Shame in the eye of the beholder
The first day of Torrey Conference allowed students to hear from vulnerable speakers on shame. | Jacob Knopf/ THE CHIMES
For the 81st Torrey Memorial Bible Conference, speakers shared on the topic of shame through the theme “Released to be known, set free to see,” on Oct. 19. This conference in particular caused students to have a deeper, more personal response than previous conferences due to the subject matter.
living in a world of shame
“I feel like that this is such a different topic than I believe from the last Torrey conferences; that this is one that hits deep for most people because, us as Christians, we usually don’t see ourselves as shaming each other or living in a world of shame,” said Ryan Hsu, sophomore cinema and media arts major.
The morning session opened with prayer and introductions by lead assistant cross country and track coach Jason Hitchens and alumna Kelly Krieger, as well as a story by associate professor of education Virginia Johnson about the traumatic shame she experienced in her life.
Curt Thompson, interpersonal neurobiologist and author of “Anatomy of the Soul,” gave the main message and shared about the effects of shame and the human need for vulnerability. Thompson also talked about how people long for a world of goodness, beauty and joy, which he asserts God believes Christians can create alongside himself.
“I want students to come away with, I think, a greater interest in and confidence and the importance of being vulnerable, and that being vulnerable with people who are trustworthy around those areas of our life,” Thompson said. “That for which we’re ashamed actually creates space for us to become even more creative than we would otherwise be able to realize.”
Thompson made the theme applicable by using several examples to make the audience think about how much they open up to people. In one example, he asked if students could name three people who could collectively tell everything about their individual lives.
“I thought it was really cool when he asked the question of ‘Can you list off three people who can tell me everything about you?’ I never really thought about that before or how much I’d opened up to certain people,” said Bethany Foster, freshman English major.
As Thompson presented, junior studio arts major Brandon Steadman, stage name Brandon Taylor, used spray paint to visually represent the message. Steadman referred to the first three chapters of Genesis by painting the words joy, goodness, new, good, evil and shame. Steadman then proceeded to rip letter-shaped tape off of the canvas, revealing the word joy once again.
“The piece today was basically covering all the layers of life. I start off, like in Genesis, where you're good and there's joy, but then sin entered the world and just kind of messed everything up. It's just about how you can find joy in the pain and the struggle of sin,” Steadman said.
Continuing the conversation
Following the main message, students had the option to attend three breakout sessions rather than two, the number offered in prior years. This included one female-only session, “Released and Free from Sexual Sin and Shame,” and one male-only session, “Hide and Seek for Guy,” each offered during two different breakout session times. Michele Fleming, post-doc staff therapist at the Biola Counseling Center, spoke at the female-only session, diving into how one can find redemption from indulgent or stolen sexual experiences which produce shame.
“I think she did a really good job at really painting the picture and… connecting with us and answering questions that we had and were afraid to talk about or speak up, and she was like, ‘I already know what they are and I’m just gonna answer and explain things to you,’” said Michelle LaBianca, junior communications major. “Because I was not expecting it to be this real, this session, you know, I thought it was gonna be a lot like cookie cutter, and it wasn't — it was real.”
In another session titled “Shamelessly Seen: A Couple of Seriously Scandalous Jesus Encounters,” assistant professor of New Testament and Early Christianity James Petitfils spoke on three of Jesus’ encounters with those deep in shame. Before starting his discussion, Petitfils had audience members listen, sing and dance to five songs that often get stuck in his head to illustrate how shame can get so easily stuck in people’s heads. Petitfils focused on his first example of Jesus interacting with the woman at the well in John 4, discussing how Jesus rips through her shame and dignifies the woman.
“I think that a lot of Biola students deal with shame because of the culture that we live in. It's almost like this sinful shame, this shame in their sin, and I feel like they need to be freed from that,” said Jessica Ogunduyile, senior public relations major. “You know, like you are still loved even though you know you still struggle with these things and that they’re not alone in it either. I think that it’ll bring a very communal aspect out of them.”