Abraham is the patriarch of our faith. What we rarely mention, however, is that he also trafficked his wife twice and impregnated a teenage Egyptian slave named Hagar after his spouse arranged for the affair during the couple’s ongoing infertility issues.
The adolescent mistress, as the story goes, gets a bit of an attitude with Sarah, the patriarch’s wife. Abraham removes himself from the situation, inviting Sarah to do whatever she wishes to the adolescent. Sarah ends up sexually humiliating or cruelly treating (depending on scholar) the young mistress, prompting Hagar to head out to the desert where she will likely die. The story is traumatic, and does little to resolve these terrible acts of the first family of Israel.
Early this summer, our team from The Allender Center had the privilege of sitting in a hotel room in scenic and middle of nowhere Wisconsin, discussing the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 16 with a group of unlikely guests: Ethiopians involved in the fight against sex trafficking in Addis Ababa.
We completed The Story Workshop the day prior and convened to hear the Ethiopian’s perspective on how The Allender Center material might intersect with their context. The story of Abraham and Hagar mentioned above is one of the three foundational texts of The Story Workshop, and yet because it shares egregious and heartbreaking stories about Israel’s ancestors in a context where loyalty to this family determined their identity, our conversation turned to the implications of being faithful to the Biblical text when it seems to do something that is beyond counterintuitive.
Throughout the Workshop, the Ethiopians and other Africans informed us that telling their stories was comparable to being a traitor, a fool, and even choosing cultural suicide. As they shared about their fight to respect their families and be truthful about the stories they have lived through, it occurred to me that these were some of the most “Biblical” people I will ever have the privilege of knowing. Like the writers of Scripture willing to list their ancestor Abraham’s grievous sins without dismissing his role in their history, they recognized that honesty and honor should never be separated. In other words, the words honor and honestyare intended to be married. We can imagine the private ceremony that brought them into a covenant together—“I, Honor, take you Honesty. And I, Honesty, take you Honor” (inspired by this post).
The complexity, however, is that our families and our churches have believed a binary lie which is foreign to both the ancient Jewish writers and our Ethiopian friends. I have been misled into thinking that, if I am honest, I could not truly honor. If I honored someone, it would certainly come at the cost of honesty. If this lie is familiar to you, have you ever taken time to ponder how this division came to be? Who was it or where was it that you learned to keep these concepts from walking down the aisle with one another?
What we know from theology and psychology alike is that growth comes to the degree to which we are able to acknowledge that things are not the way they are supposed to be. In doing so, we permit ourselves the opportunity to imagine what our lives and world might look like if all of this pain and harm we have undergone will not have the last word. One way to ensure failure in the ongoing conflict in your marriage, the brokenness in your church, or the budget woes in your business is to act as if these issues do not exist. In order to honor your marriage, your church, and your business, it will require you to be honest about where things are and how they came to be in order to do the difficult and beautiful work of bringing about transformation.
The Story Workshop is unlike any other context that I have ever had the privilege of being part of because it offers you the invitation to honor your life through being a more honest man or woman. What I have found in my own story and with scores of participants is that our desire to “honor” others by being dishonest about our experiences of them is often a smokescreen that keeps us from entering the door of heartache. It is a brilliant and tragic maneuver we have all learned to make: we swerve to protect others so that we do not have to suffer the implications of what their sin has brought to our life; we do not take pen to paper and tell of our noble ancestor’s grievous sins. What if you could tell a story where the rope between honesty and honor could remain taut?
This is the invitation: to join the writers of Scripture, our friends from Africa, and, ultimately, the person of Jesus who himself was honest about the state of humanity in order to honor the Father by incarnating himself into all the sickness, death, and goodness of our world.