Some of you who may have played an instrument or volunteered in the worship arts department at Restoration Community Church are probably familiar with my weekly word blog that I included with the weekend service update. For those of you who were not part of those teams, I want to bring you into the exclusive group of victims that I inflict my ramblings upon.
I love words. I love learning about where words come from and how their meanings evolve over time and how we use them today. Most of all I believe that language is both spiritual and human. I think it’s human because it’s limited and it's spiritual because it is one of the only means by which we can communicate and understand the eternal and transcendent.
Each month, I’m going to riff on a new word that I think holds some fresh insight to me and hopefully, you can get something out of it too! Here is the cool thing, since I’m no longer writing as a member of a church staff I don’t have to “watch my language!” ( what an interesting phrase that is.)
So here we go! First one out of the gate and we’re stepping right in it!
The first use of the word came from a derivation of the Old English word “scite” and the Germanic word “schite” which translate as “dung.” The root of the word Scite can be traced back to the proto-germanic word “skit” which in turn came from the Indo-European word “skheid” which meant to “split, divide or separate.” That’s why the word “schism” shares the same origin.
So, the essence of the word “shit” is to describe in both a noun and a verb that which is separated from the body or the act of separating waste (used material) from the body.
There we go! That's the word.
So... why am I so interested in this word? Although I’m sure a lot of you will think it’s purely from an adolescent reason that comes from not being in church anymore. (“YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME! I’M AN ADULT!) I assure you, this idea has been sitting in my idea-bucket for at least a year, it's only now that I get to put it to good use… and I’m an adult.
No, I think this word gives a powerful image to a spiritual concept.
Let me start with something you already know but we can all agree is gross.
Our shit is made from the material in our bodies mostly bacteria and water about 25% is in the indigestible food.
in most basic terms, shit is made of what we consume but is now useless and dead to us. If fecal matter is not removed from the body in some way, it risks the health of the whole body. All of life must find some way to deal with their shit in order to survive.
In ancient Jewish culture, foundational to the entire civilization, was organizing and enforcing a system to separate people from their shit. That’s not so different from today right? Think about how crucial sanitation is to 3rd world countries. However, unlike today there was no such thing as toilet paper (not invented until 1857!) Instead, the Romans and Greeks wiped with…(wait for it…) Rocks. Yep... Or broken down pieces of pottery. However, if you weren’t elite enough to go to a bath-house and wipe your ass with a stone then you would just use your hands. Basically, the left hand would do the dirty work and the right hand was kept clean.
All over scripture, there is this theme of clean and unclean. Being unclean didn’t just mean that you had to go wash your hands, it meant that you weren’t fit to have contact with God. There was no doubt that they believed cleanliness was next to godliness. A person's outside cleanliness was a reflection of their inside cleanliness and a clean life meant a clean soul. The trouble is, it’s much easier to take care of your appearance and hygiene than it is to clean your soul. Seems like the only thing you can do with that shit is hide it.
Once the rabbi Jesus of Nazareth was in the Galilean area of Gennesaret after doing some miracles when some religious leaders from Jerusalem walk up to him while he’s eating and ask him why he and his followers aren’t going through the extensive washing rituals the elders do before eating. In true Jesus style, he answers a question with a question about breaking God’s commandments to preserve a tradition. The leaders get offended of course because Jesus just exposed their shit and when the disciples ask “don’t you realize what you’ve done? You’re making some powerful enemies here!” Jesus says, “Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.*" (Matt 15:14)
Here’s the part I love, Jesus then draws the attention back to eating and digestion since they were just in the middle of lunch when this all happened. He draws a parallel between the two inputs and outputs of the body. He says, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles." (Matt 15:17-20)
Jesus is saying the proof is in your shit! The heart metabolizes whatever you put in there and its waste comes out in the shit you say. This is what makes you clean or unclean. The problem with these religious leaders is that they want to pretend that their shit don't stink!
Later in scripture, the Apostle Paul, totally gets what Jesus was pointing to when he picks up the metaphor in his letter to the Phillippians.
"More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8)
The word that is translated here as "rubbish" is actually the Greek word "skybala" which would have been slang for "dung." It gets so watered down over the centuries but Paul is intentionally being scandalous. In the context of the letter, he has been imploring the young church not to put confidence in their "flesh" (accomplishments, cleanliness, self-righteousness). Then he goes off to demonstrate, he goes through his impressive resume and when he's done he use the word that would be the cultural equivalent of saying, "All that good stuff I did is shit to me now compared to gaining Christ."
How do you think that went over? How do you think people today would hear this?
All that expensive stuff. The schooling, the titles, the salary, the church membership may have been useful once for a time and it might have tasted good and it gave you a full belly for the night but now it's weighing you down and you've got to part with it.
Here's the thing, the meta-topic both Jesus and Paul were addressing in these passages was "the past." They're talking about laws, traditions, assumptions, identities, politics, and rituals that were divinely inspired and were crucial at one time to the early Jewish faith but now they are in the way of following God. They were good once but now they're shit. It's the same with our desires. Our appetite for food, sex and pleasure is all good and divinely inspired but it's all temporary. It will turn to shit eventually and if you don't let it go it will destroy you.
If we refuse to acknowledge our shit, pretend it's not there or try and hide it somewhere else in our house, it will infect us, make us sick and kill us. However, If we can hold it all loosely in order that we can gain Christ, we will continue to mature and grow. We discover new flavors and greater joys.
So you can hold on to it or let it go but make no mistake... this shit is spiritual.
* The pit Jesus was referring to here was probably the dump, the place everyone in the city empties their shit into, the place where the “worm never dies" known as "Gehenna.”