The Soul Of Shame (book review)

I first mentioned Dr. Curt Thompson’s blog Being Known over a year ago in this post: https://johngregoryjr.com/2021/04/25/storytelling-finding-joy/. After listening to the majority of the episodes and hearing references to his books, I finally got around to reading one. Thanks to hoopla, I just finished The Soul of Shame.

Like the podcast, this book is one to be revisited. Like the podcast, it’s not over your head. Like the podcast, it breathes life into its consumer.

We become what we pay attention to.

Chapter 2, How Shame Targets the Mind

If my highlights are an indicator, apparently my attention got stronger as I moved from chapter to chapter. The first four chapters build the case for the universality of shame’s reach. Then starting with chapter five, Thompson explains shame’s role in the biblical narrative, how it impacts our own narrative, and the remedies that produce redemption.

Honest vulnerability is the key to both healing shame-and its inevitably anticipated hellish outcome of abandonment-and preventing it from taking further root in our relationships and culture…To be human is to be vulnerable…God is vulnerable in the sense that he is open to wounding. Open to pain. Open to rejection. Open to death.

Chapters 5 & 6

Thompson declares that shame pushes us into isolation to keep us from pursuing being human, being vulnerable. To counter shame’s work, Thompson encourages us to understand our cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11-12), pursue nurturing communities, and renew our vocational creativity.

We will not be rid of shame this side of the new heaven and earth; rather, we grow in our awareness of shame in order to scorn it…There is no more significant place for us to counteract shame than in those venues where we spend most of our waking hours. In these places we are called to be agents for creating goodness and beauty, but these are the very places where shame is more than willing to do its most effective work.

Chapters 7 & 8

A word to the church: Thompson believes “the family of God is the crucible in which we learn what real family is about and in which the what and how of education is ideally imprinted into our souls, transforming both our life in our biological families as well as all that we learn about our world and our place in it.” The church gets the opportunity to help people choose between shame and love.

I encourage you, especially if you are in a place of influence and leadership, to read The Soul Of Shame. Shame won’t like you for it. Your soul will.

“Listen, God” (Part 2)

The next day I was still thinking about the previous day’s all-day conversation and referenced it in a conversation with a former coworker.

While we discussed it, God shared a final word. Adding to his direction to get my eyes off myself, he pointed out, “John, you know how you don’t like to hear people talking over each other and are frustrated when you catch yourself doing it? How about you practice that with me, too?”

He had the final word. Graciously, it was a question. And my “Listen, God” posture was altered.

Left me wondering what a “Listen, God” posture sounds/feels/looks like. Not too hard to imagine, really. Probably sounds similar to a Christmas morning temper tantrum from a six-year-old who just finished opening more gifts than they know what to do with. Probably feels similar to the tightness in a hair stylist’s chest whose client berates them because their work doesn’t match the picture from the magazine. Probably looks like the adult child rolling their eyes at their aging parent whose short-term memory loss has them repeating the same question three times in five minutes.

How God manages to keep a “You’re my son in whom I’m well pleased” posture is beyond my comprehension. That posture transforms mine from “Listen and do what I say” to “I’m glad you’re here. What would you like to talk about?”

Photo by Heike Mintel on Unsplash

“Listen, God” (Part 1)

One night this week, I woke from a dream and felt like I was mid-conversation with God. Not necessarily thrilled at the timing, I engaged for another hour and a half before going back to sleep.

When my body said, “You’re done sleeping,” our conversation picked back up and kept going throughout the day. I shared this with four different people. And pretty much each one of them asked me what God was saying. At that point, I admitted I was doing most of the talking. My tone was very much, “Listen, God. Here’s the deal. I need some things today. And I’m not going to hold back in telling you what they are.”

I got very specific with what I wanted from him before the day ended. I mean really specific. Guess what…I didn’t get anything I asked for. Instead, I got better things, things I really needed.

As I saw what I was receiving, in God-like fashion, He gave me more than I asked for. And when I gave him a chance to speak, this is what he said: “Get your eyes off yourself, John. Can you see that I heard you? Can you see what I’m giving you?”

He really is a good Father. He receives my tone, demands, and attempts to “ask and receive.” Then he responds with loving correction and gifts that show he’s everything he promises to be.

Photo by Social Income on Unsplash

God Has Competition

Here’s a common question I’ve been asked over the years: “I don’t seem to hear from God like many people say they do. Why?”

There could be several answers to that question, but allow me to answer it with a question: “What other voices in your life is God competing against?”

I believe God desires to speak to us, to communicate with us constantly. When we stop to consider who else desires to speak to us, it’s rather eye-opening, explains how important it is to lend our ear to the voices that matter.

To answer the “what other voices” question, here’s a suggestion. Get out a piece of paper or open a digital notetaking app. Make these three headings at the top: Spiritual, Physical, Digital. Then start listing the voices attempting to speak into your life under each heading.

Be brutally honest. For example, don’t avoid listing all spiritual voices that desire to speak into your life. To deny the existence and working of demonic forces actually shows they are ahead of you. Acknowledging their existence provides a means for God to speak to you as your protector and defender.

As for the physical heading, focus on human relationships. Again, be brutally honest. Include the good and the bad voices that have some level of authority in your life. List them all. This list should be pretty lengthy if you consider them all. By the way, go ahead and list yourself. You probably listen to you more than anyone else.

That third category, digital, may seem weird to consider. Basically, all things visual and audio are speaking into our lives simply by their presence. From TV to movies to apps to music to texts to emails to blogs to videos, list them all.

Finished yet? What’s that list look like? How does that help frame God’s competition?

What I have found in my listening for God is the need to silence his competition.

The fewer voices speaking the better odds He will be heard.

The fewer voices speaking the louder His voice seems.

The fewer voices speaking the easier to attune to the one that matters most.

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

This week I participated in a Q&A following a 40-minute story and message on the subject of overcoming addiction. The story shared was of a woman walking away from her Haitian family’s expectations of her continuing the business of voodoo. The message shared by a pastor focused on how God speaks into our life’s storms; his focus was the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to do the same.

In prepping for the Q&A by listening to the pre-recording of the pastor’s message and considering the prepared questions, I revisited a book I read several years ago by Dr. Charles Stone. In his book Brain-Savvy Leaders, Dr. Stone wrote this about change:

When we learn, repeated thoughts about the same subject become mental maps that eventually become habits or deeply engrained beliefs. That’s why reading, studying, and meditating upon scripture is so vital for a Christian. The more we focus on God’s word, the more brain connections we make about this truth, thus reinforcing our values and beliefs. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “rezones” our brains with God’s truth. This change is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The Apostle Paul speaks to this change in Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is-what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Chapter 4, Meet Your Brain’s Parts

What in the world is neuroplasticity? Dr. Stone describes it as the reconfiguring and rewiring of neurons that happens when we learn or when the brain “assumes functions it normally doesn’t do by taking over the functions from a damaged part of the brain.”

These thoughts were helpful to bring to the conversation when this question was asked: “What posture helps us stand against our feelings, to keep us from sinking in the storm?” Whatever our feelings are telling us about the storm we are facing, some rewiring can bring hope. However far we have sank, some reconfiguring how to think and live can lift us up.

Our brain’s zoning can be impacted greatly by traumatic events and addictive behaviors. The reality that our brain can be rezoned brings light and peace into one’s stormy life. As for postures-you might say self-directed neuroplasticity-to keep us from sinking, consider these:

  • How can you maintain a posture for learning?
  • How can you establish a posture of meditating on scripture?
  • How can you resist the posture of having your back turned away rather than your face turned toward God?

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash