Living Behind the Veil

I'm often asked what I wear in Afghanistan and what it's like to wear a veil. It's freedom. Freedom to have a bad hair day, freedom to arrange my chadar to conceal the curve of my breasts and backside, freedom to not be an expatriate for a little while. It means freedom to hide even on the street from the Afghan men's eyes which seem to strip me naked.
When I relax my shoulders and walk less purposefully, less confidently, my eyes downcast and covered by sunglasses, I pass for an Afghan woman. I hear the men whisper in Dari, "Is she a foreigner or local woman?" I chuckle but am silent. On the street, I'm also a free target....freely exposed to groping, sexual innuendos whispered to me as a man bicycles by, free to have stones thrown at me, freely seen as no one's wife, daughter, sister, mother, friend, or boss. I step inside my gate, and remove my chapan and chadar. Now I'm someone's boss, motherhood returns to me as little steps run to greet me, and I receive a kiss from my adoring husband. Now I'm free to his loving and gentle eyes which know and enjoy my curves, free to once again be under the protective umbrella of being a wife, mother, friend, colleague, boss, niece, sister, daughter, woman.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Armchair Courage

"It is hard to be brave. It is hard to know what bravery is."

Tim O'Brien

If I Die in a Combat Zone.

Those who have faced risk time and again, understand the complexities and the challenges of the courage needed on the path to martyrdom.  There is such a thing as Foolish Endurance and even Foolish Going.   

There is a primary theme between the three times the word "risk" was used in the New Testament. That theme seems to be that there was a consistent willingness to face death for Christ, and the public recognition that those who have been willing to go and be martyred have something to say and should be listened to.

Most workers facing high risk probably have most in common with Prisca and Aquilla. They laid their necks on the line and kept them there, long term. Risk is a daily, long-term situational event, that must constantly be assessed, regularly requiring varying levels of courage, depending on the person and the situation. 


So that the worker can stay in that unique situation where their very willingness to be there communicates the love of Christ.

That's the hard work. It takes wisdom and common sense to know your enemy in order to avoid his evil deeds so that you can go sit one more afternoon and have tea with the ladies as you story the Gospel in another language, then cross the city in afternoon traffic with exhaust filling the car as you get car sick all the while clutching your veil and ignoring the men staring at you in the cars inching forward all around you, as you mark off each landmark and remember where the last suicide bombing was, and get home to once again prepare dinner from scratch. 

It takes courage to go see a government official at the Minister-level, and negotiate an agreement with the government on behalf of your organization involving hundreds of expatriate personnel, local personnel, expensive resources and money, then go back to the office and mediate a conflict between two expatriate workers who aren't getting along, and respond to office issues, all the while aware that the local office staff are watching and looking to see "what makes this foreigner different." Then he goes home at the end of a long day, often to fix something at home that has broken yet again before he can relax.  

Martyrdom is the easier way out of dealing with all that, and while often painful in the short-term, God gives grace to help you through (so many stories reflect this), and there is the glory and satisfaction of not denying the Father before others. 

Most of what is written on courage is either rooted in 2000 years of dusty philosophy or based on soldiers' stories of war.  Soldiers who have experienced battle, by the horrors they have witnessed, rightly have the authority of dissecting what is bravery and what is not bravery.  And as Tim stated, it's hard to know. 

Plato and Aristotle, two famous Greek Philosophers, described courage eloquently and voluminously. Aristotle described courage as on a scale. He said,

Courage is the mean with regard to feelings of fear and confidence, describing as “rash” the person “who exceeds in confidence” and as “cowardly” he “who exceeds in fear and falls short in confidence.” Aristotelian courage is not to be confused with fearlessness but consists in feeling the appropriate amount of fear in any given dangerous situation and acting rationally in response to it.

Aristotelian courage is missing a rather crucial point, mainly, he approached life also through the lens of Rationalism, with the Stoics later adding the ideals of Stoicism. Both of these have elements of helpfulness, but also when taken as a problem to solve instead of ideals to keep in tension with other major values get out of whack and ignore a rather crucial characteristic I'll discuss another time.

The Aristotelian courageous man is someone who thinks before he acts, avoiding both rashness and cowardice. Plato noted in Laches that a soldier who chooses to remain at his post in the face of overwhelming odds may display Foolish Endurance yet may impress us more.

On the other hand, our generation seems to approach things like cross-cultural risk as either-or; right or wrong, black or white. Go and be martyred, or if you don't go, you don't have courage. Courage also seems to be only labeled in the extremes...martyrdom, for example.  This definition of risk and courage is binary, only two-sided, with no shades of gray.

But the ancients weren't like that, and nor are the numerous stories of soldiers at war who have spent time meditating on what bravery (courage) looks like in real life. And courage in cross-cultural work is reflected in the daily choices made to remain-in-difficult-situations-with-joy; the daily choice to face difficulties like renewing visas; going to tea knowing it will be hours-long conversations.

Courage...and risk...are so much more than martyrdom, and so much more nuanced in a million situations. Both are attitudes of the heart and mind that a person grows in as they exercise the muscle of courage and the willingness and calling to risk as the Spirit leads.

The graphic above, Aristotle's description, reflects a scale of both fear and courage. Either direction may reflect and excess or a deficiency of balance in either direction.   

"The Aristotelian courageous person is not a literally fearless person, but one who feels and acts upon appropriate fears in an appropriate manner, neither ignoring dangers as the rash character does, nor being carried away by his fears in the manner of the coward." (p. 7). 
He is the person who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and at the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions. (p. 8).  

What about writings on courage in the Western Church? Well, I can't say I've finished thorough global research yet, but I have yet to see a scholarly helpful essay on courage from an exegetical foundation that hasn't also critically evaluated the Greek ideals. 

The Greeks are not the last word on what courage is and should look like, and I haven't yet found any good answers in the Church.  If you know of a good source let me know!

On the hunt for Mature Courage. 

Go to 5 Types of Fear in the Bible

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