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It’s All About Astonishing Relationships

One of most impactful elements of our 2016 trip to the Holy Land came through reacquaintance with my friend Abdelkareem Muosa or Abbed, as he is known to friends and family. It was wonderful to share a meal with his mother, father and two brothers and to meet his new wife and six month old daughter.

Abbed’s father became unable to work while Abbed was still a young man. The responsibility for caring for the family fell to him, the eldest son.

In many ways Abbed is the social security net for his family. When his brother was injured at work the fall back support was the family, aka Abbed.

Angie, one of the people who spoke to our tour group at the International Centre of Bethlehem, said there was no homelessness in Palestine because when one fell on hard times it was expected that some member of the family would extend a hand and open a door. Same mandate.

A network of relationships defines Abbed’s world. And his life is all about fulfilling the duties and responsibilities as well as enjoying the fruits of those relationships.

The Bible calls it righteousness – right relationships. (Along with a healthy dose of the 5th commandment, Honour thy father and thy mother.)

I marvel at his dedication.

Framing life in this way feels vastly different from the way the culture in which I was raised views the world. Family is named as a high value in our society but we practice it differently.

I am tempted to compare although I suspect that, in the end, any analysis of strengths and weaknesses would be complex and unsatisfying. For while I am moved by Abbed’s understanding of family I also know that, in other households, there are concerns about the place of women, the exodus of many youth from this definition of rights and responsibilities and often conflict with the pursuit of individual excellence and ambition.

That said, in Abbed’s presence I realize, again, how deeply shaped I have been by a consumer culture focused upon the individual. At its best the emphasis upon self-development and individual potential can be wonderful and liberating. Taken to extreme it corrodes relationships.

The question “Are you happy?” makes sense to my friend but the way he answers it reveals his world. He is happiest when he knows he can care for his parents, brothers and their families and his own wife and children. I suspect the same cluster of values shapes his response to a question like “Do you feel personally fulfilled?”

We do not use the word “service” in our conversations but, from a Western perspective, it shapes his life.

I worry for him for as the network of relationships that define his life expands. So many obligations. To which he might respond “so many opportunities for blessing and joy.”

Perhaps most deeply I wonder if the framework through which he judges not only his personal happiness but life itself is much closer than mine to the Biblical framework  where it is indeed all about relationships.

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  1. I found a similar situation in Tanzania, Africa when I was there. Our friend, Ben, who was one of two men who were the spearheads for the creation of the Technical school we are helping to fund, was the head of and responsible for his family who even though his eldest had a university degree, there was no work for him. It also appeared that there were others with which he took responsibility who were members of the same tribe albeit not family members. Ben, a technical man (airplane mechanic) saw the need for more trained technical people in his country and took on the task of making that happen.
    When we were on Safari, our wonderful tour guide, was the son of a single mother and was put through school by the generosity of his uncle. He now laughs when I ask him “does he have a girlfriend?” And replies his responsibility is make money to give to his mother and two siblings so that they can go to school and have a decent life. He is focussed on and content with that role.

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