Dirt

I like caves.  I enjoy exploring them.  I enjoy the climbing that accompanies going into one.  There is a kind of awesome simplicity about standing in the utter darkness of a cave and hearing the chirping swoop of a nearby bat.  There is something uniquely self-reflective in coming to terms with the oppressive weight of the solid bedrock walls around you.  There is also another side to going into these caves that I so often frequent.  Something not at all pleasant or pure and, in fact, by its very nature is actually quite pungent.  Guano.  Bat feces mixes with the sandy dirt, dusty residue, and inherent moisture frequent to an Arkansas labyrinth and the result is a grimy film of squishable distaste.  Every time I exit one of these crevices I’m covered in it.  There really is just no escaping it.  And my darling wife will all-too-quickly tell you that it is a nuisance come laundry time.

I like caves.

My mother must have felt no different about dirt and grime being the sole female in a house of men for the better part of twenty-five years.  Summer laundry days were plagued by the kind of dry dusty dirt which found its way into every fold during long hours spent in the heat of the day tending crops.  The springs were accompanied by the darker, richer, texture of dirt cleaning to boots and britches after a long day preparing a field.  Winters were an amalgamation of mud and clay as cold rains or other winter precipitation left the farm a messy environment in which to tend the herd.

For as long as I dare to try and remember dirt has always been a part of my life.  Whether the residue of a spelunking adventure or evidence of a lengthy day at toil I have always been comfortable getting dirty.  It has always just seemed natural.

In spite of my comfort in the muck and mire that so often accompanied the various facets of farm life and the inevitable adventures of a man at play, there were always those moments in which encountering dirt simply was not acceptable.  As a young boy these moments were often heralded by a stern warning from my endearing mother not to get my pants dirty before church.  As a grown boy these moments are often illuminated by an enduring wife petitioning me not to wear my suit jacket as we eat or something of a similar nature.

There has always been a clearly identifiable separation between an acceptable and unacceptable time to be dirty.  Mom, and my wife after her, routinely reminded me of the difference of these times, and as a man I do indeed need reminding, with what could only be described as a set of guidelines for staying clean at the proper time.  Mom’s were easy to remember if not always quotable simply because they were accompanied by a look, a gently-tweaked tone of voice, or noticeably audible command to cease and desist whatever tomfoolery was about to carry me over the boundary of cleanliness into the realm of dirty.

I can tell you that as a young boy it was not always easy to obey that clear command to stay clean.  With age though came understanding, and eventually the desire for cleanliness became my own.  I was a little less hesitant to rush into a situation which would land me in the muck.

If you were to open your bible, thumb over to the book of Leviticus and begin to read it.   You would be reading God’s guidelines to the young nation of Israel on how that they could stay clean while being surrounded by dirt.  Specifically, in Leviticus 11:44, 11:45, 19:2, and 20:7; you would read a repeated phrase, “be holy because I am holy.”  Essentially, God, in these words is telling His people to be clean.  In fact, the Hebrew words for clean and unclean became the normal language when talking about violation of God’s law as the rest of Leviticus details.

In the 45th chapter of the written account of the prophet Isaiah the prophet uses the phrase unclean again in combination with the idea that to truly follow in God’s steps you need to live a life of holiness.  The apostle, disciple, and early church father Peter reiterates this same idea in the first chapter of his first epistle.

What is it about the necessity for cleanness that warrants such repetition?

Well, just like a small boy growing up on a dusty farm in rural Arkansas, the Jews were constantly surrounded by dirt.  God was communicating to Israel in the Old Testament, the young Christian community in the New Testament, and to you and I through all of it; His blatant desire for us to remain untouched, unsoiled, and unblemished by the world around us.  Just as my mother knew that eventually my clothes would need a good washing He also knew that the rules meticulously laid down for His people in Leviticus wouldn’t be enough.  So He sent Jesus.  As the Christ, He lived out a blameless existence, surrounded by the corruption and dirt of the world.

What really gives power to the words written by Peter in his letter is the simple fact that even though he walked hand-in-hand with Jesus for three years, even though he had operated in the supernatural, and on top of the fact that Christ had taught and trained him on the matters of holiness—Peter didn’t really get it.  He was constantly messing up.  During the final months of Christ’s ministry Peter got in a series of silly religious squabbles with the other disciples.  When the mob arrested Jesus in the garden Peter drew his sword, ready to battle, and chopped off a man’s ear.  During the mock trial Peter stands by and denies Christ in a selfish bout of self preservation.

Finally, in the wake of Christ’s ascension and the remarkable upper room experience on the Day of Pentecost something changed in Peter.  He went from being the loud brawling braggart to being a mature leader of believers.  So in his letter when he penned the words “Be holy because I am holy.”  It was not without an understanding of what it is like to battle that natural inclination for dirt.  He wasn’t suggesting that the reader should pursue holiness because Simon Peter was inclined to holiness.  Peter was communicating what God is still trying to tell us every day. . .

You don’t have to live life in the dirt.

Not only will He clean you up, but He will help you mature into the kind of person whose desire for spiritual cleanliness matches His own.

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