Something happened on Thursday night, October 27, 2016. The #SlateSpeak community showed up - much like they always do - glad to be in community and ready to dive into another great conversation. As I prepared for my role as facilitator of the conversation, it became very clear to me that the hour long twitter chat would be an exercise in creating a virtual safe space. The topic of the night was shame, something we rarely talk about yet something most people experience at some point in their life. I realize that the goal was not just to get people talking; it was to nurture an atmosphere that invited people to lay down their burdens and experience relief from the all encompassing, suffocating, life-taking culture of shame that pervades our lives.
We explored the following questions during our hour long chat:
The responses blew me away. People shared deeply personal experiences and the conversation moved at a rapid pace. It was hard keeping up with everything that was shared. I felt like that floodgates had been opened and experiences of pain, heartbreak and trauma came pouring out. We could have just shared stories throughout the night and it would have only touched the tip of the iceberg.
Shame has been something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Thanks to Dr. Brené Brown, a shame researcher out of the University of Houston, conversations about the impact of shame are taking place in public spheres. She has not only written about her research, but has also presented on the topic on various platforms. I believe that Dr. Brown is changing our culture in that she’s naming a problem, explaining why it’s devastating, letting people know that they are not alone and providing a solution. While I’m glad that this work is being done, it hurts my heart that communities of faith still seem to be off limits. They seem to be places this topic is not explored in ways that holistic healing and transformation. I wonder if its because there is a correlation between many people’s shame and issues around sex, sexuality, and sexual abuse - all things that are taboo within many faith traditions. What ends up happening is that many of us lead divided lives, which continues the cycle of secrecy and shame. Instead of our faith traditions providing healing, they become another place where we wear masks that keep us bound by fear and keep us away from liberation.
So what’s the solution? Well, I believe that shame loses its power when it is moved out of the darkness. The author Glennon Doyle Melton often talks about the power we give shame and other life-taking ways of being. When we shine a light on the dark places in our lives, they lose their power. Faith communities have a responsibility to be bearers of Good News; of all that is life giving and eradicates anything that would seek to thwart God’s promise of abundant life. This means that we have to deconstruct our biblical hermeneutics and theological positioning if it does anything to perpetuate a culture of shame. We have not practice confession and repentance of the ways that we have tried to silence voices and experiences that speak of things that bring discomfort. We have to create traditions of lamentation that welcome people in to share of their deepest pain and struggle. We also have to model vulnerability so that we create open doors for people to lean into their own vulnerability, which can open hearts, minds and spirits up to the possibility of holistic healing.
I believe that a major role of leaders today is to speak up and out against anything that is life taking and death dealing. I believe that shame is one of those things and if we want people to live full lives and experience liberation, we have to be willing to take the first step to cast out the evil that is shame.
Rozella Haydée White is the Houston City Director for Mission Year and the founder and principal consultant of RHW Consulting. Rozella’s primary goal in life is to accompany people as they figure out how to live a meaningful life by embracing the fullness of who they are. She is desperately seeking justice, mercy, humility and love. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.