Theology

learning the words: dishonor

mushu

Today’s guest post is from Lana Hope, who blogs about her travels all over the globe and how living in other cultures has dramatically changed her perspective on Christianity at Wide Open Ground. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

As a daughter of fundamentalism, dishonor referred broadly not only to speaking ill remarks to an elder or damaging their reputation, but also living life as a way that reflected different tastes and opinions of the elder.  Let me illustrate. Today I was in a conversation with two homeschool moms; I’ll call them Mom and Friend. This is how it went:

Mom: Do your kids like the sunscreen you made?
Friend: One of my girls like it. The other did not.
Mom: Why?
Friend: I think that’s just my daughter for you.
Mom: Maybe she just does not like to use what you make.
Friend: I don’t think so. My girls know better. That would be dishonoring.
Mom: But some girls do not like their mother’s creations. They like their own.
Friend: No, no, no, no. I would nip that one. Not allowed. Dishonoring.
Me:*trying to decide if I should laugh or fight*

(typical homeschool conversation about making things from scratch, by the way)

As I bit my tongue, I felt the pain of those girls, who cannot even express their own opinions without being dishonoring toward their parents.

My mother never cared about her sunscreen, but I experienced similar dynamics. Negative emotion itself was dishonoring because that was rooted in anger – in unforgiveness, in pain, in bitterness, in a child’s distorted perception. No matter if the parent does wrong, the child is wrong for speaking up, for giving voice to her pain. Even now that I am an adult, and my mother can admit her wrong, I am still equally wrong in her mind– because I spoke up for myself.

“You dishonor us” becomes the negative tool wherein the child of fundamentalism is silenced. But her opinions, her struggles, her personality, her tastes, never go away. They just get bottled within.

Today I am learning a new definition of dishonor as I seek to love all people as my equal, as I seek to fulfill my obligation to other people without obsession with my personal reputation. Today I am learning what it really means to dishonor someone – when we strip people of their basic personality and opinions in order to make God in our own image, when we care more about ourselves than we do other people.

I’ve had to learn this through the pain. When I first started caring for a group of troubled tweens and teens in Southeast Asia where I worked, my reaction was to fight back when they made rude remarks. My reaction was to “nip” them. My reaction was to ground them. But I soon realized that silencing all their burdens would never take away the pain in their hearts. I realized I could not make the world about me. These kids spoke rudely mainly because they had been dishonored in the past. My job – as their caregiver, friend, second mom, and teacher – was to honor them by treating them as a human, created in the image of God.

In fundamentalism when we treat children as beneath the parent, we create their souls in the image of the parent, not the image of God. We mold, squish, and bend them until all the pain comes straight up, and the child is labeled rebellious. I hope to do this better with my kids, but like all daughters of fundamentalism, relearning the words is not easy.

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  • ‘Dishonor on you, dishonor on your cow!’ Lol love the picture.
    I felt the same way about simply expressing opinions being dishonoring…. It is hard to relearn.

  • Yep. Definitely experienced this dynamic. And it doesn’t go away once one moves out, gets married, has kids, etc.

  • Props for the Mulan picture. I wasn’t raised in a fundamentalist home but my dad (bless him – he’s changed a lot) did have the idea that kids shouldn’t express negative emotions. I was a compliant child, but I couldn’t even let displeasure cross my face without hearing, “Don’t look at me like that.” And it made me CRAZY with frustration. We have to learn to let our children express real emotions in healthy ways.

  • Justina

    As a teen in SE Asia, I remember being put into a class for those of us struggling with reading & writing our Mother Tongue. It was labelled “the hopeless ones”.

    Most of us were actually fluent in speaking & listening, just not able to read or write at the level required of the norm.

    Only a few, actually had difficulties speaking/understanding as well.

    But all of us had apathy and anger in common. Because we’d been labelled, written off, made fun of by teachers for many years prior.

    We were really rude. After all, why sit quietly when you’re going to be labelled by yet another teacher?

    Until we met the man who honored us as human beings, as students capable of learning. He was like a firm grandfather. And for many of us in that class, it was the first time we met a teacher angry on our behalf, angry that we were deemed hopeless.

    Everyone made a marked improvement in Mother Tongue grades at the end of that year. And we were the most earnest and well behaved Mother Tongue class too.

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