Sometimes the Dust Glitters in People's Smiles
Many February’s ago, spending time with Jim, the guy I was dating, caused me to spend Sunday evenings with the Plowshares peace and justice group, where Jim spent time. Among the Plowshares, I first read Wendell Berry’s writing about original blessing.
Genesis 1 says repeatedly that God looked at what God had created and saw that it was good. Prior to reading Berry’s words on the ramifications of God’s evaluation of creation, Augustine’s words had drowned God’s words. Augustine coined the phrase original sin, and, ever since, most of us Christians have loved to loath the fleshly skin we’re in.
Original blessing, however, calls us not to loathing but to lifting our fleshly frames in celebration of the creation, in responsible stewardship of ourselves and in responsible relationship to all that is and all who are around us. It calls us up out of the baptismal waters, as Jesus came up in the Mark passage from Sunday, with our ears tuned to God’s voice saying, “This is my beloved! This one is good and is on the path of goodness.” Goodness is the path on which we were born and toward which we are called to continually re-orient our steps.
Tradition on Ash Wednesday, which we marked last week, is to have ashes imposed on our foreheads. My initial original sin approach to seeing the ashes was inherently to see myself as dirty with the shamefulness dirtiness in our culture entails. But, having reflected on the original blessing of myself as a part of God’s creation, the imposing of the ashes on my forehead is for me a moment to relax into the Creator’s arms. “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return”, the phrase usually spoken with the imposition of the ashes, is a freeing phrase, because the Creator of the dust called even the dust “good”.
When sharing with churches in the U.S. and in Europe encouraging them to reach out to women in the sex industry, I work out of the original blessing model. Mass media’s presentation of human trafficking, even when not based on a Christian perspective, often whips us up into a morally outraged foam that dilutes “fighting human trafficking” into only strong-arm rescues of children in third-world brothels. There are situations, even in the U.S., where children are exploited and need to be freed with strong-arm tactics. But, the greater majority of people who are exploited in the sex industry are in more complex situations in which helping them find and claim their blessedness—their Creator-given goodness—is a multi-step gentle journey back to finding the original good covered up intentionally or through a series of circumstances beyond the woman’s control. Other than a moment of crisis such as an unplanned pregnancy, a severe illness, or severe physical abuse at the hands of a client or her pimp, that journey is not likely to begin unless someone speaks a blessing into a woman’s life, reminding her that she was created good.
Even the dust is good. The Creator said so.
Thanks to those of you who have contributed toward the bringing of Eastern Europeans to our European Baptist Federation’s Anti-trafficking Network gathering in Spain in April. This is an important event bringing people from countries where women and girls are recruited for the sex industry and people from countries where they are exploited together to get to the root of the problem. A special “thank you” shout-out to the 8-11 year-olds at Newport Baptist Church in Newport, Ohio, who are contributing the proceeds from their yard sale in April! If you’re in their neighborhood, stop by and get a bargain and give a blessing!