You know the smell: the one that seeps from your trash can, the one that infiltrates like the green Angel-of-Death smog on Charlton Heston’s Ten Commandments.
It’s the smell of death.
What you don’t know is that that’s the new smell of American evangelical churches: rotting coffee grounds and moldy orange peels.
A recent RNS story outlines a new trend toward congregational composting, a self-described “holy process” of getting rid of leftover spaghetti and celery leaves. It is, one woman noted, a way in which people can truly embrace the “process of life and death and change.”
That’s funny. Because I would contend that Americans today actually thrive on avoiding death, not processing it.
We eat vegetarian so that we don’t have to come to grips with the death of a hog. We hold “celebrations of life” instead of mourning at a funeral. We call the death of a child in the womb a “termination of pregnancy.”
Seems to me like Americans actually aren’t that interested in processing death at all.
If they are, in fact, trying to better understand dying and living, the church is the place to do it. But not by composting.
Not with “decomposing matter fill[ing] the baptismal font and a pile of rich brown soil . . . [at] the Communion table.”
It should never come to something so repugnant.
Instead, they could go to church to study Genesis, where the Lord commands Adam to “fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). And they would begin to understand.
They could spend a day with a farmer, watching the cycle of life and death and life occur in animals and crops on a day-to-day basis. And they could understand still more.
They wouldn’t have to spend their time fretting over “how Earth’s complex systems are in danger of breaking down.”
They wouldn’t have to panic over “how we humans have exploited Earth’s resources and have ignored the ways in which we pollute the air, the water and the soil.”
They could simply go to church, and be still. They could receive what God’s Word has to say, and there they could understand that death is a result of sin, that it’s a thing, and it’s real.
Death: the reason we have to deal with a little problem every time we go to bury a loved one: a dead body.
Why we suffer, why our limbs ache, why we lose our memory and forget the very person we’re married to.
Why meat goes bad, deer get hit by cars, and we blister from sunburn.
Why the world is no longer perfect.
Why we’re fallen, broken, twisted.
They could learn all this in church.
The place that gets life and death.
The place where we go to be fed with spiritual meat, not decaying lettuce leaves.
The place where we go to receive forgiveness, not guilt over burning Styrofoam plates.
The place where our Lord reminds us that He experienced the thing we hate—death—so that we wouldn’t have to.
The place where life is eternal, new, and filled with robust joy.
Church is not for composting. It’s not for turning apple stems and bad chili into fertilizer.
It’s for being on the receiving end of what your Lord has to say and give.
Because in life and in death, He does all things, and He does them well, no banana peels flopped over the sides of baptismal fonts required.