I have come to a place where I fully embrace my shit. I’m not talking about metaphorical shit – I’ll get to that later. Right now, I’m talking about actual shit.
I’ve had stomach issues my whole life. It wasn’t until early adulthood that I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome and realized that my issues with shit were connected to my physical, mental and emotional health. Anyone who is in my intimate circle knows that I’ve struggled much of my life with managing this part of my health. There are plenty of stories of Roze running to find a restroom in public places or having to pull over on the side of the road. My brother affectionately refers to my issues as insane bowel syndrome, because in his words, “That shit’s insane!” You are probably learning more than you ever wanted to learn about me but all will soon be revealed… As someone who has had lifelong issues with shit, I’m not embarrassed to talk about it and have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
In prepping for this post, I reached out to a doctor friend of mine to get some facts. I learned that we have to shit or else we will die of sepsis. If our bodies do not expel waste, the shit will literally enter our bloodstream and infection will occur leading to multi organ failure and eventually, death. How about that shit?
I’ve also learned that there is a correlation between how bad our shit stinks and our diet. Because it’s waste, shit will always stink, but there are some of us whose shit (and farts) can literally clear a room. This is caused by bacteria that is present in our waste. The odor however is exacerbated by our diets. The worse our diets, the worse the smell. What we put into ourselves, the things we ingest, will literally show their true colors AND smell when we expel it.
Enough about actual shit. Let’s talk about metaphorical shit.
I talk a lot about shadows and my blog title, Embracing My Shadow, emerged after my last depressive episode. I was confronted with the truth of who I was and the reality that my shadow was something I had been trying to ignore and suppress. By not embracing my shadow, I got to a point when it took over my life, leading me to a deep darkness and hopelessness. This title was also influenced by my time as a hospital chaplain as I participated in clinical pastoral education. During group processing sessions with my chaplain peers, we often talked about the the concept of the shadow – the side of yourself that you hide and are ashamed of that has the ability to thwart your life and leadership if you are not aware of it or choose to ignore it. I was introduced to the now deceased Debbie Ford, the spiritual writer, speaker and teacher, who’s thoughts about the shadow inspired my blog title and this movement. She says this,
Embracing our shadow is the ultimate act of self-love. There is no greater love than the one that allows us to shine a light on the aspects of ourselves that we have judged and made wrong. Embracing our dark side gives us a new found freedom to be with the darkness in others. For when I can love all of me, I will love all of you…
I fell in love with this way of thinking because it revealed the importance of moving from shame and hidden ways of being that ended up thwarting my life. It forced me to re-evaluate how I understood those things that I had previously rejected or ignored. Most importantly, I began to realize that in order to be in authentic, life affirming, loving relationships with others, I had to first be in this kind of relationship with myself. And that meant, coming to terms with all of who I am .
I realized that the mental illness that I was battling was one of the shadows that I had long ignored and suppressed. By not dealing with it, I ended up being consumed by it, so much so that it became a matter of life and death. My self-work has been a journey of coming to terms with the various shadows of my life because I now understand the importance of being aware of my WHOLE self, coming to terms with my WHOLE self and embracing my WHOLE self – the good, the bad and the ugly. Not doing so leads me to live a disjointed life, one that never experiences the abundant life that God so desperately wants for me. When I don’t embrace my shadow, it ensnares me, wrapping itself around my inner most being and leading me to live an inauthentic life, one that harms myself and those around me.
This is not a new concept. The great Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung believed that the shadow was the unknown ‘‘dark side of our personality–-dark both because it tends to consist predominantly of the primitive, negative, socially or religiously depreciated human emotions and impulses like sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger, or rage and due to its unenlightened nature, completely obscured from consciousness.” For Jung the greatest danger was to be unconscious of one’s shadow side, as doing so leads to evil. Evil is not defined as something that is an external, metaphorical concept, but evil as an actual way of being that leads to disconnection, death, dis-ease and despair. What I have realized is that not being aware of ones shadow side leads to a negativity and harmful way of being that permeates a person’s way of life and ultimately comes forth as shit.
This leads me to the Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, pastor of The Empowerment Temple in Baltmore, MD. I thought a lot about whether or not I’d write something following the most recent happenings surrounding him. After some thought, I decided that I am someone who provides commentary on things that happen, especially in the realm of Christian faith and community. I have also decided that any commentary I provide will come from my orientation of being one who is focused on issues of self love, self-worth, awareness and community uplift.
Recently Pastor Bryant made headlines because he quoted a line from a popular Chris Brown song entitled ‘Loyal’. Pastor Bryant quoted a line that refers to women as hoes as he attempted to weave pop culture into his sermon. I watched the entire sermon, which was about combating enemies in a believers life. Following the release of this video, there has been an uproar among many in theological and pastoral circles who were not only offended by what was said, but were enraged at the general context and tools of rhetoric used for the sermon itself. Many have things to say about this, but I find the most helpful commentary that explains why Pastor Bryant’s sermon and theological commitments are problematic to be from Alisha L. Gordon.
Pastor Bryant is not new to controversy. A few years ago, allegations arose that he was engaged in an affair with a young woman while he was married that resulted in the birth of a child. He finally admitted to the affair and acknowledged the child as his own. In the past couple of months, he made headlines again when he created a campaign to travel to Nigeria to “mediate” a resolution to the #bringbackourgirls global outcry. Many wondered about the nature of this endeavor and his intent and authority to engage in this matter in that way. I personally know of an instance where he stole an idea that was given to him by a friend of mine and passed it off as his own without crediting the person or the work that was done behind the scenes.
I share all of this because Pastor Bryant is a prime example of someone who has not seemed to embrace his shadow. Actually, let’s substitute shadow for shit. Our shit comes in many forms. It can be an illness, like addiction or depression. It can be character traits, like ego or pride. It can behaviors, like lying or cheating. It can be deep woundedness that causes us to feel unworthy or shameful. All of these can be the shit of our lives. And like actual shit, we don’t like talking about it or dealing with it. And when we don’t it seeps out into our lives, causing despair, disease and death.
With this most recent controversy, it seems that Pastor Bryant, like many of us, has some shit that needs to be dealt with. What makes this particular issue more urgent is that he is a public leader with a very large public platform. Everything he says and does will be magnified and dissected. But beyond this reality, as a public leader, he has a responsibility to those who seek his guidance and support the work he is engaged in. For me, this recent controversy points to a larger issue, the issue of what happens when one has shit in their lives that they have not dealt and it emerges in ways that are harmful to their personhood and the communities they are in relationship with.
I don’t know Pastor Bryant personally but I do know a little about his background. I believe in my heart of hearts that this is a man who is gifted and called for service. I also believe that he has lost his way and this is reflected by him not embracing his shit. Its seeping out and it stinks. But I believe there is hope for him and for all of us…
The brilliant scholar-writer-teacher-preacher, Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, vice president and dean at Esperanza College of Eastern University, talks about a theology of shit. I was introduced to this concept by another brilliant scholar the Rev. Leila M. Ortiz. According to Conde-Frazier, shit is the ultimate fertilizer. It has the potential to nourish, restore and revive once it leaves our bodies. God uses the shit of our lives to bring about change and deepen our experience of and connection to the Divine. However, this only happens once we embrace it. All of it. It’s funny how that shit happens, ain’t it?
So I believe that Pastor Bryant, like all of us, have the potential to lead lives that are life-giving and life-affirming. I believe that when we don’t embrace our shit, we engage in activities and speak words that are life-taking and death dealing. I believe that this most recent controversy is another example of shit and shadows that have not been embraced.
My hope is that all of us engage in the ongoing work of fostering self-awareness, engaging in opportunities that bring about healing and wholeness and commit to growth. In order to do any of this, we have to embrace our shit and turn to the one who is able to do abundantly more than we could ever hope for and imagine. The one who is able to create newness from the shit that threatens to overtake us. The one whose grace is all encompassing, covering a multitude of sins and working through our shadows and our shit, if we are willing, so that all may experience abundant life.