On Containing More Than Just Toxic Messes

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(FYI: I recently added a “Books” page above. You might want to check it out…)

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kernkraftwerk_Grafenrheinfeld

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The word containment usually carries a pretty serious connotation in most contexts. It is often used in reference to preventing radioactive release in a nuclear facility or, in a military sense, when speaking of  inhibiting the spread of communism.

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When I was a young mother of four children under the age of five, containment of toxic household debris clutter was a serious issue for me.

It became even more serious when we listed our house for sale. We lived in a really nice area where the market was highly competitive. It was in a pristine Canadian neighborhood, and a place where I happened to be the messy, uncultured American who didn’t pull out my stray dandelions from the yard at four in the morning like my OCD-afflicted, achingly polite neighbors did.

The seriousness of mess containment became even more consequential when I discovered that our real estate agent was a true Communist Clutter Officer. A greedy, cruel individual who insisted that top dollar would only be nabbed by homeowners who bowed to the oppression of knick-knack free rooms and sterile countertops.

My real estate Officer’s brutality instilled fear and dread in me. Because my freedom-loving children daily engaged in uninhibited, quasi-democratic playtime, our home’s interior stood as a testament to the effectiveness of a free market system, complete with overflowing clothing items, toys, and foodstuffs.

Circa 1989. The true definition of futility: Organizing the toybox.

Needless to say, our Officer did not appreciate such a capitalistic approach to filling one’s home.

Every time Mr. Officer called to schedule a showing, I would break out in a sweat. I was as motivated to sell our home as he was, but I was convinced there were potential buyers who could overlook our mess and see the value of the place underneath it.

Mr. Officer did not agree. He was a bonafide drama queen, going ballistic at the mere sight of cracker crumbs ground into the carpet or a few innocent socks plugging the toilet. He would fume about such things, insisting that the familiar smell of dirty diapers in the kitchen would lower our home price by two thousand dollars. I politely disagreed, figuring people would be charmed by the “homeyness” of our place. Mr. Officer said “homeyness” was not a word and substituted it with one I would rather not write here.

Agent Officer really needed to get a grip. I mean, it wasn’t my fault that mannerly Canadians have always practiced the unsanitary custom of taking their shoes off at the door. I figured it was their own collective problem if they didn’t protect their stockinged feet from peanut butter globs on hallway tile. I tried to talk to Officer about this, but he merely responded with an upraised clipboard, signaling the end of that conversation.

His dictatorial approach tempted me to fire him on many occasions, but he was, admittedly, one of the most successful real estate agents in the city and we really needed to get our home sold. So, I put up with his clipboard fixation and his perplexing insistence that I rent a storage unit in which to store my children until the home was safely off the market.

I also got creative with last-minute mess elimination. I simply started assigning the older children the task of throwing anything and everything that wasn’t a fixture or piece of furniture into boxes. I would then shove those boxes into the truck camper that was jacked up outside the garage. The camper was the only place that Mr. Officer didn’t show to buyers.

It really was an effective method. I would sweep my arm across a counter or table and just let everything fall into a box. Sugar bowls, dirty dishes, papers, sharp knives, books–all magically dispensed with in one might swoop. Of course, my technique made for some awful sorting-out later, but at least it shut Mr. Officer’s incessant whining up.

So finally, the Day arrived. The Big Day–the Lucrative Showing Day. The day on which Mr. Officer said our most promising buyers so far would be looking at the house. We agreed on a time and I assured Officer that the house would be completely spic-and-spanned from one end to the other. Or, at least look like it was.

I desperately wanted this to be the last showing. My nerves were frayed from having our messy lives continually disrupted and from constantly lugging the detritus of our daily existence back and forth between the house and the truck camper. I was afraid I was losing my mind, especially on the days when the kids were having far too much wild fun. Those were the days when I secretly priced out storage units.

I thought we were ahead of schedule with our bold swooping process on Lucrative Day when the doorbell rang. It was Mr. Officer with our buyers. He was early–drat!

I cowered as I opened the door to face Mr. Officer and his preapproved-for-a-hefty-mortgage guests. We weren’t ready. Not everything was contained. Even ten more precious minutes would have been enough for me to stow the worst of the clutter.

Worse yet, one of the kids’ boxes had dripped pieces of dirty laundry on its way out to the camper. As I stood facing the polished young couple smiling on my front steps, I tried to keep my gaze up and away from the bra that was right inside the door, sprawled across the entry rug. Keeping my eyes fixed as I greeted the guests, I discreetly hooked the bra with my toe and kicked it behind me. I hoped it would remain out of view long enough for Mr. Officer to usher the guests down to see the lower level of our split level first. Unfortunately, toddler A. picked the bra up, put it across her chest, and started parading gleefully around us as the guests stepped in. Officer gave me a look that could have melted the paint on his Acura. It wouldn’t be the last of such looks I would get that day.

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My Pharisaism made me act like a successful, but dictatorial real estate agent. I made it my life’s ambition to showcase and sell my faith to unbelievers. Thus, I became very annoyed when my freer, uninhibited fellow Christians didn’t keep their lives clean and contained in the ways I believed they should.

I was infected with the same spirit the ancient Pharisees were. Those leaders had worked for centuries to build an exacting and perfect structure of traditions in which to contain their religion. They believed that God lived inside their container and only the Jewish people who carefully adhered to all the regulations could meet Him there.

In a way, the Pharisees determination to create a solid law structure was understandable. Throughout history, the Jewish people had gone through times of rebellion against God and gross idolatry that had resulted in periods of harsh punishment. Several hundred years before Jesus arrived, the seeds of Pharisaism had already been planted by leaders who strove to prevent God’s people from straying so dangerously outside the boundaries of the Law. They felt they had no choice but to set up hedges of traditions to keep their structure ceremonially clean, and to keep the dangerous, unclean pagan stuff out.

However, as I talked about in my last post, the Pharisees lost sight of the fact that God cannot be contained inside anything. Ever. Not even a law structure that they had reinforced and made as impenetrable as a twentieth century nuclear containment building.

There was simply no allowance made for messes on the inside of the Jewish religion. As a result, the Jewish people who wanted a relationship with God had to box up their honest sin clutter and haul it outside whenever the Pharisees came around. The people had to pretend like their lives always looked that clean. It made for a nerve-wracking, manipulative, burdensome faith practice. And it felt to the people like there was no way out. There were stuck in a deep religious rut.

Arriving completely outside of the system, however, Jesus was in a position to pull his worshipers out of their rut. He did it in ways that were so unorthodox to the Pharisees that they absolutely refused to accept him as coming from God.

For one thing, Jesus didn’t just tolerate uncleanness, he faced it, embraced it, loved it, forgave it. That was the point of the Good Samaritan parable. He took a person whom the Pharisees would have viewed as their social enemy–a traitorous, vile, unclean Samaritan–and cast that man as the hero of the story. Jesus illustrated how it would be the outcast, the outsider who would truly love and minister to people in the New Kingdom.

In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was those contained within the scrubbed system–the Jewish religious leaders–who would turn a blind eye to the injured person and walk around his suffering without even a gesture of mercy. The Samaritan, an honest and open sinner, would be the one to sacrifice his time and money to help a needy person.

And so, the only way that I would ever rec0ver from Pharisaism would be to stop adhering to a system of thought that believed it had to be clean and pretty in order to contain God. Like the Apostle Peter when he really thought he was strong enough, righteous enough to always be loyal to God, I would have to face the fact that my heart had hidden weakness and shame lurking just beneath the surface. All it would take is a jolt of unexpected confrontation for it to ploop out, right in the open in front of everyone. And that would actually be a very good thing, because honesty always pays bigger dividends than phoniness ever can.

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In the case of my home marketing efforts, something bad was bound to happen. We couldn’t live in the dishonesty of immaculateness indefinitely and not have something real ploop out eventually. On Lucrative Day, I remember scooping up my lingerie-displaying toddler and racing up to the kitchen while Mr. Officer knowingly ushered the guests downstairs. In a panic, and without an available box within reach, I grabbed anything and everything in sight and stuffed it in the oven. Wincing at the terrible squeaking noise that the oven door had recently developed, I closed it with a mighty shove, thankful that the oven window was dirty enough to hide the google eyes of the stuffed monkey that was peering through it.

I then herded the kids out the back door to wait with me on the patio while the potential buyers inspected every stupid inch of my faux-clean home. They certainly took their sweet time. It seemed like forever that I had to try and amuse the kids with sticks and leaves. (All our outdoor toys were in the front seat of the car.)

Finally, through the open kitchen window, while overhearing Officer Agent regale the benefits of a tiny, er, compact kitchen, I heard a most dreaded sound. It was the awful, terrible screeeech of the oven door. The distinct noise of our grungy mess plooping out for all the world to gaze upon in disgust.

I then listened helplessly to the plinking and rustling of objects hitting the floor and the simultaneous gasps of the observers, followed by ten seconds of complete silence.

My horror was eclipsed with a sudden inner rage. What kind of sick people peer inside an oven when they’re looking at a home for sale? What has this world come to?

I took a moment to gather my wits and then went into the kitchen to try and salvage whatever shred of decency might still be had. I walked in to see the stuffed monkey, a pile of Lego, several dirty socks, various magazines, books, a stray piece of bread, a hairbrush, some plastic cups, a large tennis shoe, and of course, the bra, all spilled out onto the open floor and open door of the oven. It was utterly, excruciatingly embarrassing.

I can’t remember exactly how I tried to verbally mop up the situation. I’ll never, ever forget, though, that those were the people who did buy the house. In spite of Officer Agent’s extreme disapproval. In spite of our goofy mess. In spite of our failed attempt at perfection, the house sold that very day.

Honestly, it was a lucrative day, after all.

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So, now I close today’s post with this thought:  Messes can’t be contained forever, they have to be dealt with.

Has our modern church system, replete with paid clergy and Sunday traditions become dangerously close to the Pharisaical nuclear containment buildings? Have we tried to compress Jesus down to something we can contain within our system?

And if we have, then will we reject Him if He returns outside this system? Will we fail to recognize Him if His methods and politics and love go completely against our theological traditions?

Dare I open this squeaky door?

Dare I even ask such questions?

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Containment Policy

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(FYI: I just added a “Books” page above. You might want to check it out…)

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“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” 1961

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A childhood memory surfaced the other day and prompted me to immediately call my mom and ask her this, “Why did you cook split pea soup in a pressure cooker, anyway?”

I was remembering a traumatically funny incident that occurred when I was around ten or eleven. It was a time when my friend and I heard a huge BANG erupt from the kitchen while we were quietly playing in my room. We ran out to be greeted by the nightmarish sight of steaming, thick green goo splattered all over the stove, counter, wall and ceiling. A dripping pressure cooker sat chugging and burping on a burner, like a naughty kid who’s just vomited all over. It was a split pea soup explosion, unlike anything I had witnessed before in my sheltered life.

Mom’s answer to my above question was simply, “It was your father’s fault.”

I pressed for details and she said that Dad figured the pressure cooker could greatly speed up the pea softening process. Mom added that the cooker’s manual advised against cooking split pea soup under pressure, but “of course your dad didn’t bother to read the instructions.”

I asked Mom how long it took to clean up the disaster and she said she couldn’t really remember.

“It was your dad’s problem,” she said. “I told him to clean it up, so he did.”

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I have a pressure cooker but am too terrified of it to use it. I think the pea soup thing did a bit of lasting damage to my still-developing psyche when I was a kid. My husband, being much braver and more mentally stable than me, has cooked with the pressure pot a couple of times, but I’ve avoided it, being terrified of having something akin to an over-fired steam engine chugging away inside my home. It seems way too dangerous–no amount of tenderized pork butt is worth that kind of risk.

I don’t think my phobia is completely unwarranted. Pressurized containers burst all the time. In fact, history is peppered with examples of large-scale burstings that terrorized entire communities and even killed people. The “Boston Molassacre” of 1919 is one example. This disaster resulted when a giant storage tank filled with molasses exploded in the middle of a crowded Boston neighborhood, creating a deadly, sticky situation. Read on:

“1919: A giant molasses tank blows up, sending a wall of thick, sticky syrup through the streets of a Boston neighborhood. The blast and the molasses flood kill 21 people and injure 150.

http://en.wikipedia.org – photo by Globe Newspaper Co. (Boston Public Library)

The Purity Distilling Company built the tank in 1915…With a diameter of 90 feet and 50 feet high, the iron tank could hold about 2½ million gallons of molasses, ready to be distilled into rum or industrial alcohol.

… No one is sure what caused the disaster…the tank didn’t merely give way —it exploded.

[T]he tank gave out a dull roar, and then its two sides flew outward with a mighty blast. One huge piece knocked out the support of an elevated railway, buckling the tracks…Fragments of metal landed 200 feet away.

Besides sending shrapnel whizzing through the air, the explosion flattened people, horses and buildings with a huge shockwave. As some tried to get to their feet, the sudden vacuum where the tank once was created a reverse shockwave, sucking air in and knocking people, animals and vehicles around once more, and shaking homes off their foundations.

That was just the first few seconds. The real terror was about to begin.

The tank had been filled to near capacity, and 2.3 million gallons of thick, heavy, odorous molasses formed a sticky tsunami that started at 25 or 30 feet high and coursed through the streets at 35 mph. Victims couldn’t outrun it. It knocked them into buildings and other obstacles, it swept them off their feet, and it pulled them under to drown in a viscous, suffocating, brown death.When it was over, more than a score had died, and seven or eight times that number suffered injuries.”[1]

Can you imagine? What a horrific way to die! Occurring long before the implementation of federal safety standards, this disaster might have at least planted the idea that industrial equipment needed to be regularly checked for weak points.

This story prompted me to run and check our hot water tank for leaks.

It also prompted me to inspect the giant plastic bottle of corn syrup I bought two years ago that’s huddling in the back of my baking cupboard, patiently waiting to be used for the bold Christmas candy-making project I dreamed up in the manic phase of one of my sugar-craving episodes. I don’t think the bottle is big enough to produce a shockwave if it inexplicably bursts and pours out into the cupboard, but it might drown some ants in a viscous, suffocating, clear death.

Maybe I should just use it all up in something today. Hmm. Let’s see. Homemade marshmallows, anyone? Or, better yet–fake Halloween blood. Yes, that ‘s it. Talk about killing two birds with one stone–I can finally use up all my corn syrup and stage a realistic zombie apocalypse at the same time.

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So, the potential breakdown of containers like pressure cookers, molasses tanks and zombies’ graves brought to mind a certain bible verse. It’s Matthew 9:17, where Jesus said,

“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new wineskins so that both are preserved.” (NLT)

Way back, goatskins were used to store wine. While fermenting, fresh grape juice would expand, so it was vital to store it in a goatskin that was stretchy enough to accommodate the expansion. A used wineskin, already stretched to its max and often brittle, would break if filled with new wine.

Jesus used this word picture to show the futility of  trying to contain the New Covenant within the parameters of the old order–the Law. God had announced in Jeremiah 31:31 that the New Covenant (God’s promise that people may have a relationship with him based on His grace rather than their adherence to the law) could not be contained, or defined, within the old system.

“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.'” (NLT)

So, the Holy Spirit is the metaphorical wine. Our hearts are the metaphorical wineskins–the containers that the Spirit is poured into. I have already written about this before, so I’m going to take liberties with my own words and reblog what I said about this from a May post:

“…Wally, my inner Pharisee, insisted that the real Messiah chose to live inside a traditional system. He made me forget that Jesus said the Holy Spirit, under the new system, would choose to take up residence inside people.

I had definitely known that and felt that energy operating inside me at one time. But as the insidious Pharisaism disease slowly took over, I began losing that power. Wally did his best to make sure that I basically forgot my first love. He slowly turned my attention back to the physical side of my faith—namely, duties, rules, appearances, good behavior and good politics—and away from the mystical, poetic, unfathomable, unsearchable, merciful, joyful, and alive Spirit of God.

The fermenting, effervescing, eternal, and organic Being.

The Love part of Jesus that stayed behind when his physical body left the earth.

The Life part of God that can only be contained within living, stretchy, biological tissue…

…which makes up the hearts and brains of real people…

…even silly ones like me.”

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The Holy Spirit is a delightfully dangerous substance. It can ferment, overheat, or explode. Or it can quietly pump, unseen, unheard, through a person’s veins, providing the life and light necessary for true love to develop and overflow from one heart container into another.

It can’t be–won’t be–contained within anything manmade.

Not even a church.

The first wave of the Holy Spirit poured out all over the first Christian believers right after Jesus left the earth. And the effects of that moment continue to seep out, over the face of the whole earth, inside and outside of religion.

That brings me back to the end of the Boston Molassacre article I quoted earlier:

“One of the strangest industrial accidents ever lingered on, and not just in a few safety improvements. On warm days for decades after, the neighborhood smelled of molasses. And if you listen to old-timers, even today, hot weather brings a vague, sweet smell to the streets of the North End.” [1]

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The Boston Post Coverage, 1919

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[1] Alfred, Randy. “Jan. 15, 1919: Morass of Molasses Mucks Up Boston.” Wired.com http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2009/01/dayintech_0115

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