A Proverb for a Spittin’ Image

Yesterday I was in our previous city and ended up giving some South Asians and some locals a ride from a church service to a following home group time. As I was getting to know the men in my car I found out that one of the local men was from a mountain town far to the north. I looked in the rear-view mirror at him. I knew that face. I remembered that I had recently attended a training with a believer from that very town.

“What’s your father’s name?” I asked him.

“It’s Keith*,” he said.

“I know him! We were together at a training just a few months ago.”

“Ha!” the son said, “They say I look just like him.”

“You do! You look so much like your dad*. Your culture has a proverb for that, right?”

“Yes,” the other local chimed in, ‘Like an apple split into two parts.'”

This local proverb, unlike some others, is fairly straightforward to understand. We even have a couple sayings like this is English as well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree is one, but that proverb seems to be used more for behavior. The saying that I’ve heard for physical resemblance from parents to children is that the descendant is the spittin’ image of their mom or dad. Why spitting? Perhaps something to do with spit-cleaning an old reflective surface? I find this an interesting example of how oral tradition in a culture can continue to communicate the metaphorical meaning of something even when the literal meaning and origin has been forgotten. “I know what it means,” you might say, “though I don’t know what it literally means.”

Thankfully, unless some kind of freak fruit disease or collapse of global trade destroys locals’ access to apples, I’m pretty sure that future generations here will continue to understand this local proverb about split apples.

*Names changed for security

*Though I didn’t intend it this way, this is is a weighty local complement to the strength of the father’s genes.

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An Idiom on Drinking the Kool-Aid

He has eaten flatbread from ____’s hand.

Local Oral Tradition

This is an idiom to use when someone has drunk the proverbial Kool-Aid. As in they have completely bought into someone else’s story, system, or philosophy. I have many local friends who believe the US and Israel have created groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS for their own nefarious ends. Next time I hear this opinion come out, I’ll have to drop this idiom. “Bro, seriously? You have eaten flatbread from the mullahs’ hands.”

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A Proverb on Learning One’s Lesson

If they cut off your arm, God will judge them. If they cut off your the other arm, God will judge you.

Local Oral Tradition

This is our local equivalent of “Fool me once, shame on you; Fool me twice, shame on me.” In other words, once someone has proven themselves untrustworthy or even dangerous, a wise person should no longer extend to them the same kind of trust they did previously. To do so is not only foolish, but this local proverb goes so far as to say it’s the kind of folly that even invites God’s judgement.

And now for a flashback demonstrating the importance of knowing your proverbs, especially if you are going to use them publicly:

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A Proverb on The Sweet Spot

Everything with salt, and salt in right amount.

Local Oral Tradition

This local proverb speaks to the bell curve present in many virtues. Too little of it turns it into a vice; too much, another kind of vice. Just the right amount – the sweet spot – is where wise conduct is to be found. Think of the goodness of being transparent with others. Too little transparency, and we risk hiding important information and undermining trust. Too much transparency, and we cross the bounds of what is appropriate and violate trust. I am excited to have learned this proverb because it speaks to the kind of nuance so often needed in mature Christian conduct and speech.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.” – Colossians 4:6

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Another Take on a Character Proverb

Travel and business are a gold appraisal tool.

Local Oral Tradition

I’ve posted another version of this proverb in the past, but I believe that this version is the older one. In the local culture, they used to appraise gold by scratching it with a special device. The appraiser was able to tell the quality of the gold from the scratch made in its surface. In this proverb, the gold represents a person’s character. So in essence, travel and business, like a gold appraisal tool, reveal a person’s character.

As one who has traveled for my entire life, I testify that the travel part is certainly true. When a trip is long enough (and it doesn’t have to be that long), people are unable to keep up appearances. Sooner or later, they will get tired or stressed or sick or inconvenienced in some way. And at that point, character will spill out.

Every time we travel internationally, I am reminded of the difference the new birth makes in when it comes to simple kindness. In the dehumanizing environment of a crowded airplane, most want to protect at all costs the few rights and the small space they still have. Those who are kind to families with small children or to the sick or the elderly stand out. And often, turns out the kind and sacrificial ones are those who know Jesus.

In an age where we often lament the lack of difference between the Church and the world, I am happy to say that travel truly can reveal the reality of the new birth – and that it is a golden, wonderful thing.

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A Proverb for a Lazy Worker

For fear of day labor he became a musician.

Local Oral Tradition

This proverb is for the person who shuns hard work and seeks out the easier tasks. One young man was hired to help paint our house when we moved in. There was a ton of work to be done, but I kept catching him watering the trees. He really liked watering those trees. Or perhaps he just really didn’t like painting.

I didn’t know this proverb at the time, but it would have been an apt one to use. Needless to say, the painting only got ninety percent done. But the garden trees look great!

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A Proverb on Conflict

A clap is not achieved by one hand only.

Local Oral Tradition

This one recently emerged in a context of – you guessed it – conflict. It’s the local equivalent of “It takes two to tango.” While exceptions to this principle exist, and greater and lesser degrees of fault are important to consider, conflict often has two parts: a sinful action and a sinful reaction. This is good news for peacemakers who are involved in conflict. There’s almost always a way to lead, to initiate, with a humble admission of our own sin or shortcoming. And that is often the key that unlocks the main offender’s repentance as well.

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A Proverb on Central Asian Friendship

The first day we are friends, the second day we are brothers.

Afghan Oral Tradition

This proverb comes from Afghanistan. I came upon it years ago in a book by Dr. Christy Wilson, and I’ve never forgotten it. It resonates with my own experiences with Central Asians, who have often stunned me with their sacrificial hospitality and friendship.

My family does not live in Afghanistan. But tonight, as the capital, Kabul, falls to the Taliban, we are grieving for what this will mean for the local believers there – indeed what is has already meant for them and for many faithful gospel workers who have invested so much in that land.

Regimes will fall. Evil may temporarily win. But true gospel friendship – and the friendship of Christ himself – will outlast all of it. And every ounce of suffering for Christ will count, will be remembered, and will result in an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

On the other hand, every action taken by the Taliban against an Afghan believer is an action taken against a friend of God, a brother or sister of the Messiah himself. He sees it all. And sooner or later, his justice is coming.

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A Proverb on the Importance of Know-How

The donkey’s load is rifles, yet still he is eaten by wolves.

Local Oral Tradition

“Your wife is an amazing cook. That soup was fantastic!” my friend exclaimed.

“It’s because there was bacon in it,” I said.

“No, it wasn’t just the bacon. The donkey’s load is rifles, yet still he is eaten by wolves. Yes, she had bacon, but she also knows how to cook.”

This conversation took place yesterday after a late lunch. Some volunteers had recently brought us the culinary holy grail of meals in Central Asia – precooked bacon from the West. We had served it up to a local friend of ours who appreciates this food now made clean by Jesus. Intrigued, I went on to get some further clarification on this new (for me anyway) local proverb.

The saying gets at the importance of know-how. Even though the donkey has the tools needed to fight off the wolves – a load of rifles – he still dies because he cannot use them. In other words, tools are useless without the necessary equipping, the necessary know-how. On the positive side, as my friend used it, it’s not only the presence of good tools or ingredients that should get the credit, but also the one who wields them with skill. The right tools and the right experience – that’s the goal.

By this means wolves can be killed. Or a mean bacon stew can be served.

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