28 April 2012

Am I my brother - or sister's keeper?

How's that for a Bible study question?

The women all yattered and chattered for a few minutes in Zarma; they were giving nonverbal signals making me think that their answer was about to be, "NO!" I wasn't surprised. :-) But I'm getting a little bit ahead of myself.

I had wanted to jump off a bit from where we'd finished in our previous study - on two counts: 
  1. We'd made the point that there were many Biblical principles that applied to marriage - but outside the commands to love, respect and stay married... marriage wasn't a simple (or even complicated) formula where we put in predetermined values for all the variables and the result was a God-honoring marriage.  Sometimes, the very best person to tell a wife how to be a good wife was the husband to whom she is married.
  2. In a round about way, this prompted a question from one of the ladies: What do you do when you try and give someome well-intentioned advice, teach them something that is just plain good sense... and your advice is rejected... or you are rejected as being judgmental?
So I started off today's study reminding the ladies of these two points and then asked- with those thoughts in mind, do you think it is really possible that a pastor, another woman, your mom, your father-in-law, etc., can give you good ideas about how to be a better wife to your husband? Their answer was an emphatic absolutely not!

And I asked the ladies to consider two perspectives: 
  • Pretend you are the person "sitting in the hot seat" (Hot seat is an English idiomatic expression - so we first had to develop the idea and vocabulary so I could use it. It actually worked quite well, as it is hot season -and all of these ladies had, at one time or another, sat on a metal chair that had been baking in the sun or heat, or they had climbed into a taxi/other vehicle with vinyl seats that had been cooking for awhile. Needless to say, they clearly grasped the idea that sitting in the hot seat meant being in a position that could range from being uncomfortable to being downright painful or even cause injury.) So, I asked the ladies to pretend they were the ones sitting in the hot seat - someone comes to them and essentially says, "You are doing this wrong," or "I believe you are making this mistake." Do you like it when someone comes to you to confront you - even if they do it gently? Why or why not? NO ONE DID - and their response was essentially - it isn't their business, because they can't understand what it is like to walk in my shoes, and they shouldn't be judging me.
  • Pretend you are the person doing the confronting. Do you like to go to someone and tell them that what they are doing is wrong, or doesn't make sense? EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THOSE LADIES (a group of 6) FELT THAT WAS A GOOD PLACE TO BE, AND ENJOYED FILLING THAT ROLE OF CORRECTING SOMEONE ELSE. When I asked why, they said they liked to be seen as the person in authority or the one with the "know-how."

{While thankful for their transparent truthfulness, these responses almost left me speechless...
*as I wondered if they recognized the hypocrisy their replies exposed.
*as I wondered where in my life the same sort of hypocrisy is so glaringly evident to others
...but I didn't address any of that, at least not immediately.}

The next thing I said was, "Do you know that there is a person in the Bible that asks God a question very similar to what we are talking about right now? Am I supposed to look out for potential pitfalls, and then warn or prevent a brother or sister from falling in to them? Is that my responsibility?"

Then I said, "This person asked God, 'Am I my brother's keeper?"

After a few seconds of silence, I then asked: "Who knows what Bible character asked this question, and under what circumstances it was said?"

No one knew, so I turned to Genesis 4 (in my Zarma Bible - YAY!) and read them the story of Cain and Abel, and asked that question... you know, the one with which I started this post:

"What do you think? Are we the keepers of our brothers and sisters, particularly in the context of our church family and community?" They weren't sure what they thought.

So we went to an Old Testament passage that talks a bit about relationships within the Israelite community:

Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the LORD your God. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. ‘You shall not swear falsely by My name, so as to profane the name of your God; I am the LORD. You shall not oppress your neighbor, nor rob him.The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD. You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19.9-18)

As we slowly read through this passage and talked about it in little chunks, our  purpose was not a legalistic, to the letter obedience today of what the Lord gave as Old Testament law to the nation of Israel many years ago. Rather, we talked about it more generally:
- Why did He includ things like this in His instructions to His people?
- Why He would want us to learn about this today, in our time and our generation, since we know that all things written in His Word are there to help us?
- What in the world did He mean by some of these statements ("you are to judge your neighbor fairly" and "you may surely reprove your neighbor" in the same context of a passage that says "you shall love your neighbor as yourself")?
- How do we practically apply some of these prinicples in our relationships now... today, tomorrow and the next day?

Some really lovely thoughts came from this discussion. The ladies talked about
  1. leaving some for those who have less than themselves (remember we're talking about some of the poorest of the poor, in the entire world here);
  2. making sure we give others their due or what we've promised them promptly - any delay is injust;
  3. determining who is poor, who is an outsider - and targeting those people so that we can specifically share with them; and
  4. when a brother or sister is sinning, we do have responsibility to go to them... and as was said in the French... to "reknot" them back into the community.
I particularly found it interesting that slander and insult - or using words to injure - was in the same verse and context as acting in a way that would endanger another person's life. Slander is Satan's tool - he is the one who stands before the Lord accusing us and seeking to dirty the white robes the blood of Christ has earned for all who've trusted in Him. When I vilify, malign, smear or speak ill of another person, I imitate the Accuser.

As we concluded, we all agreed that at least in some context, we are charged to be keepers of our brothers and sisters - to help keep guard that those around us do not stray from following the Lord.

And, as the ladies all said, they like to be in that position...

So I asked them - Can anyone be in the position of keeper or restorer if there aren't others in the position of straying? In their language, from earlier in our discussion, to be the one correcting, there must also be someone in the proverbial hot seat.

I proposed to the ladies that the best "correctors" and restorers would be the ones who had first learned to humbly and graciously accept correction while sitting in that hot seat...

...they would be the ones inclined to approach humbly and brokenly instead of from  an elevated position with wagging fingers and furious words...

I believe we all left Bible study that afternoon with much to think and pray about ~

(Photo credit - I don't know... short term folks who travel through or serve for shorter time generously share their photos with us...  We've been going through old disks and the one containin these photos was only labeled "Assorted pictures, Niger - people"- but had some lovely photos of Nigerien women.)

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