A Dung Theology

14.12.07a

December 7, 2014

I nudged the cow manure with my boot toe. A worship service was going on but others were speaking and doing a fine job. So my mind wandered to wonder about the cow pie at my feet and the bug population it might be supporting.

The fall afternoon was cool, the sun bright, and the blue sky cloudless. Students from two universities: Lewis and Clark, and Heritage, were visiting the farm. They had collaborated on their fall break and had chosen to spend their fall break on the reservation at the JustLiving Farm. Together we would have an afternoon conversation on American Indian autonomy and Farmworker rights, and then spend another afternoon working on farm projects. To get to those issues of human justice we were first working our way through the broad the broad-brush stroke of landscape justice; thus, there we were in the pasture.

No movement, so I kicked a little harder. My boot broke through the crusty surface and slid through its gooey innards. Dung kicking is an art and I found my artfulness left wanting. A misjudgment of consistency left me with cow shit stuck to my boot like gum to a sidewalk.

I think of worship service in simple terms. Worship, a reverence for the mystery of creation. Reverence a willingness to question, admire, and be astonished by that which cannot be (or, at the least, hard to) explain. Service a gathering of folk revering that which is natural and normal.

As I scuffed the edges of my boot against a clump of grass, I noticed a young adult suppressing a smile. Best to be upfront. I looked him in the eye, smiled, and rolled my eyes, trying to maintain a modicum of respect. He returned to the conversation and I returned to the cow pie. A few critters scurried about the edges. It would be a while before any of them would make the cow pie home. However, I couldn’t help thinking just below the soils surface were critters who couldn’t believe their good fortune of having a cow drop a pie smack dab on top of them. I gave up trying to detach dung from my boot and figured I’d let any critters below this cow pie be.

Do folk need to know they are in a worship service? Does it matter? Well, yes, sometimes. Yet it is cool when there is an indwelling among a gathering of folk who want nothing more than to learn of creation and justice beyond themselves. Intentional services are fine. Too often though, likeminded folk populate those services. Knowing that truth and that historically Christianity has done a fine job of declaring only one way to know God, many folk would rather not enter the God conversation then risk the righteous dung they believe will come their way. Sometimes, religiously non-traditional space (like a pasture) allows a diverse group of folk—conservative and liberal, Protestant and Catholic, meat-eater and vegan, Buddhist and atheist—to engage in conversations of justice, creation, rights, and the mystical. Sometimes when folk are free to bring the round peg of themselves to a conversation without feeling they must fit someone else’s square God hole, there is a mystical presence—and it matters little if the moment is called worship or not.

I looked to the side and saw another fine pile of cow manure. A young woman was speaking to the complex link between human justice and soil justice. The conversation had gone deeper than I hoped. Folk were moving beyond the intellect and engaging life stories. I step a bit to the left and nudged the manure.

Twenty-five college students stood in the circle. Majors spanned from Law Enforcement, Medicine, Business, Psychology, Programming, Physics, Social Work, Mathematics, to Biology. I thought how amazing it was their instructors could pull such a diverse group together and have them risk their fall break in a community unlike their own. I also marveled at how easily these folk, from such a wide span of thought, could stand in a pasture and easily grasp connections between their majors and justice issues of soil, grass, wind, culture, and humanity. As they conversed, language easily wandered about creation, wonderment, harmony, existence, balance, and hopefulness. Equally amazing were the commonalty of terms like love, hope, joy, and peace. Jumping in and out of metaphorical language of web and social language of intersectionality, folk easily conversed about the welcoming of mystical and the hardness of structure.

Satisfied to its consistency I knocked it a little harder and the cow pie flipped on its backside. Fullness of life abounded. Critters scampered across the ground. Others ran in and out of the creases and pits in the bottom of the dung.

Social structure has folk putting up with a lot of unhealthy shit. However, folk often stand in communal pastures of manure—the pasture only needs be recognized for what it is. Manure that heals and nourishes, welcomes life and creates home, affirms individual and community, enriches soil and enhances plants, deepens theology and mystical talk, and creates worshipful space. Manure best left on the boot.

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