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The place of excrement

This post is made from recycled, post-consumer content.


    But love has pitched her mansion in

    the place of excrement;

    For nothing can be sole or whole

    That has not been rent.

                    –William Butler Yeats


You know those maps in the back of your Bible? They were mysterious treasure maps to me as a kid. I’d flip through all the places Jesus spoke, never really thinking about them beyond the fact that they were some color in an otherwise black and white book.


But zoom in and go to where Jesus gave his sermon on the "mount," which was probably more of a natural rise in the landscape and you might get a new perspective. I think there really is treasure there.


The places Jesus traveled—Caesarea Philippi, Ephesus, Laodicea, Rome—this is the landscape that provides perspective of the upside-down message of Christ. In the ancient city of Sardis, early Christians worked to establish the revolution of grace in the city squares and cultural centers. Jesus stood overlooking the city, outside of it, probably where some shepherds had been the night before, sitting around a campfire, never imagining a huge crowd would be there tomorrow listening to a lesson on how to live life. How to be better people, enjoy life more, get to heaven, get healed, please God. And about how to be salt.


The shepherds didn't have firewood, so they'd sat there mixing the sheep dung with salt they'd brought for this very thing. It became night, and as someone created a fire, Jesus grabbed a patty and broke it, like the bread he'd done earlier. In his hands. “You are the salt of the earth,” he says. Maybe his disciples remembered how he'd picked the mustard weed and crumbled that in his hand too, how he used it to explain faith. Now they were supposed to be the salt? And the earth was the dung? They’re to be in the dung, but . . . what? “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” Of course, it can’t. So we're to be in the dung, but not become like the dung just because we’re surrounded by it. We have to be careful.


Sure, salt is used in food too. Flavoring the bread and the fish. Without it, the food would be bland. But also, we're to be the agents of hotter, brighter, longer-lasting fires. And that requires being mixed into some pretty nasty stuff. And still not losing our essence. Makes sense, doesn't it?

We’re capable of  hotter, brighter fires if we're willing to have our assumptions challenged, even as we work to challenge others' assumptions. The most subversive figure in history gave us a timeless call to impact culture. Down in the slimy, disgusting fact of humanity, pulling it apart, analyzing it, and transforming it with supernatural love.


What could be more honest than that? Chosing safety over cultural impact is losing saltiness. Don't do it. The crap of the world will affect you. It will influence you. But that is how you'll be made whole.

3 Responses to “The place of excrement”

  1. As many teachings as I’ve heard and read on this portion of the Sermon on the Natural Rise, I don’t recall ever encountering a salt-in-the-dung, hotter-brighter-fire interpretation. Did you come up with it all by your lonesome?
    Regardless, this is a provocative and well-written post, Mick. I’ll be pondering it for a while. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Truly thought-provoking and well written.
    Can’t help but be struck by the fact that neither the dung nor the salt can make much of a fire on their own, but when dung and salt get together sparks definitely fly.
    It’s inevitable. And it’s also by design. He could have made it any other way, but He didn’t. God, in His infinite wisdom, decided that they needed to be mixed. Very interesting…

  3. Mick says:

    Jeanne, Ray VanderLaan mentions this broader cultural context in Focus on the Family’s That the World May Know video series. I have no idea how accurate it is, but it sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
    Absolutely, Madison. Salt needs dung, dung needs salt. I also think it’s good to remember that it isn’t just the culture outside the church that can resemble dung.

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