Dee's Blog
Tue 10/28/2014
Conversation with a Wise Old Man
Topic: Shame

Two day ago I met Joelouis Mattox,an elderly gentleman, a historian of color, who has a passion for teaching young people the lessons of slavery and freedom.  See as an example.

 Joelouis was telling me that when he goes into schools to talk to classrooms about slavery, the resistance he encounters is not from the white children. "They want to hear, and they're eager to talk about it," he told me.  "It's the black children who don't want to hear it!"

 I thought about that, but not for long without venturing a hunch as to why.  "Could it have to do with shame? I asked.  "Because victims who have not found a way to move on, finding ways to thrive in spite of their past, often see themselves as losers.  And, of course, nobody wants to be a loser.  Losers are often ashamed, even though their losing isn't their own fault."

 "I think it's because they are ashamed that their ancestors so often weren't able to do anything except submit," he suggested.

 "Yet these children need to know that there is no shame in being helpless and powerless.  All of us at some point in our lives have been helpless and powerless.  It's a part of being human," I said.

We went on to talk about the exceptions, the men and sometimes women, too, who were able to escape and even to join the Union in fighting for their own freedom.

 Joelouis says he likes to surprise black children, to see the look on their faces when he tells them that there were over 200,000 white men who died that we black folks might be free.  "They never realized that so many really did care about them," he said, though we both acknowledged that not everyone who died on the Union side were radical abolitionists.  Still many stayed to fight even after Lincoln declared the War to be about slavery. According to Joelouis, that's very important as we put things into perspective.

The white kids often don't know that, had it not been for the black soldiers. who proved themselves so courageous to the Union Army, this United States of America probably would not have endured. 

How's that for evening the score?  There's no shame in being helpless and powerless as individuals.  Only when we find people who have managed to thrive (on all sides of the equation)--victims, survivors, and advocates together--are we able to experience true victory and embrace unity.

The only real losers are the perpetrators of injustice.

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Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 3:22 PM CDT
Updated: Tue 11/04/2014 8:04 AM CST
Tue 12/23/2008
Healing Shame
Topic: Shame

The church is responsible for finding it's own healing from shame.  It will only come when it is able to separate it's own collective guilt from shame--same as every individual among us. 

What better time to allow this process to begin than at Christmas. 

As the words from the carol "Let All Moral Flesh" say:

"Christ our God to earth descendeth," Note that this is on-going, not exclusively past nor future.  Always giving us new opportunity.


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Mon 12/22/2008
Topic: Shame

Sometimes when I'm feeling threatened or shamed, I can so easily fall into the ditch of arrogancy.  Same as people of institutional power.  Isn't it odd how the powerless and the powerful can so easily fall into the same ditch?  The powerful, hiding their immense shame with denial, while fearing they will lose power if they admit to having it.  The powerless (or less powerful, actually) fearing shame at being beaten down further.

Recognizing this in others, we can smile inwardly.   If both parties could simply be honest enough to talk about the things that unite us all--shame and insecurity, for whatever reason--then, and only then, is there a hope for real change. 

Perhaps that was what Christ was trying to say to us all.  That's the Joy that can come from the dark night--if only we all stop trying to be perfect, stop expecting others to be, accepting the fact that we can only work for things to get better.  Thereby, acting with true compassion. 

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Sun 12/21/2008
Time to Stop Being Cool
Topic: Shame

Today in Iowa, we aren't cool.  We are downright cold, with several inches of ice under our feet and snow on top of it!

That's not the kind of cool that endangers us if we are trying to live an authentic life, a life where we are emotionally honest and not ashamed to say how we feel.

Society doesn't encourage authenticity.  Western cultures encourage us to be "cool."

Being "cool" in the church isn't the same as being "cool" in our culture.  Yet either kind of "cool" is a killer.  To authenticity, that is.

Shame resiliency means that I am confident, rather than easily shamed by people who need for me to fit into the belief system or feelings of everyone else.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Sun 12/14/2008
The Childlike Approach to Darkness
Topic: Shame

By dwelling in darkness, we refuse to see fragments of the light unless we can see the blinding fullness of all light.  We want perfection rather than a broken world--the world that has always been, marbled and complex. 

So we sit like stones.  Or spoiled children.  Silent.  Pouting.  Or just having a useless temper tantrum.  Dwelling in darkness, we do nothing to really clean up our own messes or any that we see in this world.

Visiting or experiencing darkness requires commitment, as well as courage.  Dwelling in darkness requires nothing except determination to stay in the same rut--just spinning our wheels.  In that state, we can make a lot of noise, but NO music!

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Fri 12/12/2008
Misunderstandings about Darkness
Topic: Shame

Darkness is not just depression, though depression can dwell there.  Nor is it necessarily the habitation for those who are oppressed.   Darkness has many faces. 

Dwelling in darkness, however, is a choice that is far away from simply visiting or experiencing darkness.  By visiting or daring to experience darkness, we find hope.  By dwelling, we neither see hope nor dare to look for the courage to find it. 


Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Thu 12/11/2008
The Greatest Darkness, the Greatest Fear
Topic: Shame

Ironically, the place of greatest darkness is fear and apathy.  That place sits just outside the very place where we meet the opportunity to go into the depth of our souls, examining the darkness of past or present.  For it is only in this examination that we are able to find real light--a light that allows us to walk with others, in a wide variety of circumstances, as they find the courage to go into the depths of their own souls. 

"Men love darkness rather than light" the scripture says.  I now understand this on a deeper level than I ever did.  Our human tendency is to love the common darkness of fear and apathy, rather than walking in the uncommon light of courage and compassion. 

It is the uncommon journey, however, that takes us to greater and greater heights so that we can see the blend of the darkness and the light in the threads of our own life, as well as in the larger world.  Seeing it all in full view and still smiling through our tears.  Not a smile of common happiness, but one of immense joy that comes as we learn to rest with the questions and be comfortable with the ambiguity.

That, to me, is the meaning of a real Christmas.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: Wed 12/10/2008 7:39 AM CST
Wed 12/10/2008
The Value of Sitting
Topic: Shame

Sitting is not more important than doing.  It is a very necessary component, however, to doing.  As we sit in the darkness, we gain insight.

We also need to become comfortable in keeping a place to return to, to sit again and again, when we need the serenity of darkness.  Yes, serenity!  It truly becomes a place of serenity if we make friends with darkness.  However, not as an exclusive friend.  Just an important friend among many places in our lives.

It is in the darkness that we learn to dig deep, so we can return to the light with renewed energy.  Yet only if we remember that sitting is just a temporary condition.

In the type of advocacy work that I do, I find that the most important thing--sometimes the only thing--that I need to say to most survivors of sexual and domestic abuse is that there is light outside the darkness.  Even if that light does not come from the same sources that it once came.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST
Tue 12/09/2008
Wasting Time?
Topic: Shame

Is it wasting time to sit in the darkness?  A lot of us have thought so, from time to time.

Yet sitting there serves many purposes.  Not the least of which is sorting the shame from the blame.  And the blame from the guilt that allows me to take responsibility for my past actions, attitudes, beliefs, or approaches that will produce a very important change in me.

So that I can, in turn, sit in the darkness with others.

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 7:48 AM CST
Mon 12/08/2008
A Precursor to True Compassion
Topic: Shame

It's impossible for me to sit in the darkness with another unless I've dared to sit in the darkness of my own life.  Sitting long enough to feel it, to accept it as a part of the process in life's griefs, and something for which I need not be afraid.   I must be willing to sit until I am no longer tempted to run.

Until the darkness becomes acceptable and is embraced as a normal part of every life, I cannot handle the darkness that comes with others' misery.  Especially, I believe, if that misery is far different than mine, requiring me to imagine myself being in that exact place.

It's much easier, therefore, to empathize with those who have suffered the same sort of pain that I may feel than it is to cross the bridge so that I understand the suffering that seems almost impossible for me to imagine.

Perhaps we need to think of a new serenity prayer: 

"God give me the courage to imagine the pain of people far from me--culturally, geographically, and socially.

Grant me the compassion to sit quietly, to walk with them, and perhaps to even take bold action on their behalf."

Posted by Dee Ann Miller at 12:01 AM CST

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