Why is it that after almost 40 years of being a follower of Christ, I still feel out of step with most of American Christianity and feel as if there is something wrong with me? Why is it that as much as I tried, I could never sacrifice relationship over the American Church’s corporate mentality?
These questions were always running in the back of my head like one of those looped videotapes you see in stores that keep showing the same thing over and over again. Often my response was, “You are too sensitive. Don’t be so petty. Get over it. You can’t expect everyone to be wrong so it must be you?” And so on.
Let me give you couple of examples of what I am talking about.
If I was in my office working on my computer and a friend walked in, I would stop everything I was doing to attend to the person who was sitting across my desk. I wanted him/her to know that at that moment they were the center of my attention and nothing else mattered. Yet, if five minutes later I walked into the same person’s office, it would deeply hurt and offend me that my friend would continue banging on the keyboard without once looking up to listen to what I was saying. No, this had nothing to do with one’s ability to multitask or lack of it. To me, this all had to do with giving importance to a friend over an email that could be sent 10 minutes later.
If a friend needs a job, that need becomes my need, especially, when I know some people who might be interested in giving him/her a job. Unlike so many people I know, it is not good enough for ME that I can refer the friend to the right people. I take it upon myself to make sure the people know he/she is my friend and expect them to treat my friend with utmost respect. For, how they treat my friend is a reflection of their treatment of me.
I can imagine what kinds of questions might be going through your minds. What if the email couldn’t wait for 10 minutes? Don’t you think just directing the person to the right people should be good enough? Whose got the time to do follow-ups? Exactly, you are hitting the nail on the head. These were my questions too, yet I hardly ever remember an email that could not wait for 10 minutes and I could always make the time to follow up with my friends’ job hunts.
Does that make me a people pleaser? Am I an insecure person who wants to make sure everyone around him is happy with him? Believe me, I continually scrutinize myself over my actions. Did a desire to give people importance make me an “airhead”, as the president of the Christian organization I worked for once called me? He believed that only an “airhead” would give so much attention to just anyone.
It was only a few years ago, while teaching a seminar on honor and shame, the building block of most Oriental cultures, that I realized how much my culture of origin has to do with who I am today.
The formative years of my life in Iran was shaped under a Shame-Based culture—shame vs. honor. I really don’t want to take the time to talk about that culture. However, it is sufficient to say that within that culture, honor is the greatest attribute one can seek. Giving honor brings a person more honor. I was taught that taking care of my friends or my community was an honorable act.
By the way, the Bible, having been written in a Shame-Based culture is filled with passages dealing with this issue. Consider the following passages.
Leah said, "God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons." Genesis 30:20
Genesis 45:13 "Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly."
Luke 9:26 "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."
Revelation 21:27 "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
Unfortunately, honor is an attribute, which, for the most part, has lost its importance within the American church. Most of my experience has taught me that taking the time to honor people of God is not conducive to the American corporate church mentality. Unless, of course, you are a mega-church pastor, an accomplished author, the president of a Christian organization or a televangelist with a funky hairdo, then we better honor God’s anointed or His wrath shall come upon us.
Recently, a friend told me the following story. He had been working for a missions organization for several years giving it all he could. Even though he had a Masters degree, he worked for a minimum wage because, like most of us, he wasn’t in the ministry for the money, but to make a difference for God’s Kingdom. For all the year he was there, along with other co-workers, he never got a raise because, according to the president of the organization, due to financial hardship, they could not afford to give any of the employees any raises. However, later on, my friend found out that through all those lean years, the president of the organization never stopped making his six-figure salary.
But even that was not as dishonoring as what happened to him during the last Christmas he was with that organization. I will let him tell the story.
“I was sitting at my desk when we were all given an unwrapped brown box.”
“What is this?” I asked.
“It’s your Christmas gift.”
“As soon as I opened it, I was about to scream. Inside the box was a gift that, two years earlier, I had designed for the board members. The management had not even bothered to change the two year old calendar that was left in the box.”
Talk about being dishonored. Yet, the management of this Christian organization, which was supposedly spreading the message of Jesus all over the world, had no idea why my friend and other co-workers were not grateful for getting a second-hand Christmas gift. To the management, this act of gift giving should have been received as something magnanimous where, in fact, the employees felt it to be so demeaning.
I literally can recount scores of incidents like this told to me by Christians from all types of denominations and backgrounds, but I finish this blog with one of my own stories.
A few days ago, just a week after my radical prostatectomy operation, I received a call from the producer of a popular Christian radio show in Los Angeles area. He had received an email from a dear friend of mine who had suggested me as a guest on the show. After introducing himself, the gentleman asked if I would be willing to do a radio interview the following day at 5:00 PM. I happily and graciously accepted the offer.
In the past 30 some years of being a believer, because of my unique background, I have been on numerous radio and TV programs. For five years I produced a Persian TV show which was aired among the Iranian community in the Los Angeles area. All that to say: I am not new to radio or TV interviews. I know how quickly a daily TV or radio show can switch directions and bump a guest off the show. So, after I got off the phone, I told my wife about the interview, but I also told her, “I am not holding my breath.”
The next day the same gentleman called to inform me that my interview was pushed back 30 minutes and a few hours later, the interview was postponed to the following Thursday at 5:30 PM.
Thursday came and went and, yes, you guessed it, I never heard from the producer. I waited till mid-day Friday hoping I would at least receive the customary phone call telling me why I was bumped or that they were not interested in interviewing me any longer, but it never happened. So, I called the producer and this is how the conversation went:
“Hi Danny this is Shah.”
“Shah???” It was obvious he couldn’t immediately remember who I was.
“Yes, the guy you were supposed to have an interview with yesterday.”
“Oh, Shah! I never told you we were going to interview you on Thursday. I said if we needed you, we were going to call you.”
“No, you did not. You called me last Monday to tell me I WAS going to be interviewed on Thursday. Do you remember?”
“Well, sorry. I forgot to tell you that we didn’t need you.”
“Couldn’t you at least, out of courtesy, call me and let me know so I could run some of my errands yesterday rather than sitting by my phone waiting for your call?”
We said our goodbyes and I hung up.
What bothered me the most was his tone of voice. As if he was annoyed that a peon like me would even dare ask why he thought I wasn’t worthy of a lousy phone call. All through our conversation, I wanted to ask producer Danny the following question. Again, to some the question might make me look like a sore loser, but to those who know me well, know that to me it is a matter of HONOR.
“Danny, would you have forgotten to call me if I was Pastor so and so?” I was going to name a popular mega-church pastor. We all know what his answer would have been and that is my point of contention.
Any more, just like the secular world, the corporate church has divided the people into, as an old Christian boss of mine used to say, “major leaguers” and “minor leaguers”. The “major leaguers” are the famous ones, God’s anointed, the mega-church builders. They are the ones who have written all the “how to” Christian books. They are the only ones who have something to offer to the rest of the church. And the rest of us, who don’t have the above qualifications, are the “minor leaguers”. And producer Danny was not any better or worse when it came to assessing people’s value. To him I was a “minor leaguer” who should have been grateful that his radio show even considered interviewing me. However, the story didn’t end there.
Just a few minutes after I finished talking with Danny, the phone rang again. It was him.
“Shah, I need to apologize to you. I dropped the ball. I SHOULD HAVE called to let you know that we were not interested in interviewing you.”
“Danny, this means the world to me. My upbringing demands that we honor each other. You dishonored me by not calling me back originally. And I want you to know that had nothing to do with you deciding not to put me on your show. But now you have restored my honor by apologizing to me,” I told him. He went on to apologize again, but it wasn’t needed.
Today I don’t question the validity of my feelings and actions any more. I have come to realize that my feelings are not only valid, but also they are very much biblical. Those who are made in God’s image are worthy of my time and attention. But, I am also not as bent on expecting that everyone treat me the same way. However, this does not mean that we, as those who are called to be God’s ambassadors in this world, should not learn how to treat people, regardless of their status, with a level of honor due to them.
I have to admit that Danny’s second phone call left me with another nagging question, “Would he have ever admitted to his wrong doing if I had not confronted him and if so, why do so many Christians allow the leadership to dishonor them with regularity and yet not confront them?” which forces me to look at the issue of honor and shame from another point of view.
Stay tuned for my next blog.