Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dust to Dust

FROM THE ARCHIVES of Every Thought Captive magazine

My father and I agree on many things. There are few we disagree on. But there may be no issue over which we disagree with greater passion than this one- snow. I am not only a pro-snow club member, I am the founder and president of the pro-snow club. I write odes to snow, and fret that they fail to convey the depths of my love. My father, on the other hand, is Mr. Heat Miser, he’s Mr. 101. He literally lives in a land where, each time you step outside, at least nine months of the year, you get this nearly audible message from God, “I did not shape people to live here.” Yet he turns a deaf ear, and continues on his merry way.

I live where we get snow. He lives where there is no snow. But there is another difference as well, more evidence that Florida was not designed for human habitation. If you dig your heel into the ground here, you kick up dirt. If you dig a hole in the ground in Florida, however, before you get down to trowel depth, you will hit sand. And if you can manage to keep the sand in place, and keep digging, all you will find, all the way to China, is more sand. The entire state is nothing more than a sandbar. And imported strips of crab grass sod gently placed on top won’t change that. One could make the case that there are places where there is no snow, that yet make appropriate homes. But you are always far from home when you are far from the dirt.

That we find dirt unpleasant, or even repulsive, is a sign of our sin, our rebellion against our Maker. Christians struggle with the story of Uzzah the Koathite. You remember that when the Philistines sent the Ark of the Covenant back to the people of the covenant, that the priestly line, whose job it was to tend to the sacred things, first failed to obey the law of God. He had given instructions for the transport of the Ark. Those instructions did not include an ox drawn cart. But as the oxen dragged the Ark toward home, one of them stumbled, and it looked as if the ark might fall into the mud. Uzzah, perhaps instinctively, reached out his hand to steady the Ark. God killed him on the spot.

Uzzah’s act demonstrated the twisted hierarchy of the sinful mind. Better, he thought, that the ark should touch a human hand than that it should touch the dirt. The trouble is, Uzzah, like the rest of us, was a sinner. His hand had performed countless acts of rebellion against the God of the Ark. Dirt, on the other hand, has only been obedient, from creation to this day. Every time you take the water out, it becomes dust. Every time you add water, it becomes mud. It obeys God.

That difference, like the differences between my father and me, does not undo the connection, however. The real reason that we cannot be home when we are not near the dirt is because we are dirt. That is, what separates Uzzah from the dirt beneath the Ark is that the dirt is obedient dirt, and Uzzah is rebellious dirt. From dust we were made, and to dust we shall return.

When we come to these biblical truths we show ourselves to be as dumb as dirt. We think, “Oh, this is poetic language.” And then we proceed to ignore the poetry. God is indeed speaking poetically when He tells us, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground.” But in saying this God is speaking the truth. We are made of dust. We get our dander up, however, because like Uzzah, we look down our nose at the dirt. We think we’re above the dirt. And in some sense we are. The text goes on to say, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” “Here,” we say, “is where man’s value comes from. This is where God stamps us with His image. It’s our souls that make us men. Our bodies make us but brutes.” And so we, once again, show ourselves to be the poster children of the Gnostics.

It is true that God has no body. But that doesn’t mean that our bearing His image relates only to our souls. Our bodies show forth His glory. They manifest His beauty. They display His power. All that we are is His image, which means…get ready… God is dirty too.

For the glory of the dirt is in its fecundity, its fertility. There we all twirl together in a living poem, a kaleidoscope of reflective glory- man, woman, dirt, life and God. It is good and right that we should be overawed by the power of God in creation. We ought too to stand in wide eyed wonder as we consider His providence. But it is God’s delight to work through means.

Consider, for instance, what may be my favorite scene in what is my favorite chronicle of Narnia. Digory, Polly, the cabby, his horse, Uncle Andrew and Jadis find themselves in an empty land, “And really it was uncommonly like Nothing. There were no stars. It was so dark that they couldn’t see one another at all and it made no difference whether you kept your eyes shut or open. Under their feet there was a cool, flat something which might have been earth, and was certainly not grass or wood. The air was cold and dry and there was no wind.”

Lewis then begins his description of creation, “In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes [Digory] almost thought it was coming from the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was, beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard…Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. If you had seen or heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that is was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

Lewis goes on to describe the creation of the sun, the trees and the grass. Each time the song changes, but the constant refrain is that Aslan’s song brings life. Then we get more clearly to the dirt, “The Lion was singing still. But now the song had once more changed. It was more like what we would call a tune, but it was also far wilder. It made you want to run and jump and climb. It made you want to shout. It made you want to rush at other people and either hug them or fight them…But what the song did to the two humans was nothing compared to what it was doing to the country.

“Can you imagine a stretch of grassy land bubbling like water in a pot? For that is really the best description of what was happening. In all directions it was swelling into humps. They were of different sizes, some no bigger than mole hills, some as big as wheelbarrows, two the size of cottages. And the humps moved and swelled till they burst, and the crumbled earth was poured out of them, and from each hump there came out an animal.”

The dirt in Narnia brought forth life. It was, in fact, so fecund that Lantern Waste is born when the queen hurls a lamp post crossbar leftover from a fracas in London at Aslan. It bounces off His royal snout, and up pops the lantern. Later in the story, Uncle Andrew is buried upside down in the mud. The coins in his pockets fall out, and there grows a tree of silver, and another of gold.

And here, as we do with the poetry of God, we write this off as fantasy. But it must be true. For we live yet under the shadow of the curse. And even now the dirt brings forth abundance. Consider the paper you are holding. It used to be dirt. The seed ate the dirt and grew into a tree. The tree became the paper. Even the ink is the same, processed out of the ground. The computer on which I write was likewise once nothing but dirt. And then there is our food. Productivity, even in our post-industrial age, is the process of taking dirt, and making stuff with it. As such, it is the imitation of God.

Imagine then the power of the dirt in Eden. Then there was no curse. Its abundance makes the astounding productivity of our day appear positively miserly. That superabundance, however, is not only behind us; it is yet before us. For Jesus is redeeming all the earth. He is taking us back to the garden. He will birth a new heavens and a new earth, and there will be no more groaning. Our labors in the dirt are a part of that process. For God, again the great poet, beautifully calls the dirt to call the dirt to productivity, in reflection of His glory.

But we, of course, because we are no longer simple, miss all this. We, like our fathers at Babel, are more impressed with the fire than the dirt the fire cooked for bricks. We are in awe over our technology, and miss the glory of the simplicity of the ground on which we stand. If we were simple, we would, with our brothers the rocks, cry out the glory of the Son of David. If we were only as dumb as dirt, then we would know better our Maker, the Potter.

We are neither separate, because we don’t know where we are connected. We are united Gnostics, with rationalists, with Babel-onians, because we don’t remember that we are sons and daughters of the earth. Like a loose woman, we lose our connections, and start hooking up at random. We miss the beauty of our being, wanting to separate ourselves from ourselves. We are dirt, and so we are beautiful.

We, of course, miss this beauty because we are not deliberate. We are rushed, hasty, thoughtless. We do not take the time to stop and smell the compost that feeds the roses. We foolishly miss the wisdom of our wise Uncle Andrew Lytle who wrote, “It is in fact impossible for any culture to be sound and healthy without a proper respect and proper regard for the soil, no matter how many urban dwellers think that their victuals come from groceries and delicatessens and their milk from tin cans.” While the fools on our left disrespect our mother by worshipping her, we disrespect our mother by dismissing her from our thoughts.

And so we frantically seek to build the kingdom in our back room deals, in our seditious plots to take over the culture that surrounds us. We think we must cut deals with the powers that be, and so miss the power that Is. We want to sit atop our corporate towers, and rule, forgetting that we are already seated in the heavenlies, where no tower can reach us. All the while we are missing what was right under our fingernails. If we would rule the earth, we must simply rule the earth. And we must do it for the everlasting glory of our King, the Rock of our salvation.

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