Morning Worship Column: The Promise of Right Relationship Means Confronting Shame

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“Sometimes it is hard to put ourselves in others’ shoes. Sometimes it hits too close to home, but when we face the truth about who we are, we have taken the first step toward making peace,” said the Rev. Amy K. Butler. She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service and her sermon title was “To The Mat.” The Scripture reading was Genesis 32:22-32, Jacob wrestling with a stranger beside the Jabbok River.

Butler had read an article by a woman who gave tours about life on a pre-Civil War plantation. It was hard for many of the tourists to hear about the life of the slaves on the plantation.

“They had a hard time admitting that the life of a slave was bad,” Butler said. “They thought the owners took care of the slaves out of the goodness of their hearts instead of their own economic interests. Some were surprised to learn that the slaves did not want to be slaves.”

As with the prodigal son parable that she preached about on Sunday, the problem for “the most notorious Biblical scoundrel, Jacob, was shame. Shame kept them both from peace, reconciliation and right relationship.”

Butler de ned shame as a person’s belief that they are awed and unworthy of love and belonging, that they are unworthy of connecting.

“This is what kept the prodigal from going home for so long and nipped at Jacob’s heels,” she said. “Shame damages the roots from which love grows.”

Jacob, she said, had already lived a couple of seasons of the Kardashians when he decided to confront his shame. He had stolen the birthright of his brother Esau and run away from his father’s house in the middle of the night. He lived with the shame of betrayal and deceit. Now, he was a wealthy man with two wives, two concubines and 11 children.

“It was time to go back to the promised land and make peace with the family,” Butler said. “It was no small thing to untangle his life from Laban [his father-in-law].”

When he got to the Jabbok River, Jacob sent his family ahead and stayed the night to try sleeping.

“He could not sleep; he wrestled with a stranger all night,” Butler said. “He had an encounter with the divine and when he left he was scarred. He had to face his powerlessness, shame and pain and he learned that he could not embrace the promise of healed relationships without confronting his shame.”

One of Butler’s favorite radio shows is “Death, Sex and Money,” a podcast on WNYC by Anna Sale.

“It is about the big choices that are left out of polite con- versation,” she said.

A recent show titled “Falling in Love … with Heroin,” caught Butler’s attention. It featured an interview with Susanne and Mike, now in their early 30s, who became ad- dicted to heroin in high school. Susanne admitted she stole from everyone, even her grandmother with whom she lived for a time, and she was ashamed of that.

“I was not ashamed of being an addict, but I was ashamed of stealing from family,” Susanne said.

When asked if it had been hard to rebuild the relation- ships after 10 year of sobriety, Susanne said, “Yes.”

“My grandmother still hides things when I come over and my mother keeps her purse on her,” she said. “I real- ized how they had grown to distrust me. I had pinned the problems on the addiction and I thought if I quit, life would fall back into place.”

Butler said the time will come when people have to face the painful truths about their lives in order to further the promise of who they are.

“We have to set our pain and shame down,” she said. “We have to get real and nd ourselves on the mat with God. Even in our darkest moments, we will nd God. God always invites us back into relationship if we risk real reconcilia- tion.”

To embrace our own story is hard, she said, but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love.

“When shame threatens us we have to risk relationship one more time,” Butler said. “God will meet us, wrestle us down until sunrise. When we surrender everything, when we are ready to face the truth, God will take our hand and we will limp again toward the holy promise of our lives.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. presided. The Rev. Car- men Perry, pastor of the Hurlbut Memorial Community Church in Chautauqua, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Be Thou My Vision,” arranged by Craig Courtney. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. The John William Tyrrell Endowment Fund for Religion provides support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.