Archive for March, 2012

And then Mary said, “Man Oh Man. It’s a good life!” (Finding God at Home, Continued)

When the girls were in preschool, I overheard Anna telling Katherine the Christmas story. As a prop, she was pointing to a page she had colored in Sunday School. It showed a bright purple stable with the Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus flanked by a couple of pink and green cows. She had told the full composite story and was right at the part where Luke adds,  “And Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  But Anna’s version abandoned the standard Lukan ending for a surprise ending of her own.  Mary looked around the stable at the shepherds and the animals and the Kings and her husband and her little baby and said: “Man oh Man, it’s a good life!”

In the last few posts, I have written about God in Christ taking on our struggles when coming in human form.  I’m not alone in focusing mostly on the down side of the incarnation for God. We talk about God in Christ bearing our guilt, incurring the penalty for our sin, participating in our suffering, and taking on death. I believe that’s all true. But if this is the sum total of what it meant for God to come into human life and to walk on the earth, I would imagine that this was not a trip God was looking forward to.

We emphasize the suffering that Christ took on in human form, but maybe it was more than that.  Perhaps God came into the world not just to take on our suffering and death but also to embrace the gifts of our created life.  In Christ, God knew the comfort of a baby at its mother’s breast, the delight of a child running under the wide sky, the satisfaction of ordinary work well done, and the pleasures of good food and drink in the company of dear friends.  Having created the world with all its many gifts and having made humans in his own image, maybe God was eager to try it out for himself.

This is not to minimize the enormity and hardship of what it might possibly have meant for the second person of the Trinity to empty himself and to be born in human likeness. But maybe, just maybe, some small part of the second person of the Trinity was looking forward to the trip.  Surely there were moments in Christ’s life in Galilee when he could echo Mary’s sentiments from Anna’s peculiar birth narrative: “Man oh Man, it’s a good life.”

Holy Crap: “I’m a mother; I deal in turds” (Finding God at Home, Part II)

Holy Crap: “I’m a mother; I deal in turds.”  (Finding God at Home, Part II)

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about poop. Years ago at a pool, the lifeguards blew their whistles and cleared everybody out of the water – mostly little kids, including mine. I went with several other moms to ask a young man, a lifeguard, what the problem was.  He pointed down to a small brown mass about the size of large marble, sitting there at the bottom of the shallow end of the pool. “We think it’s a turd. They’ve gone to get the special equipment to remove it.”  We, the mothers, looked at each other and rolled our eyes. I stepped down into the water and picked it up.  It was a brown rock.  “Ma’am, you shouldn’t have done that.  That could have been dangerous.”  I was flabbergasted.  “For goodness sake, I’m mother. I deal in turds.”

I can’t say that I like dealing in turds, but you get used to it after awhile. When you have little bitty kids, excrement is a part of the deal; it’s just the cost of loving your children.

Most parents can tell you about times when poop ended up not only in the diaper but also in the tub, on the floor, on the pew, on the piano bench, on their hands and arms, in their hair, sometimes even on the face.  It just happens.

Now that my husband Len and I no longer deal regularly with our daughters’ turds, we have our puppy’s excrement to contend with – not to mention our own.  And our toilets have this terrible habit of overflowing only when Len is away from home.  I often wonder: How do they know?

Maybe dealing in turds brings along potential spiritual benefits.  In Kyoto Japan there is a religious community, begun in 1904, whose primary spiritual activity is toilet cleaning. They go door-to-door begging to clean toilets and have a special prayer to accompany the cleaning:  “Oh Light of Heaven and Earth! accept this humble act of service as a means to worship Thee. . .”

Sadly, the movement has not taken off.  It’s too bad. Would that the Christians in my neighborhood took up this practice! (You can imagine what a challenge it would be to build a church growth campaign around spiritual toilet cleaning.  “Come clean toilets with us!”  “Open hearts, open minds, clean toilets.” etc. And for the United Methodist pastors out there, try putting that on your “dashboard.”)*

It is frequently noted that Gandhi cleaned the public toilets in his ashram and insisted that all community members take their turn. He even called the toilets his temple. Mother Teresa was also known for her ardent toilet cleaning.  When someone asked her what she would do when she was no longer the head of her order she replied, “I am first class in cleaning toilets.”  “I have learned to clean them beautifully.”  Of course, she didn’t wait until she was no longer the head but cleaned toilets regularly and encouraged those around her to do the same.  She said, “We are at Jesus’ disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim His work in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s all right, everything is all right. We must say, ‘I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.’ And this is our strength. This is the joy of the Lord.”**

I’m pleased to know that saintly people clean toilets, though I am not sure what to make of all the accolades. This is, after all, one of the most ordinary of human activities. Clearly, you don’t have to be a saint to clean toilets.  But, now that I think about it, cleaning toilets joyfully and as an act of devotion might be one of those hidden signs of sainthood.

Last night at supper I was telling Len and the girls about a controversy in Christian history – Did Jesus poop? Some Gnostics argued the negative. The early Christian record includes Valentinus reflecting on Jesus’ excrement (or, in this case, lack thereof):  “He was continent, enduring all things. Jesus digested divinity; he ate and drank in a special way, without excreting his solids.”***

Our daughters aren’t buying it. Katherine told us that “Valentinus was ridiculous.” Anna took it a step further.  “If we had talked about this in my confirmation class, I never would have agreed to be confirmed. Who wants to join a religion that argues about something so dumb?! Of course Jesus pooped!”  They both left the table.  (As Milan Kundera put it, “Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil.”****)

You may have seen the youtube video with the Christian young people in Paris who staged a protest in the fall during the play “On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God” by director Romeo Castellucci.  The production, which played all over Europe last year, featured a backdrop of a beautiful, black and white print of Christ’s face in an otherwise stark white set. (It was Antonello da Messina’s 15th century portrait of Christ offering a blessing.)  In the play a son cares for his father who has dementia and is very ill; the father keeps messing his pants. There is a lot of fake poop involved in the play and some of it gets all over the white set, including Jesus’ face. Some articles reported that poop even gets thrown at the picture and comes out of the picture. Predictably, there was a lot of controversy about the poop on Jesus.

Now I have to tell you, this does not sound like a play I would look forward to seeing.  In fact, it may have been a terrible play. I do not know.  So please don’t read this as a defense of a play that I know next to nothing about.

But … the longer I think about it, the more powerful this image of Jesus becomes.  Surely Jesus, the one who welcomed and touched little children, who identified with the outcast, who spent so much of his ministry caring for the sick, healing them and touching them, surely this Jesus had, on occasion, to deal in other people’s excrement.

If Gandhi and Mother Theresa and so many saints willingly dealt in turds as an act of love, I’m guessing that Jesus might have too.  The idea of poop on Jesus’ face, however disconcerting, is a powerful image. This is the scandal of the incarnation —  not only that God in Christ took on one of the lowliest aspects of human life – defecating, but that God in Christ might have willingly dealt in other people’s poop.

This is God we are talking about. He deals in turds.  It’s just the cost of loving your children.

[Note: I almost called my blog “Holy Crap.” I couldn’t do it in the end; it seemed too flippant.  But when you read this post and the last you might understand why I was tempted.  For the record, you may be glad to know that I think I’m done talking about excrement for while.]

*Many United Methodist pastors are now expected to post their weekly numbers online on a “dashboard” – worship attendance, Sunday School attendance, membership growth, etc.

** Brother Angelo Devananda, ed., Jesus, the Word to be Spoken (Servant Publications, 1986).

*** Excerpt from Bentley Layton, The Gnostic Scriptures: A New Translation with Annotations (Doubleday, 1987), 239. Originally from Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis 3.59.3.

**** Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Harper and Row, 1984), 246.