This proverb speaks to the damaging effects of rushing upon our ability to make wise decisions. I was able to use it to illustrate a message this past week on John 7:40-52. In that passage we see the hasty and smug Old Testament exegesis of the crowd and the religious teachers, “Has not the scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was? …Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”
Um, guys, what about Isaiah 9:1-7? You know, “Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… for to us a child is born…” These religious teachers were “blinded” by their hasty focusing upon one Old Testament prophecy – the Christ comes from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) – to the exclusion of others that presented an apparent contradiction.
But as wise men have said before, apparent contradictions in the scriptures are actually theological goldmines. How can the Christ come from Bethlehem and from Galilee at the same time? How can God be both one and three? How can God choose who believes and still hold us responsible for believing?
Don’t rush, lest ye be blinded and miss out on theological gold. Take the whole counsel of the Word into account when seeking to rightly interpret apparent contradictions.
Translation: I eat bread, but I don’t eat the bread of flattery. Your flattery will not accomplish anything with me. Normal respectful conduct will do just fine, so no buttering up is necessary.
A local idiom for flattery is “making yogurt water.” So, if someone is trying to gain an advantage through flattering speech with you or someone else, you can call that person a yogurt-water man, or you can tell them, “Don’t make yogurt water!” In this context, the above proverb makes a lot more sense. The metaphor of eating bread (receiving complements) relies on another metaphor for flattery (making yogurt water). So the image is of someone eating bread, but refusing to eat bread dipped in said dairy drink.
What is yogurt water? It goes by various names throughout Central Asia, but it’s a drink product traditionally made by allowing milk to ferment in a goatskin, while also rocking that goatskin back and forth on a wood and rope device. It’s tangy and creamy to the taste and can even become carbonated, and is often served ice cold in a silver bowl with dill.
Like most foreigners, I was not excited about the stuff in the beginning. But one blistering hot summer day the bus I was traveling in stopped by a roadside yogurt-water cafe. They were serving it in small buckets, drunk by a ladle, and with a big chunk of ice on the inside. I was converted. Ever since then I have drunk the literal yogurt water, though I do strive not to drink the metaphorical one.
This proverb could serve as a helpful illustration of how to apply Proverbs 27:6 – Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Our local language ties much of its respectful language to the eyes, and to kissing. I’ve never seen anyone actually kiss anyone else’s eyes, but I have heard this phrase uttered thousands of times, and often with genuine respect. Personally, I’m still getting used to other men just kissing my cheeks. You never can tell if it will be an every other side three or four kiss exchange or a four or five time same cheek kiss barrage. Or sometimes they go for the rare shoulder kiss. All must be interspersed with respectful phrases, “My brother! (kiss) My flower! (kiss, gasp), You respectable one! (kiss), May you ever live! (gasp, awkward last kiss, unsure if the other person is finished or not).
For kicks, you could try this idiom out with your Western friends sometime.
“Hey bro, I need some moving help on Saturday. Can you come?”
If the cow were still giving yogurt-water, she would still be with the owner.
Local Oral Tradition
“What’s your reason for selling?” This Central Asian proverb encourages buyers to be shrewd, knowing that sometimes the proverbial cow is for sale because she’s stopped producing the very thing you need her for. If it sounds too good of a deal to be true, it is.
What? You say I’ve just been peeling onions for five years?
Local Oral Tradition
This is an idiom to pull out when a friend seems a little too surprised that you’ve actually been productive or gotten a lot done. “You were expecting something else? Whaddya think we’re doin’ round here?”
I have in fact not been as consistent blogging this past month as I had hoped. Our move to our previous city and the time it took finding and setting up a new house was more work than I expected. But we have been working hard! No peeling onions going on around here, I can assure you of that. I am however looking forward to a more steady schedule now and a return to more consistent writing. After a year of blogging almost daily, it was interesting to have a few weeks where I wasn’t. I truly missed it. And that itself is clarifying and reassures me that this was not just a good one year experiment, but something I’m supposed to give myself to for the long haul.
We went for the beard, but we lost our mustache too.
Local Oral Tradition
Ever had a confident attack backfire? This is a great proverb for that time when you should have held your tongue or refrained from picking that fight with that guy two times your size. This proverb alludes to a disastrous trip to the barber, where all you were hoping for was a beard shave, but in the process you also lose your mustache, a traditional mark of manhood.
This week a local friend and I were standing on a street corner waiting for another friend to connect us with a realtor. After a while, the friend we were waiting for pulled up in his car with the realtor in his back seat. However, at the mere sight of us the suited realtor jumped out of the car, claiming that he wanted nothing to do with us. My friend who had driven him was shocked, and then quickly lost his temper at the shameful way the realtor had judged us without even giving us a chance to speak. This was no way to treat potential renters, and a foreigner who would make a reliable tenant at that! As he railed at him in middle of the street for how utterly disrespectful he was being, this proverb was one of the tamer things that came out. It’s basically the equivalent of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” Except this local proverb hints at the disastrous damage that can come by judging by appearances.
Afterward, we talked together about what might have caused the realtor to act so shamefully. Could it have been the beards? An acquaintance with a hipster-style beard had been with my friend to pick up the realtor. This could have raised some questions. Then when he saw me standing next to my other local friend – himself sporting a starving artist sort of beard – he may have thought we were some kind of Islamists. The older generations really don’t like beards because of their association with radical Islam. They prefer respectable mustaches. Or maybe when he only saw only younger men and no family, he thought we were lying to him and looking to rent a house for prostitution, as young wealthy men here sometimes do. It’s hard to say, but it was an unfortunate event all around. Had he given us the time to speak, he would have likely been excited as he discovered he had a chance of renting a house to an Western family. But since I can pass as a local sometimes, he made a snap judgment, “shot into the dark,” and tried to make his exit. My friend’s honor-shame berating of him in the middle of the crowded intersection finished off any interest he may have had.
Alas, the chance of finding a house through that important realtor’s office is gone. But least I got a proverb out of it! One that will definitely come in handy.
The one upon the slower ways comes upon the blessings.
Local Oral Tradition
This local proverb emphasizes the wisdom of slow and steady gains over those more hastily made. However, the local language word for graves also rhymes with blessings, so if you want a quick snarky reply when someone quotes this proverb, you can respond with “The one upon the slower ways comes upon the graves!” i.e. if you go that slow you might as well be dead.
Personally, I prefer the original. My colleagues tell me I’m an old soul and I do indeed find myself more and more identifying with Tolkien’s Treebeard (a character modeled on C.S. Lewis) and his philosophy, “We must not be hasty.” To our local friends who want to go big and go fast and expensive in starting churches, we have jokingly referred to our church planting philosophy as more like that of faithful tortoises. Not very impressive in the beginning. But give us a hundred years…
In other words, traits and habits present in early childhood (breastfeeding) often persist until someone is elderly. I’m currently leading an English conversation class and the last time we met we were discussing how to discern character. When I shared the English proverb, “A leopard can’t change his spots,” this local gem emerged. I hadn’t heard it before, but it’s a good one to have in the arsenal. We should be able to use it when speaking of the importance of parenting and in discussions about character formation. It could be used to illustrate verses like Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
On a personal level, now that I am in my thirties I am frankly amazed at how much my childhood is still affecting the ways I think, behave, and struggle. It’s as if the frenetic activity of my twenties came to a loud and tumultuous end, only to reveal that little curly haired missionary kid playing in the Melanesian clay, still there, and waving at me. It is strange and encouraging to meditate on the idea that God sees me now while simultaneously seeing me in every season of my life. During one part of my prayer walk this morning I listened to the song, “Future/Past” by John Mark McMillan. I was also meditating on 2nd Peter, including the passage that teaches that God’s relationship to time is different than ours (2 Pet 3:8). I realized that I tend to find it easier to look forward with faith that God will delight in my future self. I wrestle daily to believe that God delights in my present self. It’s even harder to believe that God delights in my past self. Yet surely this is what it means to be known as an adopted child of God. He knows our beginning from our end – and he still delights in us. From our habits of milk ’til our habits of old age.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zeph 3:17 ESV)
This is the local equivalent of “It’s all Greek to me.” Local walnut sellers count walnuts by the handful. They know exactly how many walnuts are in each handful and are extremely fast at their arithmetic as their hands transfer walnuts lightning-quick out of their large sack and into the customer’s bag. For the uninitiated (like me) it’s very hard to follow. But apparently I’m not the only one. This speedy method of the walnut sellers has become a local idiom for any time information has simply been over your head, too complex to grasp.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get any of that. It’s like your counting walnuts for me.”