Washing Machine or Garbage Disposal?

"Have you got good religion? Cert'nly, Lord. Cert'nly, cert'nly, cert'nly, Lord!"

-Negro Spiritual

Originally, I was going to write this post during Lent. Life took the world in another direction. Then, yesterday, a New York Times headline popped up on my iPhone screen:

and I took it as confirmation that now was the time to write it.

On the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. During Pride Month. In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. The current [mal]administration, removed protections in HEALTHCARE (can we all say: pandemic?) previously afforded transgender people. This erasure means that transgender people can be discriminated against when seeking healthcare. The most vulnerable of the vulnerable are Black transgender people.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Years ago, I sat in the class of Dr. Brian Blount, now President of Union-Presbyterian Theological Seminary, during a lecture in his Gospel of Mark class. He likened Mark's concept of holiness, evidenced by Jesus, to a washing machine and the Pharisaical understanding of holiness, depicted in the Gospel, to a garbage disposal.

Garbage disposal religion

Garbage disposal religion is rooted in the belief that holiness can be tainted very easily. The underlying premise is that holiness is weaker than and easily overpowered by sin. Therefore, holiness is maintained through separatism. Anything that is believed to be unclean by a given community or individual must be removed, lest the dirty render the clean impure. Like a garbage disposal, one must dispose of the contaminant far away from the community.

In Mark's Gospel, the "garbage disposal" ideology meant that many people did not fit the definition of holiness and were, therefore, rejected by the religious leaders and much of society. Figuratively speaking, people were thrown away. They were blamed and/or penalized for not adhering to standards that were inherently flawed. Consequently, community was fractured. Some people were in and other people were out.

Clearly, "garbage disposal" religion is not a specifically Jewish way of practicing religion. Furthermore, I am NOT suggesting that Mark's depiction of the Pharisaical Judaism is historically accurate. Instead, I wish to highlight one way that religious communities understand themselves as holy, sanctified, or set apart. I wish to further state that this way of thinking and religious praxis is not foreign to Christian communities of faith.

I grew up in a religious environment in which salvation was tenable, at best. As a child, I lived in fear of going to hell. I needed to be vigilant against sin (primarily defined in individualistic terms with a heavy emphasis on sexual behavior) and anything or anyone considered sinful. Sin was like glitter-so easy to get on you, so hard to get it all off. At the root of it all was fear: fear of judgment, fear of condemnation, fear of messing up, and because fear of winding up in hell.

We were inwardly focused. When I suggested reaching out to the surrounding community, I was told, "They don't want to be saved no how." "They" were sinners. "They" were contaminants. "They" needed to be kept as far away as possible. "They" were not a part of our church because "they" rejected us and, therefore, we could dispose of them without blame or guilt. Focused and confined to ourselves, we were holy.

Washing machine religion

Jesus answered, "The first is, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." (Mark 12: 29-31).

Washing machine religion, on the other hand, believes that holiness is greater than sin. It can overcome sin. Building on Dr. Blount's original idea, I would add that holiness is not personal piety, but growth in love. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), holiness or sanctification should conform us more and more to image of our Creator. Love, then, is more powerful than sin.

Washing machine religion does not distinguish itself as godly by who it excludes, but who it includes. It does not fear contamination because "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love" (1 John 4:18). The goal is to love "because [God] first loved us" (1 John 4:19). Confidence rests in God's ability to cleanse. Holiness is connected to "wholiness"; our willingness to be whole rather than fractured and our willingness to work toward the wholeness of all creation.

Let me put it this way: Have you ever tried to wipe a stain or smudge off of someone's, or your own clothing, only to find out that what you thought was a stain was actually a part of the pattern? Unfamiliar with the pattern, we mistook it for a stain.

Well, the beauty of a washing machine religion is that if something is dirty, the Washer can make it clean. And if we think something is dirty and it's not, then, the Washer, who knows all things, will only clean what is dirty without damaging the design.

Wheat and tares (weeds)

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus tells a kingdom parable about a field that had been sown with good seed. While everyone was sleeping, an enemy sowed weeds. The field hands asked if they should pull up the weeds, but the owner forbade them, not wanting them to accidentally destroy some wheat while trying to get to the weeds. He commanded them to let the wheat and weeds grow together and at harvest time, things would all be sorted out. In other words,

it'll all come out in the wash.

So as we march, vote, boycott, write, donate...whatever we do to affirm the truth and make

#BlackLivesMatter a reality and not just a slogan, let us remember that ALL Black lives matter. Every. Single. One.

Have you been to the water? Cert'nly, Lord. Cert'nly, cert'nly, cert'nly, Lord!

Happy Pride Month!

122 views3 comments