A Holy and Wholly Translatable Bible

I have written a bit on whether the Bible is translatable. This is important to me being involved in missions where I teach people whose heart languages are quite diverse. Few have English as their heart language, and none have 6th century BC Hebrew, 3rd century BC Aramaic, or 1st century AD Koine Greek. We live in a multilingual, multicultural world. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? To me Revelation 7:9 (along with the Babel narrative, Pentecost event, and Jerusalem Council) point to God viewing diversity of culture and language as a good thing, NOT simply a problem to overcome. But if that is so, how then should we view the Bible?

With that in mind, There are four posts to consider:

Is the Bible Translatable? Part 1  (Considers the Options)

Is the Bible Translatable? Part 2  (Ramifications of saying YES)

Is the Bible Translatable? Part 3  (Reasons for saying YES)

What Makes the Holy Bible Holy?

 

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Listening at the Mosque

Each year in my Dialogue with Asian Relgions class, I have my students visit a local mosque. I also have them visit the Sikh temple and the Budhist temple. And sometimes other places are visited. The Sikh temple has been the favorite so far. But I especially want them to visit the mosque and the Buddhist temple since those are the places of worship of the two groups that my students are most likely to interact with with regards to other world religions.

The experience at the mosque is always different. I tell my students, however, that they are not to proselytize. They are to listen and to learn.

Each year there is some small attempt by those at the mosque to try to persuade my students that they really should join their religion. I am glad they do this because I want my students to learn the art of listening. If they learn the art of listening, they learn a skill that few if any have mastered.

A few years ago, the presentation the imam used to try to gently suggest that the students should become Muslim was pretty abysmal. The argument boiled down to something like “Islam is not a religion but an ideology. It has adherents in every country on earth and is the fastest growing.” If one was of a mind to argue one might respond with “#1. There is no clear line separating ideology and religion, and since Islam has chosen to embrace most of the trappings of a traditional religion, calling it an ideology does nothing to enlighten. #2.  Christianity has adherents in every country on earth as well. It would be pretty likely that this would be true of Hinduism and Buddhism as well. Hardly an interesting bit of trivia. #3. In sheer numbers Islam is growing faster than Christianity right now, but both religions have gone back and forth over the centuries in who is winning the adherent race. Not very persuasive, and even less so in that many religions have a growth rate (including Evangelical Christianity) that far outstrips Islam. And finally, the ideology of secularism right now is almost certainly growing in numbers faster than either Christianity of Islam.”  Sorry, did not mean to turn it into an argument. But you can see that the presentation was really poor.

Last year one of the young men at the tawhid school there tentatively tried to start a debate. My students told him that they were not there to argue but to listen and learn. (I love it when my students listen to my instructions. Some years they do not.)

This year, my students described the presentation my the mosque leadership as “persuasive.” That is quite different from what has come back to me in the past. Therefore, I asked them to talk about the presentation. A few key points came up:

First, The presenters first noted the many things in common between Christianity and Islam. We worship the same God (well… sort of). They (Muslims) see the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as written by God, and they also see Jesus as a prophet of God and a miracle worker.

Second, They noted differences after first noting the similarities. They see the Bible as having become distorted due to copy errors and translation, thus explaining why it disagrees with the Quran, Hadith, and Islamic theology. They also noted that they do not see Jesus as being one with God.

So why did my students find this presentation to be more persuasive than that from previous years? Clearly, there were problems with their presenation. The part where they say that Jesus is not part of the Godhead is hardly new. Most people are well aware that Muslims see God as having oneness without discernible divisions. They also balk at most anything that presents God in terms of immanence (with the exception of some Sufist groups). The part where they suggest that the Bible would agree with the Quran and Islamic beliefs if it weren’t copy and translation errors… well as seminary students they knew that this is highly dubious. We have the Bible available in the original languages so there is no errors from that. As far as copy errors, perhaps 300 years ago that argument may have sounded plausible. But in the last couple of centuries there have been great strides in textual criticism. It is pretty clear that there are substantive differences between the message of the original autographs of the Bible and the message of the founder of Islam (as it was compiled a few decades after his death at least).

Since the second part of the presentation wasn’t very compelling, presumably what made it compelling would be the first pat. This was the part where the presenter pointed out all the things that Muslims and Christians can agree with. Of course, these agreements were a bit deceptive. To say that Muslims agree that the Bible was from God, but since they teach that it is reliable only to the extent that it was correctly transmitted– and correct transmission is only recognized if it doesn’t disagree with the Quran— the Bible is given NO AUTHORITY by the followers of Islamic teaching. However, that is not whay my students heard. They did not hear the presenters say that Muslims give the Bible no authority. What they heard was that Muslims believe they Bible was given by God.

This is classic marketing, right out of Dale Carnegie. Carnegie noted that to influence another person, get them as soon as possible to say “Yes” to you or “I agree.” Additionally, to get them to agree with you, you agree with them as much as you possibly can. A lot of Christian evangelists and evangelistic presentations seem more focused on disagreeing with or discounting others beliefs.

Interestingly, Paul focused on agreement in his presentation to the Athenians. He agreed with the philosophers on many many things, before finally bringing up the divisive point of the resurrection of Christ.

What the presenters at the mosque did was actually what we as Christians should be doing. Start with finding common ground and agrement, before bringing up differences. Although their argument was, to be honest here, a bit weak, it sounded strogner because they started with building agreement from the beginning.

In sharing our faith, we should START WITH AGREEMENT, NOT ATTACK AND NOT ARGUMENT!

1000th Blogpost

This is my 1000th post. My first post was written exactly 8 years ago today.  This works out to one markerpost every 2.9 days. Why do that?  Madness? Possibly. But at risk of bing a wee bit schmaltzy— it may be LOVE.

Of course, love is a very sloppy term. Two quotes kind of come together to embrace the idea. One seems to be an anonymous quote:

Quote #1.

“Find three hobbies you love: One to make you money, one to keep you in shape, and one to be creative.”

I have not found one to make money or to keep me in shape… but doing 1000 posts is something I love and  has certainly helped me work on that whole creativity thing.

The theory that anything you do enough of will slowly make you get better at, reminds me of an old Dick Tracy cartoon where there was a bad guy who had pressed his finger against an anvil 1,000,000 times. That act made his finger (or maybe thumb?) a deadly weapon— a skull crusher. I may not be a great thinker or writer, but then I have only done 1,000 posts. By the time I reach one million, I am sure I will be SIMPLY AWESOME. Based on my present production rate, I will achieve that in 7, 992 years. Standby.

Quote #2.

The second quote from end of Buscaglia’s book, “Love,” (Fawcett Publishing, 1972, page 205):

The most human thing we have to do in life is to learn to speak our honest convictions and feelings and live with the consequences. This is the first requirement of love, and it makes us vulnerable to other people who may ridicule us. But our vulnerability is the only thing we can give to other people.    -Father William Du Bay

That is true for blogging as well certainly.

I average about 1000 hits per month. That is not awesome. One of my favorite bloggers gets around 350,000 hits per month (but he does really have great posts). But this is my ministerial and spiritual journey, so anyone who takes the time to take a quick peak at that is welcome. And if you wish to stay a little longer, or even comment, or LIKE (or DISLIKE) feel free to do so.

Thanks for stopping by.

 



			
					

Making Little Ones Stumble

My children went to a Christian school in middle and high school. Overall, it was probably a good experience for them. In their previous school, also a Christian school, they were bullied for being “foreign.” But the school they transferred to was multi-ethnic and multi-national. They fit in quite well.

The school genuinely sought to integrate Christian instruction with more national and international educational objectives. They would have spiritual emphasis week. They would have weekly chapel services and  some Bible training as part of the curriculum.

One year, my wife and I and some friends led Spiritual Emphasis week. We THINK it went well (hard to tell, really). On a few occasions I spoke at their weekly chapel services. Again, they went well enough I suppose. Some friends of mine also spoke there and taught there and did chaplaincy work as well.

But one year that stopped. A nearby church took over the spiritual instruction of the school. The church was one that I was familiar with… one that I guess I would describe as theologically “sketchy.”

As was relayed to me by a few students, the year was strange. Here are a few comments…

  • Dogmatic and ‘Preachy.’ They were quite committed to pushing a very targeted dogma and did not help students explore issues of faith. One incident was rather interesting. They were explaining how all other religions were wrong. When they got to Buddhism, they said it was from the devil because it was all about how to get rich. It is true that some of the versions of Mahayana Buddhism as it is practiced especially in some predominantly Chinese regions does place of lot of focus on good luck and prosperity. However, “orthodox” Buddhism rejects focus on materialism and on desire. It seemed like they were simply taking a caricature of one form of Buddhism and using it as a strawman. (Strangely, I had always thought that the church in question was a “prosperity gospel” church. I hope I am wrong, rather than them being hypocritical). Since more than half of the students came from places with a large Buddhist population, that particular lesson taught the students that the trainers were not reliable.
  • Anger.   Students noted some members getting angry at the students in the spiritual training. I am somewhat sympathetic. It is easy to get frustrated and angry at teenagers. However, apparently the anger stemmed from the students not responding to the worship in a way that they liked. Apparently, the students were supposed to groove to the worship kind of like how people do on worship concert videos.
  • Blame.  Near the end of the year, one of the teachers from that church got angry again at the students and blamed the children for spoiling or destroying THEIR destiny. “Their” in this case meant the trainers. I am hoping the students heard this wrong because it is just to immature for words. Seemingly, they believed they would come in at the begining of the year and train and come out with a school full of students who have been turned onto their beliefs and style. I understandhoping this would happen, but people who pick their own destinies commonly are really picking their own disappointments.
  • Not itching where it scratched. The big issue however, was that the trainers “did not itch where it scratched.” They talked about the things that were really important to the trainers, not what was really important to the students.

Most of the students were nominal Christians or immature Christians. They were raised with a globalistic, pluralistic perspective, and this background left many of them confused about what they believe and how they should live their lives. The students needed help, not just another person with limited perspective preaching at them. The spiritual training actually shifted a lot of students from, loosely speaking, Christian, to Agnostic. some even became interested in other religions. (When annoying people say something is bad, that something becomes more appealing.)

Actually, I don’t really blame the church. I don’t expect a church to be competent to train teenagers who have already become rather disillusioned by religion. But the school should have known better. The leadership of the school had no denominational or theological affiliation with that church. They said YES to the church helping simply because it made their own lives easier, not having to develop a spiritual formation curriculum or a set of trainers themselves.

This story is a caution to me. I have seen many a teacher/trainer who has led people astray. Sometimes it is with bad example, but often it is just by making the Gospel so unappealing, that a different ‘gospel’ looks better… or even no gospel at all.

This story also reminds me of two passages of Scripture, and they serve as a caution to me:

And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  -Matthew 18:5-6

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1

Loving Gridlock in Government and Ministry

Image result for gridlock

A political election is coming up in the US this November. They are a challenge for me because my friends come from a wide variety of perspectives. I sometimes find myself siding with one side and sometimes with the other, but never consistently with either side. The reason for this is that “I Love Gridlock.” I suppose it depends on how one defines it. One definition comes your friend and mine, Wikipedia. It says,

In politics, gridlock or deadlock or political stalemate refers to a situation when there is difficulty passing laws that satisfy the needs of the people. … Gridlock can occur when two legislative houses, or the executive branch and the legislature are controlled by different political parties, or otherwise cannot agree.
As an American myself, my friends almost universally hate gridlock. This is strange since it seems pretty evident that the US Constitution was designed to encourage gridlock, as opposed to the classic parliamentary system.
So why would I like gridlock? I like it in government and in ministry for several reasons.
1.  It slows things down. I have been part of groups… in fact I have led groups… where decisions were made fast or even “on the fly.” I often loved that. However, over time I realized that issues that were struggled over were often resolved better than ones that were thoughtlessly approved, or “railroaded” through.
2.  It encourages negotiation. When there is one or more people with all of the power, there is little discussion. Things just happen. I have been in church or religious organizations that were led by one visionary person who made all of the decisions. I have never seen that work out well. No one is right all of the time. Most are not right half of the time.   Proverbs 11:14 says, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” However, when the advisers are more than simply “idea guys” but have a vote in the process, they are likely to have better thought-out decisions, and the leadership can’t simply ignore such advice and act on personal whims.
3.  It allows all parties to feel empowered, or at least jointly disempowered. Solomon may have been the “wisest man” (in terms of governance at least), and made some really awesome decisions for the short-term prosperity of Israel. However, he also made some decisions that were KEY to civil war and moral breakdown of his country. It is interesting that one of the things he did was to crush gridlock by establishing a structure for governance that undermined tribal leadership. It is hardly surprising that when Solomon’s untrained son took over, the tribal leadership that had their interests steamrolled in the past, flexed their political muscles and split the nation.
4.  It lessens groups from acting on their baser instincts. In some countries, when one political party or political leader gains ascendancy, they quickly seek to consolidate power by outlawing or at least hobbling all dissent. Even where this is not done legally, laws are commonly passed that give more power to the majority and stick it to the minority— or benefit their primary (financial) supporters.
5.  It shares power. People in government and in ministry commonly don’t handle power well.  Although it has almost become a cliche, John Dalberg-Acton’s words are still true: “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Diffusion of power is better than its localization.
So does that mean that I actually like the phenomenon where lawmaking slows to almost a standstill because of power struggle and rivalries? Somewhat. Laws and plans should be slow… and probably should be developed slower than anyone is particularly comfortable with. However, my main reason for supporting gridlock is that it shares power, and provides impetus for negotiation, compromise, and consensus-building. If those involved cannot “play nicely together in the same sandbox” and work together for the common good of the organization or nation, they simply need to be replaced. That seems like that should be obvious. We don’t vote for ideologues or demagogues but with people moral vision and the humility to understand that they must work together with others, even people they disagree with.
Hoping you will have the opportunity to experience gridlock in your own ministry or organization (whether you like it or not).
I will end this post with a wonderful quote on power and leadership from Monty Python. Enjoy.
We would like to apologise for the way in which politicians are represented in this programme. It was never our intention to imply that politicians are weak-kneed political time-servers who are concerned more with their personal vendettas and private power struggles than the problems of government, nor to suggest at any point that they sacrifice their credibility by denying free debate on vital matters in the mistaken impression that party unity comes before the well-being of the people they supposedly represent, nor to imply at any stage that they are squabbling little toadies without an ounce of concern for the vital social problems of today. Nor indeed do we intend that viewers should consider them as crabby ulcerous little self seeking vermin with furry legs and an excessive addiction to alcohol and certain explicit sexual practices which some people might find offensive. We are sorry if this impression has come across.

Training Our Replacements

Suppose you worked at ABC Widgets, Inc..And athazagoraphobia, being replaced, forget, friends, ignore, replace, atazagorafobia, being forgottensuppose that your responsibility was the very delicate installation of the whosiwhatsit into the widget. You have done it for 20 years. The company has become very dependent on you. But one day, maybe your 62nd birthday, your supervisor comes up to you with some young person. The supervisor says to you, “Please meet Anna. I want you to train her to do your job. Some day she will be your replacement here.”

How would you feel about it. There is a possibility that you will feel relief. You were bothered that the success of the company was dependent on you, and you were already considering the possibility of retirement. But for many, this is uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable for many to train their replacement. Jesus trained his “replacements” in terms of apostolic (“being sent out”) ministry. Moses did as well, but it seemed to take wisdom from his father-in-law, and a rude awakening from God that he would NOT enter Canaan, to get him to train up Joshua. Joshua did not appear to follow the pattern set by Moses. Elijah trained up Elisha, but only after God assigned him the task of doing it. It is not clear whether the Apostles trained up successors. They certainly trained up church leaders. However, it is not so clear that any of them (except Barnabas in training up Paul and John Mark, and possibly Paul in training up Silas) really took the task of training up the next generation of apostles (missional churchplanters). The 2nd century saw the role of apostle/churchplanter fade and completely die away in the 3rd century.

Some think they are immortal perhaps, or at least do not take their eventual demise seriously. Leaders tend to like to develop followers. One of the more popular church growth methodologies in the Philippines likes to describe itself in terms of developing leaders. Yet the structure and training materials focuses on training followers. It appears to have been developed by someone who is afraid that people will be developed to lead and then leave and create their own similar ministries. And yet, that is exactly what they should do.

Some perhaps feel less important if others can do their job, or, Heaven forbid, their replacement seems to do better than themselves. I recall American football quarterback Doug Williams being seemingly happy that his former team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was doing so much worse after he left. (Of course, if I had to play for the Buccaneers back in the late 70s and 80s, I may have felt pretty sour about the experience as well.  I had a pastor once who firmly believed that a ministerial organization will shrivel up and die (I am using my own paraphrase here) after a great leader passes on. He claimed to get that from Jerry Fallwell. I struggle to grasp where a Christian leader would get such a thoroughly unChristian idea. Perhaps it came from looking around at organizations led by narcissistic leaders who refused to prepare the organization for the next generation. But there are plenty of examples that counter this belief. Strangely, one of those organizations is Jerry Fallwell’s own Liberty University, that seems to be doing quite well in his absence— despite the thoroughly amoral political philosophy of the present leadership.

In some cases, training replacements is uncomfortable because that sort of work is not necessarily what they are good at. The best baseball batting coaches are NOT the best batters. Great singers do not necessarily make great singing coaches. One has to develop new skills to train a replacement. I have dealt with youth ministers who are in their 40s, 50s, and even 60s. I suggest to them that it is time to transition from organizing youth ministries, to training up youth ministers. Many balk at that because that is not what they are good at. Frankly, youth ministry is often a bit of a power trip because, although we often decry “rebellious youth,” they actually are much better followers than either children or adults. It can be difficult for a leader who is used to working with followers, to begin teaching future leaders.

In some cases, people think that training replacements is someone else’s job. In the Baptist tradition, ministers do not choose their replacements. Because of that, there is a tendency to not even try to mentor are help prepare the next pastor. That’s too bad because the previous generation can be a great help. Many missionaries who came to the Philippines trained local leaders to be churchplanters, but not to be missionaries. I suppose they were used to the idea that missionaries come from “back home” not from places like the Philippines, which is the “mission field.” Things have changed so much in the last 40 to 50 years that I really struggle to grasp this blindspot in their ministry.

And yet I can fall into the same trap. I didn’t think I could. I teach missions in a seminary in Southeast Asia. As such, I am a missionary (or at least a “cross-cultural minister’) who trains people from the traditional mission field to be missionaries to new fields. I also, at the graduate level, am a missions professor who is training the next generation of missions professors. So I don’t feel like I am failing to train my replacement. And yet… eveyone I have trained have been to go somewhere else. I have not trained anyone to be my specific replacement. Admittedly, seminaries don’t generally work like that anyway. However, when I was in the Navy, I was leaving and passing on my role as A&E officer (A&E as in Auxilliaries and Electrical, not Arts and Entertainment) to my replacement. I promised myself that that I would do my best job, but it is true that to some extent I began to suffer from short-timer’s syndrome, becoming lackadaisical regarding my replacement. I suppose that leads to a fourth reason:

Sometimes we feel that what happens after we leave is not our problem. Leaving a position is, in part, leaving behind the stresses and problems of the job. Therefore, it is hard to motivate oneself to train a replacement to do a job that is about to become someone else’s problem.

And yet,  in ministry, it IS our concern. We are serving God and are always part of something timeless and bigger than ourselves. We really have no excuse not to take seriously preparing the next generation for our passing.

 

Mutuality and Dialogue

A section of my book “Dialogue in Diversity.” The first very rough draft is basically complete and will be reviewed by my students in “Interreligious Dialogue class.

According to Martin Buber:

The presupposition of genuine dialogue is not that the partners agree beforehand to relativize their own convictions, but that they accept each other as persons.”
Mutuality is not as commonly promoted as a Biblical virtue as some others. Yet, it is a strongly supported virtue, especially in the New Testament. Mutuality describes equal support. It implies two different aspects: Equal as position, and equal in interdependence.
Consider the figure below. The figure shows two people– A and B. In the top part of the figure is A and B in unequal positions. If they are communicating, A is “talking down” to B, The middle part of the figure shows the two in equal position, but not equal in interdependence. If they are in conversation, A is “talking at” B, with little communication back from B to A. The bottom one shows equalness in role and in interdependence. They have mutuality in conversation. A and B are “talking with” each other.
Mutuality applies to many things beyond talking.Figure x
The church has often struggled with battle between seemingly competing virtues of submission and mutuality. Typically, the church has tended to focus more on submission— submission to authorities, to parents, to husbands. Yet built into each of these is a mutuality. Jesus modeled and taught a form of leadership built on serving, not being served. Wives may be told to submit to their husbands, but husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. And that form of love involves self-sacrifice and serving. It is hardly surprising then, that the most well-known passage in the Bible, Ephesians 5:21ff, opens with an overarching call to mutuality, “Submit one to another, out of reverence to Christ,” and then returns to the theme of mutuality with the body metaphor of Christ and the church.
The book of Philemon can be read as a book of Christian mutuality. Paul appeals to Philemon no to punish Onesimus, Philemon’s slave. Rather to accept him back, and even give him his freedom, and treat him as a full brother in Christ. Paul doesn’t actually order him to do that, for to do so would be to place himself as an authority. Rather Paul appeals to him as a fellow partner. The book sometimes is seen as a half-hearted rejection of slavery. However, it may better be seen as how Christian love and Jesus’ form of leadership is applied to a difficult situation, rather than law and hierarchy.
Many of the verses on mutuality are found as “one another passages.” There are dozens of these. A few of them include:

  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10)
  • …Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16)
  • …Love one another…” (Romans 13:8)
  • …Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13)
  • Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7)
  • …Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14)
  • Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16)
  • …When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33)
  • …Have equal concern for each other. (I Cor. 12:25)
  • …Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13)
  • Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2)
  • …Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)
  • Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32)
  • …Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32)

These principles apply to Christians within the church. Some other statements of the same order were given by Jesus to His disciples– most famously, John 15:12, “Love each other as I have loved you.” But to what extent does mutuality apply to dealing with non-Christians, those outside of the church?

Love each other as I have loved you.” But to what extent does mutuality apply to dealing with non-Christians, those outside of the church?

On a strict, rather legalistic, level one could say that since these statement are given to the church for behavior within the church, it doesn’t apply to a Christian’s relationship with those outside of the church.

HOWEVER, mutuality could be understood as a logical application of the Great Commandment. If I love my Christian neighbor as myself, as Jesus so instructed and modeled, and my Christian neighbor does the same, then we relate to each other in a state of mutual love for each other. And if we do that then the other characteristics of mutuality must then also apply (we bear each other’s burdens, we encourage each other, we forgive each other, etc.).

But… the Great Commandment was not given to believers only to relate to other believers (‘love your friends, hate your enemies’). Rather it is for all followers of Christ to all peoples. We may love our families different than we love members of our church, and we may love members of our church differently than we love members of other church, and all of these different than we love strangers or enemies. Regardless, if our behavior to any group is unloving, then clearly we have failed to follow Christ. In like manner, we serve, forgive, encourage, and show hospitality, in a manner that is Christlike even for those outside the faith.

It is interesting to note that over the years mutuality has grown outside of the church, commonly influenced by the church. Sometimes they caught on and even went ahead of the church. Human rights grew out of Judeo-Christian principles where each person has basic rights that are not based on race, gender, nationality, status or achievement. The movement against slavery began largely in the church, and grew beyond the church as some churches sought to defend the practice. Servant-Leadership has now become popularized in business and governance, even while some churches defend unilateral submission.

Dialogue works best from a position of mutuality. We treat each others with respect and with equality. We are there to teach and there to learn. We are there to encourage and be encouraged. We are there to help the other grow, and grow oneself. There is no guarantee that the other will accept those terms. The other may draw away, or may seek to assume a position of authority. We have no control over the other, we only have control over ourselves.