As a Lutheran pastor and as a facilitator/consultant of the Daring Way™, I love making the connections between faith, Scripture, and theology and shame resiliency, the guideposts to wholehearted living, and vulnerability. Just the other day, I jotted in the margin of Luke 19 (the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus) “guilt response!” I am making more connections and seeing Scripture in new ways every day because of Brené Brown’s work and because I have witnessed how the Daring Way transforms, heals, and empowers people which sounds like Gospel work.
If Brené Brown were writing this article, I imagine she would share that faith and courage are the organizing principles of her life and yet, it was through her attention to high standards of research practice and methodology that she uncovered all this data that supports what a life of faith can look like.
While I could write a dozen pages on this subject, I know you, the reader, may not have a dozen minutes to read this, so I’ll share some of the connections I see . . . and maybe have a sequel post!
1) When I give presentations in churches and to church professionals, and run Daring Way groups at Luther Seminary, I share that the research reveals that shame is the fear of disconnection and isolates us and causes us to believe that we are powerless to change our situations, our actions, or our thoughts. Brené Brown says, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change.” To put this in the Lutheran theological context, we would say that is bondage.
When we are in shame, we are very likely to engage in behaviors that perpetuate shame; behaviors that are destructive like not standing up for the weak, lashing out at family, shrinking and people pleasing, withholding love, bullying, addiction, etc.
In a theological framework, we are then in a shame/sin cycle which pulls us away from connection to others and God. Think of St. Paul writing, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do" (Romans 7:15)” The Daring Way gives tools to build awareness of when we are in shame and what we tend to do so that we can make more authentic and non-destructive choices the next time.
2) Perhaps you’ve been part of a church in which you felt like you had to fit in and you really didn’t belong. . . that the ‘all are welcome’ on the church sign seemed to come with a caveat. And you didn’t return to that church or you left it as soon as you were old enough or independent enough. When shame is used to manage behavior it will lead to disengagement. The Alban Institute has recognized this. Alban’s Karen McClintock writes, “Many faith communities teach the doctrine of shame, often without knowing it” (Shame-Less, 2). And later, “I believe congregations are in decline because they have become shame-bound” (“Challenge,” 1). When we feel our place and belonging is conditional, it damages our soul.
3) I believe God models vulnerability - as defined as risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure - when Jesus comes as a dependent baby and Jesus. I think of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This is found on everything from bumper stickers to wall hangings; in this most beloved verse we see that there is no guarantee for God that we will love back; there is no guarantee that we will treasure the gift God has given; that’s what vulnerability is. Doing something anyway, even when there is no assurance.
4) Shame devalues our worth. It can make us believe even God doesn’t love us or we are beyond the loving reach of God’s compassion and grace; I know this because I’ve sat with elders at the end of their lives who are in this struggle.
Yet, we are created in the image of God and in baptism, God claims us as His own; no matter what; we are God’s beloved. I connect this to the theology of the cross in which we learn that God is with us in our suffering and comes down to us. Learning how the armor of perfectionism and numbing can separate us from others and God has been the critical awareness some clients I've worked with have needed to begin to understand that God does love them.
5) Martin Luther highly valued vocation and affirming our calling to use our gifts for the service of God and others. Shame, of course, would have us believe we don’t have any gifts and if we do, they are of no value to anyone else. And if we can push through those two messages, that if we use our gifts and look like we are enjoying it, we are getting prideful. Brown’s research and the practices that are part of the Daring Way teach us to see how shame is keeping us small and robbing us of joy; thus freeing us to use our gifts and connect our creativity, purpose, and trusting faith and intuition to God’s calling in our lives; which supports the Lutheran value placed on vocation.
6) The whole Daring Way™ process is steeped in empathy, valuing our story and the stories others bring; again and again those who have participated in a Daring Way™ group really value having created this safe space together. I would say even a holy space; as one participant shared, “this group allowed me to hear the Holy Spirit.” This work helps us trust faith and intuition more and invites us to explore who God has created us to be; while using language that is accessible.
McClintock, Karen A. “The Challenge to Change.” Alban Weekly 426 (September 24, 2012).
________. Shame-Less Lives, Grace-Full Congregations. Herndon, Va.: Alban Institute, 2011.