Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The culture of shame

The report didn’t contain much new but one description cast a definite shadow over the cupbearer and he mourned for days.

If you’ve read the early pages of Nehemiah, you know that the report concerned the city of Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians over a hundred years before.

But that’s where I’m wrong, because the report didn’t concern the city but the people.

What brought Nehemiah to mourning and fasting was this news: “The survivors there in the province who escaped captivity are in great trouble and shame.” (Neh 1:3)

Shame doesn’t pierce our culture like it did theirs. For an Israelite, shame alone could disable a community. In their culture, what happened to one happened to all and vice versa.

So shame immobilized an entire community.

Although the broken-down walls made the Jews vulnerable to attack, Nehemiah’s concern was with their shame. When he later traveled to Jerusalem from Persia to direct the rebuilding effort, the biggest hindrance was the enemies who dropped by to mock the builders.

When Nehemiah came to the inhabitants of Jerusalem with the plan for the wall, he said, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem so that we may no longer suffer disgrace.” (Neh 2:11)

Last weekend, I had the delight to hear a young woman speak about her life so far. Gianna Jessen is an abortion survivor, a young woman with “the gift of cerebral palsy” from her premature birth. “I’ve signed on for an extraordinary life,” she told the overflowing crowd.

Gianna met her birth mother three years ago. After hearing one of Gianna’s speeches, the woman told her, “You are an embarrassment to the family.”

This week I will explore the culture of shame and the wisdom of a young woman born in disgrace.

Tomorrow: Walls in shambles

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