Another compassionate, down-to-earth bit of religious self-help from Smedes (Psychology/Fuller Theological Seminary; A Pretty Good Person, 1990, etc.). The basic message couldn't be simpler: Shame can be healthy or unhealthy; when shame is unhealthy, the cure is God's grace. Smedes begins by distinguishing shame from guilt: We feel guilty for what we do, but we feel shame for what we are. Shame is a ``very heavy feeling,'' a sense that we are failures in life, unfit, unworthy. Candidates for shame include those who compulsively seek approval, compare themselves to others, get trapped by unreal ideals. Shame isn't always wrong, however: It may be a ``call from our true selves,'' an opportunity to improve our lives. Or it may be an illness that comes from listening to our ``false self.'' We may magnify our faults, or feel rejection from a group, or be wrongly shamed by secular or religious teachings. Whatever the cause, we need a radical cure: to lower our expectations or improve our behavior just won't cut the mustard. The only solution, says Smedes—who buttresses his view with many anecdotes, some of remarkable poignancy—is to surrender to God's love, to receive ``the gift of being accepted before we become acceptable.'' Grace will be experienced as pardon from our wrongs, gratitude for life, a new ability to know God. And where can grace be found? In friends, warm memories, a loving community. In time, deeper changes will occur: We will live life more lightly, identify ourselves with Christ (the earthly manifestation of God), know the real meaning of joy. Smedes closes with two lists: a 12-part ``creed'' that readers may use as a model to fashion their own creed, and suggestions for further reading, with some surprises (Sartre) mixed in with the expected (Bonhoeffer). Succinct, unpatronizing advice, sure to be of help to some of those who need it.
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