Sunday, August 28, 2016
A loss of shame. . .
We may not have all practiced it, but we understood fidelity to spouse and infidelity shamed us. It was not spoken of out loud or in mixed company but in whispers and with care to see who was listening. Marriage between husband and wife was epitomized by the self-denial of sexual urge apart from this relationship. Religion encouraged this but so did the state which had a vested interest in shame and virtue as well as faith. Stable homes, good families, and moral, productive children were the ingredients to the American dream every bit as much as the pursuit of happiness. Freedom was not license but the encouragement toward good unconstrained by fear.
One of the casualties of our modern era in addition to the common virtue of fidelity in marriage or even marriage itself is the whole idea that certain things can and should and do shame us. Our conversation has become ever so tolerant of vulgarity. We are content with a coarseness of language that would not have been tolerated by politeness long ago. Some call it prudish but it was not naivete -- no, it was not that they did not know the words but the knew enough not to speak them in certain contexts.
In addition to the salty conversations that now delight in saying out loud what was once only whispered is our penchant for leaving nothing to the imagination. I am not only speaking here of sexual images but the graphic images of violence and horror that were once suggested but left to the imagination and not to the eye. Now we are accustomed to seeing nudity and graphic violence on TV and in the movie theater and video games thrive on these images once thought too much to be shown openly or without constraint.
Many were once prodded to become productive citizens by less than virtuous motive. Boys became men because of their desire for love and sex. Girls became women for some of the same reasons. Now it seems that more and more boys are choosing a prolonged adolescence with the virtual reality of the video game and pornography over work, wife, children, family, and community. Almost as many 18-30 year old boys who have not completed college live at home as they do with spouse or significant other. That is a statistic few of us saw coming. There seems to be little shame in failing to board the engine of work and responsibility and find it no big deal to be taken care of (when a generation or so ago independence and self-sufficiency were driving forces to move out).
My point in saying this is not to condemn everyone who is not old. I will have plenty of time to do that in a few years when I retire. It is great sport. At this point my concern is more about the Gospel and how to speak to a people who seem to have no shame -- about anything! The Gospel of Christ crucified presumes shame -- the shame of sin and the awareness of its death that chains down hope of the future to its terrible anchor of death. The Gospel speaks to people who know shame, who lament their sin, and who seek not only forgiveness but new life. What does it have to say to people who have no shame?
Sure, someone will say that this is why we preach the Law but preaching the Law to a people who have no shame sounds simply like prudes complaining that they are not free enough to indulge themselves like the people they condemn. It only feeds the notion that the church is basically a bunch of naysayers who do not want people to be happy, to have fun, to fulfill their wants and desires, and to enjoy themselves doing so.
My point is this. How do we speak the Gospel outside the framework of sin and shame? I wish I had the answer. My fear is that we in the Church are proceeding like people in the dark trying to find their way by feeling along the wall. I am not at all suggesting that we need a strategy or program but how do we preach to people who have learned not to feel shame? How do we speak the faith to folks who use their feelings to define everything from gender to happiness, right and wrong? I know that the Spirit will work through the Word even when we speak awkwardly or hesitantly but I also know that we can learn to speak it better so that our speaking itself is not an impediment.
These are the kinds of things I ruminate on day and restless night. Perhaps I need to trust God more. I am sure I do. But as someone who regularly preaches to the products of our modern world and who weekly teaches them, I want to be a more effective spokesman of the Gospel to those who hear it -- all ages for sure but especially to those who will replace me and my generation as we age.
I am not at all convinced that mirroring the culture or trying to duplicate the ambiance of their technological and entertainment oriented lives will do anything but render the church an orphan in the next generation. Such is the future for those who marry the spirit of the age. So I am not talking about redefining the church or re-imagining what it means to worship. I want to be a more faithful and effective preacher and teacher for the sake of Christ and His cross. In this, I expect many are in the same place I am. So, you tell me what you think?