Well, That Stinks

– Andy Wade –

raft.3Well, that stinks! As we floated on our raft down the beautiful Klickitat River we were overcome by a sudden stench. What a stark contrast to the fresh air and stunning surroundings. Although my wife, Susan, and I didn’t see it, we had passed a dead deer at the edge of the water that was both filling the air with its malodor and contaminating the mountain waters.

Contrast that to the aromatic delight of ripening Concord grapes. As I stood under our grape arbor admiring our first real crop of grapes, I held these two contrasting fragrances in my mind. Then I began to wonder… and my mind drifted to an interesting passage in Second Corinthians:

But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and who makes known through us the fragrance that consists of the knowledge of him in every place. For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing— to the latter an odor from death to death, but to the former a fragrance from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? For we are not like so many others, hucksters who peddle the word of God for profit, but we are speaking in Christ before God as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God. (2 Cor. 2:14-17)

I do understand the context of this passage but I also think it’s way too easy for us to write off those who smell death when we walk by. We can glide through life thinking we smell like a rose, not even realizing we actually stink. What we need is a good spiritual bath!

What do I mean by that? Over time a lot of dirt and grime clings to us. This is true also for our spiritual lives. A good spiritual bath is when we take off all our religious wrappings and take a good, hard look at them. Sure, they may have started out all clean and shiny, but how have they changed over time?

Has my love for neighbor become soiled with suspicion and fear?

  • Has my message of hope and healing become one of argumentation and self-justification?

  • Have I begun telling people how they ought to live rather than demonstrating a life of humble and loving service?
  • Has my faith begun to decay into dogmatics and personal disengagement?

concord.grapesWell, you know that deer I mentioned? In its prime it was beautiful. But now it lay dead, unproductive, decaying and stinking up the place. But these grapes! Ah, here they were, the vines flourishing, leaves a deep green soaking in the sunshine and producing, not just fragrant fruit, but nourishing, delectable delights for all who would eat.

Here’s the lesson I’m learning from God’s amazing creation: Sometimes when we think we smell great, we really stink! What used to be filled with life and offered to the world as a gift has now become a dead, putrid corpse. Perhaps those folks turning up their noses at our life, our message, our “witness” are not waging war against our faith but reflecting back to us the reality that what we’re offering is not life-giving at all: What if my sincerity has morphed into a toxic message that demeans, demands, and derails the spiritual growth God is already at work doing in my neighbor? What if my approach to loving my neighbor is interpreted as hawking a product or, worse yet, peddling faith for personal gain? What do I smell like then?

Immediately following Paul’s comments about how we smell, he says this about the community he’s writing to:

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:2-3)

What Paul is talking about is fruit, fragrant fruit. And while he’s specifically addressing a community of faith, they were not always so. Remember, this is fruit, it takes time, nourishment, and loving care. So when I look at my neighborhood, or when I look at those around me, those outside my Christian community, I have to ask myself:

  • What is my life producing here?

  • Are those around me becoming healthier, more loving, more generous, in part because of my presence? Or are they becoming more defensive and disengaged?
  • What do I smell like to them? Are they trying to tell me something? Do I need a spiritual bath?

I’m confronted with these questions as I enter my neighborhood. The whole Parish Collective idea is wonderful, but before we begin, and even as we travel along that path, we need to keep asking ourselves how we smell to the neighborhood.

What are your thoughts?