I’ve not met anyone else with more childhood shame than I had. My earliest memory of shame dates back to being 4 years old, when I decided to stop talking to relatives and their kids. For the next 10 years, I hid my voice and they would hardly hear me utter a word. That meant that at family gatherings, I never said “hello.” Perhaps even worse, I never spoke to other kids either. When the phone rang in the days before caller ID, I’d often feel terrified. “What if it was not mom or dad?”
I also hid my body. It did not help that I was always one of the shortest, if not the shortest in my class. Entering middle school at 4’5”, the fact that kids years younger then me were outgrowing me compounded my shame, so I gravitated towards anything to hide. For example, I was the kid who never took off my sweater even in sweltering heat (though rare in San Francisco, it happens). Teachers would yell at me to take off my sweater cause I was sweating bullets. Huge times of shame those were. I detested those times.
But I also experienced patches of honor, things that broke me out of my shell. In 6th grade, during our daily class discussions on current events, I was often physically lifted out of my seat to stand on my chair to give the weather report, something I did very well, and everyone knew it. I had a thing for detail and being able to explain it. By 9th grade (now 4’11”, I was invited to teach the entire module on English diagramming to my peers. I received no instruction on how to do it, no structure whatsoever. But I embraced the opportunity. I planned the lesson, lectured on it, gave homework, and graded papers. Apparently, my teacher recognized my abilities and one day, simply said to me “I think you can teach this better than me” then he let me “have at it.” I felt honored in those times. Similar things happened in other classes too. By 10th grade, I was helping instruct teachers in our new Apple computer lab, and got paid for it. But outside of those contexts, I was silent. I still never took off my jacket (graduated from sweater), even on the hottest days. In high school, that kind of profile (the kid who never speaks, never takes off his jacket, yet takes over classes) was the making of seriously weird social outcast.
Those teachers who believed in me, and accepted me in spite my hiding, those teachers who invited me to a place of honor, they were the early voices of Jesus in my life. When I finally began to follow Jesus, when He become my Lord, I finally began to understand just how lost I was because of my hiding, because of my shame.
When I read about the recent shootings and the people behind them like Elliot Rodgers, I can sympathize with them. I can imagine what they needed, and sad that they did not get it. So these days, when I’m telling others about Christ who relate to Asian culture, I don’t just “tell” them “about” Christ. I strive to give them the same experience I had, a calling into a place of honor.
To invite others into a place of honor requires presence, initiative, prayer, and imagination. It’s taken years to learn to do these things, and I’ve got a long way to go. But nobody models this better than Jesus. He did this often, especially with the woman at the well in John 4 (and perhaps in the future, I’ll write about this). She was the shamed talk of the town, and Jesus brought her to a place of honor because by the end of the narrative, she was now the conduit who introduced others to Christ.
I’ve scarcely have found a Gospel to address shame, the feeling that people who relate to Asian culture can identify with. Most Gospels assume a guilt appeal, even the ones that supposedly work EVERYWHERE and in EVERY CONTEXT. I don’t see that in Scripture. Paul, in a span on a few chapters between Acts 13-17 models different methods and meeting places, never a one-size fits all. If you regularly share the Gospel to someone who is shame-based, and if you ask them “those questions” that are supposed to make them feel guilty, they’ll either deny it, or go along to “preserve harmony.”
With Asian population being one of the fastest growing, and with Asian Christians expected to be the “next missionary force” to reach the lost worldwide, there’s a great need for lost Asian folks to hear a message of Jesus who is calling them out of all that hides. People like me thirst for honor. Rather than finding it in the traditional things that give “face” it needs to be found in Jesus. And, there’s a great need for churched Asians to discover what it feels like to shun shame. If enough churched Asians embrace this, we can break the legalism that’s long plagued the Asian church, replacing it a dynamic where shame leads us to find honor in Jesus.
Here’s a book definition of honor:
“Honor refers to the public acknowledgment of a person’s worth, granted on the basis of how fully that individual embodies qualities and behaviors valued by the group.” (IVPs Dict of NT Background)
The Matt 11:28 verse is quoted above because when one shifts WHO gives someone their honor over to the Triune God, peace will come because there is no shame standing before God. This was the experience of the Samaritan woman.
I’m currently studying Song of Songs right now…it’s almost an oxymoron to say that. It’d be wrong to study such a passionate book without opening one’s soul to the passionate love of Jesus our King (in writing that, I’m not suggesting a particular hermeneutic). All I’m saying is, oh how I long for “that kind of acceptance, that kind of love.” I’m experiencing more of that fruit with every new season…but it’ll take me a lifetime to work through all the bad “bodily” habits formed from past decades.
I’ve had dozens of spiritual conversations with people this past year. But I don’t personally share Gospel tracts with people, especially here in San Francisco. In the title of this post, I use the word “Law.” THAT word does not fit my context, and surely does not fit my San Francisco context. And I rarely share Scripture also, just because it’s not an authority here. 2 decades ago, I proudly shared tracts like the “4 laws” in a variety of languages to people all around me. I would not do so today. It just does not fit my context. But let me say something nice about the tract…I met the author of the “4-laws” and took him to the airport, years ago, in 1995. Amazing, humble, compassionate man…Dr. Bill Bright. He loved Jesus. I saw it on his face. At the end of the day, we need to introduce people TO Jesus…never just a set of ideas.
These days, I talk a lot more, and I can take off my sweater. I still feel the pull of my old identity. But Christ has crucified that “flesh”, the old identity per Gal 5:24. Because of Christ, I’m not shamed. I’m the “honored” one.