healing shame & division

the church is people collapsing into Goda few weeks ago at the bold boundaries sacred friendship gathering, hugo schwyzer, an amazing writer & speaker  & professor from LA, shared this little gem:  “the church’s witness is to heal shame and division.”

that is what we are meant to do:  heal shame, heal division in this crazy mixed up world. 

for the most part, i don’t think that is what “the church” is known for.  in fact, in so many ways we are known for just the opposite–for creating shame, for promoting division.  i had plenty of shame on my own before i came into the fold of christianity, but the truth is that for a long time, my shame actually ramped up instead of decrease. a lot of my shame came from somehow falling short as a christian, not measuring up to what i was supposed to be doing, and a weird pervasive feeling that somehow being “me” wasn’t really what God had in mind.  the amount of energy i spent on trying to be someone else was really exhausting, and i am ever-grateful for continually breaking free from some of those bonds.

when it comes to division, this has unfortunately become our signature mark.  instead of being peacemakers and bridge builders, we are more often known for promoting who’s in, who’s out, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s on God’s side, who’s not.  as a christian of a more conservative persuasion in my earlier years, i did my share of dividing.  i remember how passionate i was about making sure i wasn’t “of the world” and ways i put myself above other people for self-protection.  what’s interesting, though, is as i have shifted and changed, i can see, too, how some of what i have done has just created a different kind of division.  this time, i am aligned on the other side of things, against some of what contemporary christianity represents.

but division is division.

and the church’s witness is to heal shame and division.

to me, the church is not a building or a system or a program.  it is people gathered together to learn and practice the ways of Jesus and pass on love, hope, mercy, and justice in a broken, weird world.  

our responsibility is to play our part in healing shame and division.  i don’t think that’s a new kind of legalism or asking too much of us. (thanks, jamie).

as far as i can tell, this kind of healing primarily comes through relationship with one another.  healing from shame and division isn’t the kind of transformation that drops out of the sky into the quiet of the night.  it somehow happens when people bump up against each other and give and receive presence, mercy, grace, understanding, challenge, encouragement, love, truth, hope.  

it happens in friendship.  in relationship.

inequality,  deep grooves of hierarchy, and stereotypes of men & women, rich & poor, liberal & conservative, gay & straight, black & white, healthy & sick, educated & uneducated perpetuate shame and division.  the way it is healed is through breaking down divides and finding ways to live together as friends, as brothers & sisters, as human beings. 

i love h. norman crosby’s thought about the church as a place where we collapse into God, collapse into each other. we can’t collapse into God or other people if we are filled with shame and divided from one another, if we shame others and separate ourselves from one another.

our best hope is finding our common humanity in the upside down ways of Jesus.

discovering our shared experience.

our willingness to engage in real, raw relationship with each other.

our becoming-more-honest-about-what’s-really-going-on-inside-our-souls.

learning to be honest about how we feel about ourselves. how we feel about others. how much we are guided by fear. how much we need God’s help to change. how we can’t change the world tomorrow, but we can start with changing us.

some questions we can maybe ask individually & collectively as little pockets of love are:

how are we entering into deeper and more meaningful relationships with other people, even if we are scared? 

how are we building bridges instead of bombing them?

how are we honoring and respecting people who are different from us, even when we don’t agree?

how are we keeping our hands open instead of clenched? our hearts soft instead of protected?

how are we recognizing our shame so it can lose its grip?

how are we becoming better human beings, less divided, more free?

how are we learning to receive and not just give?

and most of all, how are we helping each other feel less shame, less division, so have a much better shot at collapsing into God, collapsing into each other?


today i have a post up at sheloves magazine as part of the monthly “down we go” column.  the theme this month is “soar” and my thought is that maybe we could redefine what that means. it’s called flapping, flailing, flying:  “what might look easy for one person is incredibly hard for another. what might look insignificant to some might be a miracle to another. what looks like flapping, flailing, barely-flying for one is actually soaring for another.”  i’d love to hear what it stirs up for you.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Hi Kathy
    What makes me soar? I immerse myself in Contemporary Christian music – Oh the lyrics – How they inspire me to praise as I hum along and sing off-key
    What makes me flail? Thinking I must do more, say more, help more
    What makes me flap? Oh! The words coming out of my mouth! (flap, flap, flap)
    God Bless – Great Post
    Susie @ stumbling into grace

  • Frstly I will say, I love to dialogue like this, to understand each other better, to wrestle with the challenges we have and, empowered by God in his grace, to accept that things are as they are and to have the privilege of having a part to play in God’s plan for humankind. Living life, grwing in freedom in Christ and looking forward to a shared glory with him.

    I was just thinking today about the American dream and how so much of church buys into that with the collateral damage that creates. The theologian Miroslv Volf says that often the church merely reflects the sickness of the surrounding society. He is right – people are sold dreams from TV , celebrities. politians, sportspersosns, pop/rock stars and buyt into them unquestioningly. Not everyone gets to be a rock star and there are a lot of wannabes and pissed off prople around that havent achieved that. Not everyone gets to be the superstar church equivalant.

    I know all too well what you are talkign about Kathy with what can happen with church. What I have found has helped me has been recognising my part in the deception, of accepting chuch and the world as it is, not as I would like it to be and of finding creative ways where, in my uniqueness I have the privelidge of and can contrubute to God’s activity in the world.

    I love to organise a ski group, I love to perform whether singing or stand up. Have got a stand up gig next week and start rehearsals this week for singing in a choir supporting David Phelps in June. I love to be doing my masters which combines two loves of my life, humour and love of Jesus. And to breathe, give room for my little light to shine and to free others up for their lights to shin in ways they are gifted as I have been gifted in organisation, skiing, humour and singing. That for me is souring like an eagle. Oh and to dance too – dance night tonight :).

    • yes, i really like what you are saying about recognizing how we have or are contributing to shame and division and asking God’s help change that. we are having a dance party at the refuge tonight 🙂

  • one word about comments: i always want people to be able to share whatever they need to share to process out loud, and respect that everyone has their own unique story. i never want to silence anyone. however, one thing i will always do is remove comments that have specific names and are disparaging toward another, no matter what it is. it’s a dilemma for me because i value each person’s voice, but there are other places to process those kinds of specifics privately or in a safer context that’s not my public living room. thanks for understanding.

    • I understand that it must be difficult for you to walk the line between giving room for people to have a voice and what to do with comments that are better expressed privately and in safe places.

      I remember what CS Lewis said about love in that to love is to be vulnerable. Love and your heart will be wrong and possibly broken. And that the only
      place you can be safe from the dangers of love this side of heaven is
      hell. He was right.

      I would support what you have done Kathy that is conducive to healing, bringing peace, creating unity and a common bond in Christ.

      Be encouraged 🙂

  • “our willingness to engage in real, raw relationship with each other.
    our becoming-more-honest-about-what’s-really-going-on-inside-our-souls.” Yes, please. So many times I find myself wanting to learn theory, and the ability to live it out is right in front of me in relationship. Embracing that life/relationship/healing is just freaking messy. SO grateful to do life with others who are embracing their healing, too. For me, so much of the fight is pushing against shame’s fierce pull. But what I do know is that it is going to get better. 🙂

  • I missed the comment you deleted, but I can see how this topic could dredge up unpleasant memories for someone. Many of us have not discovered churches (in the sense of institutional churches) that heal shame and division, but have found churches that engage in the opposite.

    Kay and I avoid those groups and together with a few other Jesus followers are a small part of the church, the body of Christ, that tries to live out a life that brings about love, healing and unity. Moriarty is not our nemesis, but those who promote disunity and shame are.


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