Reflection: February 24

Published on Feb 26th, 2019 by Webminister | 0

         I just finished the novel, A House without Windows, by Nadia Hashimi.  It is about how women were, and in many places still are (in spite of many trailblazing Afghani women), treated horribly by the legal system and the patriarchal culture of Afghanistan.  The novel is about one woman who is accused of killing her husband and how her lawyer and family try to defend her in court.  She ends up in a woman’s prison and the stories of women’s lives emerge throughout the novel.  The stories are heart-breaking in terms of what is fair, just and right and have everything to do with who we are as human beings.

         Nadia Hashimi raises the issue of what it is like coming from an honour-shame society that is highly patriarchal; the result is that women suffer terribly.

Honour-shame is a concept that I know about intellectually, but not personally, being a Westerner.  I learned a bit about it in seminary, but it wasn’t until I discovered Richard Rohrbaugh and his research that I learned about honour and shame in more detail.  Rohrbaugh has made it is life’s research in helping us Westerners understand the culture in which Jesus lived, which was an honour-shame culture.

In hearing Jesus’ teachings from Luke’s Gospel, we need in our minds a basic concept of an honour-shame culture.  What Rohrbaugh teaches is that in this kind of culture, which is all about the community, honour is the public status one has in one’s community; honour can come from either one’s family position and history or one can acquire honour by one’s actions.  Shame is when one contravenes this honour in a public way or in a way that could become public.  So, the culture of Jesus’ day, unlike our own, was not about the individual, but about the collective.

Love and hate for an honour-shame culture, for example, don’t carry the same psychological content as we have today. To love someone is to be attached to someone or some group; the inner feeling of love is matched with an outer expression of attachment.  To love God with all one’s heart, mind, strength and soul is to be attached to God; and likewise, with loving one’s neighbour—we are attached in some tangible, practical way to our neighbours.

To hate is the opposite of love—it is to become detached, to disengage oneself from another; to separate ourselves from another is to hate.

And so, when Jesus teaches that we should love those who persecute us or who hate us, it is an invitation to challenge the honour-shame culture.  If someone hates you or dishonours you or curses you, the culture-shame response would be a like response of hate, dishonour and cursing.  But Jesus contravenes this by seeking attachment to others when the normal response is disengagement.  Jesus, embodying God’s love, which is about attachment to the world, seeks to include those who’ve been pushed aside by the dominant culture, those who have been shunned, those who experience the pain of living.  Jesus honours these folk—us—by declaring God’s attachment to us and honour of us.

So, in another example in this teaching from Luke, when Jesus says we are to turn the other cheek, it isn’t the meek and mild cowering response it sounds like it is.  The way I’ve heard it described is that if someone slaps you on the cheek using their right hand—an act of dishonouring, to begin with, you will be slapped on the left cheek.  And so, you turn your right cheek to the other and that person will either have to slap you with their left hand or the back of their right hand, a second dishonourable thing to do.  What you are saying is, “I am your equal and deserving of honour, and if you are going to slap me in a dishonourable way, I’ll present my other cheek and you’ll have to dishonour yourself further by slapping me in this way.”  Jesus turns upside down the world of honour-shame and invites us to claim for ourselves God’s honour and life.

I don’t mean for this to be a lesson in honour and shame.  What I’m trying to say is two simple things: one is that Jesus declares that in love, God seeks attachment to the world and to us in real and tangible ways; and secondly, Jesus raised up those who had been set aside and declared to have no honour, and he did so in such a way that they had to be accepted back into society. Jesus challenged the norms of what was honourable and what was not and declared that God’s attachment in love goes far beyond what we can see and understand.

In Richard Wagamese’s unfinished novel, Starlight, the main character, Frank Starlight, says this when talking about taking pictures in the wild of wild animals and things:

“’Wild things,’ he said.  ‘Always kinda felt wrong to me to say that of them.  They ain’t wild.  Not how most people come to mean anyhow.  You watch ‘em.  See how they are with each other.  They’re tamer’n us.  I think on accounta they know how to love outright and us, we gotta learn how to do that. I see that in ‘em.  How they’re tamed by love.  Not just each other.  By the land. The mystery of it.  The pull of the moon.  The sky.  The feel of it all.  That’s what draws me.  That big open in them.  It’s what I try to feel when I’m with them.  What I try to see and shoot (with my camera), if I’m lucky.  That’s realness.’”[1] 

That’s the attachment of a love that is real, a love of the land, a love of creation.

Wagamese, who sadly died in 2017 at the age of 62, lived his life trying to teach a way that is hard but ethical and inclusive, that invites people to discover the love that exists in them and to share that love and live from that love as human beings together.  He uses the land and his traditional teachings of being an Ojibwe human being from NW Ontario.  Frank Starlight does the same in the novel; he contravenes the societal norm about people and about what is perceived as wild places to help us see our place in the universe and how love can do so much more than hate or fear; when we come from a place of love, we are open to each other in new and deep ways and we can find a common path together.

Jesus, like Wagamese and Hashimi, turn our worlds upside down so that we can see the way in which love welcomes us home, the way in which love honours us and gives us identity, even those deemed to be outcast or “other,” and the way in which love calls from us a bond to each other and to life, to make a difference and to not let gender or race be determinants of who is honourable.  This kind of love changes us because it invites us into a deeper relationship. If we love the people and the earth, and we affirm our attachment in love, then we will think twice before we bring harm.  We will turn hate and fear, even if it is directed toward us, into love and possibility wherever and whenever we can, and we will speak with the courage of justice and compassion.

Peace to you.  Amen.


[1]Richard Wagamese, Starlight, page 107.



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