Posted by: Carl Magruder | October 6, 2008

The Eschatology of Scatology or Choose Your Poison

                The concept of realized eschatology is credited to C.H. Dodd.  Simply (if not simplistically) put, it is the belief that the “end times” is not something that will happen at a later date in history, characterized by the “Rapture” or the four riders of the Apocalypse, but that it is the end of a “time” of worldly values, rather than spiritual ones.  This means that the Kingdom of Heaven is inbreaking to the world at all times.  C.H. Dodd, like some biologist naming a “new” species of frog, did not invent the frog, of course.  He just named it and described it.  I think that realized eschatology is the essence of true faith.

                The exegetical kernel of the Emergent Church movement seems to be the idea that our own personal eschatology does not need to be focused on the end of our time—death and playing harps on streets of gold or burning in an everlasting lake of fire—but on the end of our time of living for ourselves and the beginning of our life lived with Spirit at the center.  Although some people can look backward at a point in time where they made this transition in a profound and notable way, it is always a process of choosing at every moment to turn towards God.  Addictions, delusions, old wounds, and most of all fear of any and all kinds interfere with this process.   

I once heard a great Easter sermon (given by a Buddhist) that spoke of the resurrection of Christ as something that happens in the world every time we choose health and wholeness instead of separation and despair.  Part of what is difficult about realized eschatology is encapsulated in this idea of the resurrection.  Realized eschatology implies an incredible level of personal responsibility—not for the state of the world (God’s responsibility, see Book of Job)–but for our actions and choices in it.  We don’t just get to declare ourselves “saved” and be done with it.  We are never really off the hook. 

                One of the implications of realized eschatolgy is that, as the United Church of Christ slogan trumpets, “God is still speaking.”  Quakers historically spent a lot of time in jail for saying this same thing to a religious establishment who preferred the idea that God had stopped speaking and even acting in the world with the last events described in the Bible.  For me, “God is still speaking” has some serious implications for the continued use of land mines and cluster bombs, for the desecration of the biosphere, for the disparity of wealth distribution in the world, and for the demonstration and counter demonstration going on across the street right now in front of the Supreme Court.

                However, it also means that if God is speaking, I should be listening.  I should be turning, turning as the Shaker hymn advises, until I come round right, attuned to Spirit, emboldened to act in the world in a way that manifests God’s love for all of Creation (which naturally includes all of humankind).  Sometimes this affects larger aspects of my world, like “Should I go into advertising and make a lot of money convincing people that they are inadequate and ought to buy things they don’t need in order to be happy?” or “Should I go to work for the National Council of Churches and work to bring about more compassionate policies in the federal government and a greater awareness of environmental and social justice issues in our churches?”  However, it also becomes a governing principal so pervasive in the life of one who is wholly turned to it, that it starts to answer the question of what to do with a spent tea bag.

                Now, one can simply take a spent tea bag and huck it in the garbage.  There is no great evil in doing so, and it sure is convenient, isn’t it?  Alternatively, one can participate in the act of creation by helping to turn that tea bag into soil, perhaps after using it twice.  Soil is a byproduct of the breakdown of organic matter.  “Breakdown” is a euphemism for “eaten and excreted” by flora, fauna, bacteria and fungi, all of which die and are themselves “broken down.”  As I once told a class of grade schoolers, soil is essentially poo.  (Grade schoolers love it when you say “poo.”)  We live on a poo planet!  Our planet has soil and therefore its trademark greenness because of this process of compost.  Composting is next to godliness.  Composting is participating in the creation of soil, of earth.  Adam, the prime human, is named Adam from adamah, or earth.  Even in English, “human” and “humus” share a root with humility. 

                It is funny, then that we are so disengaged from and appalled by our own participation in the process of breaking down organic matter.  Oh, we like eating well enough, but we have some serious taboos about what happens to our meat and veg when our bodies have extracted the nutrients from it.  Of course, this is partly just common sense and learning from experience.  Without modern sanitation, disease has been an age old nemesis of humankind.  The open sewers of medieval cities undoubtedly contributed to the plagues that regularly ravaged that continent.  While modern sanitation protects us from these dangers (arguably), it also requires a great deal of infrastructure, energy and chemical inputs.  I have been fascinated and encouraged by the proliferation of composting latrines in state and national parks in recent years.

                Here in our own beloved Methodist Building a stone’s throw (don’t try it) from the Supreme Court and a potato cannon’s throw from the Capitol (really—don’t try it), our fecophobia takes the form of an aerosol air freshener designed to mask the tell tale olfactory evidence of human digestive processes reaching their terminus in our non-composting restrooms.  This product, “SPRAYscents” mango “metered air freshener/deodorizer with Ordenone” manufactured by the Chase Products Co., has the sole purpose of saving us from smelling anything too earthy when we visit the loo. 

                In and of itself, this is probably just silly.  In our society we entrust the birth of our children to hospitals, we don’t grow our own food, we have myriad taboos about sex, we entrust the process of dying and death to convalescent hospitals and funeral parlors—we are as disengaged from the essential processes of life as we can be, and not smelling them is just part of the separation.  Should we have the humility to recognize that being part of the process of humas is part of being human?  Probably, but where the whole thing really turns sinister is when you read the contents of this elegant parfum.  Among other things, it contains acetone, petroleum distillate, butane, propane, and chemical fragrance.  As far as I know, there is no gaseous emission that has ever come from a healthy human body that is even a fraction as toxic as any one of these substances, let alone the murderous gang of the five of them together.

                In our bathrooms, for some reason, the can just sits on the toilet back, and nobody uses it.  (I confiscate them, and then the janitorial staff gives us a new can—I really have got to talk to them about this, even though it is kind of a fun game.) The back of the can gives clear directions for how the product is supposed to be dispensed.  You are supposed to put the can in a dispenser that is set “to spray at 15 minute intervals.  Mount a minimum of 7 feet above the floor.  Do not mount within 10-12 feet of drinking water, exposed food, or food processing surfaces.  DO NOT MOUNT IN AREAS WHERE SMOKING IS ALLOWED. [Their emphasis] Do not allow dispenser to spray directly on people or animals, or on varnished or painted surfaces.  Avoid contact with eyes and repeated contact with skin.”  They recommend this flammable substance that removes paint and harms skin to be used in “Offices, Restaurants, Hotels, Motels, Schools, Hospitals, Nursing Homes, and Public Buildings”—just the kind of locations that terrorists consider when they want to do as much harm to as many people as possible.  One dispenser will “control odors” in 6,000 square feet.  (I suppose that making a powerful masking smell of artificial mango and petro-chemicals could be called “controlling odors.”)  The largest bathroom in our office is about 100 square feet.

                So, the chemical toxic exposure price that we pay not to smell anything too natural or too real is more or less equivalent to huffing gasoline.  I remember watching a special on TV about kids on an Indian reservation who huffed gasoline to get high.  The brain damage was incredible.  There is not a fart in the world that could scare me bad enough to expose my one, God-given body to this stuff. 

                If God is still speaking, and I don’t know how to live in a universe with any other premise for my life, what does God have to say about this kind of gratuitous chemical exposure?  Is this treating our bodies as temples?  Is this a wise use of resources?  Is this living simply?  My guess is that God, like any loving and concerned parent, is saying, “Get rid of that stuff!”

                Now, where did I put that 800 number for Toxic Waste Disposal?




  1. “…to answer the question of what to do with a spent tea bag.” You’re absolutely right, a tea bag is biodegradable. It’s those DU (depleted uranium) fuel rods that concern me. They have a bit longer to decay. But good news, the DOD found a use for them in the tips of artillary, machine gun rounds & other projectiles. But composting is cool & I like the all-over pith of what you are saying here. I think the penultimate sentence says it all or is it that your inner voice?

  2. The situation with depleted uranium is certainly diabolique. It makes me think of eschatology too–how would anyone come up with such an idea unless they believed that the more we mess up the world, the quicker the Rapture will come? Although I do not subscribe to the Rapture eschatology, I do seem to recall that it involves certain virtuous “chosen” being taken into the kingdom. If you poison land, water, air, people, plants and animals by the millions, are you a virtuous person likely to be chosen? Hmmm…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: