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By Melvin D. Hugen & Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.


Naked and Exposed, Part 3

(continued from Part 2)

CARING FOR THE SHAMED

So what is the shape of such care? How do we treat each other's shamed and vulnerable selves? Though we do not have space here properly to develop the topic of care for the shamed (and therefore recommend such books as those of Smedes and Albers), we nonetheless offer four observations.

1. Not all shame is bad. Under certain circumstances, shame accompanies guilt and is therefore a sign of health. A person who has lied or cheated or stolen has displeased God, defrauded his neighbor, and disgraced himself. Both guilt and shame are therefore excellent emotions for him to feel for a time, a double wakeup call. Ministry to those who are shamed by their guilt will, accordingly, include some frank acknowledgment of sin and a willingness to name and even to discuss the distress that attaches to it.

But such candor needs a secure context, and it needs a time limit. This is true not only for the shame that attaches to wrongdoing, but also for other kinds. Ministry to the shamed includes the provision of a safe space--relatively private, firmly supportive, warmly hospitable--in which candor and unmistakable love combine to encourage the disclosure of shame and, in good time, its dissipation. These safe confessionals are especially valuable because they are rare. What we find too often instead are merciless contexts, such as the cubicles of the King's School, or else judgmental ones, such as the ring of Pharisees around the woman taken in adultery in John 8, or else merely tolerant ones, such as the offices of those therapists who think of all guilt and shame as pathological.

As Haddon Robinson once remarked, truthful people are often too blunt, and gracious people often too soft. Safe places for the disclosure of shame need to be like Jesus, "full of grace and truth," and one of the most urgent challenges to the Christian church these days is to multiply these places.

2. The first gospel to the shamed is that we are mere creatures. Recognizing ...

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