Behind the Mask

(Spectrumbot) #1

Things aren’t always what they seem. I may have a run-in with a colleague who has been irresponsible in accomplishing her part of our shared assignment. I find myself grumpy with her and irritated that, once again, I have been left holding the bag. Later, I find out her marriage is collapsing and her oldest child has been diagnosed with a frightening disorder. This information changes the picture for me and I view her actions with a different perspective.

Proverbs warns us against thinking we know what is going on based on surface evidence (Prov. 27:5, 6). This is true whether we are talking about God’s will, the ideas and motivations of our friends, or how the world works. There are depths we will never plumb. There is also information that we can know, but only much later. Humility is both hard work and required of us, according to Proverbs.

The hard work of humility. As an academic, I am familiar with the paradox of feeling more and more unwise as I become more and more of an “expert” on something. Getting a graduate degree is all about learning more and more about less and less. However, as an “expert”, my job is to assess my students’ knowledge. This puts me in the position of being the arbiter of what is considered “wisdom”, at least for the particular course I am teaching. I can all too easily confuse this with being wise myself, and having a mastery of some set of knowledge. I can become arrogant and even a legend in my own mind (Prov 26: 11, 12).

Jesus calls me to continue to search after truth, but to remember that I may find it in unexpected places (1 Cor 1:20, 21). I must be ready to be taught by the foolish of this world. And I can’t rest on the information and skills I’ve had in the past, the laziness of feeling that I’ve done the hard work of learning and now I’ve got it all together (Prov 26:13). For me, this means putting myself in uncomfortable positions now and again.

I need to read authors who I disagree with, from time to time. I need to hear from cultural groups who I am usually isolated from. We know that we are increasingly polarized politically in the USA, and, in fact, all over the world political alliances keep people apart from each other. When I give in to this sort of isolationism, surrounding myself only with people who agree with me, or who make me comfortable all the time, I am in danger of being wise in my own eyes. I cut myself off from learning from unexpected sources.

Most of all, God warns us against de-valuing the people who the world sees as less-than. We want to be next to kings (Prov. 25:6) and to impress them. In my own life, I have become convicted that because I usually spend most of my time with thinkers and intellectuals, I need to create space to learn from children. So I teach a children’s Sabbath school regularly. And I visit a 5th grade classroom several times a month to talk about “real life” grown up issues.

Last month, those fifth graders, who are in one of the poorest and lowest-performing elementary schools in our county, taught me a great deal about life. When I asked them what being a grown up looked like to them, they said things like paying bills, having their own house, and being able to drive. Things that I might expect to hear from many US 5th graders. But they also quickly said “boyfriend problems”, “paying child support”, “going to court”, “getting fired because you’re late because you had to take your kids to school.” I learned a great deal about their lives and what they could expect down the line.

This was a humbling experience for me because I realized all my great advice I had come prepared to give them about how to get jobs and conduct relationships was completely irrelevant. I learned that what adulthood looks like for some people is very different than what it looked like for me as a ten year old. In the course of that conversation, I learned that having supportive and loving family relationships might be more important for some people than having lucrative jobs or lots of fancy material possessions. I was humbled by the wisdom of those considered foolish and marginal in our society.

And then I immediately left that context, going back to my workplace, and felt much wiser and more savvy than my white collar colleagues who hadn’t had the same experience with the disenfranchised that I had had.


Yes, this lifelong commitment to humility, to listening for the wisdom of God in the least likely places, to putting aside my tendency to rest on my laurels, my fear of the unknown—this is never ending. I am glad that the Bible’s books of Wisdom continually remind me that I have more to learn, untapped depths of the character of God to see, so much to discover about my fellow humans and how the world works. This is both hard work and deeply satisfying. When and how have you learned something about God and the world from unexpected sources? What has God taught you through the foolish things of this world?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

a great short essay on nurture. need to say more. We need it. Tom Z

(k_Lutz) #3

Immaculate recollections on the nature of the beast, that being dis-enfranchised has much more to do with acting unrighteously than whithersoever the culture affords us. In forgiving ourselves we become open to receive the Lord’s blessings.

Trust God.

(Elaine Nelson) #4

The most disadvantaged in our society, especially vulnerable children, learn to wear masks at an early age. They hide the physical or emotional scars of abuse, fear,
hunger, and much more. We who have never known what they have already experienced need to do all we can to protect the “least of these”

(Kim Green) #5

A most valuable lesson to learn is that we meet people where they are- not where we think where they should be at.

(jeremy) #6

this is a great article…it’s so true that we can gain important insights where least expected…


"how to get jobs and conduct relationships was completely irrelevant"
The first might be premature yet the 2nd is always relevant.
Read or review the last 25 pages of “Messages to Young people” for when you interface with those in academy and college.

The institutional/denominational education and/or perspective can be a limitation because of the superficial/cliché paradigm.

Basic needs- affection, acceptance, appreciation, achievement.

(George Tichy) #8

One of the most fascinating experiences in my work, and I bet Elemer’s @elmer_cupino too, is when we skillfully induce the patients to take their mask off and we can see the real person behind it.
The next step is to help the patients look into an emotional mirror and see themselves as they really are. Many see themselves (their real ‘ego’) for the firts time ever.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

early in the establishment of a new dental school in Georgia, we accepted a female black student that had graduated from a predominate black college in Georgia. she was the first in her family that had completed high school. she felt great pressure. it took her three years to complete the first two years. she had to pass Part One of the National Board to advance. she failed but was given one chance to repeat. I asked to tutor her. I was one of the test compilers. the board released old exams. the library had a full collection. so for 90 minutes each evening we reviewed old exams. I pointed out that they were all really true and false. one correct answer and four detractors. she needed to put an F before each false and a T before the true. I also pointed out that the subject matter remained much the same and the true was always the same, what was changed were the detractors. we spent about 8 evenings in dry runs. then she retook the test and received the highest score in the nation… that was the boost she needed to complete dental school. She really was somebody. Tom Z

(Elmer Cupino) #10

You’re a great teacher, Tom. I also discovered that trick sitting for all the standardized tests to become a physician. I even discovered that taking standardized test had nothing to do with learning the material as much as learning how to speak the language of those test makers. They have their own “language.”

(Steve Mga) #11

When I took Nursing State Boards one had to Choose the BEST Answer. The BEST Answer was not always the textbook answer.
One had to know Why one did something, not just that one did something.
It was a 2 day event and not on a computer.

(Elaine Nelson) #12

Physicians and nurses there is no one right answer; there are so many variables, the patient’s history and much, much more. That’s why those professions don’t have answer books and why it’s called “practicing.”


Amen, to both those statements Jeremy. My “least expected” place, was right here, and having met you all. That is why I resonated so well with what was said here; among many others things:

I couldn’t see it at the time of course, but its clearer now. The more I listened and learned from only those who I agreed with, the more rigid and less accepting I was becoming.


Tom, that is an awesome testimony! And I am so glad for having read it; helping me to come to know you better, which is becoming more and more a pleasure.

But!..can you outrun Doug Batchelor? (43 sec video)

Man! he would outrun me, easy :smile:

(Allen Shepherd) #15

With that kind of tutoring from one who wrote the test, as long as she is willing to be taught, the conclusion is almost foregone. And you had all the old exams, and knew they reused questions! I do not want to detract from you or her accomplishment. But it was really just taking advantage of the resources, and having a motivated tutor. Kudos to the both of you for your diligence.

I think the biggest thing I get from this is your commitment. You gave of yourself for her success. Such focus on one individual almost guarantees their success. They know they are loved, in essence, which taps into the deep resources of the human spirit. Double kudos to you, Tom.

(Allen Shepherd) #16

Regarding humility.

I have been reading Philippians, and chapter 2 has the best Biblical reason for humility: Jesus humbled himself. It has even effected they way I deal with this rowdy bunch. Jesus thought of others, us, above himself, even taking the form of a servant, and being obedient to death, not part at all of his job description of God. And on a cross no less, a type of death that Paul could not legally experience.

Keeping such thinking in mind really causes you to look at things differently. The whole landscape changes.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #17

I can’t even out talk him, but I have him beat on losing hair. Tom Z

(Elaine Nelson) #18

There are comments here with which everyone disagrees and it helps us to better understand our own views and others. Also, it is an opportunity to investigate further why certain beliefs are held, whether ours or others. Many times I consult books I have read so that my views can be validated rather than merely opinion.

We all have different opinions, but there are facts that are NOT opinions.