Proverbs 25:2 (ESV) says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”
My understanding of this is that as much as we might wish it were otherwise, God doesn’t lay everything out on a plate for us. We are treated like kings. God wants us to wrestle and search, and engage with him/her on a quest. I often feel a bit like a bloodhound on the scent or a detective piecing together the clues in order to work out what the Holy Spirit is up to and how God might be inviting me to participate in our next great adventure together. It was like that when I began my mission work with spiritual seekers. It started with a hunch, a little thought that niggled away that I couldn’t get rid of. This was followed by an observation, then a confirmation and a call to step out and trust. Before I knew it, I was travelling a path I could never have imagined. This is what happened when I started investigating shame too.
The thought or question that wouldn’t go away was: is the gospel as deliverance from sin genuinely good news for the people I am seeking to reach out to with the love of Christ? Obviously, this truth is amazing and life-transforming.
However, if I have to explain what sin is, in order to share that most wonderful of gifts offered to us in Christ, does that stop it being the life-giving message people most need to hear? Then I had a couple of encounters with people at New Age-type fairs who wanted to know more about Jesus and were open to come to him but said they felt unworthy to do so. A barrier to healing and redemption that had been hidden was coming into view. Yet it wasn’t until I was asked to preach about the woman healed of haemorrhaging in Luke 8:43–48 and read a chapter in Janet Davis’s book My Own Worst Enemy on that narrative that I realised this was shame.1 It was then I had to confront my own struggle to receive and accept God’s unconditional love and positive regard in my life and faith.
If God is doing something by his Spirit, the other thing that happens is that you become aware other people are discovering the same thing! I read Stephen Pattison’s book Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology,2 watched Brene Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability”3 and was told about others doing academic research on this topic, such as Sally Nash and Catherine Matlock. We decided to come together and form the Transforming Shame Network and in October last year we had our first conference, entitled “The Gospel, Redemption and Shame”. The articles in this edition of ANVIL come out of that event, and there are also videos on our YouTube channel should you want to revisit the contributions from the day.
I cannot commend enough the written pieces included in this issue of ANVIL. Sally Nash has drawn on her years of experience in youth work, as well as her comprehensive understanding of shame, to suggest how we might engage with young people on this topic. Trevor Withers realised the significance of shame in communicating the gospel through regularly going into local schools and now runs a pottery to help people overcome shame by becoming vulnerable and getting creative. Carlton Turner uses his experience of being of Black Bahamian descent to talk about the power of “Self-Negation” when considering shame in the discourse about race. Catherine Matlock specifically considers shame and pioneering mission in the UK out of her ministry at Kath’s Cafe on the Druids Heath estate in Birmingham. How to read the Bible with an honour/shame lens is the subject of Judith Rossall’s article and I would highly recommend her book Forbidden Fruit and Fig Leaves: Reading the Bible with the Shamed,4 where she is able to explore this more fully. Overcoming trauma and shame by developing an intentional Christian community is Linda Fletcher’s piece, based on her pioneering practice.
What all these articles have in common is that there is real authenticity here. The wise and vulnerable contributors don’t just talk about shame; it has become integral to how Christ’s message of liberation and hope has been incarnated afresh by them in their context, at this time. If you would like to join us on this voyage of discovery and renewal, then do please join the Transforming Shame Facebook group.
Andrea Campanale is a CMS mission partner, one of the first commissioned lay pioneers in Southwark Diocese and leads a fresh expression of church, Sacred Space Kingston. She has written on the subject of shame in the book The Pioneer Gift, edited by Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross,5 and had a paper published in January 2021 on healing from shame in Missiology: An International Review.6 She spoke about noticing shame at the Transforming Shame conference.
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1 Janet Davis, My Own Worst Enemy: How to Stop Holding Yourself Back (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2012).
2 Stephen Pattison, Shame: Theory, Therapy, Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
3 Brene Brown, TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” TED, June 2010, https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_ power_of_vulnerability.
4 Judith Rossall, Forbidden Fruit and Fig Leaves: Reading the Bible with the Shamed (London: SCM Press, 2020).
5 Jonny Baker and Cathy Ross, eds., The Pioneer Gift: Explorations in Mission (Canterbury Press: Norwich, 2014).
6 Andrea Campanale, “Healing from Shame: Possible and Desirable?” Missiology: An International Review (January 2021).