Honor and Shame in Lamentations

The book of Lamentations features two of my least favorite things in the world—poetry and suffering. I enjoy many other biblical books more than Lamentations. But in seasons of loss and anguish, the voice of Lamentations has drawn my attention like a bright, unavoidable light.

The book of Lamentation consists of five alphabet poems, funeral dirges. The city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the people of God were decimated in 586 BC. To grieve this tragedy, Lamentations articulates the social devastation and explores theological tensions. And naturally, honor and shame are prominent themes in Lamentations.

This post lists verses explicitly discussing the dishonor and shame of Israel’s devastation. Then I explain the broader theological mindset surrounding these verses.

Honor-Shame Verses

All who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness. (1:8)

Look, Lord, and consider, for I am despised. (1:11c)

How the Lord in his anger
has humiliated daughter Zion! (2:1)

He has brought her kingdom and its princes
down to the ground in dishonor. (2:2)

I became the laughingstock of all my people;
they mock me in song all day long. (3:14)

So I say, “My splendor is gone” (3:18)

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace. (3:30)

You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations. (3:45)

The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor. (4:16)

Remember, Lord, what has happened to us;
look, and see our disgrace. (5:1)

The crown has fallen from our head.
Woe to us, for we have sinned! (5:16)

Along with these explicit verses about honor and shame, Lamentations communicates honor-shame realities non-discursively through motifs such as defilement, subjugation, loneliness, and hopelessness (addressed in the next post).

Centrality of Shame

The poems of Lamentations grieve the loss of Israel’s honor. The political subjugation and miserable conditions symbolize the nation’s lost status. The physical and economic destruction of Babylon’s invasion has caused social disgrace. In losing their ancestral home, Israel had lost their status and significance. The poems of Lamentations bemoan their shame and plea for restored honor. The core issue is not material loss, but social loss. Israel’s main problem was not poverty, hunger, or exile, but the disgrace associated with those conditions. After Babylon’s invasion, Israel could repeat Job’s lament:

He has stripped me of my honor
and removed the crown from my head.

He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
he uproots my hope like a tree.
His anger burns against me;
he counts me among his enemies. (Job 19:9-11)

God’s Dishonor

The devastation of Israel created a theological problem—the dishonor of God. How can God be a righteous covenant partner if he destroys his people? Israel’s suffering and shame (seemingly) discredited God’s honor as a patron and provider. If God’s people experience shame, how can God be an honorable king? (cf. 5:19-22). For more, see this post about Old Testament theodicy.

This theological conundrum pushes the poet to explore the cause of Israel’s shame. The nation’s sin and rebellion is the primary cause of the destruction. Israel’s shame is discipline for their sin (Lam 1:5, 8–9, 14, 18, 20; 2:14; 3:39–42). By accepting responsibility for the evil, Israel absolves God of the blame and helps to restore his honor. The fault is not his shameful lack of loyalty or strength, but their disloyalty as his covenant clients.  

God also plays an active role in Israel’s experience. God “humiliates” and throws down” Israel, but his actions are justified because of Israel’s sin. In fact, the destruction is proof of God’s covenant loyalty (albeit to the promises of cursing in Duet 28). God’s past judgments are the basis of Israel’s hope for future restoration. If God was consistent to judge, he will also be consistent to save (Lam 3:20-22). As Israel experiences shame, she interprets the shame in a way that preserves God’s honor, and also invokes God to restore her honor. 

A third reason for Israel’s situation is their enemies (Lam 1:21–22; 2:16; 3:52–66; 4:21–22; 5:2, 8). They have taken advantage of the situation, but will ultimately face the same fate and be stripped naked (Lam 5:2). As with all of God’s opponents, their status is temporary.

For more, see the article “Expressions of Honor and Shame in Lamentations 1” by Balu Savarikannu, AJPS 21:1 (Feb 2018), pp. 81-94.

Image © Saint Mary’s Press.

Posted in Bible, OT Tagged with:

Pledge Allegiance To Christ

Guest Werner Mischke did a blog series on some key books in New Testament studies related to allegiance, or “relational loyalty”. This concluding post summarizes and applies the key ideas. Reposted with permission. 


  • Post #1 introduces the topic of allegiance to “THE CHRIST”—Jesus as King.
  • Post #2 was on allegiance and GRACE, referencing primarily Paul and the Gift by Prof. John M. G. Barclay.
  • Post #3 focused on allegiance and FAITH, in which we referenced Matthew W. Bates’s Gospel AllegianceWhat Faith in Jesus Misses for Salvation in Christ.
  • Post #4 and post 4b focused on allegiance and BAPTISM. We looked at R. Alan Streett’s Caesar and the Sacrament: Baptism: A Rite of Resistance.

In this post, I want to summarize the main ideas. I will also consider several questions and some possible applications.

Summary of Key Ideas

  1. Christ is King of kings; his followers give ultimate allegiance to Christ.
  1. Allegiance and GRACE 

In the ancient world, grace and allegiance were understood as a package deal. As a Christian, you received a magnificent gift (Gk., charis) from a great Patron (God). To receive an undeserved gift was deeply counter-cultural. In reciprocity, you return to the Patron praise, obedience, loyalty—allegiance. This reciprocal aspect of grace was in keeping with the culture.

  1. Allegiance and FAITH 

The Greek word pistis in the New Testament can be translated variously depending on the context as faith, belief, faithfulness, loyalty, allegiance. When it is used in relation to Jesus “the Christ,” that is, Jesus the Anointed One, Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the King, then pistis often conveys the meaning of allegiance or loyalty.

  1. Allegiance and BAPTISM

Baptism expresses one’s identification with the Christ in his death and resurrection (Rom 6:3–5). Baptism is also an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ and his kingdom. This oath of allegiance to the Christ may be considered an implicit denial of allegiance to other social structures, which may be inconsistent with the values of the kingdom of God.

Questions and Possible Applications

  1. Identity: To whom do we belong? 

How should believers navigate multiple allegiances under their ultimate allegiance to Christ the King? In every Christian community, believers have multiple allegiances. Allegiance to your family is rightly considered basic. In many nations, allegiance to your country is considered a sacred duty. Among some peoples, loyalty to one’s tribe or extended family carries greater obligations than civic law or national identity. 

Serving in the American military requires an Oath of Enlistment. Servicemen and women “solemnly swear” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same; . . .”

The company you work for can also engender profound allegiance from its employees. A person can belong to a sports team, or be a die-hard fan of that team. A political party often requires allegiance from its members.

In what ways might allegiance to Christ benefit or enhance these various other relations? In what ways might allegiance to Christ serve as a critique to these relations? 

  1. The church 

How does allegiance to Christ impact one’s allegiance to the local church? This relates to the question: To whom do we belong? In a culture of choice and radical individualism, how should believers express the primacy of their allegiance to the body of Christ? 

Regular attendance, regular serving with your spiritual gifts, and regular financial support (tithing) are expressions of allegiance. People who call themselves “Christian” but are not committed to a local assembly of believers do not show allegiance to Christ.

  1. Evangelism 

Does the Lord call people to simple repentance and allegiance? How do we navigate the tension between simplicity and fierceness in the call to follow Jesus? The simplicity of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 18:2–3; 19:14; John 10:27–28; Rev 3:20; 22:17. The fierceness of following Christ may be referenced in these verses: Mat 10:38; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 9:26; 9:62; 14:27–28; 2 Tim 2:3.

  1. Baptism 

What if the church’s teaching on the subject of baptism included the early church perspective of an oath of allegiance to Jesus the Christ? In America, I have witnessed many celebratory baptisms. Should the baptism service be less celebratory and more solemn? What might make a baptism service more solemn? Considering the idea of allegiance as an oath, should children make oaths of allegiance? How might this affect our thinking about baptism of children or of infants?

  1. Tribalism

Christ’s glorious Being transforms all secondary identity factors of the believer. If this is true, what are the practical results of one’s ethnicity, tribe, race, or social status being subsumed within one’s allegiance to Christ? How might allegiance to Christ lead you to rethink your social obligations, where you choose to live, or where your family worships?

  1. Spiritual transformation

Because of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord,” Paul identifies all of his social capital (all of his Jewish moral and ethnic honor), whether ascribed or achieved honor, as “rubbish” (Phil 3:3–8). His experiential knowledge of Christ gives him the honor surplus that fuels his allegiance to Christ even unto suffering: “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10–11). 

Paul’s allegiance to Christ is integral to his participation with Christ. This glory of being in Christ relativizes all other aspects of his identity. How do believers get to the place in their journey where they share in the experience of  “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord?” Should the suffering of believers be emphasized as normal rather than exceptional? Should everyone who pledges allegiance to the Christ expect to suffer? 

Conclusion

If allegiance to Jesus the Christ is: 

  1. an integral part of the reciprocal nature of God’s grace
  2. a vital aspect of faith in Christ, and 
  3. the oath publicly proclaimed as part of the sacrament of baptism

then it follows: Allegiance to Christ should be regularly proclaimed, taught, and modeled as a normal part of the Christian life.

Posted in leadership, Ministry, NT

Updated: Honor-Shame Research Bibliography

In 2015, I compiled and released an extensive bibliography for honor-shame to facilitate research on the topic. Since then, the amount of resources on honor and shame has greatly increased. Thanks to the work of Chris Flanders, the bibliography has been updated and now has over 550 references.

This bibliography is designed for people doing research and writing. If you are looking to learn about honor & shame, I suggest starting with this list of recommended resources. We done our best to ensure accuracy, but no guarantees.

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The bibliography is available online and is fully searchable, by metadata and tags. It can be accessed in two ways:

  1. BASICClick here to view the bibliography. Click around or search to see what is available. Everything has been tagged by topic, genre, source, type, and field. So, you can easily find honor-shame materials related to RomansJapan, the atonement, and more.
  2. ADVANCED: Install the Zotero program to your computer. This allows you import bibliographic data from Amazon.com or Google Books by clicking one button, add auto-formatted references to your research papers with a few simple clicks, and sync all your data on the Zotero cloud for collaboration. It does take some effort to learn the program, but Zotero’s power and simplicity make it a worthy investment, especially for those doing graduate studies and research. If you use Zotero, you can import the honor-shame bibliography in full. To do that–login at Zotero.com, go to https://www.zotero.org/groups/honorshame, click the red “Join Group” button, and then I will OK your request to be a group member.

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Posted in Resources Tagged with: ,

“In Christ” as a Communal Ethic

I remember reading Neil Anderson’s The Bondage Breaker as a new believer. The long list of “who I am in Christ” statements was powerful. Knowing my position is essential to the Christian life.

But have you ever noticed how those lists of “in Christ” statements all start with “I”? Search for images of “who I am in Christ” and endless resources appear. But search for “who we are in Christ” and you get a bunch of “who I am in Christ” lists! This is quite indicative. Western theology emphasizes the individualistic aspects of salvation in Christ, but neglects the corporate dimensions.

The language of “in Christ” is a Pauline favorite. For good reason, many scholars propose “union with Christ,” or “participation with Christ,” as the center of Paul’s theology. For example, in Galatians 2, Paul says we have freedom in Christ, have justification in Christ, and live in Christ. Our connection with Christ creates a new identity, a new way of being. I have died with Christ, resurrected with Christ, and even sit with Christ (cf. Rom 6; Eph 1; 3). This new covenantal bond “with Jesus,” or being “in Christ,” is, indeed, a central aspect of New Covenant salvation, especially in Pauline epistles.

A Community “In Christ”

However, there is also a communal dimension of “in Christ” language in the New Testament. My relationships with others and activities for others occur “in Christ.” For sure, the majority of “in Christ” verses in the Bible involves individual participation in Christ. But individual union is not the whole story; we are overlooking something else.

Below, I explain five verses that use “in Christ” in a communal way. These verses emphasize what we do “in Christ,” not just what we are “in Christ.” The “in Christ” language locates not only the individual but our communal interactions. We are in Christ. And to say “we are in Christ” is not simply “you and I, two separate individuals, are in Christ,” but “our relationships take place in Christ.” In this instance, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. You and I together constitute a new relation and form a new identity. Here are some of the verses, then a synthesis.

  1. Paul tells the Christians in Rome to “Welcome [Phoebe, the letter-carrier] in the Lord” (16:2). Later in the chapter, there are several greetings in the Lord (v. 11, 12, 22). Our inter-relations as Christians take place in Christ.
  1. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul defends his choice to not visit the Corinthians. They seem resentful that he did not keep his promise to come, as if that had severed the relationship. However, Paul says, “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us” (2 Cor 1:21). Paul’s ministry team has been divinely united with the Corinthian believers, and this occurred in Christ.
  1. In 1 Corinthians, Paul negotiates his relationship with the fledgling congregation. He must provide correction, but without distancing or offending. So, Paul applies familial metaphors to frame his relationship. “For though you might have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. Indeed, in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. For this reason I sent you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord” (1 Cor 4:15–17). In each instance, the human-to-human relationship—i.e., guardian, father, or child—occurs in Christ.
  1. From his prison in Rome, Paul sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to his master Philemon. Paul asks Philemon for a favor, and he even mentions Philemon’s social debt. In verse 20, he says, “Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.” Philemon is to give Paul a certain gift (i.e., Onesimus) in the Lord. This act of spiritual encouragement from Philemon to Paul would happen in Christ.
  1. The idea of doing things for fellow believers “in Christ” continues with the Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius of Antioch ( 115) instructs believers to “continually love each other in Jesus Christ” (Magn. 6:2).

In each verse, the phrase “in Christ” is rather gratuitous. Paul could have simply said, “Welcome Phoebe” or “give me a benefit.” So, why add the phrase “in Christ”? What is the meaning and significance of these actions happening in Christ?

The Ethics of “In Christ”

The language of “in Christ” frames our relationships. “In Christ” is not simply a heavenly reckoning of our spiritual status, but a new sphere for our interactions and exchanges with others. Our interactions with others occur in the shadow of Jesus’ messianic kingdom. In these instances, the language of “in Christ” roughly stands for the idea “now that Jesus is the King and there is a new honor system in place…”. Remember, “Christ” is not Jesus’ surname, but a declaration of his royal identity. When conjoined with an admonition, “in Christ” means something like, “considering the newly-exalted Messianic ruler,” or “under the jurisdiction of the new king.”

The fact that “Christ is King” reorders the ideology of Christian communities and introduces new social practices. We share a common Lord, and so his peace and love now govern our community. Our practices as his ekklesia derive from our relationship with the enthroned King (Cf. Jipp, Christ is King, 276-77).

Though not ideal, here is a similar good example. When someone from one tribe becomes president of an entire country. The relatives, and entire tribe, of the new president obtain a new status, with new rights and privileges, by virtue of their collective association with the person. Once “their guy” is in office, they act differently (usually harmfully). Likewise, “in Christ” is like stating, “Hey, our guy is in charge now! So act like we have the power to rule!” The powers of this world oppress and plunder. But the ruler of our kingdom, by way of example, leads us to serve and love; our king invites us to co-rule over sin and death. The point being, a new ruler brings new social norms. This is how “in Christ” functions in the examples above.

A new king is on the throne, and so we grant status differently now. This new king/dom redefines and generates new exchanges of honor. We now welcome, greet, partner, relate, reciprocate, and love in entirely new ways because Jesus is king. Because God has vindicated the crucified one, a new calculus of worth and status frames our relationships. The universal lordship of Jesus is the new context for our relationships. This is the meaning of Paul situating Christian-to-Christian relationships “in Christ.”

Posted in ethics, Theology Tagged with: , ,

Honor and Shame as (New) Covenant Language

The removal of shame is a new covenant reality. When God (re)makes his covenant, he removes the shame of his people. This covenantal context, I believe, is crucial to properly understanding the nature of biblical shame, and, thus, salvation as a whole.

In the OT, when God renews the covenant, when he brings his people back from exile, when he remakes his creation … then his people will receive his spirit, overcome evil powers, and be freed from shame. This concepts are all tied together in new covenant salvation.

And so, the language of shame (and honor) in the early Christian writings points to covenant. The fact that we no longer have shame indicates that God has fulfilled his covenant with his people. New Testament references to the absence of shame and the bestowal of glory should be read as new covenant language.

Many biblical interpreters read the  biblical language of shame in light of psychology and anthropology. But honor and shame is, foremost, covenantal language. In my opinion, this realization properly frames honor-shame language in the NT. Let’s trace the idea through Scripture.

Deuteronomic Covenant

The Deuteronomic covenant outlines the (patron-client) relationship with God and Israel. The “blessings and curses” of Deuteronomy 28 explain the ways God will honor and shame his people. Promises of honor bookend the list of blessings in vv. 1–14—“If you will only obey … the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” (v. 1) and “The Lord will make you the head, and not the tail; you shall be only at the top, and not at the bottom, if you obey…” (v. 14). If Israel remains faithful to honoring God via obedience, they will be honored and exalted before other nations, in the form of land, health, and wealth.

Conversely, the nation of Israel faces shameful curses if it breaks covenant with God. Israel will, among many other things, be defeated by enemies (v. 25), oppressed and robbed continually (v. 29), cuckolded as others take their wives (v. 30), become a horror and byword among all peoples (v. 37), and made lower and lower (v. 43). Its status and reputation will fall, even to the point of their becoming unwanted slaves (v. 68). When Israel does not respect the glorious and awesome name of Yahweh (v. 58), its own name becomes an object of derision and scorn.

Keeping the covenant confers honor, while breaking the covenant brings shame. This suggests the restoration of the covenant (i.e., a “new covenant”) would involve the removal of shame and the restoration of honor.

 The Prophetic Vision of Isaiah

To comfort and admonish God’s people, the prophets of Israel proclaimed the future day of God’s salvation. When God delivers his people, the covenant curses and shame of exile would be removed. Ancient Israelites experienced exile as shame (cf. Lam 1:1, 2:1, 5:1; Neh 1:3, 2:17). Thus, they awaited the day when they would no longer face that disgrace (cf. Joel 2:26–28; Zeph 3:19–20). In other words, they hoped for the renewal of covenant and the re-gifting of covenant blessings (cf. Duet 28:1–14). This divine intervention would reverse the status of all—the lowly brought high and the proud made humble. Isaiah, in particular, speaks of this eschatological “escape from shame.” These verses are issued as promises to Israel regarding its new exodus.

  • Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. (Isa 61:7)
  • I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor (Isa 45:3)
  • All the makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace together. But Israel will be saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you will never be put to shame or disgraced, to ages everlasting. (Isa 45:16–17)
  • I will make with you an everlasting covenant,… and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. (Isa 55:3–5)

These promises of salvation are not abstract soteriological declarations but, rather, relational actions that evoke the renewal of covenant. Ancient Israelites would interpret these prophetic words in the context of their covenant with Yahweh, as described in Exodus and Deuteronomy. The removal of shame was not merely a psychological insight or timeless pastoral admonition, but an act of covenantal faithfulness and restoration. This idea continues into the NT.

Isaiah, Romans, 1 Peter

As an example, we examine how the apostles used one particular verse from Isaiah. On three occasions, NT authors cite Isaiah 28:16 (LXX)—“See, I will lay for the foundations of Sion a precious, choice stone, a highly valued cornerstone for its foundations, and the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

 

…as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
    and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33)

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:10-13)

For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe… (1 Peter 2:6-7)

Several things to note about these passages.

One, each instance is a direct citation from Scripture, not merely an echo. “As it is written…”, “For the Scripture says…”, “For it stands in Scripture…”. The authors deliberately and explicitly evoke Old Testament writings to interpret salvation in Christ. They are locating their story within the story of Israel, which involves God’s covenant with Israel.

Two, the benefit of “not being put to shamed” (οὐ μὴ καταισχυνθῇ) accrues to “the one who believes/trusts unto him” (ὁ πιστεύων ἐπ’ αὐτῷ). We escape shame by having faith. And, just like “shame,” the word “faith” is covenantal. Nijay Gupta states, “Faith language points to covenant.” The Greek word “faith” was a political/military term for mutual and harmonious relationships. The Jewish historian Josephus uses the plural form of “faith” (i.e., pledges of loyalty) as a substitute for the word “covenant.” Faith is not simply cognitive ascent, but trust and allegiance. The word “faith” evokes a covenantal context for understanding the benefit of “not being put to shame.” Faith implies pledging our allegiance and placing our hope in the true King who can save people from disgrace—a particularly covenantal idea. Here is my paraphrase that accounts for the covenantal assumptions of Isa 28:16, et al.: “Peoples who are faithful to God by trusting him … will not be excluded from the blessings and promises of honor, which God has made to his people.” As you can see, this differs from contemporary interpretations of “faith” and “shame,” which lead to a different reading: “Any individual who acknowledges Jesus as personal Savior will not deal with low self-esteem and personal rejection.” I believe this latter statement is theological true and important, but not the main focus of NT citations of Isaiah 28:6.

Three, Paul and Peter cite Isaiah 28:6 to explain the new covenant community. “Who” are the people of God? In Romans 9-11, Paul clarifies the Jew and Gentile relationship and, specifically, which group of people obtains “the adoption, the glory, the covenant” (9:4). In Romans 10, the logical reason why believers won’t be shamed is, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile” (cf. Rom 3:22-23). God has opened the covenant beyond ethnic Israel so that people from all groups can experience the covenant blessing of shame removal. “Whoever believes has no shame” is a way of saying “All people, including Gentiles, can be full covenant members.”

The concept of “covenantal people of God” is also explicit in 1 Peter 2:4–10. Verses 9 and 10, in particular, use several exodus-related titles of Israel to redefine the new community of God. Just as God long ago rescued Israel from shame, formed a covenant with them, and made them a special people, he has done so again through Jesus. “No shame” is, and always has been, a gift/benefit of God’s covenant people.

Four, the idea of “not being put to shame” is synonymous with “salvation.” The verses following Romans 9:33 and 10:11 both use “save” language. Shame is not a psychological emotion, but a theological reality from which we are divinely saved. God, as the true king, rescues his people from public disgrace and condemnation. Such a salvation occurred at the exodus/Mosaic covenant, and then was anticipated in the return-from-exile/New Covenant, which has happened in Christ.

Going one step further, honor and shame could be explored as a potential center of Paul’s theology. As a covenant concept, I foresee ways in which honor and shame might contextualize and integrate other proposed centers of Pauline theology into a complementary mosaic (e.g., justification, salvation-history, apocalypticism, and union with Christ). But that is for another conversation.

New Covenant Community

With this in mind, we can better understand honoring and shaming within the Church. The body of Christ, as the new covenant community, embodies God’s new rubric of human worth declared at the crucifixion and resurrection. Just as Jesus’ physical body established new standards for human value (honor and shame) at the cross, so, too, does the spiritual body of Christ reflect those new standards in our social relationships. We “do church” in a way that affirms Jesus’ shaming of shame and his vindication from death. Honor and shame look different in God’s social economy, which we replicate as the church. We are called to honor (and shame) people in a new covenant manner. This is Paul’s approach to community formation, most evident in 1 Corinthians.

The Deuteronomistic covenant contained stipulations for properly including/excluding (i.e., honor/shaming) people, based on ritual and moral purity. Israel, God’s “holy people,” functioned as the covenant community by maintaining Mosaic distinctions of purity and sacredness. The community reflected divine standards of honor and shame.

Likewise, the community of the new covenant enacts the evaluations of God. We extend honor (and shame) based on the value system of God. Christians are to welcome, accept, and esteem all people, regardless of social distinctions, just as God has done. But also, the Christian community prophetically acts out the eschatological shaming judgment of God in the present age. God’s people enforce covenant standards among themselves. Those who refuse to honor God are shamed, with the intent that temporary social shame will lead to their restoration (cf. 2 Thess 3:14–15). In this way, such people can escape the ultimate shame of external separation.

Conclusion

In the Bible, honor and shame are foremost covenant values, not social-science terms. Thus, the NT language of honor and shame evokes the new covenant. This moves us toward a more biblical understanding of salvation, shame, and honor.

Posted in Bible, salvation, Shame, Theology Tagged with: , , ,

Honor and Shame in Letter of Aristeas

Letter of Aristeas is a second-century BC “historical letter” explaining the composition of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament, i.e., LXX) by Jews in Alexandria. Honor and shame are prominent motifs in the story.

The Plot

The story begins with the Ptolemaic king in Alexandria requesting a copy of the Jewish Law for his library. He sends his head librarian, bearing extravagant gifts for the Jerusalem temple, to the Jerusalem High Priest named Eleazar, who gladly complies and sends 72 Jewish elders to Alexandria to complete the Greek translation of Torah. When the 72 elders arrive in Alexandria, they enjoy a lavish feast with the king and display their wisdom. Then they complete the divine translation, to the praise of all. The Letter of Aristeas emphasizes the authority of the Alexandrine translation and portrays Alexandrine Jews as assimilated into Hellenistic culture.

This story from the intertestamental period provides cultural background for the New Testament context, especially regarding honor and shame. In terms of vocabulary, “honor” appears 20 times, “glory” 26x, and “worthy” 20x. The author uses heroic characterization to communicate honor-shame values. The narrator portrays the main characters—Ptolemaios the king, Eleazar the high priest, and the 72 elders—are pious, philanthropic, worthy, and glorious. Their honorable reputation confers authority upon the translation they collaborated to produce.

Ptolemaios, the Hellenistic King

The Ptolemaic king functions as the Gentile protector/savior of the Jewish people. In the opening scene, he liberates tens of thousands of enslaved Jews from captivity (17–19). With imagery from Exodus, the author interprets this action as an act of worship—an honorable person giving thanks/glory to God. The king’s advisor says, “It is worthy of your magnanimity to offer the release of these [Jewish] men as a thank-offering to the Most High God. For you are highly honored by the Lord of all, and have been glorified beyond your ancestors, so if you make such a great thank-offering, it is befitting of you” (19).

The generous king establishes his glory by providing for his subjects. Or more accurately, the king, as a broker, mediates God’s blessings to people. “For as God showers blessings upon all men, so you too, in imitation of him, are a benefactor to your subjects” (281). This king of Egypt is the antitype of Pharaoh. Instead of oppressing Israel and defying God, he honors the Jews and their God. The ideal king dispenses and receives honors.

Ptolemaios also provides gifts to furnish the Jerusalem temple and then oversees the public translation/reading of the Law. These elements—liberation in Egypt, temple construction, law giving—cast Ptolemy as the “new Moses.” The translation event serves as a “new Exodus” for God’s people in Egypt. However, whereas the original exodus-event and law-giving distinguished Israel from Gentile nations, this new exodus and law (i.e., LXX) integrate Jews with Gentiles. Ptolemaios, as the ideal king, unites the people under his realm, creating a harmonious society (37). The noble king rescues, honors, and provides gifts unto the people of God. The New Testament employs a similar royal ideology for Jesus.

This ideal king also seeks wisdom, in the way of Solomon. In particular, he pursues the path to true honor. At the royal feast, the king asks each of the 72 Jewish elders a philosophical question, many of which pertain to honor (cf. 226f):

  • How can we avoid doing anything unworthy of ourselves?
  • How can a man maintain the glory he received?
  • To whom must a man show love-of-honor?
  • To whom must a man show favor?
  • How can a man, after a misstep, recover once more the same degree of glory?
  • What is the greatest form of glory?
  • How can a man pay his parents the debt of gratitude which they are worthy of?
  • What human is worthy of being marveled at?

The king desires to embody and display true glory.

The Jewish elders are quick to praise the Gentile king, particularly for his generosity, benevolence, and philanthropy—all virtues of honor. “You are distinguished … by the outstanding glory of your government and our wealth.” Then, “by your righteous steering in all things have furnished for yourself an everlasting glory” (290-91). Such Messianic/David language for a Gentile king, albeit pragmatic for currying social favor with the Hellenistic overlords, contrasts with the Judean Jews who sought liberation from pagan rulers and glory unto themselves. For the Jews in Alexandria, God has already instilled a noble (Gentile) king under whom the Jews prosper and experience an exodus-like status. However, this new exodus is not from Egypt, but in Egypt.

Eleazar the High Priest

The narrative introduces the Jerusalem high priest Eleazar as a high priest “whose conduct and glory have won him preeminent-honor in the eyes of both citizens and others alike” (3). His interpretation of the Law brought the greatest benefits to many people (3), just as the Egyptian king “bestowed great and unexpected benefits upon [Jewish] citizens in many ways” (44).

The Jewish high priest responds positively to the Egyptian king’s offer of “friendship,” a technical phrase referring to their mutually-beneficial alliance. Both sides act in noble and generous ways, affirming the honor of the other party, and, thus, act in a manner “worthy” of the relationship (40-41, 179). Such love and friendship refer to mutual honoring through diplomatic protocols. The two leaders allow each other to provide benefits and, thus, appear as magnanimous co-patrons of the sacred translation project.

The narrator describes the Jerusalem temple system (83f), in which everything is done with “fear and also in a manner worthy of great divinity” (95). This includes the priest Eleazar “with both his vestments and glory” (96). The high priest embodied divine glory. “Now on his head he has what is called the tiara, but on this the inimitable turban, the royal diadem having the name of God in relief on the front in the middle in holy characters on a golden leaf, ineffable in glory. The wearer is considered worthy of wearing these vestments during the public-services” (98). As the official head of the Jerusalem Temple and Jewish people, Eleazar embodies honor in both religious and diplomatic contexts.

72 Elders/Translators

The 72 elders, six from each of the 12 tribes, are men of great knowledge and honor. They are supremely qualified for the task, in large part because of their noble status confirmed in many ways. “For the chief-priest selected men of the best merit and of excellent discipline due to the distinction of their parentage; they had not only mastered the Judean literature, but instead had even made a serious study of the Hellenic literature. And for this reason, they were well qualified for being the elders, and brought it to fruition as occasion demanded. … And they were, one and all, worthy of their leader and his outstanding excellence” (121-22).

Upon their arrival in Alexandria, the Ptolemaic king breaks official protocol to confer extraordinary honors upon the Judean delegation. For they, and the one who sent them (Eleazar), were worthy of great honor and high regard (175). The king makes a point of “not omitting any form of honor being done to these men” (183). The king recognizes their preeminent status with verbal affirmations and then public feasts. Akin to Esther, the Jewish nobles dine luxuriously in the king’s court.

The longest section of the narrative involves the elders’ replies to the king’s impromptu dinner questions. The elders appear as wise philosophers, affirming the king’s honor and displaying their own. A few examples illustrate their reflections on true honor.

  • Always have an eye to your glory and your prominence [as the king], so that you may say and think what is consistent with it, knowing that all your subjects also have you in mind and utter things about you. (218)
  • By practicing goodwill to all humans and by forming friendships, you would owe no obligation to anyone. But to have gratitude with all humans, and to receive a handsome gift from God—this is one of the strongest gift. (225).
  • It is a man’s duty to show a love-of-honor toward those who are amicably disposed to us. That is the overall opinion. But I think that we must show the same keen love-of-honor to our opponents, so that in this manner, we may convert them to what is proper and fitting for them. (227)
  • [The greatest form of glory is] Honoring God. But this is not done with gifts nor sacrifices; instead, it is done with a soul that is clean and of a disposition that is sacred, since everything is furnished by God, and administered in accordance with his wish. (234)

At the end of each day’s feast, the king praises, congratulates, compliments, and applauds the Jewish elders. He declares that they are greater than the philosophers (235) and their mere presence is the “greatest good-thing” (293). Like Daniel and Mordecai, they enjoy royal honors for their divine insights.

When the Jewish elders compose the translation, they wash their hands as evidence that they have no evil (306). Other figures had attempted to translate the Torah into Greek but were smitten with illnesses because of their inadequacy. However, the text produced by the 72 elders is publicly read, admired, and accepted as authoritative by the local Jewish community (308-10). Among the various Greek translations available to Jews is Diaspora. This text gets “canonized” because it was “made beautifully and sacredly” (310).

The elders even exit the narrative with great honor. The king promised that if the elders returned to Alexandria, he would, “as was proper, treat them as friends, and they would receive the greatest gifts [of liberal hospitality] from him” (318). In a final display of mutual honor, the king treated the elders magnificently with fine gifts as they departed for Jerusalem.

Why Honor?

 Why does the author Eristeas so emphatically foreground the honor of every character in the story? Even the Egyptian artisans who carved objects for the Jerusalem temple “make it a love-of-honor to complete everything in a way worthy of the king’s majesty.” Why is honor so pivotal in this narrative?

In collectivistic contexts, people equate messages with their messengers. Authority is social. The honor and nobility of the king, priest, and 72 elders bestow authority upon the text they produce. Their sacred honor is transferred to the work they produce. Only divine figures could produce a text so “solemn and of divine origin” (313).

The patrons are worthy of honor for their many gifts, chief of which is this translation. And the gift itself is worthy of honor. The Jewish multitudes are amazed by its words and request a copy for their own community (just as the Israelites confirmed and received Torah at Sinai, cf. Ex 19:7–8). Even the Gentile king asks “for great care to be taken of the books and to keep them pure” (317). The king had earlier granted the same reverence to the Hebrew scriptures. When the elders arrived, they unveiled the marvelous parchments with Torah in gold lettering. The king paused, then bowed seven times before the oracles of God (176–77). By the end of the story, this Alexandrian Greek translation merits the same honor as the Hebrew original. This LXX can be faithfully received, read, and obeyed by the community as God’s sacred and authoritative text.

Posted in Bible, NT, OT Tagged with: ,

Resources & Webinars

Here are some resources available at HonorShame.com. I try to keep these updated to make honor-shame content accessible. 

Webpages

Webinars

The three webinars hosted last month are available to view and download.

 

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Ruth 1 (HSP)

This paraphrase of Ruth 1 is from the new book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase. 


A long time ago before the days of king David, a man named Elimelech lived in his ancestral village of Bethlehem. There was a famine in the land of Judah, so Elimelech and his wife Naomi with their two sons left their homeland and went to the foreign country of Moab.1–2

After they arrived in Moab, Elimelech died and Naomi became a widow. Her two sons eventually married Moabite wives named Orpah and Ruth. Then ten years later, tragedy struck again—Naomi’s two sons died. Naomi became a childless, destitute widow in a foreign land. With no children and no land, she had no status, no community, and no hope.3–5

Years later, Naomi heard that God remembered his people in Bethlehem and provided food for them. So despite her old age, Naomi decided to return to her ancestral village. She gathered everything to return back home.6–7

Naomi told her two young daughters-in-law (also childless widows), “Go home and live with your parents. Thanks for being so kind to me. May Yahweh bless you with the safety and security of a new husband and better family.” Naomi tried to kiss her daughters-in-law farewell. But they began crying and clung to Naomi, saying, “No! We will go with you to your people and to you land! We want to be your family!”8–10

Naomi responded, “No, my girls, that would be foolish! I do not have any other sons for you to marry. And even if I got pregnant tonight, you would have to wait twenty years for that child to grow up before he could marry you. You ladies can’t wait that long. I feel awful that my God Yahweh has taken my sons and left you as young widows. You must return to your parents so they can find you a new family to marry into.”11–13

The three women wept together. Orpah kissed Naomi farewell and returned to her parents. But Ruth remained with her mother-in-law. Naomi told Ruth, “See, your sister-in-law Orpah has returned to her people and to her culture. That is what you should do, too.”14–15

Ruth replied, “Do not advise me to leave you and return home. I will be loyal to you. I will stay with you and support you. Your people will become my people; your God, Yahweh, will be my God; your culture will become my culture. I want to be buried in your ancestral village as your relative. Before our God, Yahweh, I swear by this.” Ruth seemed determined, so Naomi allowed her to come to Bethlehem.16–18

After a long journey, they arrived in Naomi’s ancestral village of Bethlehem. The entire community was shocked. They hardly recognized Naomi after so many years.19

Naomi said to the villagers, “Don’t call me Naomi (which means “pleasant”); call me Mara (which means “resentful”), because I resent what our God, Yahweh, has done toward me. I left Bethlehem with a full family but returned an empty widow. I have lost all status and live as a nobody.20–21

So Naomi settled in Bethlehem, along with her daughter-in-law Ruth, a childless widow from a foreign land. They arrived during harvest season, when the farmers were gathering grain in the fields.22


Learn more about the book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase

 

Posted in Bible, Honor-Shame Paraphrase Tagged with: ,

Life of St. Antony and Early Monasticism

Life of St. Antony, written by Athanasius in 360 AD, is one of the most important books in Christian history. The hagiography recounts the spiritual journey of the famous “Father of Christian Monasticism.” Antony was an uneducated orphan who lived in monastic solitude and defeated Satan in the deserts of Egypt.

The short biography of Life of St. Antony not only pioneered the genre of hagiography (an idealized biography of a saint), but also helped spread the monastic ideal throughout the Church. 

Antony (251–356 AD) lived at a pivotal junction in history, a time when Christianity transitioned from being a persecuted minority to the favored religion in the Roman Empire. For this reason, his life and teaching was crucial in redefining the classical, Greco-Roman notions the “good life.” Wisdom and goodness were no longer bestowed by philosophers or imperial leaders, but through a spiritual experience in the form of monastic self-renunciation. Life of St. Antony burnished new Christian conceptions of honor and shame in antiquity. Here are four examples, along with extended quotes, of how this important book re-defined honor and shame in the Christian life.

Despising Satan

A prominent theme is how Antony shames and despises the Devil. Antony “passed through the temptation unscathed. All this was a source of shame to his foe [the devil]. For he, deeming himself like God, was now mocked by a young man; and he who boasted himself against flesh and blood was being put to flight by a man in the flesh.” (5, cf. 11)

Antony later cites Ephesians 6:14 and Titus 2:8 in this regard. “He exhorted, ‘Take up the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day,’ that the enemy, ‘having no evil thing to say against us, may be ashamed.’” (65).

Here are exhortations from his teaching:

  • “More and more, therefore, let the deceiver be despised by us.” (37; cf. 28)
  • “‘So then we ought to fear God only, and despise the demons, and be in no fear of them. But the more they do these things the more let us intensify our discipline against them, for a good life and faith in God is a great weapon.” (30)
  • “If, therefore, the devil himself confesses that his power is gone, we ought utterly to despise both him and his demons; and since the enemy with his hounds has but devices of this sort, we, having got to know their weakness, are able to despise them.” (42)
  • “While Antony was thus speaking all rejoiced; … and all were persuaded to despise the assaults of the Evil One, and marveled at the grace given to Antony from the Lord for the discerning of spirits.” (44)

Critiquing Pagans with New Honor Standard

Antony made a common Christian argument against the pagans—Christ and his message are a complete reversal of honor standards. The cross was not a source of shame and mockery, but the exemplar of divine life. “Tell us therefore where your oracles are now? Where are the charms of the Egyptians? Where the delusions of the magicians? When did all these things cease and grow weak except when the Cross of Christ arose? Is It then a fit subject for mockery, and not rather the things brought to nought by it, and convicted of weakness? For this is a marvelous thing, that your religion was never persecuted, but even was honoured by men in every city, while the followers of Christ are persecuted, and still our side flourishes and multiplies over yours. What is yours, though praised and honoured, perishes, while the faith and teaching of Christ, though mocked by you and often persecuted by kings, has filled the world. For when has the knowledge of God so shone forth? or when has self-control and the excellence of virginity appeared as now? or when has death been so despised except when the Cross of Christ has appeared? And this no one doubts when he sees the martyr despising death for the sake of Christ, when he sees for Christ’s sake the virgins of the Church keeping themselves pure and undefiled.” (79)

Antony lists the false pagan gods, then explains the misplaced honor of paganism. “You do not worship God Himself, but serve the creature rather than God who created all things. For if because creation is beautiful you composed such legends, still it was fitting that you should stop short at admiration and not make gods of the things created; so that you should not give the honour of the Creator to that which is created. Since, if you do, it is time for you to divert the honour of the master builder to the house built by him; and of the general to the soldier. What then can you reply to these things, that we may know whether the Cross hath anything worthy of mockery?” (76)

Shame and Conviction

Antony practiced an extreme form of self-denunciation, even to the point of experience shame for meeting everyday physical needs. Though Christians today would not denounce such daily activities as unholy, it is interesting to note that shame was the emotion of Antony’s conviction. “And he used to eat and sleep, and go about all other bodily necessities with shame when he thought of the spiritual faculties of the soul. So often, when about to eat with any other hermits, recollecting the spiritual food, he begged to be excused, and departed far off from them, deeming it a matter for shame if he should be seen eating by others. He used, however, when by himself, to eat through bodily necessity, but often also with the brethren; covered with shame on these occasions, yet speaking boldly words of help. And he used to say that it behooved a man to give all his time to his soul rather than his body.” (45)

Antony proposed we leverage the positive aspects of shame in our fight against sin. “And as a safeguard against sin let the following be observed. Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impulses of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each other. And be assured that if we should be utterly ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and harbor no base thoughts in our mind. …if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one another, we shall the more easily keep ourselves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known. Wherefore let that which is written be to us in place of the eyes of our fellow hermits, that blushing as much to write as if we had been caught, we may never think of what is unseemly. Thus fashioning ourselves we shall be able to keep the body in subjection, to please the Lord, and to trample on the devices of the enemy.” (55)

Antony’s Humility as an Honorable Example

Athanasius speaks of Antony’s humility in submitting to the ecclesiastical authorities. This was significant, for at that time many monks denounced (and even physically attacked) the institutional church for being too comprised. “He was tolerant in disposition and humble in spirit. For though he was such a man, he observed the rule of the Church most rigidly, and was willing that all the clergy should be honoured above himself. For he was not ashamed to bow his head to bishops and presbyters, and if ever a deacon came to him for help he discoursed with him on what was profitable, but gave place to him in prayer, not being ashamed to learn himself.” (67)

Antony had humble character even in childhood. “With his parents he used to attend the Lord’s House, and neither as a child was he idle nor when older did he despise [his parents]; but was both obedient to his father and mother.” (1)

Even in death Antony sought to avoid worldly praise. Adoration of saints was a common practice in early Christianity. Antony suspected his body would become the object of veneration, so wanted to be buried in secret. “The Egyptians are wont to honour with funeral rites, and to wrap in linen cloths at death the bodies of good men, and especially of the holy martyrs; and not to bury them underground, but to place them on couches, and to keep them in their houses, thinking in this to honour the departed.… But he, knowing the custom, and fearing that his body would be treated this way, hastened, and having bidden farewell to the monks in the outer mountain entered the inner mountain, where he was accustomed to abide.” (90–91) Despite Antony’s wishes, his bodily was “miraculously” discovered in the desert, then translated to Alexandria, then Constantinople, then Vienne.

The epilogue by Athanasius affirms self-renunciation as the pathway to divine honor. The conclusion demonstrates Athanasius wanted to propagate ascetism and renunciation as the true means of honor. “And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God…And the fact that his fame has been blazoned everywhere; that all regard him with wonder, and that those who have never seen him long for him, is clear proof of his virtue and God’s love of his soul. For not from writings, nor from worldly wisdom, nor through any art, was Antony renowned, but solely from his piety towards God.” (93–94) His retreat to desert solitude brought supernatural honor.

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New Book—Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrse

The new book Ruth: An Honor-Shame Paraphrase is now available. Along with 1 PeterEsther, Psalms, James, and Malachi, this is the sixth title in the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series.

The book of Ruth has a simple yet inspiring plot line—God redeems a family from despair and social shame to a position of great honor in Israel’s history. The short story is often read for entertainment or encouragement, but often neglected as a theological work. This honor-shame paraphrase uncovers Ruth’s rich theology of God and salvation.

Learn more about the Honor-Shame Paraphrase series, or buy the book here. A forthcoming post will feature the honor-shame paraphrase of Ruth chapter 1. 

Posted in Honor-Shame Paraphrase

Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame”

Free Zoom Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 29 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Honor and shame are important topics, but often they are new concepts for people. How can we effectively introduce honor and shame to other people, especially to equip them for ministry? This webinar will provide practical suggestions and learning activities for ministry instructors/trainers. To help ministry leaders and teachers better teach honor and shame to other people, Jayson Georges will host this free, 1-hour webinar, discussing some methodological ideas and tips. Jayson has taught honor-shame many times, from seminary courses to short-term missions training, in various countries. 

Please note, this webinar is not about honor and shame, but about how to teach honor and shame to others. If you plan to teach honor-shame to others (in any setting), this is time is designed for you. This is the same webinar presented on April 2, which quickly reach capacity. I will be repeating the same content.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_cd1dAUUdRlqXc7G7kqkkrQ . After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

Previous Webinars

Last week’s webinar “Guilt-Shame-Fear: Reassessing the Cultural Model” is available to view and download here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/naigtoyea6ib4v0/%20GSF%20Assessing%20the%20model.mp4?dl=0

The previous webinar by Jackson Wu, “Honor and Shame in Romans,” is here.

 

 

 

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Making Disciples of the Whole Family

Guest Jeannie Marie is an author, speaker and strategist for an international sending organization. This post is an excerpt from her book Across the Street and Around the World: Following Jesus to the Nations in Your Neighborhood…and Beyond (Thomas Nelson, 2018).


As individualistic Westerners, we sometimes forget that the gospel is for the whole family. God made families. He wants them together, and we can honor that design by including the whole family in our disciple-making process.

In most non-Western cultures, families— and even entire communities, tribes, or clans— make decisions together. Rarely does a young person determine his own career path, his marriage partner, or his religious beliefs on his own. Since Westerners value independence and individual decision- making so highly, we can unintentionally rip families apart in our zeal to disciple one person at a time without regard to his or her family.

Finn, a Westerner who works in South Asia, living with unreached Muslim people groups, understands the strategic and biblical importance of family and goes to great lengths to honor it. He knows the local language well and holds a solid reputation within the city as a businessman. The community regards him as a spiritual and respectful person who follows Jesus and honors God. One day, Malik, a young man from one of these unreached people groups, came to visit Finn and his wife. Malik told of how Jesus had appeared to him in a dream, and he asked Finn to teach him more about Jesus.

Finn responded, “I would love to do that. Go home and ask permission from your father, and we will discover more about Jesus together, in your home.”

The color drained out of the young man’s face. He drew his finger under his neck, slitting his own throat, shaking his head. His father, a Muslim sheikh (an Islamic spiritual leader), would never agree. He was right. His father refused to let him study. Finn encouraged Malik to pray and continue to ask his father’s permission, honoring his father in this way.

Six times Malik came to ask Finn to disciple him, but Finn refused, instead giving him more ways to speak to his father about his interest. The young man kept telling his father how the Qur’an spoke of Jesus the Messiah more than it did any other prophet, and that his holy book actually encouraged Muslims to read the Injil, the Bible in Arabic.

One day, miraculously, Malik’s father finally agreed. Finn began visiting the young man’s home to read the Bible with him in a way that promoted discovery, encouraged obedience to the Word, and inspired sharing it with others.

Malik came to a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ, transformed by the Spirit from the inside out. Most members of his extended family also surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ as they walked alongside him in his discipleship process. Even though his father did not (yet) embrace Jesus as the Messiah, the sheikh supported, encouraged, and blessed his son to obey and follow Christ.

The father even witnessed his son’s baptism, done in his home without Finn or other Westerners present and born out of the young man’s desire to obey after reading about baptism in the gospel of John.

Malik became a conduit of the gospel to many others, starting Jesus communities that are multiplying rapidly, with Finn continuing to coach him.

Finn could have agreed to disciple this young man in secret, without his father’s permission. It’s likely Malik would have still come to faith. But his family would have been excluded, creating barriers to sharing his new faith in Jesus with them. If the local community had discovered his allegiance to Jesus Christ without going on his journey of discovery with him, they would likely have excommunicated Malik, with much shame brought on the family. In countries that operate under sharia law, a strict Islamic code, he might have even been killed.

We also can honor the family as Finn did by helping our disciples speak of their desire to learn more about God in bridging ways with their families. We can encourage them to honor their fathers and mothers when they share what they are learning as they are learning it. For international students here without their family members, we can regularly ask, “What does your father think of this passage? When could you share this with your brothers?” and remind them to thank their parents for raising them to be spiritual seekers after God.

Jesus the Messiah is for the whole family and the whole community, and we can honor the family structure when we invite people to consider Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God.

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Webinar— “Guilt–Shame–Fear”: Assessing the Cultural Model

Free Zoom Webinar: “Guilt–Shame–Fear: Assessing the Cultural Model,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 22 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

The paradigm of guilt, shame, and fear cultures has become a popular topic in mission conversations. The presenter Jayson Georges published The 3D Gospel and TheCultureTest.com in 2014, and now reflects on the cultural paradigm. This free webinar explores the strengths and weaknesses, uses and abuses, as well as history and future of this threefold cultural model. Where does the concept come from? How do the three cultural types relate and interact? What about critiques of oversimplification? Should there be a 4th cultural model? We’ll discuss these issues and more. The webinar will be 30-40 minutes in length.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_gLoQ1XFmSVeZdkycf38Zog

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

Previous Webinar: “Honor and Shame in Romans,” by Jackson Wu.

Over 200 people joined last week’s webinar. Because we had issues with sound quality, Jackson Wu re-recorded the entire webinar, with slideshow images and clear sound. You can view and download the webinar video here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7u9mj4xdrr2zun2/Honor%20and%20Shame%20in%20Romans%20%28Webinar%2C%2015%20April%202020%29%20.mp4?dl=0. This is a great biblical examination of honor and shame, with an emphasis on the ethical and communal applications in Romans 9-16.    

 

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Coronavirus in Shame Contexts

A recent NYT article “Stigma Hampers Iraqi Efforts to Fight the Coronovirus” examines how the dynamics of shame are affecting Iraq during this pandemic. This article is a fresh reminder of how pervasive and influential the power of shame is in collectivistic societies. For me, this article was insightful at a cultural level, but also evoked in me a compassion for the people of Iraq.

Iraqi funeral (photo by Ivor Prickett for NYT)

If you work/live in an honor-shame context, you should read this article in order to better anticipate how people around you may respond to the health crisis. In short, people may prioritize social status over physical health, often in unanticipated ways. For most people, “Honor > Life.” People respond to crises in different ways. So you should not assume other people and cultures will have the same response.

In my estimation, the need to understand shame dynamics in the face of coronavirus will become increasingly important in the upcoming months. Until now, the countries hardest hit by coronavirus have been developed nations, which are more individualistic. In the near future, the virus may spread through developing contexts, which tend to be more collectivistic and honor-shame oriented. I won’t explain the causation or correlation here, but will just state this point: What is happening now in Iraq, will likely happen more and more.

Here are four of the shame-issues from the article.

1. The Shame of Sickness

People resist testing because they do not want their neighbors to learn they are sick. The stigma of illness is so deep, people avoid testing altogether.  The father of a family told health workers, “Please don’t park in front of our house. I feel ashamed in front of the neighbors. This is so difficult for my reputation.”

In many religious contexts, people equate sickness with sin (cf. John 9). They assume that sickness is a divine punishment. And naturally, people will avoid such “sinners.” In this way, coronavirus has a layer of religion-sanctioned shame.

2. Burial Concerns

Burial practices are (unexplainably) significant in collectivistic contexts. Where, when, and how a person gets buried is the ultimate expression of their status in the community. Iraqi culture requires family to immediately cleanse and bury the deceased body, preferably within 24 hours. But what happens in a pandemic when bodies are abandoned, lost, or buried in mass graves? Well, they are “forgotten” by their family because their death cannot be properly commemorated. Such post-mortem desecration of the corpse is the ultimate disgrace. So, people opt to die in their home to ensure a proper burial, rather than go to a hospital and risk an improper burial.

3. Fear of Isolation

In collectivistic contexts, people don’t want to be quarantined alone. People in Western cultures are used to being alone and enjoy privacy. But in many cultures people live with an extended family in a small space. So solitude and privacy are not only foreign, but dreadful. The constant company of other people provides security and familiarity; spending 14 days in solitude seems horrendous.

4. Protecting Family Honor

The risk of sickness and quarantine risks the family honor. If a man gets sick, he is no longer able to protect his wife and children, especially if he is quarantined away from the home. A similar logic applies to women. Some families fear that a sick female relative will be removed from the house and thus be sexually vulnerable. The surest way to preserve the family honor is to keep everyone together, regardless of health risks.

Conclusion

These social values hamper efforts to fight the epidemic. But, expecting people to jettison their ingrained cultural values for public safety is not a realistic solution. The power of shame simply runs too deep. There must be ways to help people preserve their health and their honor, lest they be forced to choose one over the other.

Posted in Culture, News

Webinar: “Honor & Shame in Romans”

Free Zoom Webinar: “Honor & Shame in Romans,” by Jackson Wu

Wednesday, April 15 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Since the Reformation, Christians have read Romans with an emphasis on individual forgiveness and justification. However, the motifs of honor and shame play a central role in Paul’s letter. Based on Jackson Wu’s latest book Reading Romans with Eastern Eyes, this free webinar explains how honor and shame shapes Paul’s message and mission.

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN__yWb8_tdSy-HyGNvGjV9UA . After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. If you register and then cannot attend, please unregister so another person can attend.

Miss the Patronage Webinar?

I was unable to record the webinar, but most of the resources I presented are available free at: http://honorshame.com/patronage/. Also, the audio recordings of many terrific conference presentations on patronage are available at: http://honorshame.com/patsym-presentations/

Sorry to those who registered for the Patronage webinar, but could not join because it reached capacity. Since then, I have upgraded my Zoom account, from 100 to 500 attenders. Hopefully this won’t happen again. And so, feel free to share widely about this upcoming webinar “Honor and Shame in Romans.”

 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Ladder of Ascent

The Ladder of Ascent is a spiritual treatise about monastic asceticism. An Egyptian monk named John Climacus (“the Ladder”) wrote this book around 600AD as a spiritual guide for other monks. The book presents 30 “steps” toward spiritual maturity, and focuses on the monastic virtues of humility, renunciation, and purity. More than 500 ancient manuscripts The Ladder exist today, an testament to its popularity on medieval Christianity. 

The language of honor and shame runs throughout the 129-page book, available in English here. I will make a few observations here.

The goals of the monastic life and ascetic practices were renunciation from the world and communion with God. Renunciation of the world involved foregoing physical pleasures (food, sleep, sex, etc.). However, for St. John, the real snare of the world was social status and honor. Pursuing God meant renouncing any sense of honor or recognition, at all costs. In fact, he admonishes Christians to seek dishonor, derision, insults, and slander as opportunities to learn humility.

Let us pay close attention to ourselves so that we are not deceived into thinking that we are following the straight and narrow way when in actual fact we are keeping to the wide and broad way. The following will show you what the narrow way means: mortification of the stomach, all-night standing, water in moderation, short rations of bread, the purifying draught of dishonor, sneers, derision, insults, the cutting out of one’s own will, patience in annoyances, unmurmuring endurance of scorn, disregard of insults, and the habit, when wronged, of bearing it sturdily; when slandered, of not being indignant; when humiliated, not to be angry; when condemned, to be humble. Blessed are they who follow the way we have just described, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. (2:8)

While the pursuit of humility is right and encouraging, the author John repeatedly conflates humility with humiliation. The author states that a good abbot should publicly and constantly humiliate monks under his leadership to teach them humility. For example, the author recounts the story of a respected abbot who assigned a new monk to grovel and petition (as a “crazy fool”) at the monastic gate for seven years. This taught the new monk to live without any form of recognition or respect from other humans, thus purifying his soul to hear only the voice of God. This is John 5:44 and 12:43 to the extreme!

In relation to honor and shame, the most extended section is Step 22, titled, “On the many forms of vainglory.” The monk, with great insight, unpacks the corrupting influence of vainglory in our behavior. We humans are addicted to flattery and praise.  I was struck how the insights of this person–a monk living in the desert 1,500 years ago—may speak to people today. The passage is cited at length below.

  1. The sun shines on all alike, and vainglory beams on all activities. For instance, I am vainglorious when I fast, and when I relax the fast in order to be unnoticed I am again vainglorious over my prudence. When well-dressed I am quite overcome by vainglory, and when I put on poor clothes I am vainglorious again. When I talk I am defeated, and when I am silent I am again defeated by it. However I throw this prickly-pear, a spike stands upright.
  2. A vainglorious person is a believing idolater; he apparently honours God, but he wants to please not God but men.
  3. Every lover of self-display is vainglorious. The fast of the vainglorious person is without reward and his prayer is futile, because he does both for the praise of men.
  4. A vainglorious ascetic is cheated both ways: he exhausts his body, and he gets no reward.
  5. Who will not laugh at the vainglorious worker, standing for psalmody and moved by this passion now to laughter and then to tears for all to see?
  1. God often hides from our eyes even those perfections that we have obtained. But he who praises us or, rather, misleads us, opens our eyes by his praise, and as soon as our eyes are opened, our treasure vanishes.
  2. The flatterer is a servant of devils, a guide to pride, a destroyer of contrition, a ruiner of virtues, a misleader. Those who honour you deceive you, says the prophet.1
  3. People of high spirit bear offence nobly and gladly, but only holy people and saints can pass through praise without harm.
  4. I have seen people mourning who, on being praised, flared up in anger; and as at a public gathering one passion gave place to another.
  5. Who among men knows the thoughts of a man, except the spirit of the man within him?2 And so let those who try to praise us to our face be silent and ashamed.
  6. When you hear that your neighbour or friend has abused you behind your back or even to your face, then show love and praise him.
  7. It is a great work to shake from the soul the praise of men, but to reject the praise of demons is greater.
  8. It is not he who depreciates himself who shows humility (for who will not put up with himself?) but he who maintains the same love for the very man who reproaches him.
  9. I have noticed the demon of vainglory suggesting thoughts to one brother, while he reveals them to another, and he incites the latter to tell the former what is in his heart, and then praises him as a thought reader. And sometimes, unholy creature that he is, he even touches the bodily members and produces palpitations.
  10. Do not take any notice of him when he suggests that you should accept a bishopric, or abbacy, or doctorate; for it is difficult to drive away a dog from a butcher’s counter.
  11. Whenever he sees that any have acquired in some slight measure a contemplative attitude, he immediately urges them to leave the desert for the world, saying: ‘Go away in order to save the souls which are perishing.’
  12. Ethiopians have one kind of face, and statues another; so too the vainglory of those living in a community takes a different form from that of those living in a desert.
  13. Vainglory incites monks given to levity to anticipate the arrival of lay guests and to go out of the cloister to meet them. It makes them fall at their feet and, though full of pride, it feigns humility. It checks manner and voice, and keeps an eye on the hands of visitors in order to receive something from them. It calls them lords and patrons, graced with godly life. To those sitting at table it suggests abstinence, and it rebukes subordinates mercilessly. It stirs those who are slack at standing in psalmody to make an effort; those who have no voice become good singers and the sleepy wake up. It flatters the conductor, and begs to be given first place in the choir; it calls him father and master as long as the guests are still there.
  14. Vainglory makes those who are preferred, proud, and those who are slighted, resentful.
  15. Vainglory is often the cause of dishonour instead of honour, because it brings great shame to its enraged disciples.
  16. Vainglory makes quick-tempered people meek before men.
  17. It has great ambition for natural gifts, and through them often hurls its wretched slaves to destruction.
  18. I have seen a demon injure and chase off his own brother. For just when a brother had lost his temper, secular visitors suddenly arrived; and the wretched fellow resold himself to vain-glory. He could not serve two passions at the same time.
  19. He who has sold himself to vainglory leads a double life. Outwardly he lives with monks, but in mind and thought he is in the world.
  20. If we ardently desire to please the Heavenly King, we should be eager to taste the glory that is above. He who has tasted that will despise all earthly glory. For I should be surprised if anyone could despise the latter unless he had tasted the former.

  1. There is a glory that comes from the Lord, for He says: Those who glorify Me, I will glorify. And there is a glory that dogs us through diabolic intrigue, for it is said: Woe, when all men shall speak well of you.6 You may be sure that it is the first kind of glory when you regard it as harmful and avoid it in every possible way, and hide your manner of life wherever you go. But the other you will know when you do something, however trifling, hoping that you will be observed by men.7
  2. Abominable vainglory suggests that we should pretend to have some virtue that we do not possess, spurring us on by the text: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.8
  3. The Lord often brings the vainglorious to a state of humility through the dishonour that befalls them.
  4. The beginning of the conquest of vainglory is the custody of the mouth and love of being dishonoured; the middle stage is a beating back of all known acts of vainglory; and the end (if there is an end to an abyss) consists in trying to behave in the presence of others so that we are humbled without feeling it.
  5. Do not hide your sins with the idea of removing a cause of stumbling from your neighbour; although perhaps it will not be advisable to use this remedy in every case, but it will depend on the nature of one’s sins.
  6. When we invite glory, or when it comes to us from others uninvited, or when out of vainglory we decide upon a certain course of action, we should remember our mourning and should think of the holy fear with which we stood before God in solitary prayer; and in this way we shall certainly put shameless vainglory out of countenance—if we are really concerned to attain true prayer. If this is insufficient, then let us briefly recollect our death. And if this is also ineffective, at least let us fear the shame that follows honour. For he who exalts himself will be humbled1 not only there, but certainly here as well.
  7. When our praisers, or rather our seducers, begin to praise us, let us briefly call to mind the multitude of our sins, and we shall find ourselves unworthy of what is said or done in our honour.
  8. No doubt there are certain prayers of some vainglorious people that deserve to be heard by God; but the Lord has a habit of anticipating their prayers and petitions so that their conceit should not be increased because their prayers have succeeded.
  9. Simpler people are not much infected with the poison of vainglory, because vainglory is a loss of simplicity and an insincere way of life.
  10. It often happens that when a worm becomes fully grown it gets wings and rises up on high. So too when vainglory increases it gives birth to pride, the origin and consummation of all evils.
  11. He who is without this sickness is near to salvation, but he who is not free from it is far from the glory of the Saints.

This is the twenty-second step. He who is not caught by vain-glory will never fall into that mad pride which is so hateful to God.

Posted in Uncategorized

Webinar: “Intro to Patronage”

Free Zoom Webinar: “Introduction to Patronage,” by Jayson Georges

Wednesday, April 8 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Patronage governs many relationship in honor-shame cultures. But regrettably, Western culture and theology rarely notices this prominent cultural reality. Based on Jayson’s latest book, Ministering in Patronage Cultures, this free webinar will explain cultural issues, theological concepts, and missional implications. 

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_x2h-e4gnShiUfP7tD25amg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. If you register and then cannot attend, please unregister so another person can attend.

The previous webinar reached capacity, and many others wanted to attend. So, here is a recording for that webinar, “How to Teach Honor and Shame”: https://www.dropbox.com/s/1t29h1huy5fyoym/webinar%20recording.mp4?dl=0. It starts about 1 minute in, and there is a minute break in the middle. I plan to offer this webinar again in a few weeks.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Servant Leadership in Hierarchical Cultures

Guest Julyan Lidstone has served with OM in the Middle East. This post is from his book Give Up the Purple: A Call for Servant Leadership in Hierarchical Cultures (Langham Global Library, 2019).


So often we see gifted, zealous leaders able to gather groups of new believers, but after an initial burst of enthusiasm the group stagnates and then suffers an acrimonious split.  The fundamental problem is that the leader understands his position to be a source of personal honour, and so he seeks to defend his status with controlling, domineering behaviour.  He (and it usually is ‘he’) takes offense at personal criticism, is afraid to admit weakness, and feels threatened by promising younger leaders.  Since the pursuit of honour is a zero-sum game, other churches are seen as rivals.  He is operating out of the patron-client paradigm, in which he as patron is responsible to care and provide for his flock like a father, and in turn his clients owe him a debt of loyalty, praise and service.  Although patron-client relationships can be life-giving and upbuilding, it seems they are often marred by exploitation and manipulation.  The toxic result is fatal for church life and growth.

Having served as a church planter among Middle Easterners for most of my life this pattern deeply concerned me, and became the focus of my Masters studies as I wanted to find an answer rooted in Scripture, not in Western social sciences and leadership theory.  I knew telling leaders from the Global South to become democratic, consultative Westerners would set them up for failure.  I believed that Biblical principles would be more widely applicable, speaking to both the West and the East, as both struggle with the problems caused by dysfunctional leaders. 

The key insight came when I realised that although Jesus and Paul were functioning in highly authoritarian, honour driven societies, they both succeeded in modelling effective servant leadership.  Throughout Jesus’ ministry he consistently upended the normal understanding of honour, culminating in his willingly accepting death on a cross.  Crucifixion was the punishment for slaves, with the mocking and humiliation being an essential part of the spectacle.  Three days later he was vindicated by his glorious resurrection.

Paul showed what it meant to live out this principle of cruciform ministry with disgrace leading to honour.  When the ‘super apostles’ hijacked the church in Corinth he could have confronted them by matching their proud boasts with equivalent boasts of his own, but instead chose to boast of his weakness and shameful sufferings (2 Cor 11:21 – 12:10). By doing this he didn’t lose his spiritual authority, but instead God honoured him and two chapters later warns the Corinthians that he was coming with God-given authority to build up or tear down (2 Cor 13:10).  If he had tried to outboast the boasters, then the culture of boasting and pride would have stood intact; by embracing the cross of weakness and shame he was able to transform the culture with Kingdom values. 

Since our understanding of authority and honour is shaped by our earliest family experiences, it is so deep-seated that a few lessons will not suffice to change it.  Even though the disciples had lived with Christ for 3 years, they were still arguing about who was the greatest the night before he died!  Nevertheless, Jesus and Paul show us how highly relational mentoring could transform them into genuine servant leaders.  They demonstrate how a godly patron can profoundly shape and influence his clients to embrace his mission.

A Pakistani Christian leader wrote in his review, “The leadership in the church in Pakistan has been badly affected by the authoritarian style. Sadly, hardly any literature is available that can break the long-lived endemic trend of this authoritarian leadership style.”

 

Posted in leadership, Ministry Tagged with: , ,

Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame”

Free Zoom Webinar: “How to Teach Honor and Shame,” by Jayson Georges

Thursday, April 2 at 1:00 PM Eastern Time

Note: Sorry, but his webinar is already at capacity (100 people). Such an interest was not expected. I do plan to record the session, and perhaps do a repeat webinar in the future.    

Honor and shame are important topics, but often they are new concepts for people. How can we effectively introduce honor and shame to other people, especially to equip them for ministry? This webinar will provide practical suggestions and learning activities for ministry instructors/trainers. To help ministry leaders and teachers better teach honor and shame to other people, Jayson Georges will host this free, 1-hour webinar, discussing some methodological ideas and tips. Jayson has taught honor-shame many times, from seminary courses to short-term missions training, in various countries. 

Please note, this webinar is not about honor and shame, but about how to teach honor and shame to others. If you plan to teach honor-shame to others (in any setting), this is time is designed for you.  

Register in Advance

For security reasons, you must register in advance for the webinar, using your name and email, at this address: https://us04web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8vIaYY-YRyKnLoLrrvJfmg. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar, either in your web browser or the Zoom App. 

I know there are many resources/events online these days. But I’m going a bit stir crazy, and I’ve been pondering this idea for a while, so now’s the time!

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Fame-Shame Culture and Social Media

Guest Ally McGeever is the Young Women’s Engagement and Development Officer in Dublin, Ireland. This post summarizes her recent presentation as the Irish Bible Institute. 


How is fame different to honor? Both are defined by what others think of you, but fame is not conditional on others thinking highly of you, nor do those with the opinions have to be in community or relationship with you.

In this post, I want to explore how fame culture has evolved over time, and particularly how it has recently changed our relationship with shame under the influence of social media.

Fame culture has changed because of social media

If we think of fame through the 1970s-90s they hold generations of celebrities that were known about by many but not known personally by most. This exclusive celebrity culture revolved around idealised examples of ‘perfect humans’, much like the historic fame culture preserved for heroes and royalty.

Today the most famous people in the world are Youtubers, bloggers and Instagramers. They are not nearly as ubiquitously known as the celebrities of previous generations, but their fans know them much more personally. Fame has evolved from a pedestal of surreal idealism, to a relatable, constant presence that feigns connection. We have replaced the want for a king with the want to know (Niemark, 2019); fans have become followers. The most famous people today no longer promote an unattainable brand of perfectionism to be idolised, but a brand of authenticity and relatability. They are marketing a sense of relationship by sharing everything about their life, from what they had for breakfast to announcing that they are pregnant. The market is built on the optional one-way nature of public social media accounts, allowing followers to be in someone’s personal life without the interaction that risks shame. The direction of fame has changed, from looking up to looking in.

The reason for this sudden shift in fame culture is a direct consequence of social media. But it is also reflective of, and reactive to, how honor culture has changed in recent decades.

Social media replaces community with audience

In the past, honor could be (simplistically) defined by how well the people in your community thought of you. With the rise of individualism and independence, our communities have become smaller, reducing the size of our honor feedback network. This can cause significant anxiety because it disrupts the risk of shame. What was once the fear of one in 20 people thinking badly of you in a larger co-dependent community, can now be one in four in the small network of relationships of a relatively independent lifestyle. One way to reduce this risk is to broaden your social feedback network by supplementing (or even replacing) your community with an audience, listening to the feedback of many people who are not necessarily in relationship with you, instead of being reliant on the feedback from a small group of people who know you. Social media offers us an audience to replace community, and a convenient array metrics too quantify honor/shame feedback (likes, comments, shares, etc). Replacing community with audience has replaced the role honor with fame and the practice of relationship with performance.

There are several consequences to this:

  1. We lose connection from community members that are not part of the audience we are measuring honor (now fame) feedback from. This has particularly eroded the important role of intergenerational feedback as the social media platforms have different age demographics. Many people have relationships with relatives and friends who are not on social media to feedback to us in the metrics we pay attention to.
  2. We increase connection with audience members who know us, but are not in active community or relationship with us (eg. Past college friends, friends of friends).
  3. And we connect to audience members who do not know us at all.

Social media increases our risk of shame

Ironically, the consequence of these three factors is an increased risk of shame because you are taking feedback from people who know you less and therefore can judge you more. Here are just a few ways that replacing community with audience increases the risk of shame on social media:

  • Anonymity: by not having to risk ‘losing face’, anonymous and pseudonym accounts can shame others more freely, harshly and irrationally without being accountable to taking any feedback upon themselves.
  • Trolls: social media space has allowed individuals to strategically search out and antagonise individuals that hold opposing views, craving attention by provoking anger, hurt and/or fear in another
  • Not face to face: with the removal of facial expressions and body language that may enhance empathy, it is easier to call each other out and shame one another on social media than in real life
  • Instant/ reactive: social media encourages a very reactive space, reducing capacity for reflection and careful responses. This can perpetuate reactive shaming in a perishable environment, compared to the more measured criticism that might come from a long-term personal relationship.
  • Poor monitoring authority: shaming can happen more easily due to little to no fear of consequence due to the administrative barriers and low effectiveness of reporting offensive behaviour
  • Cancel/outrage culture: these cultures refer to single-topic ‘relationships’ where an individual’s merit or worth is shamed through public call out to the extent of social obliteration (that can have significant personal and professional fallout) according to the trends in values of the social media populous (read more about the impact of this in Russel, 2016).

The different forms of social media shame are diverse, some highly justified and consistent with the values of real life society, others exclusive to virtual etiquette and others seemingly trivial but still effective in evoking feelings of deep personal shame. The specific risks will be determined by the audience demographics and personal brand of each account. Here are just a few examples of topical social media shame risks:

  • Coffee—To much bemusement, the subject of coffee has become a multi-faceted flash point for social media shame. One can unwittingly provoke shame feedback by sharing a post where they are holding a disposable cup, intergenerational shaming can be provoked by the perception older people have of irresponsible spending habits of millennials, and a thriving online community of ‘coffee snobs’ can call you out for your poor taste in the type of coffee you drink. In short, caffeinated social media posts are high risk these days.
  • Travel—The value systems of tourism are also dynamic, complex and high risk for shame feedback. One can be shamed for not traveling enough, for traveling too much and damaging the environment, for traveling in a way that is perceived as culturally insensitive or socially unjust, or traveling in a way that is perceived as unoriginal and too mainstream.
  • Global crises—There is a constant threat of shame and guilt being perpetuated on social media in relation to environmental and human right crises, with the social media audience highlighting the unconscious ways one is perpetuating these disasters and personalising one’s responsibility for our unjust and endangered world.

 Shame ‘immunity’ through the personal brand

In this high risk environment, social media makes us deeply aware of the space between how we see ourselves and how others see us. One way to respond to the high shame environment is to create shame ‘immunity’ through the personal brand (Rosario, 2015). This means you can maintain your honor and avoid shame by curating the perfect presentation of yourself by selectively sharing content that perpetuates positive fame and minimises exposure to shame. This is a direct reaction to replacing community with audience, becoming more performative in our behaviour, and less authentically relational. The cost is reduced connection with self and others as you must live up to your personal brand in the overlap of virtual and physical social spaces, and interact with others who are also presenting a brand instead of authentic self. This results in less authenticity, reduced depth of relationship and rising social anxiety.

Further Reading:

Reflection Questions:

  • How would you communicate the Gospel message to a culture that no longer wants a king/hero, but wants to know someone personally free from risk of shame?
  • What challenges could the personal branding phenomenon pose in our faith community, relationships and personal prayer life?
  • Compare and contrast how ministry can serve desires for both community and audience?
Posted in Culture, Relationships Tagged with: ,