Idealism and Shame
April 23, 2008, 8:04 am
Filed under: blogging, culture, friends, globalization, India, social action, theology

There have been some quite lively discussions going on in various blogs I track  lately.  Mostly over gender issues in the church.  I have my own set of opinions about the role of women in ministry/church/world, and my own set of opinions about what masculinity and femininity looks like.  Everybody does.  But one of the sentences I’ve heard a few times in the conversations is, “This isn’t an issue of interpretation, this is an issue of justice.”  I agree with that statement, and frankly, I think we’re only beginning to even understand how to frame our conversations and our responses about this . . . but . . .

Unfortunately, that statement isn’t the only one I agree with.  You see, I’ve also been reading some headlines, articles, and blogs on the growing food crisis around the  world.  This, too, is a hugely important issue, and one that is about justice more than farming or economics.  At other times, I’ve seen and participated in conversations about health care for poor children in the U.S. –  yep, you guessed it – it’s a justice issue.  The environmental crisis that a lot of folks were thinking about yesterday (Earth Day)?  Conflicts in the Middle East?  The persecuted monks in Myanmar?  The caste system in India that we are campaigning against?  All justice issues.  You might see where I’m going with this – there are issues of justice (and the lack thereof) everywhere we turn.  And like it or not, none of us has the capacity to learn about, much less care about, much less rally for all the issues of justice that are going on in our world.

We are finite creatures – ’nuff said.  Right?  Well, no, actually, we don’t get off that easy.  Apparently finitude is not an excuse.  Because when most people raise the rally call for whatever issue of justice they’re campaigning for, the tactic we frequently use is shame.  “How can you just sit there, while xyz is happening in the world?”  “How can you be so apathetic to this tragedy?”  Sound familiar?

Shame is effective.  It gets some people off their butts and active in important issues.  It can bring about repentance in areas of willful ignorance.  But shame is also a pretty lousy friend.  It’s a crappy way to live your life.

It can be really overwhelming to read the headlines and want to do something to help in so many different ways.  But can I offer some humble advice?  Give yourself a little bit of a break.  Ease off on the shame game – remember that feeling that shame is a choice.  Let me be very very clear – I’m not saying to quit caring.  Humble advice again?  Pick a small handful of causes that strike a chord in your heart – whether it’s sex-trafficking, AIDS, extreme poverty – and dive in on those.  Study, discuss, spread the word, protest, sacrifice, and above all, pray.  Let your passion for these projects run wild.  And then, the next time someone tries to shame you into activism for their cause, kindly listen, offer a prayer for them and their work, and walk on.  It’s hard.  You’re always going to want to do more.

St. Paul talks about this in what is perhaps his most famous chapter of writing – 1 Corinthians 13, the “love chapter.”  You can work yourself to the bone, give yourself away to others, do all the right things in life, but if love isn’t at the root of it all, it’s worthless.  Love, in some ways, must be limited, though.  There are choices to be made.  You can only love a few things really deeply.  But if it’s love, and not shame that’s driving you, everyone will be better for it.

With all that said, I could be wrong here.  If you disagree, or want to nuance this a bit, please comment away.  I’m open to critique on this.

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