(This post was the first of many under the category of "Cleaning Church Toilets" a new bloog experiment. A bloog is a blog and book somehow combined into one. At least, I'm calling it that. This post is a little longer than usual but it introduces the bloog. If you want to stay up-to-date, you can always find these specific posts - here. I'm really excited about this and I hope you enjoy it! Feel free to spread the word.
This was completed in August of 2016 and you can now read the entire thing starting here and clicking on the left arrows for additional chapters. Enjoy!
I think we humans are basically like these little cave fish I recently learned about that live in the cave Cueva del Azufre, in southern Mexico. The little guys have been subject to some fairly brutal treatment for hundreds of years. The Zoque, an indigenous people in the area, believe that the fish are a gift from the gods of the underworld. Gods of the underworld sound pretty terrifying, honeslty, but these gods of the underworld are also the gods that send rain to feed the crops the Zoque grow in southern Mexico. The crops that enable them to survive.
So every year (before being banned by the Mexican government) the Zoque performed a small ceremony with these fish at the end of dry season, the week before Easter (interesting timing).
Thought it’s not exactly what I expected someone to do with a gift from a god, the Zoque poison the water that the fish live in. They grind up the roots of the Barbasco plant to create a paste (with a touch of lime juice of course) and drop it into the dark pools of the cave. The fish end up interacting with the toxin - which paralyzes them - and the Zoque scoop them out of the poisoned water, kill them and eat them until their meals of fish can be replaced with the new line of crops that will eventually arrive- thanks to an abundance of rain from the gods of the underworld.
Apparently, the fish don’t taste especially great - which makes sense since they were swimming in poison before being captured and eaten.
Much more interesting than anything up this point (which is all very interesting), is what these fish have done with being poisoned for years by people who believe in primitive gods and a religious system that has caused them to suffer every year right before Easter...
they have evolved.
They’ve changed. They’ve adapted. They’re becoming immune to the toxins that paralyze them.
Some researchers took fish from that particular cave and fish from another area and exposed them to the same Barbasco plant poison. They found that the fish from the cave were much more able to withstand the poisons than those from other locations. They were able to keep swimming 50% longer. Some predict that if the ritual hadn’t been banned, eventually the fish would have become immune to the poison.
I sometimes feel like one of those fish, and I don’t think I’m the only one. It feels like I’ve been swimming in a world awash with religious, political, and economical systems and gods that have poisoned the environment. I don’t think the answer is throwing away religion, politics or economy but I do think the answer is to evolve. I think we have to do some major adapting in our understanding of how to make this world work for us and how to resist the, often toxic, religious, political and economic, affects.
The philosopher Peter Rollins says something to the effect of “A letter always reaches its intended destination: the person who wrote it.” The author and thinker Seth Godin writes something similar “The most important book you’ll ever read, is the one you write.”
(Tangent side note: this means you should probably start creating that thing you keep smothering in self-doubt and fear and anxiety. Your soul needs it. We need it too, but even if we didn’t, the amount you need it should outweigh any benefit from the world needing it. Which, by the way, if everyone lived that way, the world would definitely benefit.)
Back to my main point: this bloog (book/blog) is about evolution and change and adaptation: my own evolution and change and adaptation. This medium and message has changed quite a bit in the time I started working on it and in the time I’m re-writing the introduction, and now posting it - which just enforces all the more, that change can go pretty fast sometimes. Sometimes we need to stop and appreciate the evolution. Think about the adaptation. Smell the change. Feel the growth. Say hello and get to know the new thing we’ve become so that we can continue to survive and get stronger. And continue to change.
And probably ask some questions to confirm that all this change is for the better.
At the time of this writing, almost 8 years ago, as chance would have it, I became a pastor. I had worked in video games and, to make a long story short, going from video games to preaching sermons was a fairly big change.
People change jobs all the time. But when you have to suddenly start talking to people about religion, spirituality, toxins, and gods... you find yourself thinking a lot about religion, spirituality and gods more than you did when making video games. Or at least in a certain... church(y) way, which I also wasn’t sure I liked. I generally don’t like church(y) things.
I grew up in the church so the landscape was not too foreign. My dad was a pastor. My dad was a dad, first, then a pastor. My dad didn’t make me go to youth group even though it looked bad on him. But my dad was also a pastor and he had to sell his $1700 Porsche and buy a $2800 Geo Metro because the people at the church weren’t sure him driving a Porsche “looked good”.
As a teenager that makes you think religion is fairly stupid, especially because that Porsche was really fun to drive and that Geo Metro... was not.
People have much worse stories than that about church. I’ve heard about the trauma and tragedy and abuse repeatedly. I could write a very depressing book about it.
But we all know the water is filled with poison. That conversation, to be honest, is boring at best and carries its own toxicity at worst.
My parents, I’ve realized fairly recently, instilled in me a freedom to pursue change. They would never say it this way, but they taught me, and modeled, the pursuit of evolution, even spiritual evolution. I’m grateful to them for that.
All kinds of words get thrown around when religious people begin to evolve or change… to find the narrow paths that branch off the wide path. Sometimes those words are heretic and false prophet. Sometimes they even kill the heretical, false prophet who talks about the life found on the narrow path and the destruction found on the wide.
I wish we could find a way to use evolutionary instead of heretical and false. Revolutionary would work too. (Those words generally do work in the portions of life where change is expected and celebrated - like science.) If we go back to the story of those cave fish, the only other viable option to change is death.
I think many forms of Christianity are dying. I don’t think I’m the only one who thinks this. But I also think that if cave fish who can’t deal with toxic religion are the forms of Christianity who are dying, well I wish they would die sooner. Of course, the form of Christianity that we currently think is the “correct” form once evolved from a worse form, dating back... well to the advent of humanity. Religious followers have thought many times throughout their history that they finally had it figured out... only to see some other generation come and figure it out again for the last time.
Evolution is a requirement for any kind of legitimate faith.
People always start to ask the questions they aren’t supposed to ask, read the books they aren’t supposed to read, trust the people they aren’t supposed to trust, have thoughts they aren’t supposed to think, listen to people they aren’t supposed to listen to, find truth where they aren’t supposed to search, knock on doors they aren’t supposed to open... you get the picture. They keep asking, seeking, and knocking... and that’s always dangerous to some.
That’s what I did.
I bet those cave fish that started to adapt to toxins were told by all their fish friends to stop changing and to continue to be like everyone else... just before those old friends, who refused to change, passed out and were scooped up to be eaten.
So these specific posts called “Cleaning Church Toilets” are a reflection on my changes, in a sense. I know I have all kinds of biases, blind spots, and prejudices and I’m trying to be more aware of them. I’ve learned that when we give space to thoughts and life and change, they grow and we grow in all the right ways.
And so this is for me. Am I happy where I’m at? Where am I at? What do I think of all this? How have things changed? What have I learned? Am I evolving? What am I communicating? Who am I now?
These will be mostly concise ideas and experiences that have stood out to me over the past 8 years or so, that have infected me, transformed me, and, moved me as I’ve talked, listened, lead, and cleaned toilets.
In fact, a few Sundays ago someone came up to me and said, “Ryan, the men’s bathroom…”
I responded, with a smile, “Yeah, it’s right over there.”
“No,” they smiled back. “The toilet is plugged and there’s water everywhere.”
It’s always good that people can trust you with some of their deepest secrets… and to unplug their toilets.
So, I unplugged the toilet, again. And I mopped the floor, again. And I thought why do I do this? Again. And I remember, why. Again.
My hope, of course, is that my change syncs up with your change in one way or another. My hope is that it inspires you, challenges you, gets you mad, gets you glad, encourages, empowers and all of the other things that my evolution has done to me as I’ve looked back.
We can’t just keep swimming in this pond and letting the poisons get to us, right?
If it’s not obvious, let me say it outright: I don’t have it all figured out.
Change doesn’t rest. Evolution doesn’t become satisfied. New never gives way to mediocre. The wineskins always get old at some point but fortunately this universe always has something new around its ever expanding corner. Even religiously speaking.
So even as I take a second to ponder where I’ve come from and what it means for me now, I get excited about what is to come. I hope you do too.