Looking Through Shame-Colored Glasses

from Shane's Muslim Connect

Many of us have no difficulty recalling an event that caused us acute embarrassment. In fact, we sometimes make a game of sharing our most embarrassing moments! Maybe you even have a go to story that’s properly self-deprecating, but still makes you look ok. Mine? The late Christian musician, Rich Mullens once fell asleep in the front row while I was giving a talk! Afterward we had pie. 

But we hold closer the darker events, the chronic situations that go beyond embarrassment to shame. I don’t want you to dredge those up during this happy time of year, but let's admit such are a part of life for many of us. 

Now, the turn: Many Muslim cultures are organized around a core struggle between shame and honor. This is deeper and more pervasive than most of us, including me, can fully wrap our heads around. In contrast most Western cultures wrestle with guilt and innocence. 

If you’re a Christian, you can see this in the time you’ve invested in, and your capacity to articulate, Paul’s legal arguments in Romans. We were guilty. Jesus’ blood, his death and resurrection, absolve us. Now it’s “just as if we’d” never sinned. As true as can be. 

But maybe we’re less attuned to the nuances of the prodigal son parable where Jesus paints, for eastern hearts, a devastating story of honor forsaken, shame covering like a swine-smelling blanket, and then, almost beyond belief, honor restored. Again, as true as can be. 

No culture is deficient simply because it’s not like another. But for those of us who are concerned to connect with Muslims, deepening our understanding of shame and honor will be very helpful. 

In coming weeks I plan to kick around some of these ideas and they’re implications. In the meantime, this article serves a nice introductory primer. Here’s a good video, if that’s how you roll.

In other news: I've just begun to learn about the Enneagram. If you have thoughts, speculations, complaints, etc to share, I'd love to hear them. There seems to be some indication that some of the ideas trace back to Sufi Muslims! (Share or see what others are saying here.)