Recently, Melissa Etheridge called out Angelina Jolie’s choice to have a double-mastectomy as “fearful.” Etheridge commented that nutrition and stress cause cancer to begin in the body.
Unfortunately, Etheridge did nothing to help the stigma that already comes with cancer. Sure, not all cancers have stigmas. But when we hear that someone has cancer, often the first thing that comes to our mind was “they took care of themselves” or “they didn’t take good enough care of themselves.”
Through Ethridge’s words, shame was imposed upon someone else’s tough choice.
Shame and stigma seeps into each part of our daily lives, from our meal choices, to how we parent, to how we schedule our day.
According to the Bible, it didn’t take humans long to experience shame. Just one mistake and shame became so embedded in their souls. They experienced the shame even before God called them out on their actions.
Life is full of regrets. Of course, we should always continue to reevaluate our actions to make sure we aren’t damaging our neighbors, creation or ourselves. But, at some point, shame becomes so deeply a part of who we are that it holds us back from enjoying life and relationships.
As we continuously live under the umbrella of shame, whether our own or the shame we impose on others, we will never find the good enough in our lives. There is no room for grace or mercy. There is only room to live in perfection.
Perfection will never happen.
Jesus tried to banish shame when he touched the unclean. Yet, that message has not stuck well with Christians. If it had, people wouldn’t look down upon those with HIV/AIDS, STD’s or a variety of other “lifestyle” acquiring diseases. Jesus showered the woman at the well with grace and, yet, we manage to continue to shame people who have had divorces or multiple marriages. (Take for instance a comment recently made about Kate Winslet on being pregnant with her third child by a third husband.)
I remember in my seminary New Testament class with Stephen Patterson that he mentioned disease was the physical ailment and illness was the social stigma that accompanied many illnesses. While we may not look at the exact same things as unclean in the 21st century, we still have shame and stigmas associated with behavior and appearances.
Does it matter that someone had a child out of wedlock or got divorced? Does it matter that the person at the fast food restaurant is overweight? Does it matter that someone caught an illness because of an action or choice they made? Why do we shame women who breast feed or don’t breast feed? Why do we shame women for becoming stay-at-home moms or working full time? (And why is so much shame pour out on women?) Isn’t it tough for each of us to live day-to-day that maybe we should grant others a little bit of grace and mercy that we, ourselves, have also received?