Monday, October 22, 2012

Do not be Ashamed to be Yourself

Every Sunday about 2 p.m., I peruse the University of Wisconsin's events calendar in search of a) items I think the students will find interesting - like free pumpkins courtesy of the WUD on Wednesday - and b) open lectures on topics that I would like to learn more about. (1) These opportunities 1) are incredibly interesting and engaging in their own right, 2) keep me mindful of the discipline required of students, 3) introduce me to new friends, and also 4) witness the Church's interest in areas of life that the world thinks the Church has discounted or abandoned.

Yesterday, I invited my wife to peruse the events calendar with me. So much of what she does for our family enables a ministry she doesn't often get to see, so this was a small way to share my work with her. Also, she frequently sees things I miss. So we're scrolling down, and she blurts out: "Clergy continuing ed?? At UW?" "What? Where? Are you going?" Sure enough. Too late and too pricey, but right here on campus. Two days, no less. I'm going to have start looking farther ahead. 

The fact of this conference is interesting to me. For all the present discussion of our being a post-Christian society (and, make no mistake, we are one), the Church assumes the world's disinterest or dismissal of Christians and the Church at its own peril. Further, for the Church to use the assumption of the world's disinterest to justify her own disinterest in the world is the worst kind of tragic and a betrayal of the Gospel. But I digress...

My main point surrounds the topic of the conference: "Clergy Leadership and Management: Shame-less Lives, Grace-full Congregations." A secular campus making room for a two-day workshop on shame and grace in the life of the Church strikes me as itself an act of grace. It is also a refreshingly honest topic to address: the role of shame in the lives of Christian leaders, and the ways we pass it down to our flocks.

Read Karen McClintock's explanation of shame and grace here.  

When I made my first CREDO (a clergy wellness conference) last November, one of the life-goals I discerned was "to become a credible witness of grace," the thrust of which is two-fold: 1) extending God's grace toward others, and 2) visibly witnessing God's grace toward me. One of the action-points of that goal was to attend one movie a month by myself as a way of stepping out of the myth that it is all up to me and I can never do enough, which, I am aware, is a kind of egotism. Shame is sneaky like that.

So, although I am not at the conference, my heart is keyed into the theme and then unexpectedly met by the words of the scriptures appointed for today's Morning Prayer: 

Watch for the opportune time, and beware of evil,
   and do not be ashamed to be yourself. 
 For there is a shame that leads to sin,
   and there is a shame that is glory and favour. 
 Do not show partiality, to your own harm,
   or deference, to your downfall. 
 Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment,*
   and do not hide your wisdom.* 
 For wisdom becomes known through speech,
   and education through the words of the tongue. 
 Never speak against the truth,
   but be ashamed of your ignorance. 
 Do not be ashamed to confess your sins,
   and do not try to stop the current of a river. 
 Do not subject yourself to a fool,
   or show partiality to a ruler. 
 Fight to the death for truth,
   and the Lord God will fight for you.(1)

What a wonderful encouragement, I think, for followers of the One who died on the cross and who find ourselves in an unpopular (but not impossible) time: do not be ashamed a) to be yourself AND b) to confess your sins. Surely these twin admonitions to not be ashamed can only be connected by the conjunction AND by the grace and mercy of Jesus. And they are. We in the Church - and especially we leaders - cannot steep ourselves too much in this mystery. 

Thanks be to God.

(1One day it was the economy of Janesville, Wisconsin, as a microcosm of the national economy in recession, with a particular eye toward measuring the effectiveness of job retraining among the middle class. Another day it was African post-colonial readings of ancient Greek literature. Still another time I listened to and had the privilege of meeting former U.S. ambassador John L. Hirsch. Not bad for a lunch hour. 

(2Wisdom of Sirach 4:20-28

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