The Poop Butt Gospel

"Mark....I agree with you that, we as leaders, must continue to call for higher standards of living than most people have. I would also add that almost no one that I know wants to be a "poop butt" and live outside of God's will."

These words came from one of my close friends in response to a recent E-pistle. I don't have a lot of real friends, but the few I have can be... well, somewhat colorful. None are boring. All are communicators. Most are opinionated on a wide range of subjects, and they are not afraid to share those opinions passionately and persuasively. What this says about my own personality, I am afraid to guess. Nonetheless, I know with certainty that I can count on my friends to be honest (sometimes brutally honest) with me. This makes for some interesting exchanges, because I have been known to give back as good as I get.

Anyway, the above words express a sentiment that my friend wanted me to remember; namely, that most of us who call ourselves Christians really want to be in the will of God. His point, I think, was that in challenging people to strive for more of God, I should remember that our failure to pursue Him as we should is not intentional. I should allow for grace. Maybe I should stop asserting so forcefully that something is innately wrong with the values and thought processes that we in the Church have adopted from secular culture. Perhaps I should stop being so critical of modern Christianity not being on the "right page," because as he put it,"...almost no one...really wants to be a "poop butt" and live outside of God's will."

If he had used less colorful words, you probably wouldn't be reading these particular musings. But he had to go and say "poop butt" two words that evoke the days of diapers and potty-training. I can't remember my own "diaper days" well enough to speak on them with authenticity, so I'll have to resort to the next best thing -- embarrassing my children. I vividly recall helping to potty-train our three children. It was a challenge (with the two boys at least) precisely because they really didn't much mind being little "poop butts." It was funny to watch them disappear after a meal -- under a table or behind a curtain -- only to toddle back into view a few minutes later as if nothing had happened. I think that they were the originators of the "Don't ask, Don't Tell" policy. If we didn't notice something was wrong with the fit of their Pampers, or a tell-tale smell, or (in my case) that flies were following them around, they were content to go about business as usual. As a matter of fact, our checking their diapers and coaxing them to climb aboard the potty, was at first a serious imposition on their standard of living. Why bother with pulling down pants, and mounting a cold commode when it meant wasting the opportunity to use a perfectly functional diaper?

I am pretty sure that I was the same way, because even now, 40+ years later, I can still remember the ridiculous "WHOOPEE" shout that accompanied success in the bathroom causing the whole household to break into a spontaneous celebration. My parents apparently had to go to special lengths to make using the toilet a family fun event. I suspect that all of you who remember or have raised children can relate to this at least a little. My point simply is that at some level, deep in our buried inner-child, there is a hidden "poop butt."

I don't mean to offend you, but our hygiene is not the result of some innate refinement. It is the result of the consistent efforts of our parents to socialize us to fit into polite society. We were taught as children to take a bath at least once a week, whether we needed it or not. In fact most of us learned to "pass through the waters" daily. We were taught over and over to wash behind our ears, use deodorant, brush our teeth after eating, clip our nails and even brush the back of our hair. "Always wear clean underwear, because you never know what might happen..." "Never pick your nose in public; use a tissue." Did any of us master these lessons the first time? I sure didn't. I am the proud product of persistent repetitive training to behave in a way not consistent with my nasty nature.

My parent's hard work paid off. After all these years, I still shower at least once a day, use deodorant, don clean underwear, and brush my teeth after eating and before leaving the house. I try to remember to brush the back of my head, and to avoid nose-picking (in public). Still, I have to confess, there is another side of me. There is a side that sometime wants to go to bed without hanging up my clothes, that wants to lower the shades and stay in bed till noon, and then go through the day wild-eyed and nappy-headed. I didn't say I yield, but sometimes I surely want to. I struggle with a part of me that wants to take a walk on the wild side -- to drink chocolate milk and leave the glass un-rinsed on the counter. I guess I am a "closet poop butt."

Don't laugh. Have you checked your closet lately? Judging from how many people I pass on the highway picking their noses in what they think is the veiled privacy of their cars, it's clear that in spite of all the good training dispensed by millions of moms, it's pretty much a "poop butt" world. At some deeply secret level, we revel in breaking the rules. We know what we should do, what we have been taught all of our lives to do, but when no one is looking we sometimes eat the dessert before the entree or go to bed without brushing and flossing. Poop Butts.

As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. I've been trying to walk with the Lord for 34 years, and in ministry full-time for the past 22 years. But let me be the first to admit, in many ways, I have been what my friend would call a spiritual "poop butt." I am not proud of it, but there are areas of my life in which, as much as I love the Lord, I struggle with full obedience. There are some areas in which the will of the Lord is so incomprehensible, or just plain inconvenient, that I attempt to skirt around it -- a feeble imitation of my children's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" act from their toddler days. The fact is that unless I am confronted by my Father, stripped, changed and set once more on the potty, I will probably continue in my trifling ways. I have to agree with St. Paul who said, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing..." (Romans 7:18).

I am not indicting you, but I strongly suspect, judging from the fact that you are reading this and haven't yet been translated, you struggle along similar lines. The prophet of old declared, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way..." (Isaiah 53:6). In the language of my friend, we're all "poop butts." And to make it worse, it is not accidental but intentional: "we have turned everyone to his own way..."

"No one wants to be a "poop butt" and live outside the will of God"? I submit to you that we all do. Jacob, David, Jonah, Peter, Paul, me, and you. We're not exactly dishonest, we just subscribe to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. We prefer not to be caught, confronted or corrected. To milk the metaphor a little more, we don't like to be told we stink. But isn't that at least part of the reason why the Church exists? -- not just to remit sin, but also to renounce it. Could that be why God didn't only send evangelists to hype us up with the Good News, but He also sent apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers... to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort..."?

I, for one, don't like it when I am told that I am missing it, that my stuff stinks. My first impulse is to rationalize that my intentions are good. Then, I tend to become hyper critical and want to examine the messenger's "credentials," as if only a perfect person with certified credentials can state the obvious -- that the "emperor has no clothes"! Truthfully, I am always a little hurt when my wife hands me a mint with that reproachful look. "It's my sinus drainage. I brushed, flossed, and rinsed multiple times...And besides, your breath isn't always sweet, either... " But the fact remains, no matter how I feel about it, there's a problem that won't go away unless I own it and address it. I take the mint with a twinge of resentment. But here is the truth: telling me my breath is bad and handing me a mint, is an act of Grace on my wife's part. Under the circumstances, it is the most loving thing she can do. May she never stop loving me enough to hand me a mint.

What is your concept of Grace? Some see Grace as a deodorized "diaper" on the child of God that "covers his behind" and liberates his conscience, so that he never really has to take responsibility for his actions and grow up. I see Grace as the persistent parent, "...teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world..." (Titus 2:11). The Grace of God keeps on convicting me. The Grace of God keeps confronting me. The Grace of God keeps "checking behind my ears, inspecting the back of my hair, and checking my underwear." The Grace of God persists in socializing me in Kingdom manners and "hygiene." It never accepts the stench of my trifling attempts to cut corners, not even when I douse myself with the cheap perfume of good intentions.

Grace convicts me that my thinking is wrong, that my silly "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" attitude is futile, at least where the Father is concerned. I am instructed that if I can begin by freely confessing that my thoughts and values don't measure up to the Father's standards, that I have not been obedient, but that no longer am I going to rationalize or justify my "stink" -- a miraculous transformation will occur. I am not promised that it will be easy. In fact, it will be quite painful because it will have to happen again and again as the light of Grace is shone on different messy areas of my life.

And so I begin the journey of transformation by confessing again before all the world, that I am a "poop butt." I don't mean to be, but that doesn't mitigate my mess. I cry out with St. Paul, "O wretched man that I am!..." Is there any hope for me? I have been saved all these years and still am infected with worldly values and carnal agendas. I have heard enough preaching to save the world a thousand times over, but still choose to limit God's work in my life to a "pound of the eternal in a paper sack." Yet, it is in the midst of my naked despair that something wondrous happens. I am amazed by Grace. In the words of theologian Paul Tillich, Grace strikes us by surprise --

"Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life...it strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: "You are accepted. You are accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted." If that happens to us, we are experiencing grace.

"That's what is so amazing about Grace. It is not that God accepts our mess, but that He never gives up on us. When we come to Him in honesty, He picks us up and cleans us up over and over. We realize that there never was a need to hide our true condition from Him. Though our smell drives others from the room, He doesn't shrink away. We are His. He sighs. He corrects. But then He cleans us up. Sometimes He chastens us for our stubborn refusal to obey His standards. But when we turn to Him, we find again and again, that His love has not run out. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us..." We are accepted not on the basis of our attempts at perfection -- though He calls us to be perfect -- but of His. We are accepted not on the basis of our love for Him -- which is weak and superficial at best -- but of His boundless love for us. We are accepted not on the basis of our maturity -- which even after these many years is woefully lacking -- but of His vision of what we can become. We turn to Him and He does for us and in us what we can not accomplish by ourselves. He works "in us to will and to do of His good pleasure."

We hide from Him and our world crumbles, dissolving into darkness. We run to Him and we are accepted. "He will in no wise cast us out..." That's the Gospel, the "Poop Butt" Gospel...our dearest hope.

With Love, Respect, and Blessings,

Bishop

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