McClintock, Shame-Less Lives, Grace-Full Congregations

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Karen A. McClintock, Shame-Less Lives, Grace-Full Congregations. The Alban Institute, 2011.

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I’ve read a lot of books on shame, both to help myself and others. Most are written from the perspective of helping individuals address the shame-based stories they live out from the script implanted during their early socialization. These are good. This text does some of the same, but its special contribution is addressing congregations and their leaders. The author writes out of a strong conviction:

“I believe congregations are in decline because they have become shame-bound. Shame is so debilitating that many of our congregations are now critically ill. Shame blocks our ability to evangelize effectively, embrace diversity, and heal individual members. Pervasive shame limits congregational healing after experiences of ineffective and abusive leadership.”

Congregations and their leaders are especially vulnerable. She says:

“Clergy and leaders in congregations are often the most shame-bound people I have encountered. People with a good deal of inner pain and a deep sense of unworthiness frequently find their way to faith communities. Many of those enter congregational leadership in an unconscious search for personal and relational healing. A congregation can seem like a safe place in which to hide feelings of shame. But hiding isn’t healing, and hidden shame is dangerously correlated with secrets that harm congregations.”

Members of churches often perpetuate shame as well: “People with shame find shame-based congregations, because they are accustomed to being preached to, having fingers pointed in their direction, and the judgment of not measuring up.”

With skill, wit, and sensitivity, she suggests ways for congregations to address shame.

“You are hereby invited to become a shame­less leader in order to assist others in your congregational system to find a life of grace. You can heal the shame you have likely been carrying around for far too long. This shame may be rooted in childhood when you experienced parental disapproval or abuse. It may have come into your life as a result of sexual experimentation in your teens or young adulthood. It may have followed a marriage that ended or a relationship in which you carried secrets. It may be that you have taken responsibility for someone else’s shame and made it your own.”

The faith community you participate in needs your help in creating a place of joy and grace. To do this, you must learn to recognize and heal the shame of your own upbringing, to recognize shame in the behavior of other leaders and clergy around you, to reduce shame-reinforcing theology, and to provide alternative messages of hope and healing.”

Ten well-written chapters address the subject:

  1. Where Shame Begins
  2. Yours, Mine, and Ours: Overlapping Dynamics of Shame
  3. We’re All Different: Creating Shame-less Congregational Cultures
  4. The Shame-Blame Game: Recognizing Shame’s Opposite
  5. Comparison Shame: Closing the Gaps with Acceptance and Respect
  6. Perfection Shame: Quieting Our Inner Critic
  7. Chronic Illness Shame: Community Is the Cure
  8. Naked and Ashamed: Reducing Individual Sexual Shame
  9. Sexual Shame in Congregations: Old Habits and New Opportunities
  10. Grace Yourself: Practical Ways to Overcome Shame
**For a summary, click here for the Kindle Version, go to right column, and download the free sample. If you don’t have a free Kindle Reader on your computer, there’s a link for that too.

Publisher’s Description

In Shame-Less Lives, Grace-Full Congregations, author Karen McClintock invites readers to become shame-less, so they can assist others in a congregational system to find a life of joy and grace.

McClintock explores shame as a theological and psychological emotion, defining it as “a feeling of unworthiness in the sight of God or significant others.” While guilt says, “I made a mistake,” shame says,“I am a mistake,” she explains.

With skilled storytelling and gentle humor, McClintock takes readers on a journey in which we learn to recognize the many forms shame takes and explore and heal the shame of our own upbringing, particularly the shame-laden messages within our own religious teachings and practices. She illustrates the ways shame-laden leaders interact with congregations and ways congregational shame influences clergy and laity within the system. She shows us how to recognize shame in the behavior of other leaders and clergy around us, to reduce shame-reinforcing theology, and to provide alternative messages of hope and healing. She also guides us in liberating others from their shame, be they friends, colleagues, or people in a congregation where we worship and serve.

McClintock advises readers that eradicating shame may take a few weeks, months, years, or a lifetime. This book is not written so that we can be free of all shame. It is written so we can become shame-less by acknowledging old patterns and consciously changing them, because shame-less leaders create shame-less congregations.

About the Author

Karen A. McClintock is a clergy consultant and psychologist specializing in shame recovery. She is a national lecturer and workshop leader on sexuality issues in the church and teaches in the psychology department at Southern Oregon University. Her previous books include Preventing Sexual Abuse in Congregations, and Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing. She co-authored Healthy Disclosure along with Dr. Kibbie Ruth. More information is available at: healthycongregation.com

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