Tag Archives: ritual

61: Unclean

61 unclean pixabay putz-bucket-1290951_1920

Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.” Numbers 19:22 NIV

The Law is full of directions about what is unclean, and the purification rituals that need to be undertaken to bring a person back to cleanliness. To be perfectly honest, it is all so involved that it was a wonder if there were 3 clean people in the whole of Israel at any one time. Many foods are listed as unclean and various animals, as well as practices and bodily functions. The whole thing is a minefield that took some negotiating. Staying clean was a full time occupation, and quite clearly, especially for women, impossible, which to my mind is part of the point of the law. We need to first understand the impossibility of saving ourselves, of being holy, before we can take on board the need for a holy saviour who can free us by grace.

We might think that these days and especially as Christians that we are free from the attitude that lies behind these laws and the obsession with cleanliness and perceived sin that they inspire. But we’d be wrong. There are just whole new ways of being unclean. Spend time in any organisation, yes, including churches, and you will find that there are certain things or ways of being that are unacceptable, or that will get you ridiculed, disrespected or even thrown out, and that will certainly get you avoided. Being chronically ill can be one of them. There are a lot of modern day lepers. Being mentally ill, poor, difficult to talk to, riddled with problems or addictions, wearing the “wrong” clothes, voicing the “wrong” opinions or even rocking the boat or questioning the status quo, all these things and more can mean that you end up feeling like you should be wandering outside the city gates with a bell around your neck.

But the truth is as Paul saw it, much more in our minds than in any objective purity, for as he said, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” Romans 14:14 NIV   The purity or lack of purity in something is all perception. If we see riches and designer clothes as pure, the poor and the hoody-wearers will seem unclean to us. If we think our Sunday roasts are sacrosanct family time we might well avoid tofu-eating hippies (like me!), or people who work on the Sabbath.

If we are men struggling with sexual self-discipline, women’s bodies will need to be far more covered up so that we don’t see their “uncleanness” even though it is our own lusts that are unsavoury. We project our judgement onto others, and we can often tell our own unclean areas by the things we find distasteful in others. It works the same way with religious orthodoxy. The truth is that anyone or anything can become unclean to us if it helps us feel superior or more sure of ourselves.

The good news is that all of this antagonism and self-righteousness can be dropped if we truly hear the gospel and seek to live it out. We are all saved by grace and not one of us has the right to proclaim another unclean, since we understand that we were all lifted from the pigpen by the same hand, and that we all fall back (or even sneak back) to the mud from time to time, needing a good hosing down before we smell quite as fragrant as we imagine we do.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Pixabay

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27: Giving up our gods

27 giving up our gods mf milza

So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem. Then they set out, and the terror of God fell on the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.” Genesis 35:2-4 NIV

Purifying ourselves ready to worship the Lord is an age old ritual. Outer purification can be a symbol for the cleansing of our hearts or our inner world. In this case, Jacob feels that building an altar to God isn’t something he and his household can do without first ridding themselves of their foreign gods and the symbols of occult protection which were traditionally worn in the ears, made of gold and imprinted with images of sun and moon gods and so on.

In Christian circles we tend to be at the extreme end of a spectrum of feeling about such things these days. We can either be quite blasé about the strange ways people use talismans and amulets, thinking small pagan rituals harmless, or we can be completely over the top fire and brimstone in our reactions, bandying the word heretical about and condemning any practice that has a sniff of paganism about it, even in our ignorance, those practices which have been taken on board or transformed by the church. Somewhere in the middle might be more sensible.

Social media is full of adverts as I’m sure you know, and because a lot of my time is spent talking about spiritual matters, I do get some rather bizarre tailored ads, including those for pagan bookshops, witches’ groups and tarot cards. These I avoid like the plague, because I know however harmless they look, they are not compatible with a life that follows Christ. In his service, I am not going to focus on demonology, divination, curses or spells. I cannot serve two masters. And whilst we might say that that is an obvious split, there are those who try to walk both paths. It cannot be done. And Jacob knew this.

But what Jacob also knew was that it was not only superstitions and occult practices that needed to be banished from his household before they could come before the Lord, but also everything they held as gods. I imagine that a lot of the gold earrings were the only valuable things that some of his servants owned, so to give them up to be buried under a tree was like asking us to take our life savings and pour them into the sea! But if our hearts or vows or loyalties are tied up anywhere that opposes the Living God, then they need to be cut loose. These might be things like obsessions, or reliance on fashion, looks, money, power or pride. These things tie us to wrongdoing just as surely as the practicing of any dark arts. Only then, when we have given up our false gods and manufactured idols, including the imagined strength of our own egoes and independence, can we build the altar of our lives truly dedicated to the one true God.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com