It probably was not my most shining hour. Truthfully, that sentence may be an understatement. Without boring you with the details, I had three conversations with three different people from one company and one conversation with another person from another company that had me running around in circles. It is kind of like when you are a little kid and your mother says, “Go ask your father.” When you go ask your father, he says, “Go ask your mother.” This causes you to want to yell, “Seriously, people, can’t you talk amongst yourselves?”
It is at times like these that it is so easy to assign blame.
It is ubiquitous, and these days it seems that there is plenty of it to go around.
The culture is blamed. The president is blamed. Congress is blamed. Conservatives blame the liberals. Liberals blame the conservatives. The media is blamed. The schools are blamed. The church is blamed. Parents blame their kids. Kids blame their parents. The spouse is blamed. I blame myself.
Blaming is as old as the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed God and Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.
As I ponder the concept of blame, I am reminded of poem written by Mary Howitt in the 1800s in which the opening line says, “‘Will you walk into my parlour?’ said the Spider to the Fly.” For me, blame is like a web, woven by a spider to hold a fly hard and fast. This grip of the web is due to a negative or neutral energy that is drawn by the positive electoral charge that is produced by a fly as it flies. In this way, the web has power over the fly. Similarly, blame has a power in that it seems to promise us a power over: Power over our sin. Power over the other. Power over our shortcomings. Power to produce a positive change. Yet, this is a specious power for its promises are empty. Like a spider’s web, blame captures us and holds us fast, and at the risk of sounding morbid, it slowly eats us alive.
You see, if I blame the other, neither of us is motivated to change. Transformation requires mourning, and blaming usurps that while simultaneously implying a need is going unmet. Needs are universal qualities that when met, allow humanity to thrive, such as security, protection, being heard, health, peace, connection, respect, etc. When I blame, there is something for which I long (a need) that is absent. If the situation is going to be transformed with forgiveness and healing, that unmet quality is to be recognized and its loss mourned. The problem is: blame avoids mourning, as Robert Karen in The Forgiving Self describes. Through my negative charge of anger and defensiveness by blaming, a space for mourning for both of us is demolished. Instead, it sometimes results in shaming the other, and, as Brené Brown has described, shaming does not produce a positive change. Through the blaming of the other, I am covering up the loss that I have experienced and have inadvertently declared, “Mourning is off limits!” In this way, I resist embracing my own vulnerability and my own humanity by remaining mired in the grasp of blame.
If I try the tactic of blaming myself, I am not inspired towards transformation either. Instead, I remain stuck in place, powerless to move. Now, one may think that if I tend to blame myself, the transformation for which I long would occur. I mean, does it not appear that I am taking responsibility? Does it not seem that this would generate positive results? But keep in mind that blame is deceptive. Thus, ironically, a person who blames herself remains trapped in the web of blame. Take for instance a person who apologizes repeatedly for almost everything. In an extreme example, if a gigantic asteroid is hurling towards earth, the person would definitely take the blame for it. But all this does is turn his anger and his shame inward which sometimes transforms it into depression, and depression, as we know, does not nurture the transformation for which he desires. Instead, it avoids his sense of loss and his ability to mourn that loss and covers up his own shame. If someone would attempt to point this out to him, he more than likely would blame himself for blaming himself. He is essentially being eaten alive from the inside out by blame and shame.
What is this draw that we have to blame?
For one, it simplifies life and gives the appearance of control, and it does this by fostering a black and white reality, as The Forgiving Self also describes. I smile as I type this because I am reminded of a Sunday cartoon from years ago by Bill Watterson’s strip Calvin and Hobbes. Recall that the Sunday funnies are in color; however, on this particular day, each frame is in black and white until we read the last one, which is in color. In this frame Calvin’s father says, “The problem is, you see everything in terms of black and white,” and Calvin protests, “Sometimes that’s the way things are!” (smile)
This is the reality of blame. It avoids the complexity of humanity. In this world of black and white, the appearance of power over is exerted. The appearance of control in the face of uncertainty is displayed. But alas, it is a façade. We are complex human beings who live in a complex world who experience unpredictability at every turn.
But there is another attraction to blame that I see as a Christ-follower. As I turn towards the Scriptures, I do not have to read very far in the book of Genesis to see a reason for this attraction. Genesis 3 informs us how Adam and Eve eat of the tree that is forbidden by God, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What entices them? To be like God. As I consider what this means for me, I see the attraction for a desire to control. To take power and have power over my world, over others, over my circumstances, and over me, and somehow, blame seems to promise that. It can temporarily appear to relieve me of my responsibility and shift it to you, or it can also temporarily appear to take responsibility and offer power over my own sin and shortcomings. But in its wake, it destroys me. It nurtures anger. It fosters fear. It creates a prison from which I am unable to free myself or you.
And this, for me as a Christ-follower, is where I see the gospel’s power, particularly as we are in the Lenten season. Jesus comes to this earth as the human-divine one, and by so doing, he embraces the complexity of humanity and the uniqueness of each human being through his own uniqueness. Since Jesus did not come to the world to condemn it (John 3:17) but to give us life, we do not find blame in Jesus. Instead, we see that Jesus embodies a power with humanity by his being both human and divine in his very person. He also demonstrates a power over the grip of blame as he is faultless. Thus, Jesus frees us from our prison of blame. Unlike blame which keeps us in a prison, the grace of God, as embodied in Jesus, is about freedom. In Jesus we are set free to be transformed and not held fast in the sticky web of blame. Unlike blame, in Jesus there is a space to mourn as Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted” (Mt 5:4). We are free in Jesus Christ to grieve our losses and find forgiveness and healing, to embrace our vulnerability and our humanity, and to embrace who we are.
I find it interesting that Jesus’ words, “So if the son sets you free, you will be really free,” are placed not long after the religious leaders had brought a woman who was caught in adultery to Jesus. Whether or not this story was written by John or later by a scribe is debated. With that being said, I want to note its place in the context and how the Spirit may use this story to speak to us about the freedom in Jesus Christ. While the religious leaders were blaming the woman (notice the man was not with her), their purpose was to use this blame to weave and catch Jesus in their own web of blame. As a side note, let me just say that blame is addictive, and it fosters more blame. If I begin blaming someone or an institution and you share a similar perspective, you can easily be drawn into my blame so that we can start a blaming party. This is how social media can be so effectively enticing. However, Jesus did not take the bait. He has power over blame as he embodies grace and truth (John 1:14). Grace defeats blame. More specifically, grace through empathy destroys blame. Jesus embodies empathy as he identifies with humanity while remaining differentiated through his divinity, and he does this without being pulled into blame’s web.
Thus, it is here in Jesus I find freedom from the tyranny of blame whether it’s when I blame others or I blame myself or others blame me. It is in Jesus I can mourn, weeping over the losses created through sin while being pulled toward a hope that I have in Jesus because of his resurrection. His resurrection bubbles forth a strong pull towards a future of a new heaven and a new earth where blame will be forever absent.
As I live in this blame-filled world, Lord Jesus help me to live out your grace both with others and with myself.
(the above picture is from pexels.com)
2 thoughts on “Webs, Spiders, Flies, and Blame”
Powerful words, Pam. I’ve spent several days and had several conversations about this. I am saddened to realize the church has (inadvertently) heighted blame and shame in the way we discipline ministers who have violated code in some way. We remove them from the pulpit, make them leave town, place them in a “recovery” program, and tell them they’re out until the problem is “fixed.” This behavior by leadership, though well intentioned, only serves to further increase shame.
As a church I want us to ask ourselves, “is it possible for a person to repent without being blamed and feeling shamed?” I am afraid we would discredit any repentence in the life of an individual who doesn’t experience a certain “level” of shame. Maybe we need to consider this idea as we prayerfully discuss how to discipline, or should I say restore, those who have had their mistakes revealed.
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Thank you for your thought provoking words.
John Bradshaw speaks of an unhealthy and a healthy shame that may help in this regard. Bradshaw states that an unhealthy shame is “the all pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being. . . .a sense of failing and falling short as a human being. . . .the self becomes an object of its own contempt, an object that can’t be trusted” (Healing the Shame that Binds You, 10). A healthy shame is a human feeling that reminds one of his/her finitude; in essence, it allows one to be human, permitting him/her to make mistakes and admit that one needs help (preface). For me, an unhealthy shame has that sense of hopelessness that healing will never come. For me, we do repentance an injustice by only focusing on the negative aspect, the guilt and the wrong-doing. If repentance includes 180-degree turn, it also speaks of a hope, of something new, of being pulled toward a future, of healing. I think a sense of community can go a long way in bringing that healing, that sense of hope and true restoration. We have seen this done effectively, but it involved not only calling out the people in sin and removing them, but it also involved maintaining a relationship with them and being involved on a regular basis in their lives and keeping them in the community, too. After all, isn’t that what communion is? A sense of sorrow held in tension with healing, being pulled toward a future when we are with Christ at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb? Pam