I was at a gathering a couple of weeks ago, and one of the folks facilitating chose dirt as a metaphor. He rode that metaphor pretty hard as he reminded us repeatedly that we are dirty by nature and because dirty isn’t good we needed Jesus to make us clean. Sometimes, when we ride a metaphor too far, we can stretch it with some unintended implications. The fella went on to remind us that we came from dirt and God fashioned us and breathed life in us, but we are dirt that God had to fix.
I understood where he was coming from and his underlying theological worldview. I recognized that we come from two different places, so I took a few deep breaths and began sifting for something that I could redeem from his message. I found myself thinking about how in the beginning, even before the Fall of Genesis 3, the earth (dirt) we came from was just the base material God chose to create us from. It is not bad rather it is the matter/elements that constitute all of creation. The earth (dirt) is simply (and wonderfully) a basic element of love inspired creation. And if I recall, God said it was good.
It occurred to me that sometimes, we are not very good at discerning good and bad, clean and dirty especially because we tend to judge through eyes of shame. Through the eyes of shame, we tend to see the world as a bad place and have a tendency to assume it's all bad. It was then; I remembered a funny (and a little risqué) story from my childhood.
When I was about eight years old I was using the toilet (ya, sorry). After wiping thoroughly, I stood up to flush and pull my pants up, and out of the corner of my eye I caught the reflection of my butt in the bathroom mirror, and I was shocked to see a Loonie-sized brown spot on my left arse cheek.
I grabbed a fistful of toilet paper and began to wipe what I assumed was poop from my butt cheek. I wiped, and it didn’t go away. I rubbed harder, and the brown spot still wouldn’t go away. I shuffled over to the sink, wet the toilet paper and wiped again. The brown spot didn’t relent.
By this time my 8-year-old self was into a full panic. What kind of voodoo shit has affixed itself to my ass? Through tears of panic, I called out to my mom who came through the door like a momma bear charging to rescue her cub. As she came through the door she was faced with a pathetic sight, There I was, pants around my ankles, sobbing with a handful of wet toilet paper in my hand!
Through the panicked sobs, I explained how I couldn’t get the poop off my butt, as I turned to show her. Her eyes became as wide as a saucer, her jaw dropped, and she began to laugh. A full-blown belly laugh! I was shocked... and very confused!
As she composed herself, she explained that the brown mark wasn’t poop at all - it was a birthmark! She explained that I was born with it, and it was part of me. I was so relieved. She dried my butt cheek, my tears, and helped me get my pants back up. Giving me a big hug and a kiss she told me I was a delight.
I share this story because in the context of the dirt metaphor I wonder how often, in our obsession with sin and its shame-based understanding of scripture, do we mistake who we are as dirty - as totally depraved or sinful?
But what if what we have been told is dirt, is actually a part of who we are, the way we were created? How many of us spend our lives with handfuls of wet toilet paper trying to wash away that which is just who we are?
Let me be clear - sin is serious. It damages us and our relationships but make no mistake there is a ditch on the other side - shame and a faith obsessed with sin and self-hatred disguised as piety — a hatred of ourselves that we superimpose upon God. The obsession with our falling short keeps us from becoming or living into Christ-like maturity.
It gets particularly ugly when through our own shame-planked eyes we feel self-righteous as we try to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye. How tragic when we impose our own shame-blindness and misunderstanding of what is sinful upon someone else.
Yes, mom was good at making sure my hands and face were clean after a day at play, but she was quite clear what was dirt from play and what was uniquely and wonderfully me. Surely, our Maker and the lover of our soul knows us intimately well to know what is dirt to be lovingly washed away, and that which is genuinely a part of who we are.