Badge of Shame

I went to my usual coffee shop this morning for the latte and orange-cranberry scone and I noticed the barista taking my order, a young woman who’s been working there for several years as she completes her university education, was wearing something unusual around her neck.  I had to look more closely.  It was a sort of homemade medallion, an award of some kind, the kind of thing you might see around the neck of a child pretending they’d won an Olympic Gold medal.  The strap was polka-dotted, various pastels on a light blue background (I think, I might have the color wrong), and the medallion itself was about 3 inches in diameter.  I leaned down and read the inscription…”Badge of Shame.”

Needless to say, that was the last thing I’d expected the medallion to say, and I thought, okay, I have to ask.  So I did.  And the young woman said that she was wearing it because she had said something insensitive and unkind and so she was wearing the badge of shame.  And then she told me, even as a strange look hurried across her face, that it was sort of hard for her to wear.   I was astonished to realize that this was no joke, but that here in a public coffee shop, someone was declaring freely that they were ashamed of a particular action they had taken.

I spoke to the owner about it, who was actually making my latte.  He said an employee had been late earlier in the week and a customer who teaches at a Montessori school voluntarily decided to make a “badge of shame” for the coffee shop.  The owner said since then, various people have worn it, and that the most interesting thing was that each one put it on themselves.  No one was telling anyone to wear it.

Wow.  Metaphors for days.   What strikes me, though, is how my heart sort of melted for the woman wearing the badge.  In the moment that she confessed that wearing it was hard for her, I saw a vulnerability that can’t help but make you love someone.   At the Northwest Church, we’ve spoken a lot in recent months about a culture of confession, and the fact that to speak the truth about our own broken state is a kind of “doorway to freedom.”   The owner of the shop and I talked about so many people wear badges of shame all the time, hidden away, grafted onto their souls.

As I drove away, and as I sit here even now, I wonder if anyone is going to “forgive” her, extend her some grace, and if they did, would she receive it?

Grace is everything, everything is grace…

3 Replies to “Badge of Shame”

  1. I think we should have badge of shame day for the election.

    I think it should be as beautiful and as free and as liberating as what you’ve described above. I think if it were fomented and enfleshed in a liberal and liberating way it could be good. For everyone.

    Candidates (like your barista), engaging public trust, by embracing thier own failings.

    They could teach a nation that an honest accounting of first themselves leads to an honest accounting of not just themselves, but empowers everyone to do the same. Until we have a whole nation (PUN Intended). A liberated nation— Spirits set free from the shackles of impoverished dogma.

    Candidates that constantly defend, defend, defend only enslave not just themselves but everyone else.

    For me, I cannot think of a candidate that hasn’t done that. All equally in some form or another resonate with pride, arrogance, and defensiveness…and all seem in one form or another to defend this defensiveness and defend this pride and arrogance.

    As for me, I want a candidate that starts out by saying, “I’ve got it wrong, I’ve messed up. I’ve made bad decisions, “we’ve” made bad decisions, “we” can do better and we can only do better by admitting “our” shortcomings, by embracing an honest accounting of not just ourselves but of each other. Each made in the image of God, flawed, temporal and heroic.

    Or not, or we can embrace the prisons of our own private whims, decrees and fiats”

    A candidate that would say that, or something to that effect would win the hearts and minds. If a candidate could be vulnerable in that way, perhaps a nation could learn to do the same.

    Next time you see your barista, tell her “thanks”. I wish that we could all be so brave, because maybe not she, but her action, her doorway to freedom, is what gets “my” vote.

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