Without Shame

And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed. – Genesis 2:25


Lifebuoy adOne of my favourite radio programs is the CBC’s “Under The influence” (formerly “The Age of Persuasion”) hosted by Terry O’Reilly .  O’Reilly gives both an exposition of the tricks of the trade in the world of advertising and an exposition of human gullibility.  More often than not I am stunned at how we are subtly (and not so subtly) shaped by commercial means.  One of the shows that recently caught my attention was an episode entitled “Shame: The Secret Tool of Marketing.”  He says,

“The strategy of “shame” is one of the most powerful marketing tools in modern times. Fear of being judged by our peers has led to billions of dollars of products being sold.  Social embarrassment isn’t just a mix of humiliation, mortification and distress, it’s also a heady cocktail of marketing, strategy and product solutions. And the marketing industry has a vested interest in keeping shame alive and well.”

listerine ad %22how's you breath today-%22For example O’Reilly traces is the use of deodorant.  Before the 20th century deodorant wasn’t something used by your average person.  Through the use of advertising the suggestion was planted that people around you are judging you based on your smell.  Almost overnight people began to buy deodorant because body smell was something to be ashamed of.  Or how about mouth wash.  Listerine was originally used as a floor cleanser but it was discovered that it could kill oral germs.  The only problem was that no one was worried about bad breath.  Listerine created advertising about the problem of “halitosis” and a new market for mouth wash was created.  Before 1960 people didn’t worry about dandruff, but advertising taught us that it is something to be ashamed of and Head Shoulders was there to solve our “problems.”  It took Wisk almost 10 years to convince us that “ring around the collar” was an embarrassment, but they got there.  The list goes on.

What is most shameful appears to be the ease in which we sink into and hold onto shame.

At the end of Genesis 2, the end of the narrative of scripture which is traditionally labeled as “Creation” (a good and perfect creation) the statement is made that “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) At the pinnacle of beauty, relationship and order this incredible statement describes a world without shame.  We then read in the next chapter that when humanity felt the need to be all knowing, to be like God, the first consequence was…shame – “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

And so began life with shame.  But it is not something to accept.  Salmon Rushdie once wrote, “Shame is like everything else; live with it for long enough and it becomes part of the furniture.” (“Shame”)  We accept so many of the lies culture tells us, everything from believing that our children will grow up undeveloped if we don’t put them in umpteen activities to the belief that your front lawn isn’t good enough if it sprouting dandelions or that being sweet 16 and never kissed as being a bad thing (and we’re not talking about mom and dad’s loving pecks on the cheek).   These lies are based in the shame of not being good enough.  So many of us have learned to live with shame and it is to the detriment of the goodness of creation and the glory of God.

0609forgiveness2The apostle Paul writes to the Philippian church, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)

Without getting into a full exposition of this passage, the line that jumps out for me is the comment of “their god is their belly and their glory is in their shame.”  Where do we find our glory?  Are we content to bow to shame?  Too often we seem to settle into the very things we have been sold as worthwhile and important.  We wake up in the morning more worried about body odor, bad breath and grey hair than enjoying the fruit of the creation and the freedom to walk with God…as he made us, beautiful, original, and in his image.  Our lives and our identities are not defined by shame and the judgment of others but by a generous God who is constantly transforming us by his spirit.  If we understand heaven correctly as not just a place of clouds and harps, but a restored creational order, then we live the future in the present, we strive for more of heaven on earth, we work towards “the man and his wife [being] both naked, and…not ashamed.”


Only a “Sense” of Obligation to Environment?

Every Monday morning on the ground floor of the University Centre at the University of Ottawa, the Sustainable Development Centre (which now occupies one of the offices that years ago was a full-time chaplains office and sits outside the area formerly known as Spiritual Services….hmmm) sets up a table offering free coffee for all those with re-usable mugs.  Their sign says…”6500 disposable coffee cups used every day on campus.”  There was no one waiting in line so I stopped for a cup of coffee and chatted with the volunteer.  I learned a few things, including the fact that they didn’t have enough volunteers to offer this service more often or in different campus locations.  Then I walked upstairs to the part-time chaplains office and on the way I passed the Tim Horton’s coffee kiosk which had a line-up of about 10-15 people.  Interesting…free, but you have to have your own cup = no line up, but pay $1.50-$2.00 and get a disposable cup = line up of 10-15 people.  Something is wrong here.

Recently, Cardus, a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture, released it’s Canadian Educational Survey (They released the US version last year) in which they explored the effects of education upon people’s lives.  The survey measured the differences between educational systems, (Catholic, Independent  Public, Christian, and Home School being the primary categories) with respect not only to career but to the affect on the social fabric of our society. (You can see the whole report by clicking here)  Included in the study was the role of education with respect to environmental care.

When they compared responses from participants they discovered,

“A sense of moral or religious obligation to care for the environment is very strong among the Christian school and religious home-educated graduates.” p.39

I’m glad to hear that.  At the heart of the Christian story is the belief in a good creation.  We believe that the environment is a gift of God and we are called to care for it.  We should have a strong moral or religious obligation to care for the environment (The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. Genesis 2:15).  But having a sense of moral obligation and acting upon it are apparently two different matters.  The report goes on to say

“When we add all of these reported actions together, there are no significant differences between government school graduates and those from other school sectors. There is a small trend among religious home-educated graduates toward fewer environmentally friendly actions… Overall, then, we find some differences in a sense of obligation to the environment, which favour the Christian school and religious home education sectors, and in commitment to participating in the environmental movement, which is more likely among independent non-religious school graduates. Besides those, the differences between school sectors on the environment are very limited.” (p.40)

Basically the survey says that although Christians (at least those schooled in Christian environments) have a higher sense of obligation to the care of the environment, in reality Christians come out the same as all other students in actually caring for the environment.  If Christians have a higher sense of obligation to the environment, shouldn’t we have a greater participation in environmental action and causes?

Maybe there is a reason that what used to be a Chaplain’s office at the University of Ottawa is now the office for Sustainable Development.  And maybe it’s time for Christian students on campus to take a lead in volunteer action with the Office of Sustainable Development…it’s a way that we can live out that moral religious obligation that we apparently feel.  Who knows, in the future this office might once again become known as a place of spiritual service.