Poem – the two trees.

Sin and shame came into the world
at the same time.
Adam and Eve ate fruit
from the tree
of the knowledge
of good and evil.

After that,
they were full of shame
about being naked,
about who they were,
about their very being,
and so they hid themselves
when God came around.

Before that,
they were
as they were created.
God saw them exactly
the way
God created them.
All was well.
They could be themselves
around God
without any
fear or embarrassment.

Thousands of years later,
was placed on the cross,
a wooden pole
stuck in the ground
with a horizontal bar across it.
It was symbolically a tree,
and in fact,
it was symbolically
That tree,
that same tree
in the Garden.

Jesus tells us that
He is the fruit of that tree,
and that we are to eat it.
We are to consume
his flesh
and drink
his blood.

He is the antidote
for that first tree,
that first sin.
He is the cure
for what ails us.

When we eat the fruit
that is Jesus,
we are restored.
We have re-entered
the Garden.
He makes us able
to stand
before God,
as we are,
without sin or shame,
without fear or embarrassment.

Sing – on shame, and dreams

When I was a child, my father played classical music records all the time. In fact he made a point of rushing into the house when Mom brought me home to put Beethoven on the stereo to make sure that was the first music I heard.

One day I was singing along to the music. I’d heard it all my life by that point, and I knew most of the works by heart. When he heard me sing, instead of being happy that his child shared an appreciation for his music, he shouted “Let the musicians play!”

I suspect he had no idea how damaging this was. It has been 40 years and I still remember how much shame I felt from hearing those words

The “musicians” weren’t live. He could pick up the needle on the record and play that piece again. He couldn’t replay the joy of hearing his child. I was live. They were recorded.

I think about his childhood, what would have made him do that.

I remember him telling me stories of how he would have to listen to his classical records in the closet. His parents thought that he was wasting his time. Perhaps they thought that he wasn’t being manly enough. I can remember he told me that he would secretly buy records.

Imagine being made to feel shame for buying and playing classical music, like it is the same as doing illegal drugs.

He wanted to be a conductor. He was taught that was not something to aim for. It wouldn’t support a family. It wasn’t practical.

He kept his love of classical music, but dropped his dream. He had a family and barely had enough money to support them.

I think we always hope that we aren’t going to be like our parents, but it is very hard. We try to remember all the things they did wrong and we resolve to not do them, but it is hard to undo our programming.

Especially when we don’t realize we’ve been programmed.

My father never did this work. He never dug down into himself, into his history. He never faced his fears and his brokenness. He was sad a lot. It was called depression, but that is just another name for sad.

He was sad because he wasn’t allowed to be himself. His parents were told the same story, and I suspect their parents were told the same.

The story was this – Don’t be yourself. Don’t be different. Fit in. Go for the safe route, the sure thing.

He didn’t remember them shaming him. So he shamed me for showing joy at something he loved. He was taught this. So then he did it to me.

To this day I cannot listen to classical music without crying.

Victim beads

The last time I went to my spiritual director, we talked a lot about the people who have harmed me in my past. This wasn’t really what I wanted to talk about. I’d rather just jump right ahead into forgiving them. She wants me to pick open that wound and study it for a bit. She wants me to dig down to what I’m feeling. Then dig down below that.

Anger, sure. But beneath anger is sadness, and grief. It is a sense of loss, of not-having, of never-will. It is a sense of something that I think should be mine, isn’t.

This is a foreign feeling, and even more foreign that an expert is telling me to stay with this feeling. Surely I should “turn the other cheek,” right? Surely I should “forgive and forget,” right?

But she says to stick with it. Every month I come back and I’m ready to forgive and she thinks I’m not ready yet.

So, par the course for me I made a bracelet to help me remember. I put a bead to remind me of each person who has harmed me. I did this fairly fast, so there are some I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but fast work means that I don’t overanalyze it.

prayer victim

I’ve also been writing about how I was harmed by my parents, and also my brother. Writing about it is hard. I don’t want to dig up these old bones. She had me look at that feeling – why do I not want to talk about it? In part it is because I feel like I am betraying them. I feel like I’m being disloyal to them. We aren’t supposed to speak ill of the dead. Nothing is stronger than blood, right?

I say that they meant well, that they didn’t know any better, that they themselves were raised badly. She says those are covers. That there is something I’m not looking at. That I need to focus on how I was harmed. I need to focus on that I was harmed.

There is certainly a bit of shame that comes in the mix when using the word “victim.” Am I to blame for what happened to me? Is it my fault? Could I have stood up for myself? Was I too passive? By not speaking up for myself, I allowed it to happen. They couldn’t have known they were harming me unless I said something. To not speak up is to give acceptance.

I hate going to the spiritual director’s. Every month, about a week before, I start to dread it. I don’t want to talk about what she wants to talk about because it is going to be hard. I want to make a list and tell her what we are going to talk about and use up all the time so that I don’t have anything hard to talk about.

But then that wastes the whole point of going. It is like going to a personal trainer at the gym and saying all I want to do is jumping jacks for an hour. I’m not going to work on anything meaningful that way. I’ll have wasted my time and my money. She’s like a personal trainer for my soul. We dig down to uncover broken pieces and blockages.

I read once that the goal in life isn’t to learn how to love. It is to remove all the barriers we have put up against love. I think the person quoted Rumi. I’m sure he said it better.

But look, here I go, walking away from the topic again. I’m a wiggly one, always trying to get away from what bothers me. I guess that is normal human nature. We often try to anesthetize ourselves or run away.

Let’s try again.

It is important to acknowledge loss. It is important to admit that it happened. To heal it, you have to know it is there. And that means a lot of digging.

So while I’m constructing the victim bracelet, I’m realizing that these are all people who have sinned against me. And then I think – what about all the people I have sinned against?

Am I justifying? Am I putting the blame back on me? Am I letting them off the hook? Am I avoiding the problem? Sounds like it.

So I’m staying with this. I’m not through it. I certainly want to be. I want this to be over and done and healed and let’s go on to the next thing and make it a happy one, please.

And I’m running away again.

I’ve heard that grief takes a long time. I’ve heard that you grieve for half the amount of time that you’ve known the person. This is grief. This is going to take a long time. It has grown down deep. And just like digging out privet in the back yard, this is going to take a lot of work and some special tools to get all of it out. Leave just a little bit of privet root and it will come back next year. Cut it down at the top and it will get even stronger and root down further. The only way to get it out is to dig it up, all of it. And the only way to do that is to work on it patiently and thoroughly.


I’ve heard a lot recently about how teachers should be aware of how their behavior might cause their students to feel shame. They are supposed to do away with all measures of success because it will make the lower performing students feel shame. Sure, each child has a different learning style. Sure, each child learns at a different pace. So some kids will not be on the same level as others. This is normal.

But something seems wrong about this.

If every kid makes an “A” for effort, then an “A” doesn’t mean anything. Why work hard? Why study? Your grade will be the same as everyone else’s. There is no motivation to improve. There is no feedback as to how you are doing.

The world doesn’t work like this. When they graduate they won’t be in a work environment that congratulates them for just showing up. When they enter the work world they will wonder why people don’t appreciate it when they spend an hour on Facebook and Twitter rather than working. Why try? Why work? You’ll get the same grade, right? They will be in for a rude awakening.

It isn’t healthy to treat “average” as “amazing”. Does it cause “shame” to encourage a child to try his best?

It would be better to teach kids how to have self respect. They need to learn how to love themselves as they are. They need to be OK with being different – because we all are different. They need to learn self esteem.

Being different isn’t wrong.

Having the wrong answer doesn’t make them a bad person.

Learning this will save them a lot of trouble throughout life.

How much of this is the responsibility of the teacher, and how much of this is the responsibility of the parents? How come teachers are being expected to do much more than teach?

Sure, a teacher needs to be mindful of what she says. We all do. That is just part of being a good person. But the other part of the equation is that the parents have to do what they can to teach their children to not lose it every time they get a less than perfect grade.

It doesn’t mean the kid is bad. It just means he has to work harder, or find a different way to learn the material. That is a good lesson for life in general.


Why is it that the person who has been attacked feels shame? The person who was abused by a parent wasn’t the person to blame. The person who was raped was the recipient, not the aggressor. The person who is the recipient of violence is most often female, but is sometimes male. Abuse isn’t exclusive. And the abuser or rapist isn’t always male. Physically, emotionally, sexually, abuse is abuse.

For the sake of simplicity I will say “she” for the person who is abused or raped and “he” for the abuser or rapist. I’m concerned I’m perpetuating a stereotype, so I want to be sure that it is understood that anybody can be attacked, and anybody can be the attacker. But our language has no appropriate third person singular, and saying “his or her” all the time is tedious, so I’m doing it this way.

I’m also making a point of not using the term “victim”. That is part of this. I believe that if she identifies herself as “victim” then she is perpetuating the violence that was done against her. More often though, the person who was attacked feels shame. They act as if they did something to deserve this. They feel shame so they don’t go to the police. They feel shame so they don’t go to the hospital or to a counselor.

Shame is another word for guilt. When a person feels shame, she feels as if she caused the problem. She feels that she brought it on herself. She feels responsible.

This is so totally backwards. The abuser, the rapist is the guilty party. The one he attacked is passive.

You do not cause someone to attack you. It has nothing to do with what you wear or what you said. Now, yes, I’ve recently written a post saying that women should dress modestly to protect themselves. I also think it is a good idea to get a handgun carry permit and take self-defense classes. Prevention, you know. But sometimes you can’t get out of the way of a problem, and there are a lot of damaged people out there who are ready to cause a problem with you.

One thing to notice is that the attacker is giving control of his emotions and actions to everyone else. The attacker blames other people for his losing control.

When Dad gets home from one of his many business trips, he has no right to beat his child for breaking something. His child is a child, and it was an accident. He has no right to yell at his child. His short temper is his fault, his failing.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

The same is true of anger.

But how is it that the person who is attacked feels shame, feels guilt? Do we teach that in our society? Is that normal? Is it something that is part of being attacked?

It certainly isn’t helpful. It renders the person who was attacked open to more attacks. It opens her up to abuse from not just the original abuser, but new ones. Bullies can spot weakness.

Again – that is not the fault of the person who is bullied. The bullies need to be responsible for their actions. It is not the “weak” kid’s fault that she gets her lunch money stolen from her – that is the fault of the bully. It is important to remember where the blame goes.

The odd part is that bullies themselves were often abused. Instead of feeling shame however, the bully learns that abusing others is normal. The bully patterns his actions on this warped lesson. The way to feel bigger is go make another feel smaller.

Stop bullying. Easy to say. Tell us how to do it.

Stop feeling shame for being abused. Stop thinking you are a victim. Again, easy to say. Hard to do.

I think there is something to teaching everyone that it is important to say no, to establish boundaries. That this is what you are willing to take, and this isn’t. Perhaps there is something to learning how to dialogue, versus debate. It helps if people can express their opinions without having to be “right” or “wrong” – but just be different.

I used to feel guilty for saying no, for telling someone that I wasn’t OK with what I was being asked to do. I’ve spent too much of my life feeling resentful that my life wasn’t my own. Even reading books about how to find my own voice, how to establish boundaries, I felt awkward. How dare I stand up for myself.

It was painful to read those books. It was like having to re-break a badly-healed leg. Emotionally, it was as if my family had broken my legs and because I’d not been allowed to get treatment, they’d healed badly. I was walking with an emotional limp. I just got used to it. It became my “normal”. Reading those books made me have to look at that wound again, and realize how it was affecting my life, and every relationship I had. I had to re-break those bones and let them heal again.

Emotional wounds hurt just as much as physical ones. And they are harder to spot. A broken leg – that sticks out. A broken spirit? That is much harder to spot. The damage runs deep there, and affects every part of your life.

But somewhere in the middle of reading those books, I was standing up for myself, and realizing that I wasn’t a victim, and I wasn’t to blame. By reading those books I was taking control of what had happened.

There is no shame in being abused. There is shame in being an abuser. You aren’t to blame for what happened to you. You are, however, responsible for what you do afterwards. You are responsible for your own actions, not the actions of others.