Another excerpt from The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson. Toward the end of his book, Thompson makes the case that our everyday lives are marked by tension between shame and love, isolation and community, disintegration and integration. In this chapter on vocation, he uses Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to discuss the role of shame in community and work. His reference to the shame attendant refers to an image used throughout the book to personify the mysterious and sometimes hard to pin down voice of condemnation that catalyzes shame in our inner thoughts. 

In this sense, love is less a noun than an adverb (i.e. lovingly), a word that describes the action of a verb, action taken at wisdom’s pace. And shame is all about stopping movement, shuttering conversation, crushing creative discovery, acting too quickly or too slowly for fear of making mistakes, and avoiding the repair of ruptures that are inevitable with the mobility of intersecting lives. Furthermore, this section applies to all vocations. If I am the best math teacher, but I don’t do it lovingly; if I develop the best app, but don’t do it lovingly; if I oversee the best children’s program of any church in my city, but don’t do it lovingly; if I pass important legislation in the Senate, but don’t do it lovingly; if I make as much money as possible for the shareholders of my company, but don’t do it lovingly — I am nothing. I gain nothing. Paul then proceeds to demonstrate what love is, or rather what it does, again representing it in terms of movement, action.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

All that we do — parenting, pastoring, farming, playing basketball, carpentry, police work, structural engineering — is done in response to love and shame competing for our attention, wrestling for authority over our memory, emotion, sensations and behaviors. These two dominant affective forces of the universe represent the struggle between good and evil. Within each of us, these two affective states, represented by the presence of the Holy Spirit on one side and our shame attendant on the other– are at war over us and the culture we are making. The Spirit echoes the voice of our Father telling us that we are his daughters and sons, whom he loves and in whom he is pleased. Our shame attendant reminds us in large and small ways that every function of our mind, let alone who we are as a whole, is not enough and has been abandoned. This war occurs in every realm of embodied life.