S _ _ T Stirrer

Luke 13:1-9 – The third Sunday of Lent – for March 3, 2013

“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” (Luke 13:2)

Remember this encounter from the 1994 film Forrest Gump*?

Bumper Sticker Guy: [running after Forrest] Hey man! Hey listen, I was wondering if you might help me. ‘Cause I’m in the bumper sticker business and I’ve been trying to think of a good slogan, and since you’ve been such a big inspiration to the people around here I thought you might be able to help me jump into – WOAH! Man, you just ran through a big pile of dog shit!

Forrest Gump: It happens.

Bumper Sticker guy: What, shit?

Forrest Gump: Sometimes.

It does happen, doesn’t it?

In the fanciful Forrest Gump, the dialog above depicted the life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates Gump as the inspiration behind one of the enduring phrases from the twentieth century:  shit happens.

Oops! Aren’t I supposed to be circumspect and convey the offensive word through dashes like s _ _ t?

But it does happen, doesn’t it? In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus mentioned the death of eighteen people killed by the collapse of a tower in Siloam. Didn’t shit happen to them? In my family, my father’s dementia could’ve been categorized as shit. At a church I served in the 1980s I had an awkward chat at lunch with someone convinced gay men deserved AIDS . . . in other words they deserved the shit they caused.

0214-Carnival-Triumph-passengers_full_600Recent news highlighted the dismal situation for the thousands of passengers aboard the crippled Carnival Triumph. Their luxury toilets didn’t work and soon a whole lotta literal bad shit happened. What’d they do to deserve such a mess? Immeasurably worse—though it rarely makes the news—are the 2.6 billion people (according to the World Health Organization) that “lack even a simple ‘improved’ latrine” the 1.1 billion people without “access to any type of improved drinking source of water.” Are those billions being punished?

Accidents happen. Revenge happens. Illness happens. Ignorance happens. Neglect happens. Poverty happens. S _ _ t’s always stumbling up the sidewalk and knocking at our door.

I cringed one Sunday at another church I served. The associate pastor preached and quoted her beloved grandfather. He claimed the world always needed someone to be a “shit stirrer.” Whoa! With sweet-faced children and prim, gray-haired ladies in the congregation, the associate pastor had proclaimed the S-version of manure in her sermon. As the nervous senior pastor I gulped and anticipated the blistering e-mails and angry phone calls I’d soon receive.

No one complained.

What did I know? Maybe it was because the associate pastor seemed such a nice, young lady and she’d only fumbled that once. However, I suspect the congregation knew she’d spoken the truth. The world—because terrible accidents, inexplicable illnesses and senseless violence does happen—desperately needs “shit-stirrers.”

Jesus had many titles and designations. Prophet. Christ. Prince of Peace. Rabbi. Carpenter’s son. Son of Humanity. Galilean. Well, what about “shit-stirrer”? I’d like to think so. Of course, you won’t read “shit-stirrer” in the holy text or in any denomination’s formal liturgy. And yet, it’s as true as all the others.

In Luke 13’s account, Siloam’s tragedy destroyed eighteen lives. Did those people deserve it? Whatever took place (the Bible provided only sparse details) they were killed. They had awakened on death’s morning to smile at their children, tend their herd, argue with their wife, bake bread, steal from a merchant or chat with a friend in the cool shade of the Siloam tower. Then it collapsed. In Jesus’ response—“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way that they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”—we detect the concerns fellow neighbors raised.

Didn’t those Galileans get what they deserved?

Jesus, Prince of Peace and Shit-Stirrer, challenged their assumptions and presumptions.

In the early 1980s I had lunch with a church member. After we ordered, he mentioned that gay men “got what they deserved” because of AIDS. (Back then we knew so little about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.) He concluded those sinners had received divine punishment. Sigh . . . how we love to drag God’s holy purposes into our hollow opinions.

It just so happened Jane** (the wife of John**, the church’s choir director), had died from a brief, sudden illness a few days before. And it just so happened, because I’ll usually think of the right thing to say days later, I said the “right” thing at the right moment.

After listening to this caring but wrong-headed man claim God had judged and punished the “bad” gay people, I asked, “Do you think Jane deserved to die? Do think John deserved loss and grief?”

In other words, did he think horrible things happened to people because 1) they’ve got it coming and 2) Almighty God, Creator of the known and unknown universe and the One Jesus called Abba, schemes to smack down sinners?

Jane and John were my lunch companion’s dear friends. From personal experience he knew their gifts, mistakes, hopes and troubles. Of course God didn’t punish Jane or John. In some small, real way he made the connection. Repentance arrived before dessert.

I like to think I stirred some s _ _ t for him. Or, to be polite, I helped spread holy manure around his ignorance and the fruit of compassion had a chance to grow.

Running cross-country, the fictional Forrest Gump helped transform other fictional lives. Along Lent’s very real road this year, where might the very real you stir some s _ _ t and share Jesus’ good news?


*Forrest Gump dialog from IMDB **Not their real names, of course.

Carnival Triumph image from here.

(Note…this was revamped, revised and rejiggered from a February, 2010 reflection.)

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  1. “Accidents happen. Revenge happens. Illness happens. Ignorance happens. Neglect happens. Poverty happens. S _ _ t’s always stumbling up the sidewalk and knocking at our door.”
    I spend a lot of time thinking about the problem of evil. Around the seminary coffee pot, that’s known as the problem of “theodicy”. I think one confusion people often make is reflected in the quote above. Yes, generally, accidents just happen, but almost all accidents can be described in a way which demonstrates that they are preventable, especially those involving either automobiles or children. Someone, somewhere, could have been a bit more careful, and that accident would not have happened. But there are lots of things which “just happen”, such as hurricaines, tornados, floods, lightning, earthquakes, and astroids (especially astroids!) This is what insurance companies call “acts of God” and rightly so. No mere human could let loose a storm with the power of 1000 Hiroshima atomic bombs. But then, there is that other stuff, all of which could be prevented, with just the right amount of foresight. That’s what I don’t like about “S..t happens.” It writes the incident off as unavoidable, and the next time it happpens, it will be unavoidable too. Bulls..t. Giving a pass to “accidents”, everything in the quoted list above can be remediated, prevented, and foreseen, and it is on us if we don’t make that effort. There seems to be three responses of the Christian to “S..t happens”. One is the Frank Burns approach that it is “Got’s Will”. For the stuff in list A (quote) that’s a Bulls…t response. The second, largely in response to list B (natural phenomena) is to turn agnostic. After all, the problem of evil is THE paradigmatic theological problem. This is a cop-out, but for a different reason, too involved to inject here. The third response is the one our preacher had after the recent Connecticut school murders, which included the idea “Don’t you dare say it was ‘God’s Will’ around me.” It was the fault of the shooter and it was our fault for not intervening and making it as easy to buy heavy duty weapons as it is to buy Post Toasties. (Actually easier. I think they discontinued Post Toasties) So leave your “S..t happens” at the doorstep when you cross my threshold.

    1. Bruce…

      Well my digital friend, I disagree with you. If you think most accidents are “preventable,” it’s only because you’re wearing hindsight glasses. Of course, after a tumble on the sidewalk, or a typo in a blog post, you could mutter that I shouldn’t have put my foot on the icy section or my finger on the wrong keyboard letter. But that’s part of the point: we do have inadvertent actions, words and so forth. After a fall, we can analyze it. Before and during, it’s mostly . . . oops!

      My larger point, which you ignored, had more to do with how we often we humans point fingers at others . . . as if something like AIDS means someone is being punished.

      Even more, I hoped my essay was a call during this Lent for us to be “shit-stirrers,” people who risk speaking out when there is ignorance or complacency.

      But I’ll stick with my view of accidents . . . and hope that if I cross your doorstep, and trip and fall on my face, your first response won’t be . . . Gosh, Larry you could’ve prevented that if only . . .”

  2. Some very helpful thoughts, thanks Larry – especially your conversation with your anti-gay friend. Much appreciated as ever. And another comment on similar lines from somewhere else; manure is good stuff when spread around, so even if you consider the worship service to be BS, it will help you grow!


  3. Well. Gee. .. I probably need to leave this alone…But that means I either can not or will not. Something occurs. e.g AIDS, mass shootings or any other manifestation of the “ills that flesh is heir to.” Those closest to the event (kinfolk and soul mates ). ask why. Suggestion: They almost never want a lecture of causation. When I am there( the funeral home, the ER, the house that feels all wrong even to me because someone is “not” anymore. I tend to avoid any version of “aiton”. Not sure any more about the spelling. College was more than half a century ago and we all cheated in certain classes;Greek and Ethics , for instance. Because I am old , I have experienced mots of the things that bring grief to a life. Either the person knows me well enough that they know their unendurable pain has been my unendurable pain. We drink coffee gone cold. We sit in silence . We look out the window. I do not leave and I do not offer condolences. I am simply there . If they do not know me that well I tell as briefly as possible the circumstances of my walk in hell that may be a little like the one they. While I sit with them waiting for their pure exhaustion to come to their aid in the silence we have built together are taking, I often wonder if Kushner was not on to something when he speculated that bad things happen and God can not intervene (as opposed to will not or chooses not)
    There will come a time when it will be appropriate to talk about material, formal , efficient and final causes. We can talk about imperfect laws and the scoundrels who will or will not enact them. We can talk about bad judgement and poor choices. We can sing wouldacouldashoulda acapella. We can play “ain’t it awful” (and aren’t we smart to see it).
    But when it really matters (when the abyss has looked back) I suspect that “shit happens” is the least harmful and at least potentially helpful bridge across the abyss…
    You , as usual have cooked a thought pot of homily…well stirred

    1. Mickey…Whoa. Thanks. I’ll be rightly jealous–in a good way–of those folks who’ve shared some cold coffee and silence with you. Appreciate your insights, and your ongoing struggles/search for the best ways to be with (and for) the people around you.

  4. Hello Larry-thought provoking article-I think that if you are preaching god’s word you are more than likely to be called a s–t stirrer by SOMEBODY at some stage,and if not,you’re not doing your job properly!Can I ask a question,and this to you personally as a man of God?What is your opinion on individuals who set out purposely to spread a lie about someone,to degrade their character and bring them down?Do you think people can truly be so evil?I would like your answers from a religious perpective.

    1. Ros:

      Thanks for reading my blog.

      And I think you’re correct . . . preaching and living out God’s word will always include ample amounts of shit-stirring. The “Good News” is also the tough news and the honest news . . . and, whether pastor or layperson, we’re not following Jesus if we’re content with the status quo.

      You asked my opinion on people who “purposely spread a lie about someone . . .” And . . . do I think people can be evil?

      Easy answer: yes. And the personal experience answer is that it happened to me. Years ago a clergy colleague (who wielded administrative power over me) blatantly lied about me to our bishop. I suspect most problems between people are based on miscommunication or inadvertent mistakes. But this was a situation where someone intentionally lied. Why? I don’t think he had any serious mental health issues . . . some certainly deceive or cheat or manipulate because of psychological problems, but I don’t think that applied to him.

      Even after a lengthy chat with the bishop, I never really found out the motives or reasons . . . but I did feel his actions were “evil.” He schemed to mislead others and hurt me. In part, I think it’s always about choices.

      I lean on Deuteronomy 30:19 for understanding how humans relate to others: “. . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life . . .”

      Some are good shit-stirrers and want to help themselves and others see how life could be better. But some spread “bad shit,” a variation of evil, choosing selfishness over selflessness, personal power over openly sharing differences and belittling others rather than revealing vulnerability. And thus, death and curses are chosen.

      Does this help? What are your thoughts?

      1. thanks for replying-I cannot understand your colleague who conspired to bring you down,yes,it is about choices,but some choice eh? All good can only come from one place,in my opinion,as all bad things can only come from one place,but I appreciate that that is rather simplifying the issue,but you get the idea?Yes,it happened to me too,but this person who did it is a real psycho and control freak and I didn’t really understand the situation until a friend said to me “that man must really see you as a threat….”and the more I thought about it ,the more I thought my friend was right.However,I do think this person is evil and to fabricate such a story against me,so much believed that even my own sister believes the story to this day and we are estranged as my sister will not hear my side(even though I have witnesses that can verify the truth)and this from a woman who is supposedly Christian………….!I told her she needs to go back and study her Bible because she is so wrong and bearing false witness against me.your thoughts would be appreciated.

        1. Ros…

          I’ve mentioned in my writings before how much I appreciate hospice doctor Ira Byock’s line about the description “dysfunctional family” being an oxymoron. In general, all of us humans are dysfunctional, and it’s most obvious in our relationships . . . family or friend. I’m sorry to learn about the estrangement with your sister. Everyone interprets the world through their narrow perspective. Once your sister (or anyone else) believes a certain “fact” about you, it’s hard for them to give that up, even when faced with a different and more objective view.

          Though I often fail, my faithful struggle is to try to keep communication lines open even after another hurts me. Though you may not “change” your sister’s mind, I’d hope you don’t shut her out.

          I do know we are often hurt by others, but how will we work to make sure we are not confined by another’s negative action/attitude toward us, but instead defined and led by God’s love for all?

          1. Mmmmm……that it were that simple!You certainly gave me food for thought in your reply but my story is a long and rather tiresome one I’m afraid,except to say that,in a nutshell,I have done nothing,and surely,as Christians,the truth is of the utmost importance,both to ourselves and in our dealings with others(that beam in our own eye….)Anyhow,my conscience is clear and I have not lied or done otherwise and believe that the truth will always come out,and therefore I accept that everything happens with God’s will and therefore I leave the solution to him,as I realise that I must.May God bless you and keep you.

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