Why we keep wearing fig leaves


By Rev. Paul Graves

I had a hip joint replaced five weeks ago today. During the surgery, a spontaneous fracture occurred just above the new joint. It was caused by a bone condition I have that makes some of my bones brittle. I’m healing very well, but I’m also newly aware of how long bone fractures take to heal.

That new awareness prompts me to wonder about the many fractures our personal lives and our societal lives endure every day; and how long they can take to heal. I know only one thing: they will never heal if we keep re-injuring them! Our culture seems obsessed with re-fracturing ourselves and others. I wonder why.

Perhaps one reason is that we feel, bone-deep (pun intended), that we deserve to endure continual fracturing of our spirits. But why? 

Part of the answer may rise up from a little-remembered detail in the story of Adam and Eve’s “Fall” in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-24). Mid-way into the story, God looks for the couple and calls out to them, “Why were you hiding from me?”.

Adam weakly calls back to God: “I was afraid because I was naked.” After their encounter with the serpent, they discovered their shame-based nakedness. They didn’t want God to see them that way! Slap on the fig leaves.

They were ashamed. But here’s a little detail we usually gloss over: Genesis 3:21 simply affirms that instead of punishing Adam and Eve in that instant, God becomes a loving mother who sews skins together to cover their shame.

I see the whole Creation story as a metaphor. It’s an ancient story that wonderfully tells how the world began and how humanity was introduced into that creation. In this garment-sewing detail, God’s first post-creation act is to love the creatures who seem overwhelmed with a primal shame that never seems to go away.

And we still buy into the shame-lie! That shame continues to be reinforced by nearly everything we experience, everything we’re told about ourselves or the “nature of humanity.” We believe we are shameful to the bone, and no one can talk us out of it. Not even Jesus!

Really? Not even Jesus? All of the stories and doctrines that surround our too-limited perceptions of Jesus don’t convince us that there’s so much more to our humanity than the shame we wallow in. We’ve been slow-to-unwilling to embrace the Gospel, the “Good News”, of Jesus. As our shame death-grips us, we give in to “It’s too good to be true.”

When I sometimes begin to feel that way, I try to remember a simple truth-piece I read some years ago by my spiritual guide, Richard Rohr: “Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity; Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.”

Really? That’s a very radical – root-deep – reversal of the way we usually think! In our primal shame, we think what we do – or not do – will change God’s mind toward us. Rohr counters this: “People often seem to start with this premise: ‘If I behave correctly, I will one day see God clearly.’ Yet the biblical tradition says the exact opposite: If we see God clearly, we will behave in a good and human way.”

So we have it backward? Yes! So Jesus’ life really means to convince us that he wants us to change our minds about who God is? Yes! God really wants us to be free from our shame so we can experience and express God’s love for us. So drop the fig leaves – and your shame with them!

The Rev. Paul Graves is a retired elder member of the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.

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