Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dinosaur Pee and Daffodils in the Snow: Wherein I talk about the human Barbie and quote two atheists on Ash Wednesday.

 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
5:20bwe entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
6:1As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2For he says,
     “At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
          and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see — we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything

Genesis 2
"In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground,* and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"

Picture a line of kids crossing a cold parking lot.
Their shoes are untied.
Their coats unbuttoned.
Girls in their plaid jumpers.
Boys in navy blue pants with the knees reinforced.
We were on our way from our grade school, single file, to Christ The King Catholic Church across what seemed to be a never ending parking lot.
Rows of second and third graders off to get ashes on their heads.
Off to remember how sinful they are.
Off to be told that they are gonna die.

Growing up, Ash Wednesday was the worst.
No meat all day.
The beginning of the “giving up of stuff”
And having to wear those ashes on your forehead all day, worried that you’d be silently judged for rubbing the oil and the ash off on your sleeve before the day was officially over.

And I mean really, second graders. Those sinful second graders. It’s about time we knew how awful we were...

So often we think Ash Wednesday is supposed to be a time when we think about how awful we are.

We think about how sinful we are and how much we need to repent --“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and all that business.

And sure. Maybe that’s true. And even some second graders can be pretty nasty. But, I’m sorry to disappoint. This is not going to be another sin sermon.

Have you heard of the Ukrainian model Valeria Lukyanova - the so-called “Human Barbie Doll”?  She has undergone extensive plastic surgery in order to look like Barbie - She’s had surgery to widen her eyes, put in breast implants, make her waist an interminable 20 whole inches. And if you look up images of her on the internet, you really wonder if she is real or a Sims character. She doesn’t look like she is made of flesh and sinew and bone and dust, but of plastic. She has recently joined a movement called the “Breatharians.” In recent weeks, she claims to ‘have not been hungry at all.’ And she hopes ‘it’s the final stage before I can subsist on air and light alone.’
Everywhere we go we are told that we are not enough. We are told that with just a quick swipe of our plastic we, too, can become...plastic.  Get this wrinkle cream. Get those designer jeans. Get these collagen lip implants. And this doesn’t just affect the women any more. The pressure is on the men, too. (Think of John Travolta at the Oscars...)

And it’s not just about our bodies, either. We spend our whole lives trying to escape death, decay, and our own humanity. If we get enough money, or have enough security, or live in the right house or have the right job, we, too, can escape our humanness. We, too, can live plastic lives with a “green plastic watering can / for a fake chinese rubber plant / in the fake plastic earth / that [we] bought from a rubber man...”

But did you know that this morning, you took a shower, or poured milk in your cheerios, or brushed your teeth with dinosaur pee? No, seriously. It’s true. The water that has been here for billions of years is still the same water we have now. Your latte once passed through the kidneys of a tyrannosaurus rex...

And that dirt you’re washing off your carrots was once a woolly mammoth.

And the carbon dioxide you are exhaling right now - that is going to feed that tree out there, which will someday tear cracks in the sidewalk, and then one day die, and rot and    become food for earthworms, or maybe a home for carpenter ants. 

This isn’t just hippy shit. It’s science. And it’s faith.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.  Maybe that’s not the sin we should fear. Maybe it’s the trying to be plastic that we should be repenting for.

We are about 60% water -- 60% a combination of two hydrogen and one oxygen atoms.
We are about 18% carbon.

In fact, 99% of the mass of our bodies consist of just six elements: oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, calcium and phosphorus.

We are the stuff of the earth. The stuff God calls good.

And yet a lack of access to clean water is our greatest health crisis in the world today.

And yet, it takes up to 500 years to make 1 inch of topsoil
And 1/2 of the world’s topsoil has disappeared in the last 150 years

We are all connected
And it is so fragile.

We are made of water and soil
Dinosaur pee and worm poop

So often we think that that is where our sin comes from. From the carbon and water and dust and ashes that form our sinews and bones.

But we - our very humanness - is the stuff of stars.

We are quite literally star stuff.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Clouds of dust and gas formed the stars. Those same six elements - matter that is neither created nor destroyed - is what was swirling around in balls of gas and ash that became the stars and everything that is in the universe.

Carl Sagan famously told us that “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”

And Neil Degrass Tyson basically repeats him, urging us to “Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

God breathes into that dust and humanity forms. God’s spirit, God’s ruach in Hebrew, which also means breath, wind, was hovering over the waters at the very beginning of creation. It is God’s breath, God’s spirit, that brings all this ash and dust and soil and dinosaur pee to life.

You are dust, and to dust you shall return. And it’s when we try not to be that we fall short of the glory of God.
When we try to defy the very dust that lies ready to receive the breath of God, when we try to exist only on independence and sovereignty and control and reject the bonding of atoms or relationships or community, that’s when we fall short of the glory of God.

This dust is good. This dust is so good that God became that dust.

Without the breath of God, we are the soot that grows cancerous in the miner’s lungs and the exhaust from the diesel trucks that cloud our skylines, and the acid rain that shrivels the crops and burns the sidewalks.

But with the breath of God, we are stars, and lattes, and rain forests, and communities and the 1/2 inch of topsoil that nourishes the corn that will feed the hungry child in Syria and the Vishanite Shaman in India.

You are the daffodil bulb that is struggling to unfold with the snow all around you.

We are a mixture and a mess.  We do both - breathe in and breathe out the breath of God.

But today, let us try to breathe in a little more God. Let us welcome in a little more of the stuff that connects us to each other.

With that in mind, I think that it’s good that as a second grader I froze my legs as I wandered across the parking lot to remember that I’m dust, and to dust I will return.

This morning I thought, “no, it’s not morbid to anoint my 9 month old with ashes. It’s good. It is so good.”
He is dust. And to dust he will return. Full of the breath of the living God.

You are dust. And to dust you will return.

We are all going to die.
You will die.
I am going to die.

But will I go contributing to that one inch of topsoil, or will I go as that layer of soot that covers the buildings and clouds Shanghai’s city streets?

Probably a little bit of both.

But God has come, has become the stuff of stars, just like us, and through God’s own humanity, God is always molding us, changing us, urging us to be more human, more real, more humus, more daffodils in the snow.
Full of the breath of the living God.

You are the stuff of stars, and to the stuff of stars you will return.

Thanks be to God.

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