This is a continuation from "Can We Gather?" Part 1. In part 1 Genevieve's describes two elements that made them uneasy, even in affirming churches. The first element was how they viewed other churches. Part two picks up here:
The second one, shame, is perhaps what I have felt more palpably but had not noticed until recently. A friend of mine recently confessed to me of breaking my trust several years ago and that he had felt ashamed to tell me but felt he needed to. He was scared that his confession would have meant the end of our friendship. Part of me was sad that he thought that I would end our decade-long friendship over a mistake, but what I was really upset by was seeing his deeply embodied shame. His shame made me confront my own.
There is no place in the world I feel more full of shame than in a church.
After my friend confessed his shame to me I pointed him in the direction of Brené Brown, as you do. I then realised it had been many years since I had listened to her talk about shame and so I found a short clip on YouTube where she talked about the difference between shame and guilt and it knocked the air out of me.
Original sin doctrine (which I cognitively no longer believe in but is still fully absorbed in my body thanks to decades of indoctrination) teaches us that we are born guilty but as Brené Brown points out guilt is about something you’ve done, shame is about who you are. Original sin does not teach us that we are born guilty, it teaches us that we are born to be full of shame.
guilt is about something you’ve done, shame is about who you are.
Every time I step inside a church building I expect to be told what I am doing wrong and how I am a sinful wretch because of my humanity. I expect my self-hatred to be given more ammo. Even in affirming churches, I am taught that I am not good enough for God. No wonder going to church makes me so ill. No wonder I was only able to get mentally better when I took a break from churches for two years. No wonder my depressive episode got really bad when I started going to churches each week.
Every time I step inside a church building I expect to be told what I am doing wrong and how I am a sinful wretch because of my humanity. I expect my self-hatred to be given more ammo.
After my experience at the Seder Meal last month, I decided to go back to my church. I suppose it was me giving church one last go. My church may well be the only shame-free church on the South Coast of England. There was a point during the sermon where Michael the pastor said “If you come to church to talk to people and be part of a community…”. I thought to myself, I do that and I know it’s wrong because that’s not what the church is for. I had heard this message a hundred times before. Michael continued “that’s great! Nothing wrong with that at all…”
I realised then just how much shame I am still carrying in my faith. It’ll be a long process I am sure but I think this church may be the place I heal and let go of my shame. I also don’t think I can ever go to another church again because I have now tasted how good a church can be.
I realised then just how much shame I am still carrying in my faith...I have now tasted how good a church can be.
I think that part of the reason my church is so shame-free and non-toxic is that it’s made up of a community of spiritually abused people from a diverse range of religious and other sorts of backgrounds. Everyone understands what it is like to have been excluded and hurt by Christians and the rest of the world and they are able to come together and listen openly to each other, not attempt to convert anyone to a singular way of thinking, and sincerely care for each other.
The finale of "Can We Gather?" Genevieve celebrates an inclusive church community. Look for "Can We Gather? Part 3."
Part 2 of Can We Gather? In this article, Genevieve addresses shame.
Genevieve take's a pilgrimage of churches and tackles the question, can we gather without harming one another?