Dog Dung and Other Useless Things

I am not a prophet, in fact, I work for a non-profit, but without knowing you at all, I can say something about you that is absolutely, 100% true. All of you reading this have something in common with me – you want to be somebody.

Not a single one of you out there wants to be a “nobody.” On the contrary, you want to be recognized, feel important, receive your dues. So here is the question: how do you achieve that? I read an article recently where the author listed nine things to go from a “nobody” to a “somebody.” His list included things such as “get money,” “make a big move,” “have power,” etc. Predictable, isn’t it? But is that the ticket?

When I was studying Anthropology in Brazil, I lived for a time with a small tribe in the northeast area of Brazil that has a very peculiar custom – anyone can become a king or a queen for a day. On that day, people parade you around the village, carrying you on a chair especially made for the occasion, decorated with fresh flowers and surrounded with pockets where some delicacies are within reach at all times. They go out of their way to fulfill your every wish and at all times a select group of young men and women follow you happily shouting “Hail to the King.”

Many people dream about that day but only a few ever get to do it, and the reason is that in order to be a king for a day you have to foot the bill for the entire village for that one day – all the food and drink their hearts desire, sometimes even medicine for the sick – that’s the cost of being a king for a day.

I was told that people spend their entire lives saving so they can live that dream. The next day, they may go back to being a drunk on the street, but for that one brief moment in time they were a king for a day. I guess that’s one way to feel a sense of importance in life, but is that the ticket?

How many of us have staked our sense of significance and importance in this world on some material thing outside of ourselves? I was told that Tom Brady dedicated his entire life to winning a Super Bowl ring but when he got his first ring, he felt empty. Now that he has won three rings, and is married to a beautiful Brazilian supermodel, I wonder if he feels happy, but how can he be if the media keeps telling him that in order for him to be the greatest quarterback of all times, he must win one more ring? Just one more…

How about you? What do you think you need to do to feel important? Where do you draw your sense of significance in this vast universe? Is it academic achievement? Is it your social pedigree? Your fat bank account? Your acts of good works? Your beautiful wife? A family? What is the ticket for you?

This week I re-read the story of Paul’s conversion and his reflections upon it in the little book of Philippians which he wrote. In it he talks about what can only be explained as a “Great Reversal.” Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, where he was going to throw Christians in jail, torture them, and perhaps even kill them — he thought he was doing it for God. He was a proud man. Proud of his ethnicity, his intellect, his rigorous keeping of the law. But when he met Christ face to face, he says, everything that was once important to him became like rubbish.

Don’t miss the word in the Greek: “skoubalos.” Outside of biblical literature, this word is used to refer to animal manure. Some translators render it “dung,” but that doesn’t even come close to the force of the word. In fact, if I ever uttered that word in the pulpit of my church, I would probably be fired. But Paul is not as sensitive as his translators. His meaning is a lot stronger here. He wanted people to know that once he met Christ all the things that he relied upon to give him a sense of meaning and importance became utterly repulsive to him. In my house, I coined a word for that — “horma,” meaning “horse manure.” Sorry. I wanted my kids to get the sense of what Paul was talking about without running the risk of being expelled from their Christian school. It became a “code word” for us — referring to something utterly meaningless which some people, nonetheless, attribute so much value to.

Here is how Eugene Peterson renders these critical verses of Philippians 3: “The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.” 

“Dog dung.” Why does that thought put a smile on my face? Big boats, lavish houses, expensive dinners. All good, but if that’s what you need to feel important, you’re just full of it. The “Great Reversal” — the ultimate “de-dog-dungized” medicine. Get if for yourself before the stench rises up to high heavens.

Ivanildo C. Trindade