journey post 4: The Roadblock of Assumptions
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU RODE WITH SOME GUY WHO WOULDN’T ADMIT HE WAS LOST? WELL, IT WASN’T ME….I ALWAYS KNOW WHERE I’M GOING….
Assumption: “Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition.”*
I never get lost, so I don’t have to ask directions. Unfortunate, but true—for the most part. I do admit, there are exceptions. I have an ever-present sense of direction, even on a cloudy day. There is also something in my visual memory which seems to remember every place I’ve ever been. It’s a great gift. I say it’s unfortunate because it has landed me in deep doo-doo many times. As a gift, it is something I cannot take credit for, but of course, I do. My pride would do no less. And it is that pride which has blinded me to the doo-doo until too late.
This is where I explain the word “donkey” in the tagline to “Zigzag Journey.”
Those who know me very well know that I am a “nice guy,” outwardly humble, self-effacing, not pretentious, considerate of others. That is a great image to cultivate. It can keep people from getting close enough to know the real me, the donkey. I am a Donkey. Once you get past the shock value and irony wrapped up in that picture, perhaps you can identify with something here.
In the two years following my appointment with a mortar round, I began to wrestle with the question, “How can I know anything for sure?” That’s where I left off in post #2. I did not know it then, but the answer I got in the summer of 1971 was only partial: Yes, I can know some things for sure. And yes, I became a Christian. And yes, I still am. But I continue to wrestle with the implications of that partial answer. My earthly journey will lead to a place of great clarity and wonder, but in the meantime there is still much that is puzzling, much “un-clarity.” I am glad to say that I am not alone: I share something with Paul the Apostle, who made this intriguing comment about us and our present journey: “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror…” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT). The mirrors of Paul’s day were generally made of polished bronze—unclear and distorted at best. So he was saying that our perception is very limited, our understanding—now—partial and incomplete.
The lack of clarity has been a factor in my zigging and zagging through life. Another factor has been assumptions, such as the assumptions I carried with me on the day when some young North Vietnamese soldier trained his mortar in the direction of an enemy (me) and dropped a round into the tube. One assumption: I just knew I was a Christian. Another assumption: I always knew where to get answers. I should have noticed some of those bright red flags waving over the events of the 60s, but I was still trying to hang onto my idealism. Before I went to Vietnam, I had been reading every book I could get my hands on about the war, and it still didn’t make sense—another red flag. (I don’t think I began to notice the red until the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy.) The common thread in those two assumptions is “I” and “knew.” When I woke up the next day in a hospital bed, what I knew did not seem to amount to much.
We are going to jump chronology here to explain the “I” and the “knew.” Much of what I write in this blog space will relate directly to those two little words, certainly for my life, perhaps for yours as well—we are all human, so I’m told. Our time warp will travel forward (in this post), and then backward (in post #5). Then (I promise), we’ll get back to the 70s….
“Men don’t ask directions.” This saying is used as a frequent punch line in our culture. It carries an idea that applies to a wide range of situations besides driving. (Pride is not limited to males, by the way.) I did not think that any pride I might have was a big deal. At least, that is what I assumed. I compared myself to some of those really arrogant guys I knew in high school and other places (even church) who paraded their good looks or their great abilities, even their spirituality. Of course, I came out ahead.
After becoming a Christian, I knew I was supposed to be humble. Jesus certainly was. But even after reading all that stuff in the Bible about “pride going before a fall,” even after some people told me that I was “proud,” (about Bible knowledge, for example), I still did not see any great problem in myself that was worse than anyone else.
God is much more gracious and patient about helping us to see serious problems and hindrances in our lives than our fellow Christians may be. He does not always use the 2×4. Some things are subtle, even humorous.
God memorialized my pride and stubbornness to me while we lived in Africa as missionaries. When we moved into a Manjako village in 1980, the son of the chief volunteered to help me learn his language. He said, “If you’re going to live among the Manjako, you need a Manjako name.” He named me after a deceased uncle, Faran, (which sounds like someone with a Jersey accent saying, “father”). He also gave me his family name—a name highly respected among the Manjako: Donkey.
According to some, this question’s punch line is, “It makes an ass out of you.”
Donkey? It does not mean what you think, but it sure sounded like the English word. The lesson was plain. Donkey….strong, quietly stubborn. I knew right away that it was God’s reminder to me, our private joke. It was a light-hearted jab to help me be mindful of a very heavy reality: a decade later, the superstructure I thought I had built (i.e., being a great missionary) came down around me. I was a linguistics analyst, a Bible translator, a consultant. But I was an absent father and husband, sequestered in my study with my books and Bibles and language helpers. Sound familiar? Remember Simon and Garfunkel’s hit, “I am a rock”?
“Hiding in my room, safe within my womb. I touch no one and no one touches me. I am a rock, I am an island.
“And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.”**
We left Africa, “my” ministry in shambles, my family struggling, and our future together uncertain. Donkey? The name is a memorial to how I let pride and self-focus get in the way of loving others.
*The American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th Edition.
**Paul Simon wrote the song, first released in 1965.