The Source of Honor

My girls have just been through a few weeks of karate training at their elementary school. As a Quaker and a pacifist, I wasn’t too thrilled about it, and I was especially un-thrilled when my girls came home requesting that we watch Karate Kid for our next family movie night.

But I didn’t interfere with my children learning the basics of karate, nor did I refuse to watch Karate Kid as the family movie. My belief is that forbidding things will only make them more tantalizing to my girls, and as my regular readers will know, I believe there is a gift to be found – if I am open to it – even in things with which I disagree. I know enough about martial arts to know that the goal is to avoid using violence rather than seeing force as the solution to a problem, so I was hopeful about finding a spiritual gift and having rich family conversations. I found the richest gift in Karate Kid II:

The old karate master, Miyagi, flies back home to Okinawa with his young protege Daniel when they learn that Miyagi’s father’s health is failing. Daniel learns the reason Miyagi left Okinawa: Miyagi and his friend Sato were in love with the same woman and Sato challenged Miyagi to a karate fight to the death. Although Miyagi tried to talk his friend out of fighting, Sato insisted that fighting was the only way to restore his own honor. Miyagi left Okinawa rather than engage in an activity that would leave one of the men dead. When Miyagi returns with Daniel to Okinawa, it turns out that Sato is still intent on having the fight. Sato throws insults at Miyagi, destroys his belongings, family home, and does everything imaginable to provoke Miyagi into a fight. Still, Miyagi refuses to fight.

Thankfully I don’t need to reveal the ending in order to move into my theological reflections:

This movie made me think about what honor is and where it comes from. In my reading of current events, it seems to me that a lot of violence is ignited when someone feels insulted, whether it’s a real or perceived insult. On the home front, when one of my daughters whacks the other, the one who hit almost always justifies it as the correct response to mean words or actions on the other girl’s part. In sports, there was the French soccer star who headbutted his opponent during a crucial World Soccer Cup match when the rival said something insulting about the star’s sister. Much street violence seems to arise when someone feels “dissed” and wants to restore their dignity by harming the “disser”. Even some recent wars and threats of war seem to have much to do with real or perceived insults – both the invasion of Irak and the continued escalation of international tension between the USA and Iran seem to have large elements of wounded national pride.  

These situations seems to presume that a person or nation has honor if they are treated well and their  dignity is respected by their surroundings. At one level, that is how it is with me, too. I know from my own life how hard it is to hold on to my own feelings of worth when someone finds fault with me.

But Miyagi, this quiet, unassuming karate master’s sense of honor is different. It is unrelated to what others say about him or do to him and his belongings. Instead, he seems to measure his honor in terms of his own ability to stay true to his principles: He will not fight except to save a life. He will not threaten under any circumstances. He will make any personal sacrifice – such as walking away from his home, family, and the woman he loves – in order to avoid being understood (or misunderstood) to be a threat to a person whose sense of his worth is more fragile than his own. 

We have had wonderful conversations at home with the 7 year old and the 9 year old this week. Although we all understand and like Miyagi’s ideas, my daughters still whack each other occasionally and I still raise my voice when I feel overwhelmed by a situation. But we have developed a shared understanding of the goal we are working towards – to know that we are beloved-of-God and to act out of a deep knowledge that we and all people are God’s beloved. Honor does not come from the outside, but from the inside. As God says through Isaiah in chapter 43: we are honored and precious in God’s eyes. Being precious and honored by God is the source of our own sense of worth.

If in my lifetime I manage to be half as honest and faithful as Miyagi, I will be pleased with myself. And yet, my husband and I have turned down the girls’ pleas to do karate camps this summer. Our ideal goes one step further than Miyagi – Miyagi knows that he COULD neutralize Sato if he had to. For our part, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. His Way was to allow himself to be killed rather than fight. We do not want to think of using karate even as a last resort, nor do we want to gain the skills to use force effectively – for any purpose. Our hope lies in using no defenses, except the power of the Holy Spirit.

Query for prayerful consideration:

What is the source of my sense of honor and self-respect? Am I grounded in what I want to be grounded in? If not, how do I shift to a better source of honor?

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