Cal Jernigan – Senior Pastor
Ok, something’s been bothering me lately. Really bothering me. I want to get this off my chest.
Apparently, making others feel overwhelmed with shame for their failures has become all the rage these days. Strange, don’t you think? We Americans, who are casting off all restraints and standards, are now finding a perverse pleasure in making people feel horrible for their moral mess-ups. It seems like we would be the last to be qualified to judge. We apparently don’t think so.
I don’t know if you’ve seen the Monica Lewinsky Ted Talk yet. If you haven’t, I would strongly encourage you to do so. At 41, Monica has come to peace with the drama and trauma of her life at 22. She is now boldly talking about what she has learned in the process of living her life. It’s a bit of an unpleasant journey down memory lane as she reveals the details of her relationship with the President of the US, but in doing so she reveals and reminds us of just how brutal we can be to people who mess up. Her message is simple: Whatever happened to compassion and empathy?
Shame is a lesson that a woman named Justine Succo also learned the hard way. As she was getting on a flight from London to Africa she sent out a tweet to her 170 followers. What she said she meant to be funny and whimsical. She didn’t literally mean what she said. While she was in the air, what she did say went viral. By the time she arrived in Africa, she was shocked to discover the worldwide negative reaction to her tweet. The social media response she received was just as shocking to her. Total strangers were spewing out pure venom upon her. She would tell you this one tweet ruined her life. People have never let her live it down and she can’t get away from what she said. She even lost her job over it.
Shame found the author and rising star Jonah Lehrer when a blogger discovered something he said in one of his books (Imagine) wasn’t actually factual. It had to do with a Bob Dylan quote of all things. When Lehrer tried in a speech to publically apologize and admit his wrongdoing, there was a live twitter feed running on a screen behind him. Let’s just say people weren’t willing to let it go. They simply weren’t in a mood to forgive and forget. Life’s not been the same for Jonah since.
Yet another example is Lindsey Stone. She was goofing around with a friend at Arlington National Cemetery and she had an admittedly disrespectful picture taken in front of a sign asking for “silence and respect.” She posted the picture on her Facebook page. Once she did, the picture vent viral and she has now been dubbed the internet’s most hated woman. She has apologized repeatedly…to no avail. People aren’t interested in forgiving her.
Most of these examples came from a recent book I read, So You’ve Been Publically Shamed, by Jon Ronson. He does a great job demonstrating how social media has changed our culture. We now feel qualified to pile on abuse when someone is shamed (as long as we do it anonymously, of course).
All of this reminds me of a woman who was once brought to Jesus. She had just been caught in the act of adultery and word of this spread quickly (without the use of social media!). There was no shortage of people lining up to heap shame upon her. They were anticipating a good old fashioned stoning to death. What Jesus did, though, was utterly scandalous. He turned the tables, simply insisting that those who had done no wrong, or had nothing to hide, be the first to condemn her. He then wrote something strangely mysterious on the ground. What I believe he wrote was some of their own heretofore unrevealed and unconfessed sins. It didn’t take them long to realize that this was a losers game.
Why do we expect perfection in others but are so at peace with our own shortcomings? We see specks but disregard logs. Maybe, just maybe, we would be better off treating people like we wish they would treat us… but wait, didn’t Jesus say that too?
We are all sinners in need of grace. Give grace away to others as you want God to give grace to you. Shame on you if you don’t!