Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

Psalm 142:

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit is faint, you know my way. In the path where I walk they have hidden a trap for me.

Look on my right hand and see— there is no one who takes notice of me; no refuge remains to me; no one cares for me.

I cry to you, O Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”

Give heed to my cry, for I am brought very low. Save me from my persecutors, for they are too strong for me.

Bring me out of prison, so that I may give thanks to your name. The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.

Continuing on in looking at our triad of "Fear, shame, and guilt," let's move on to guilt.

"Guilt" is one of the most common words used in our legal system. It implies a legal judgment as well as a committed crime. It assumes that as a result of guilt, a punishment will be leveled upon the guilty person. As humans, we have a tendency to assess these judgments. We like to play Monday morning quarterback about them. We like to say what the judge did was "fair and reasonable punishment," when, in our opinion, the punishment fits the crime. Otherwise, we might complain that the person "got off easy," or "didn't deserve that harsh of a punishment."

Of course, we don't know all the facts. But we judge pretending we know enough of them. We also know that since legal justice is meted out by flawed human beings, yes, mistakes are made. Recent stories of new DNA techniques exonerating people convicted violent crimes are all over the news. The fact is we have to live in a world full of flawed judgments as well as accurate ones.

Spiritual guilt is perhaps a little beyond that, although it certainly includes the aspect of "judgment by others." It has an added dimension of "judgment by God," or, more accurately, "our projections of judgment by God." Sometimes we use God as a handy "out" to project our feelings. When someone has harmed us, sometimes we pretend to let go by thinking or saying something along the lines of, "Well, they'll have to answer to God for THAT, not me." But we really haven't let go. We are still judging and pretending to dump the burden of OUR judgment on God's lap.

Guilt can be one of the hardest to pick up in ourselves when we experience it. Fear comes with all the adrenalin and most of the time, can be sensed rather easily, because it comes with bodily responses. Shame has a "closing in" effect most of the time. But guilt can be pushed off on others and possibly covered a little handier. It's a little more share-able, and the people we share it with don't always know we are doing it.

I always think of the story of a pet raccoon I had for a short while. When I was a kid, we had a mother raccoon get run over on our road and two baby raccoons were orphaned. One survived. I helped bottle feed it and care for it. It halfway became a pet as we were trying to prepare it to go back to the woods.

But raccoons being raccoons, and their little front paws being almost like hands, he became very adept at letting himself out of his cage, even if you had twisted wire around the door to keep him in.

One day he escaped and decided it would be really fun to lick the leftover food off the dishes on the counter, and since he needed water to "wash his food," (raccoons don't have adequate salivary glands, and they need water to moisten their food) he also figured out how to turn on the kitchen sink somehow.

Unfortunately, the sink was stoppered, and when my mom came home from work for can imagine the mess. She let out a holler, and here's the funny part...

That raccoon jumped off the couch, went back into his cage...and wired himself back in!

It's no secret that our human nature is a lot the same way. We do something wrong. The reality is that God forgave us. But for some reason, we kind of got used to the coziness of that cage in which we were confined. Rather than shut the cage door behind us and wire it shut so it's a little harder to go back, we leave it open...and at the first sign of trouble, like that raccoon, we run back in and wire the cage door shut behind us.

This is true even when we allow someone else's guilt to push us into a cage. Then it gets really messy.

There's no doubt that people who are freed from incarceration have a hard time re-adjusting to life as a law-abiding citizen. Part of that is that others will often still see them as a "convicted felon," and over time, the freed criminal feels that weight, and will begin to see him/herself as someone still deserving of punishment, so it's not that difficult to make the choice to commit another crime.

That happens in our human relations, too.

I think of situations like one I continue to walk through. I ended up being harmed in some relationships because aspects of one of these relationships triggered an old need to "please people, even if their demands are unreasonable," in order to survive. Even though it happened some time back, it was only very recently I recognized I was still being hyper-vigilant about picking up the signs that I was somehow "not getting over this fast enough," and my focus moved from "getting over it," to "whether I was getting over it at other people's time frame." I was putting myself back in that cage...repeatedly.

The problem, of course, is when we do that, our guilt over doing that is such that we don't want to admit we are incarcerating ourselves, so we make others the "captors" and push back against "them" instead of ourselves. Now, that's not to say others haven't made judgments upon us that may or may not be fair, based on their own "stuff," but they don't twist our arms to go back into the cage. We willingly enter the cage. The problem is, it can result in an effect that is the polar opposite of the desired one. We want to have these other people trust us, but we end up doing things and behaving in ways that cause them to trust us less. We might even have irreparably broken the trust we tried to promote.

I don't know of any way out of that but to trust in God. I don't think God will make our relations "all square" with others, necessarily, but I think we can be aware of not going back into the cage and wiring ourselves in.

God of loving judgment,
our hearts know the wrongs we have committed.
Teach us to trust in the knowledge
that when we ask for your forgiveness,
we truly are forgiven; that you no longer remember our sins.
Help us to refrain from judging you,
that you did not "punish us enough,"
and keep us from placing ourselves in cages in which we do not belong.
Help us to see that the work you have for us to do in your kingdom
cannot be done from within a cage.
Remind us that your Son suffered on a cross
because of the wrong judgments of others,
yet was still resurrected and transformed.
Bring those resurrections and transformations
to our own lives,
Even when we don't know what they are, or how to ask for them. Amen.



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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