Honouring? Eh? What kind of a tool is that?
A very powerful one.
Many years ago, when I was a young man, I left New Zealand on my own on a world trip. My first stop was Tokyo, where I spent several days.
One day, I was walking along a footpath. There were lampposts ahead, and they had little metal ashtrays bolted onto them. Japan was a country of heavy smokers but also great cleanliness.
A gaunt old man cycled up to one of these ashtrays. He leaned his bicycle against the lamppost, got out a dustpan and brush, and cleaned the ashtray.
I stopped and watched. Something extraordinary was taking place.
This man wasn’t just cleaning the ashtray. He was meticulously making it spotless. He poured the ash into a bin on the back of his bicycle, stashed the dustpan and brush—and then he saw me.
This wizened little man put his hands together in a sign of prayer and bowed. Then he climbed onto his bicycle and rode off to clean the next ashtray. And the next.
Three and a half decades later, this is my most vivid memory of Tokyo. It’s taken me all this time to figure out why. That wise old man taught me one of the great secrets of life. That every moment is precious, whether we are washing the dishes, putting out the garbage, or experiencing some vitally important moment in our work or private lives.
I figured that out a long time ago.
What I hadn’t figured out was, that man was honouring the importance of his work. He was honouring the ashtrays, the brush he swept up the ash with, the chain-smokers who stubbed out their Sakura and Golden Bat cigarettes, the workers in distant fields who harvested the tobacco, the surgeons who operated on cancer-ravaged lungs.
And he was honouring me.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about honour and honouring. The word occurs 332 times in the Contemporary English Version (CEV).
Just looking at the New Testament, it’s very clear there are healthy and unhealthy forms of honouring. Matthew 23:12 explains the difference. “If you put yourself above others, you will be put down. But if you humble yourself, you will be honoured.”
This is what my Japanese ashtray-cleaning friend did. He was honouring not only me but every aspect of his life. Because everything in his life was honourable, it was also peaceful. He wasn’t lost in egotism and false pride.
In Luke 11:43 Jesus singles out the pharisees for seeking superficial, egotistical honour. “You Pharisees are in for trouble! You love the front seats in the synagogues, and you like to be greeted with honour in the market.”
The age of Covid
That was 2,000 years ago. In some ways, the dance of life hasn’t changed much.
Here we are, in the age of Covid. The dance is getting faster, the dancers more ragged and fragmented. Tempers are fraying at the drop of a Peace cigarette. (I’m really getting into these Japanese cigarette brands. It’s almost a pity I quit smoking at 10.)
The social sphere is toxic with abuse. Every personal interaction is loaded with possibilities for triggered rage. Does this person want to observe social distancing? Will they explode if I don’t wear a mask—or if I do?
In this emotionally hypervigilant environment, we need new tools. We need to defuse the constant anxiety of not knowing where on the Covid spectrum each person we deal with resides, from ranting, evidence-intolerant conspiracy theorist to triple-jabbed, double-masked, haz-mat suited, cotton wool-wrapped fear-monger.
Honouring is such a tool.
Honouring others more than ourselves
In Romans 12:10, Paul implores us to “Love each other as brothers and sisters and honour others more than you do yourself.”
Meet each person with honour. They are who they are. They are where they are. Changing their viewpoint is not your job. It’s unrealistic, and a violation of their sovereignty. Instead, do something both realistic and powerful.
Honour them, for whatever role it is they play in your dance, whether invited or unintended. Like compassion, honouring has a defusing, calming effect on human interactions.
You will find that it’s impossible to honour others without honouring yourself—and vice-versa. You will also find that maintaining this state requires a lot of intent. Can you find worthiness in every element of every moment of your life?
That’s the great beauty of this tool. It forces you into presence, and presence increases the immanence of God. In the face of life’s growing turbulence, honouring transports you into the eye of the hurricane.
There. The wind is settling. Time to light up a Lark Ice Mint.