21 July 2016

"AHSH-AY-AIR BLO-KUH!" or "Yeah, I guess you could say context counts!"

It had been a crazy, insanely busy day -

I knew from the get-go that I'd be running, literally, from before sun-up until after sundown. 

Just in case you are wondering, officially there were 13 hours and just shy of five minutes of daylight on that particular day. I checked when I started the draft for this post...

So, at just shy of 4:00 pm, walking through the door of the house after picking up the kids from school so that I could get our kitty and have her to the vet's office 20 minutes later for a very important appointment (after which, hopefully we will all be sleeping better), I was most definitely a little distracted. 

And... the phone rang.

"Oui, Allô..." I said, slightly breathless after hopping over, around and through a rather large conglomeration of snow boots, backpacks, gym bags, lunch boxes, coats and other assorted items that six school kids tend to rapidly drop just inside the door when first arriving home.

"Bonjour! C'est AHSH-AY-AIR BLO-KUH..." and THAT was all I heard before the typical panic that strikes every time someone starts speaking French to me over the phone began to set in.


You'd think I'd be over this by now. 

I've been receiving phone calls in French for 16 years. 

It shouldn't still be causing such a brain freeze. 

But I really hate sounding like an incompetent fool...

Fortunately, I caught three words out of the next several that the speaker said: Monsieur, Wright and impôts (or taxes)... and those three words were all it took to give me a desperately needed context to aid comprehension. 

In fact, at that moment, literally EVERYTHING the caller had said suddenly made sense.

H&R Block (a name I've heard for years) was calling to speak to my husband about our taxes. It was, after all, April. Deadlines were looming. The office only had our house number and not Tim's cell - and needed to speak to him. I recited the needed number, we politely wished each other a nice day and I was back off and running to get our kitty to the vet.

When I walked through the door, before the phone rang:

  1. my mind was fixed on the next thing I had to do, 
  2. we'd been listening to an audio drama in the car (about Dietrich Bonhoeffer - what a story!)
  3. the kids were yattering about their days and worrying loudly about how the cat would do at the vet, 
  4. it was 4 in the afternoon (i.e. preferred sieste time), yet 
  5. I had more than half of a very full day looming, and
  6. the land line rarely rings at the house ~ unless it is hubby calling and, not surprisingly, we tend to speak to each other in English. 
And, even though H&R Block is a well known business name to me - it is something I've heard of literally all of my life - the name sounded totally foreign when pronounced with French phonetics.

Which brings me back to what seems to be a bit of a resounding theme lately ~

It is difficult to make good decisions or knowledgeable judgments if I don't have sufficient context to have any real comprehension. 

It is impossible to participate in profitable discourse concerning the pertinent and difficult questions that trouble our present times.

Yet instead of slowing down, 

rather than gathering more information and 

discerning a context...

there's this strong temptation to plunge ahead, regardless of collateral damage. 

Arrogant, egocentric, lazy and impetuous, I quickly assume that my perception from my point of view is, if not exactly identical to that of God, it is most certainly the next best thing.

Yet, without context... without understanding... 

without any recognition of how my present perspective prejudices... 

or possibly even perverts... 

How can I arrive at an equitable and more complete understanding of the reality in question?

This attitude, so prevalent - today, and, apparently, in Jesus' time - closes conversations rather than encouraging dialogue, learning and change for the better.

And in John, Jesus is pretty clear that I have no business judging, without first having enough knowledge to do so correctly.

19 July 2016

that "action of bringing two parties face to face"

So... that doesn't sound so bad, does it?

I mean, there are lots of times I really like being face to face - with my hubby, for one.

Or sitting across the table from a good friend, sipping tea or coffee and having to lean forward... in close... to actually hear what my friend is saying because the concrete walls echo, magnifying the background noises of all the other conversations taking place in the restaurant.

Or my littlest munchkin smashing her nose and forehead against my cheek, her preferred mode of snuggling as she falls asleep. It IS sometimes suffocating, but always sweet. It's also really hard to snap a picture of that, but trust me... it happens at some point, every single day... still. She's not always falling asleep, but at 7.5 years, she still needs a snuggle cuddle every day.

How, then, could it be? 

That a word defined as the "action of bringing two parties face to face" strikes dread in the hearts of so many. 

That it is something most of us (siblings don't count) avoid it at all costs. 


we simply strive to avoid those people who don't choose to...

...avoid [this word], I mean.

Have you figured out what "it" I'm talking about yet?



Conflict, altercation, disagreement, and argument are all common synonyms.

Or, more idiomatically,

"going nose to nose"
"butting heads!"

The etymology of the word confrontation, 

     which originates in the Latin and probably made its way into English via French, 

           looks something like this:

Essentially, it means the act of (according to dictionary.com)
  1. standing or coming in front of; 
  2. standing or meeting, facing; 
  3. presenting for acknowledgment, contradiction, etc.; 
  4. setting face to face; 
  5. bringing together for examination or comparison; 
  6. facing in hostility or defiance, opposing; and/or 
  7. being in one's way. 
Some of those have clear negative connotations... but they don't all have to, especially if we'd take the time to learn how to "do" well this thing we are calling confrontation: first how to receive criticism/confrontation... and then why, when and how to actually confront another.

Biblical confrontation was a topic I studied in depth with the women in our church in Niger. The pastor's wife asked me to lead a study on this topic because the younger women were intimidated by the older women, particularly when the older women let the younger gals know they hadn't met "some" expectation set by the older ones.

Here's what we looked at ~
Check out these links above if you want to see how our conversations/studies went. Personally, I felt I learned a lot more than I taught, and in those posts, tried to include the very interesting and insightful implications, as well as the conclusions drawn and applications suggested - all by the ladies in that church. One thing I think is important to remember - most of these women were, at that point in time, illiterate. Thus, it was quite likely their first exposure to some of the different Bible passages, in any way, shape or form.

I love the example of Nathan (as confronter) and David (as confrontee), in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan confronted gently and well, as well as for the right reasons. David received that confrontation humbly and brokenly. But then...

But then, we read 2 Samuel 13, a horrifyingly difficult account in the Biblical record. 

In chapter 13, we also read a story of several additional confrontations... or ones that should have taken place... 

Sadly, none of which were handled correctly by both participants, if they were handled at all.

As was my typical strategy when leading a Bible study, we read/reviewed the story. Then I asked them to identify any confrontations that did occur... and then to think about and identify where confrontations might have/should have occurred. The goals was to consider and then discuss:
  1. what went well (if anything), and particularly,
  2. what didn't go well 
between the confronter and the confrontee in each situation.

Here's what the ladies notices as we worked our way through the first half of the chapter.

A confrontation between Jonadab and Amnon

The two were cousins and apparently close friends. This confrontation actually started off okay. Jonadab showed himself to be an attentive and observant friend. He clued in to Amnon's distress and went to him, confronting him, saying "It's obvious something isn't right. Tell me what's going on." 

Amnon's initial response was also good. He very transparently answered his cousin and told him the whole truth of what was bothering him: Amnon desired his half sister. 

This was the point where I, from my perspective and with my cultural baggage, felt this encounter went wrong. Instead of encouraging Amnon to seek counsel, or instead of giving good advice himself, Jonadab recommends deceit and a selfish pursuit of what Amnon thinks will make him happy. Jonadab suggests an immediate and temporary alleviation of Amnon's discontent, rather than digging deeper to find out why Amnon was feeling as he was, instead of seeking lasting answers and a changed heart. Jonadab also recommended what could appear to be a deceitful ruse.

Thankfully, I held my tongue and allowed the ladies to speak first, because in the Nigerien culture direct confrontation rarely happens.

Instead, the women quickly pointed out a difficulty in judging with knowledge - completely and accurately determining Jonadab's motivations behind his counsel.

Here's what the ladies thought:

Jonadab's counsel provoked a visit from King David, Amnon's father. David clearly had the authority to confront Amnon - from a position of wisdom and personal experience (Temember the previous few chapters?). Whereas Jonadab could only address Ammnon's issues as a peer, David could speak as a father. Culturally, Jonadab could not directly confront his friend, but he could suggest a scenario where one, David, who legitimately and authoritatively engage would be made aware of the issue.

Out of curiosity, when I got home I looked up the meaning of the key word used to describe Jonadab: "shrewd" or "crafty." Hearing those words, I can quickly conclude deceitful.

However, the original Hebrew word meant wise and was often used in conjunction with prophets and those who had good discernment. It was also frequently used to describe sorcerers and false prophets.

My next step was to see what else, if anything else, the Bible says about Jonadab. He is mentioned in one other place - he accurately informs David of Absalom's revenge upon Amnon.

Thus, at least at a cursory glance, it appears that there are three plausible interpretations of Jonadab's actions: 1) he immaturely counseled his friend to use deception to get what he wanted; 2) he wisely set up a scenario where a more qualified person could potentially confront Amnon regarding his foolish desires; or 3) he was no true friend to Amnon, engaging in, for whatever reason, a sophisticated subterfuge, using royal court liaisons to remove a potential successor to David's throne.

Thus, what did we learn through this example of "two parties coming together, face to face?"

Confrontation can be done in many different ways, and probably should be, depending on the circumstances and need. 

We had already seen the example of an indirect confrontation by two who might be considered equals - King David and Nathan.

That day, we had looked at another confrontation - perhaps between equals (two friends) or perhaps between two unequals - the king's son/potential successor to the throne and the king's nephew. That day, the ladies tended to see Jonadab's actions as wise - indirectly confronting by bringing Amnon into a position where his father would better be able to confront his inappropriate, sinful desires.

What do you think?

Does one of these interpretations seems most plausible to you? Which one?

What is your reaction to women from a different culture understanding a Biblical passage differently than what you may have traditionally been taught, simply because they come from a different cultural context?

Trying to give credit where credit is due:
from whence came that title 
here's where I found that picture of the rams-butting-heads-statue
originally posted here on July 19, 2012


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