Just when I start to think I can’t be shocked anymore, I find myself stunned to a whole new level. You may think what I’m about to say is unduly harsh or uncharitable, and damaging to poor weary souls who are trying to find their way, but I truly hope not. I hope you are outraged. That would be encouraging. But if you think I’m being harsh, I really don’t care.
You see, our culture is on fire, and it ain’t the holy kind. Our culture has gone three kinds of backwards and sideways and alarm bells need to be sounded loudly.
We can reach a lot of people with a tender touch, and mercy should always rule. But I’d like to make a case that once in a while, some folks just need to have their heads smacked. Okay, a lot of folks.
Like the parents and school administrators of Rosemount High School in Minneapolis, who recently had a group demonstration of incest at a school pep rally and thought it was really funny. Yep, these people blindfolded the captains of their sports teams, had them brought into the gymnasium in front of the whole school where they were greeted by a surprise kiss from a special someone — who turned out to be their own opposite-sex parent. (They were supposed to try to figure out who was kissing them.) Fathers were french-kissing their daughters. Mothers were making out with their sons. In front of a cheering crowd. And the school thought this was great fun. (There’s even a video of the whole disgusting spectacle, if you can stomach it. I couldn’t.)
There’s no polite or kind way to confront this kind of staggering turpitude. There’s only one way to ask the question and it’s like this: What the hell is wrong with these people?!
I just can’t process what goes on in the mind of a principal who plans this whole humiliating and perverse exercise and thinks it’s okay. I definitely can’t begin to comprehend what kind of parent would agree to do this to their son or daughter. How embarrassing, disgusting, and abusive!
Yet this is what our culture is churning out these days. You can’t pray at graduation anymore, but you can play tonsil-hockey with your parents at a pep rally and it’s all good. You can’t say Merry Christmas or sing “Silent Night”, but your mother can make out with you on the gym floor in front of hundreds of screaming teenagers and teachers and everyone just laughs.
You can’t oppose same-sex “marriage”, and now it looks like you can’t even object to incest. YUCK! Where is the natural, instinctual sense of revulsion at this kind of garbage? Do people truly not have any innate sense of right and wrong anymore? Why is nothing unthinkable anymore?
You know what I think we need a big, healthy dose of? Shame! Yes — bring back shame! Bring back a healthy, appropriate, moral sense of shame.
Those parents should be ashamed of themselves for what they did to their teenagers. If Daddy had done that at home with his 16 year-old daughter he’d be in jail, and rightly so. That principal should be ashamed of himself. Moreover, he should be immediately fired and criminally charged. The other students, parents and teachers present at that pep rally should be ashamed of themselves if they were cheering and applauding the violation of their friends’ dignity.
We need to start being ashamed of our bad behavior again. We need to stop coddling ourselves and our kids in a bubble of fragile self-esteem and feel mortified when we screw up royally or behave like uncivilized animals.
We’ve had so many years of Jerry Springer and voyeuristic reality television that glorifies people behaving as crass and odious as possible that the instinct to shun such people and condemn their terrible actions has been stifled to the point of extinction in us.
Appropriate shame serves a healthy purpose. It corrects our course when we’ve gone off the moral path. It sends a clear signal to our hearts that we have done something beneath our own dignity or the dignity of others. It speaks to the deepest part of our souls that we have offended the All-Good God who created us.
This is where real repentance begins. The Christian concept of shame is good because it knows that an appropriate and useful shame is the beginning of a new beginning.
Hear me clearly now: I said an appropriate shame. And I know full well that shame is one of Satan’s favorite tools with which to bludgeon us into despair and a sense of worthlessness. But that is not appropriate shame.
To start with shame over our bad behavior is one thing; to stay there forever is quite another. Those who believe the Church is a strict, disapproving mother wagging her finger in rebuke and condemnation have failed to see the manger or the Cross. They are stuck in useless shame, which only comes from the enemy of our souls.
The point is not that we’ve done nothing to be ashamed of, but that Christ has borne our humiliation and our sin so that we can step out of shame into mercy, freedom, and new life.
A healthy shame is meant to be a springboard into redemption. When our hearts are heavy with regret for what we’ve done, it is a sure indicator that we have made that much more room for holiness and love. It is proof that our undignified actions have not got us trapped. We have recognized what we did wrong, which means we can still discern what is right.
However, Lucifer is a first-rate liar and twister of the truth, so he can crush us with useless, hopeless shame with one hand, and deaden our minds and hearts to any sense of appropriate shame with the other hand. He wants us to either be paralyzed in a false worthlessness or rotting in a false immunity.
Jesus never once said that our sin wasn’t shameful. He never made excuses for us or poo-pooed our incivility. He certainly never applauded or celebrated our iniquity. He simply came and dealt with it once and for all. And then He said, “I love you. I forgive you. Now stop it, and follow Me.”
The astonishing part is that He keeps saying that over and over, day in and day out, with endless patience and love. “I love you. I forgive you. Now stop it, and follow Me.”
We spit on His mercy if we start thinking we don’t need to be ashamed of our sin anymore. It should break our hearts with sorrow to admit the terrible things we’ve done. Broken hearts do not easily become hardened with pride. A heart still aching from wrongs committed will take greater care not to sin again.
We also spit on His mercy if we wallow in useless shame. Our sin is not greater than His mercy. Our dung is not more potent than His blood. I repeat: healthy shame is the beginning of a new beginning.
That is how shame serves us well. That is how we keep shame in its place, and live freely in His mercy and abiding love for us.
But that is what we have lost as a culture. We now revel in our vulgarity and cheer for those who debase themselves. We reward people for their abhorrent behavior. We laugh when parents violate the dignity of their own children. Most people today are even afraid to use the kind of “harsh” language I’ve just used here: abhorrent, vulgar, crass, disgusting, and yes, shameful. (gasp – how judgmental!) It’s no surprise we’ve lost our sense of shame when we can’t even bring ourselves to call things what they are.
Something is very, very wrong with us. It’s time to get alarmed. Before we can avail ourselves of the unfathomable, inexhaustible mercy of God, we first need to have our heads smacked.