Tuesday, February 24, 2009


That's the "SH" word and we have to get over our aversion to even saying it before we can begin to talk about how to deal with it. I know how we deal with it in our country. We flush it away. Do we know where it goes? Do we know how it affects our water supply? We don't want to think about it. We just want it gone. So even though it is the most common thing all of us do every day we hardly ever talk about it and we like it that way.

I never thought much about it before I read Rose George's book, The Big Necessity: the unmentionable world of human waste and why it matters. I can remember using it as a swear word. My sons still laugh about the time I got really mad because they were not taking care of the dog waste in the back yard and I blurted out the dogsh** word. They thought that was pretty cool coming from their pastor father. And I remember visiting my roommate's home in Ohio my freshman year. His family was Mennonite and worked a big farm. We went out for a walk in the fields and his dad matter of factly said, watch out for the cowsh**. I thought, "cool", to be able to just call it what it is. But, for the most part, Christians and polite society steer clear of that word and the reality it represents.

So we probably don't know that 2.6 billion people in the world don't have sanitation. That's not counting those who do have an outhouse, or a latrine of some kind, or have access to a public toilet. Four in ten people in the world have nothing, not a pit, or bucket or a box, for a toilet. Nothing of any kind. They use the road, the field, or the river for their toilet. Some use plastic bags and then fling them up on a roof or into an alleyway. Children drop out of school rather than experience the shame and embarrassment of having to hold it all day (not to mention the pain!). Much of our world lives in Sh**, surrounded by it, and it gets on their shoes, their fingers, their clothes, their food and into their drinking water.

Water. We have heard of all sorts of world wide initiatives for clean water. But what is the greatest polluter of our water? The disease toll in the toiletless world is staggering. Rose explains: a gram of feces can contain 10 million viruses, 1 million bacteria, 1,000 parasite cysts, and 100 worm eggs .... people who live in areas without adequate sanitation eat 10 grams of fecal matter every day.... children suffer most.... diarrhea - 90% of which is caused by poor sanitation- kills a child every 15 seconds... it is the greatest international health problem.

Who knew? And its not just a problem in the poor parts of the world. The diseases of the poor travel throughout the world on the airlines. SARS began from one person with diarrhea which spread through his apartment building and then spread internationally on the airlines until 8,422 persons were infected and 11% died in only a four month period!

Water is a fixed commodity. Our planet only contains 332 million cubic miles of it. Most of it is salty. Only 2% is fresh and two-thirds of that is inaccessible. We don't get any more of it when we waste it. By 2050, it is projected that half of the 8.9 billion people on our planet will be chronically short of water. Where does the waste of the western world go? Where does our flushing take it away to? In most urban areas, people drink recycled wastewater effluent. London gets its drinking water from the Thames and downstream other towns have flushed their cleaned effluent into it. Toilets to taps. Pepsi sold 2.17 billion dollars of Aquafina last year to people who wanted clean and safe water. The fine print on their own labels admit it comes straight from the tap.

Seems to me that Christians need to go into the sanitation business. It is part of the wholistic gospel we have to share in the poorer parts of the world, the toiletless world. Missions includes saving souls and providing a way to dispose of bodily waste that won't harm children. Water cannot be clean until the areas surrounding the water are free of human (and animal) waste. We in the western world need to talk about wastewater and wasting water. But first we have to work on getting over our aversion to saying sh**.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen translations of Philippians 3:8 use "bullsh**" instead of rubbish: "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but bullsh** in order that I may gain Christ."

    The Greek word most have translated as "rubbish" in this verse is "skubala," which is actually an offensive term that refers to, what my former college professor says, "the muck of excrement, rotten food, decomposing corpses, dirt, and trash." Plus, J.I. Packer describes "skubala" as a coarse and violent word implying worthlessness and repulse.

    Hm. . . perhaps the most biblical of all swear words?