy.”

It was a compelling piece of writing, and the author handled her subject both honestly and carefully. It was refreshing because – frankly – we live in a culture that can’t talk about sex. Not without a sneer, a snide comment, a joke, or some kind of sotto voce complicity (as though the discussion itself is suspect).

That’s what I find so refreshing in the Bible’s Song of Solomon. There is no shame. Instead, there is honesty, vulnerability, passion – even the passion that will continue to pursue in spite of cultural boundaries (implied by the beating received at the hands of those “sentinels of the walls” who “took away my mantle”).

And that’s what I find so frustrating in some of the early church fathers, such as Origen, who seems convinced of the evil of “fleshly desires.” He writes that only those “free of the vexations of flesh and blood . . . withdrawn from the desire for corporeal nature” may read this Old Testament book. And that’s what I find so frustrating in Bernard of Clairvaux’s insistence, likewise, that perceiving the message of the Song with “any shadow of corporeal substances” is nothing more than an “evil suggestion[s] . . . forced upon us by the bad angels.”

If Jesus was fully human, then we should be free to be the same, opening our woundedness and our longings, discussing with honesty and passion what it is to want.

If Jesus was fully human, then we should be free to be the same

The Other

01

A friend — during a recent visit to South Africa — had a discussion about Apartheid with a man born in 1977. This man had lived in both the old and new South Africa and had reason — my friend believed — to have a unique insight from the inside. But this man was puzzled by her interest. He admitted that he hadn’t really noticed Apartheid until it was officially repealed. Life had seemed normal to him. The separation and subjugation of indigenous peoples had been completely invisible.

I wonder how much of our own treatment (and mistreatment) of others is similarly invisible. I wonder how our progressive but infrequent stands “for the other and marginalized” look to those who are genuinely “other and marginalized.” And I wonder if it’s possible for those of us on the inside to work for change.

he hadn’t really noticed

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