By Jason Stoub

Growing up I had a keen sense that I had to be, look and do certain things in order to belong. I figured out very early that there were ways that I could control or guarantee my inclusion at home, school and church. There was a formula and I thought I had it all figured out.

School and church were two in the same for me as I attended a Lutheran K-12 school. On Sundays however, my family attended a church of a different denomination. For the most part school was fine, my friends didn’t know the difference and treated me just like everyone else. At school the reality was there was a difference and I was different. In subtle and not so subtle ways I was told I did not belong and that my salvation was in serious question. One of those “not so subtle” ways showed up at basketball games when we’d pray before the game started. Each team would line up at their bench and we’d bow our heads and pray. This happened at every game unless we played a team from a different synod of Lutherans. If we played a team against the other Lutherans we were instructed to not bow our heads or close our eyes. This left me in a bind as I was not even Lutheran. The message was that I don’t belong and worse than that I wasn’t going to make it unless I did belong.

I now know that growing up in this environment has wounded my sense of belonging and forgiveness. I can feel this wound at times when I hear pastors or others speak in terms of being “saved and unsaved” or “believer and unbeliever”. In my listening I hear you’re “in” or you are “out”. In my shame I believe that this language has defined me and condemned me. In my contempt I judge those who use these words and therefore agree with them in their use of them. In this context (this way of listening) I am relating as a victim. I will typically feel the burning contempt first in my body and then hear it in my words. My contempt, if I am present with it, will always lead me to my shame. It is through my shame that I can turn my heart and wound towards God and forgiveness. Any time that I am in contempt I have chosen to manage my shame outside the love of God.