Shame that Heals + Shame that Destroys

By Andrew Comiskey, Mark Foreman, Lucas Cortazio

Eyes of Love By Andrew Comiskey

Shame is conveyed by the eyes, a critical gaze like daggers that can divide sensitive souls. I recall such scrutiny during a summer camp when my peers chided me as I awkwardly mopped the lunchroom floor. (They awaited dismissal as I worked off discipline for being late to the table.) A counselor saw my plight and accompanied me, mop-in-hand, to finish the job. Just looking into his caring eyes sustained me amid the glare of deriding ones.

He became Jesus to me. His face mediated mercy, the antidote to bad shame.  I can only imagine the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50 who kept her eyes fixed on Jesus as the Pharisee looked at her critically. (If you recall, she crashed the dinner party to thank Jesus.) A scorned woman, her judge kept her down by the way he looked at her. His eyes conveyed bad shame—a gaze fueled by the traditions of men rather than the will of God. She smartly refused to come under him. She did so by the “living water” imparted through Jesus’ gaze.

My sensitive, peer-rejected self soured into same-sex attraction, later “coming out” into all-things-queer in 1970’s Los Angeles. Unhappy with who I was becoming, I ventured out with some “Jesus-people” friends to a large hippie church where the pastor, post-service, looked at me with disgust. (I was a seeker, still evidently a slave to disorder.) I could not return there. He personified a thousand male faces I wanted to avoid. Under that exposure, I buckled, divided within, and wanted to isolate from everyone. 

Months later, my brother Joel, now as “born-again” as he had been a bully, reached out to me with authentic concern, the first time he came close to me with kindness. That invited my conversion more powerfully than a sermon. My mom, soon after, and upon hearing my “coming out” story, responded with merciful tears: “I’ve known a lot of ‘gay’ people, Andy; their lives were limited, and I’ve always wanted more for you…Why don’t you look into this Jesus who is helping your brother a lot?” 

Her tears awakened me to something other than familiar “bad” shame. It was good shame. “Out-but-not-quite-proud,” I felt like something was wrong—not just others’ bullying, but something shameful about how I was offering myself to guys. I dehumanized them, and vice-versa. 

I said “yes” to Jesus and began to attend a small earthy church near me; I learned how to worship this good Man who looked at me kindly. In love, He invited my repentance. He exchanged my filth for His forgiveness. And He freed me for fellowship within which I chose to live in the light. To this day I choose the light of fellowship as the antidote to still familiar idols. I still sing love songs to Him from my grateful, still-being-healed heart. His flow of “living water” primes me to give Him back all the love I have. Sweet simple songs of adoration say that better than anything else. Worship sends demons to flight. 

Like the sinful woman in Luke 7, I have learned how to discipline my inner gaze upon Him, to give Him supremacy over shame. I forgive shamers, and He invites me when necessary to experience good shame through His eyes of love. I open to the light of His merciful members and receive strength in weakness. I am not mainly a victim, but first a sinner lost without merciful Jesus. I who have been forgiven of much love Him much (Luke 7:47).

A Shame Free Zone By Mark Foreman

The usher handed me a bulletin and asked, “What kind of Bible are you carrying?” I went blank as I looked down at the black book in my hand that I had just pulled off my parents’ shelf to carry into church so I would religiously fit in. I squirmed and hesitantly responded, “I don’t know, just a Bible Bible.” He mockingly laughed and said, “Let me see that thing.” After looking it over, he handed it back saying, “That’s the Reversed Slandered Version (referring to Revised Standard Version). Now go get a real Bible, the King James Version.” Instantly, I felt like I was in Junior High being mocked by a bully for the shoes I was wearing. That unbearable feeling was all too familiar—shame.

We discover our shame as a child when someone first makes fun of us. We soon realize that the world, even our home, is not a safe place. It makes fun of people who are too tall or short, too quiet or loud, wear glasses or have freckles, or have skin color different than the others. Shame causes us to feel self-conscious and embarrassed. We hide, realizing it’s not safe to be authentic—the “real me.”

We are not only victims but perpetrators of shame. It’s the source of bragging and acting as if we’re smarter, better looking, or just more together. We pose, put down, groom and dress, and even speak hoping to be accepted or better than others. Essentially, like actors we perform. All the social games we play are built on shame.

Shame entered at the dawn of the world. Through the temptation of snake we did not become like God, as it promised. Rather, we discovered who we are not. Without God we feel undressed—inadequate—and we’ve been hiding ever since. Like fly-paper, shame inescapably sticks to all of us. 

A shameless world would have no pride, no pretending, no hiding, no clicks, no gossip or slander, and no false imaging behind our beauty, brains, or bucks. A shameless world is an honest, innocent, grateful, childlike, and authentic world.

Jesus told the woman at the well that He was seeking true worshipers. Not pretenders, comparers, actors, or posers. As true worshipers we bring our true selves—the good, the bad, and the ugly. No fig leaves.

John 12 describes a dinner gathering that is interrupted by Mary, who bursts into a room of men to pour costly perfume on Jesus and to wipe His feet with her hair, only to be shamed by Judas and others who said the “right thing” to do would have been to sell the fragrance and give it to the poor. The “oughts” and “shoulds” of religious judging are the killers of true worship.

How does Jesus deal with our shame? The closing of John’s Gospel portrays Jesus cooking fish on the shore of Galilee. Peter without his cloak, but covered in his shame, is good for nothing now but fishing. He shamefully denied his Lord, his God, his best friend, three times! His life is dulled, muted, and colorless with his failure. Suddenly he hears John cry out, “It’s the Lord!” Without thought Peter grabs his cloak of dignity and dives into the water to swim to Jesus. 

On shore Jesus has the fire going with fish cooking. Jesus’ eyes welcome Peter without a word but Peter’s head is bowed in shame. After a few bites and greetings for the others, Jesus nods to Peter in that old familiar way and they take a walk alone. Peter thinks, “Oh, here it comes and I deserve it. Jesus is going to shame me.”

Instead, Jesus asks Peter the same question in three different ways followed by “get back to work.” When Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” the third time, it dawns on Peter what Jesus is doing. It’s not the change of Greek verbs for love that hit him—that was common. It’s the fact that Jesus asked him a third time, cancelling his three denials. He is both confronting Peter gently and reinstating Peter without using shame.

The church of Jesus is the shame-free zone. It’s a place where the tool of the devil, and the result of the fall, aren’t necessary tools for Jesus. Rather, as the worship begins we see Jesus on the shore cooking fish.

Finding Peace in Times of Panic By Lucas Cortazio

I’m very comfortable being in tough situations and hard situations that require me to perform. I’m an athlete and a competitor at heart. That’s been my life since I was a little kid and I kind of love those high-pressure situations.

When the pandemic hit, I kind of welcomed it right away. It was a challenge, so I said, “let’s go, we’ve got work to do.” That mode kicked in right away and we just started running. The pandemic brought so much change all around so quickly, and change is something I usually embrace and seek even. It really fuels my soul and who I am. But four or five weeks into the pandemic, things shifted so quickly, and personally in my job here at Community, I felt that I had no ground to stand on for the first time. That was hard. 

I remember the Sunday morning [my wife] Evelyn and I were hosting online services like we did several times in the last twelve months. I was talking to people online, but I was also in four different text conversations at the same time with high-level leaders at our church. We were talking through some of the transitions, and again, I felt like I had no ground to stand on. I felt like I had lost my place in the organization and was fighting for control, which is my biggest idol. I probably didn’t understand that until this episode, but control is my biggest idol and I was trying to control this situation in each of those conversations. I remember sending a text to my lead pastor that was probably the most honest I’ve ever been with him. Looking back now, I wish it wasn’t through text, but I sent it and we were into it. I remember sitting in the living room, sending that text, then getting up and getting this feeling in my gut that wasn’t good. It started rising, and I walked into the kitchen and told Evelyn, “there’s something wrong with me. I’m not okay.” 

My hands and feet started shaking, my lips contracted and went numb, and I started crying. I had never experienced anything like that and I had no idea what was happening. The enemy was trying to attack me by saying, “you need to be in control,” but then so quickly I heard this voice saying, “shame on you for trying to control everything,” and it broke me down. It was two hours of being on the ground, kneeling and praying to God to keep my family and my wife because I felt like I was dying. Evelyn was praying over me and I’m telling her, “babe, you’re gonna be okay and the kids are gonna be okay,” because I really thought I was dying.

At some point, our executive pastor and his wife came over and sat with us. After a couple hours, I was able to sit up, still feeling those symptoms, but at that point, the fear of dying kind of left and I knew I was going to be okay. My mind was racing and I was trying to figure out what happened and why it happened. I called my doctor immediately and was like, “walk me through this because I don’t understand,” and he was like, “yeah, I think that’s a panic attack.”

I think a couple of things were happening—I felt like I was being attacked by the enemy, but also by myself. I think I was self-sabotaging a little by believing I needed to be in control of everything, but the beautiful thing is that, while I was being attacked by external forces and internal forces, God met me there and He kept me. He held me and other people held me. Very quickly, in the course of two to three hours, I experienced something I had never experienced before, but I also experienced healing through that. I felt like the idol of control in me was dying. It’s not dead yet, it still speaks and has a voice inside me, but it’s a much smaller voice now after what I went through. I had no other choice but to surrender and say, “God, first of all, I don’t ever want to experience that again. So if surrender is how I don’t experience that anymore, I will surrender. I don’t want to control anything anymore. Here, You control it.” We’ve written songs about surrender, but it’s one thing to say it and another thing to live it out. I felt like God met me with grace and said, “I know you’re not completely surrendered yet, son. But I have grace for you. So don’t stay there—walk with Me. Let’s continue to walk this journey of surrender.” I feel like I was attacked beforehand and after by shame, but quickly met God’s grace. If grace is there, shame has no place.

A couple of days later, I was sitting in that same spot, and I started to have the same feelings. This is something that’s still a mystery to me and Evelyn, but this was in a completely different setting where we were praying, singing and worshipping. My hands and feet and lips started shaking again, the very same symptoms, but this time it was completely peaceful. The only way I know how to explain it is that whatever the enemy tries to use for destruction, God goes, “Look, I can use it for peace as well.” To be able to have that in the span of two days was really glorious.

I’ll be very honest: when other people talk about panic attacks, if you haven’t lived it, you have no idea. I try to be as understanding as possible, but honestly, before that, I was like, “just deal with it. God’s got you, you’re strong, you can do it.” I never truly understood how crippling anxiety and panic attacks can be. I just had that one, so I can’t imagine how people live with having those types of attacks on a daily basis. 

It was helpful to me in understanding what other people go through on a daily basis and finding empathy for them. I was able to actually see people that go through that and I feel like I’m at least a little better equip to deal with those situations now. My heart breaks for people that have gone through this their entire lives and are still struggling with it. There’s hope and healing for that. Sometimes God decides to heal us now in a moment, and sometimes He doesn’t. 

My prayer is that, if you’re reading this, you would know that there is hope for healing in the here and now. God is redeeming all things. And if He doesn’t decide to heal you right now, there are baby steps toward healing that happen through community. Find people around you that see you and see your struggle and validate your struggle. If that’s something you’re struggling with, find people around you and have conversations about it. I don’t know what my journey with this looks like moving forward, but I know there is healing, and most of it comes through people. 

I think to experience God’s healing grace is always multi-faceted. Something the enemy used to try to kill me, God has redeemed in many different ways. 

The really cool thing is that now I can talk about this with other people and can share what happened with me. I have to be careful because I just had that one episode, so I don’t want to be like, “yeah, I’m a person that struggles with anxiety.” That’s not really who I am and since then, nothing major has happened and I hope it stays that way. But it gives me an in now to have that conversation with some folks, and we’ve been able to do that already. I hope we can continue to do that in a very sobering way.

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