Category Archives: Shame, Grace, and the Cross

Shame and Atonement

As we seek to understand how Christ atones for our shame, listening to the voices of those for whom this is so much a part of their own faith journey is important. Here is a blog by Mako A. Nagasawa who is a campus minister at Harvard and Boston College with the New Humanity Institute, and founding director of New Humanity Institute.

How to Measure Success! – Sunday 13th September 2015 – Mark 8:27-38

Divine_Direction_00037502FOLLOWINGCHRISTTakeUpYourCrossISAIAH 50:4-9a, James 3:1-12 & Mark 8:27-38


I guess that most of us would want to be seen by others as successful. We’d like to be able to say that we have made something of our lives. None of us want to be seen as a failure.

How do you measure success?

Is it climbing to the top of the social ladder? Keeping up with the Jones=s? Getting promotion at work? Moving to live in the better area of town? Being liked by everyone?

How have you gone about achieving success? … Our OT reading used the phrase, “I have set my face like a flint.” How might we phrase that in today’s language?  – Go for it, no matter the cost – Climbing over dead men’s bodies – The end justifies the means?

Ambition, determination, wholehearted commitment to our goals. Quite good things in themselves. Often, however, when our hopes for ourselves conflict with the interests of others we can produce all sorts of justifications for less than generous attitudes and actions.

Our readings speak about wholehearted commitment.

Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. Immediately Jesus turns to his disciples and explains his deepest commitment. This is a turning point in the Gospel of Mark. It is almost as though a dark cloud blots out the sun. Everything seems wonderful in the story until we reach chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel. For the disciples, it has been wonderful following Jesus. Now, darkness and danger looms. Jesus speaks about his death and he sets his face like a flint towards Jerusalem, nothing is going to stop him fulfilling God’s will – nothing will deflect him from the path of the cross.

And Jesus calls his followers to the same kind of self-sacrifice, “If anyone wants to follow me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

In a complete negation of all that the world says, success for Jesus is measured in terms of apparent personal failure. It is in the journey to and through the cross that success is achieved! In Jesus’ weakness, God’s purposes are fulfilled. …

In his letter, James highlights how easily our tongues lead us into hypocrisy. We say one thing and do another, or we say one thing in church and something completely different in another context. He challenges us to be consistent in our commitments, to walk the walk as well as talk the talk: to be those who live out their Sunday faith on Monday, and Tuesday, and every day of the week.

In our reading from Isaiah , the Suffering Servant, sets his face like a flint into the suffering that is coming his way – confident of God’s help to endure. There’s no disgrace, no shame, in the torture he faces because he knows that he can trust God for his future, for his ultimate vindication.

How strange and different these attitudes are. How different to our own attitudes?

We strive to protect ourselves. We’ve taught ourselves to be self-reliant. “Look after number one – no one else will!”

We’ve learnt to see weakness is shameful. Success in the world’s terms is important to our sense of self-worth. We don’t like all this talk about denying ourselves and about taking up our own cross. We cannot be seen to fail, even if that means that we need to put others down.

Success, for Jesus, was all about failure and shame. Somehow, in some way that we find difficult to explain, evil spends itself like waves crashing on a beach, when it meets Jesus at the Cross.

The message of the cross is that evil is ultimately defeated in our world not through aggression but through suffering and death. And we don’t like to hear it, we don’t want to hear it. I want my revenge if I am hurt, I want those who hurt me to suffer and to the extent that I give in to my desires, I feed the cycle of unease and distrust.

Jesus calls us take up our cross, to bear shame for the sake of the kingdom, not to retaliate. We are called to set aside self-protection and look to the interests of others – to deny ourselves. We are called to walk with Jesus on the way of the cross – most often in the smaller things of life – the petty disagreements, the small misunderstandings.

We are called to use our tongues to build and not destroy. How? Our first reading gives us a clue:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens  – wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.”

Says Isaiah – we need the ‘tongue of a teacher’ – the openness that doesn’t hoard knowledge (because knowledge is power) but shares it with others. Openness that shares ourselves with others. Openness which allows us to share the glory and praise with others. Openness that makes ourselves vulnerable so as to lift others from their weariness. Words of encouragement rather than gossip. Building not destroying.

And, says Isaiah, we also need to be willing to listen. We can’t close our minds in some sort of self-righteous crusade. (We know what’s best and we’re going to do it. Blow everyone else!)

You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. Zig Ziglar quote - success comes from helping everyone, especially your peersNo. … It was because Christ was open to others, vulnerably sharing himself with them listening to their needs, that he set his face like a flint to the cross. Because he was aware of others – he chose suffering and death. The challenge for us is to be so open with others that we are prepared, ultimately, if necessary, to set aside our well-being, our comfort, so as to meet their needs.

So, how do we succeed?

Jesus answer would be, “By becoming vulnerable. By being willing to die, by being willing to embrace failure.”

A very different measure of success!

Interruptions – Mark 5:21-43 – 4th Sunday After Trinity

Interruptions can be really irritating. … I always tried, when I worked for Stockport Council to maintain an open door policy for the people who worked for me. However, it did not stop me feeling aggrieved every time my concentration was interrupted!

A prominent Catholic teacher called Henri Nouwen said in the prime of his career that he became frustrated by the many interruptions to his work. He was teaching and had a heavy agenda each day and didn’t like to be disturbed. Then one day it dawned on him that his interruptions were his work. The unplanned things were his ministry. It was in those interruptions that he had his most important encounters.

There is a saying: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans!” … Often, when we are interrupted, it turns out that the interruption is of greater consequence than what we were doing at first!

Our Gospel reading says something about the way that Jesus treated people. Jesus left the crowd to minister to a single person. He was never too busy to respond to the needs of an individual … Bartimeaus, the blind man by the road side, the epileptic youth and his distraught father after the Transfiguration, Zaccheus the troubled tax collector, the widow of Nain weeping over her dead son, Nicodemus at the dead of night, the woman at the well in the heat of the day …. Yet even Jesus could not minister to everyone.

When we look at the needs of the world, we can feel overwhelmed. We want to help, but we hardly know where to begin or where to stop. … We can give in to despair, wringing our hands, feeling that anything we do would be of little or no significance. Or we can help by responding to needs that present themselves to us, often small or individual needs, with the resources at our disposal.

We can’t do everything but even if we just do something, we make a difference.  There is a story of someone who watched a man walking along a beach where for some reason thousands of starfish had become stranded above the usual tide line – they covered the beach. The man was picking up individual starfish and throwing them back into the ocean one by one. This person asked the man why he bothered – you can’t possibly save them all….. the reply was  “But I can save these ones from dying in some shell hunter’s collection.”  It clearly wasn’t possible for him to retrieve them all, but he was giving a precious few another chance to live.  We see this same thing in Jesus; unable to respond personally to everyone in the crowd, he helped some  – and made a difference.

So, Jesus’ time with the crowd is interrupted by Jairus, and Jesus responds, and as he hurries to Jairus’ house he is interrupted again. This time it is a stealthy interruption. Jesus feels the flick of someone’s fingers on the fringe of his outer garment. He stops and asks: “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples laugh: “You see the crowd pushing in on you and you ask who touched you?” perhaps too they thought, “You’ve got urgent work to do for one of the leaders of the town. Let’s get on with it.” But Jesus is not deterred. He looks around to see who has touched him, and a woman comes forward, falls at his feet, and tells him the whole truth.

She has a chronic debilitating disease. She’s suffered from haemorrhages for twelve years. She has spent all she has on doctors but is no better. She’s heard about Jesus, and she has determined just to touch the tassel of his robe in hope of a cure. (It was a superstition in Jesus’ day that if you touched the garment of a holy person, you might be cured. Much like today we might touch the cross on the chain around our necks, or some may have a rabbit’s foot.) And now she has experienced healing.

No one, nobody else, anyway, would speak to her openly. She is ceremonially unclean because of her blood flow. But Jesus speaks to her, he notices her, he is kind to her! He calls her, “Daughter,” and says, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” In other words, it isn’t the touching of his robe, but her faith that works her healing.

This is quite amazing.   A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, pushing through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ focuses for a brief moment in her. She goes from being a nobody to being the centre of God’s attention.

And this is how God is with each of us. We celebrate this love this morning. As we receive the elements at Communion God’s love is focussed on each of us and we receive it once again into ourselves.

Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine affirmed that God loves each of us as if we were the only person on earth, yet God loves everyone as much as God loves each one of us. There’s no one on earth today that God loves any more than he loves you, nor is there anyone God loves any less than he loves you. That realization should give us assurance about our own well being; and, should motivate greater concern for others.

If this is how God is with us, then this is his call to us. When we encounter need, we should respond in love, in whatever way love dictates.

The woman’s faith should also grab our attention.  She never gave up hope. She had heard about Jesus of Nazareth and the wonderful things he was doing, the difference he was making in people’s lives. She sought him out and acted on her belief. She was wrong about just needing to touch the robe, but she was right about reaching out to Christ in total commitment. The healing she experienced is God’s gift to all who seek him in sincerity and in truth – and we too can receive this gift when we reach out to him.

A Prayer

Loving God, in your majesty you number the stars in the heavens; and in your mercy, you heal the broken hearts of our world. In Jesus you entered our human world as a helpless infant. You know what it is like to be human and you are ever present with us in all that we go through. Open us up to the hurt of individuals all around us. Use us in a world full of loneliness and misery. Help us to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil your long love through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God’s Face in the New Testament

Jayson Georges suggests that the bible wants us to understand that God welcomes us into his presence. We are welcome to see the face of God. Yet so often we chose to turn away in shame. The bible tells us very clearly that:

God shows and offers his face to people, but due to both disgrace and arrogance people often turn their faces away, from glorious communion to shameless isolation.

The bible often talks of the ‘face’ of God, particularly in the Old Testament, but its message comes into clear focus in the New Testament. See:

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Guesting Well ……

One good indication of the difference between cultures is how we engage in hospitality. Jayson Georges posted about his experiences early in 2015 in on his blog. The story revolves around Russian New Year and also includes some pink slippers!

How we give and receive hospitality is of great importance to the building of relationships, no more so than in cultures where honour and shame are important dynamics..

Research on Different Cultures – Anxiety/Fear-based, Shame/Honour-based, Guilt-based.

A Culture Test has been developed by Jayson George which he hopes will provide some objective statistical cultural analysis. Every culture has a wide range of ways of relating and making judgements. No one culture can be described as having only one particular dynamic. The research seems to support this, but at present it is based only on a relatively small number of respondents.

It is also interesting that the largest number of respondents are from and Asian background!

Shame and Social Media!


Before you click on the link below it is worth stopping for a moment to ask yourself one question: “How important to me is the number of Facebook ‘friends’ I have?”

Jayson Georges suggests that when we seek our self-worth and value  through the following that we have on social media we are placing status above relationship, which ultimately is a pursuit of selfishness!

Honor and Shame in Africa

I have been working on a book for some time now about Shame, Grace and the Cross. I recently asked one of my college lecturers to review the work I have done. He came back to me with a lot of very helpful comments.

One of those comments asked me to reflect on how broad the consensus is between majority world theologians on matters of Honour and Shame and the Gospel. He could see a plethora of references in my draft to theologians from the Far East, but nothing significant from Africa or India and only minimal references to work from the Americas.

In the light of this I echo Jayson Georges’ question:  … What resources are available, particularly from Africa but also from India and the Americas?