I was struck by a quote of Frederick Buechner this morning. As usual, his words inspired, but today's response departed from the norm. He says:
THEOLOGY IS THE study of God and his ways. For all we know, dung beetles may study man and his ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise.
Perhaps our relationship to dung beetles is similar to humanity's relationship with a higher power. I'm not suggesting irreverence by comparing dung beetles to God - or us, exactly. Simply that the relationship between dung beetles and us is often misunderstood - much like humanity and God's often is, depending on how you've learned about God, or from whom. Even what we name each other can paint pictures that limit or warp our perception or understanding.
If you ask the ordinary person on the street how he feels about dung beetles, or what they are; you'll likely get a response something like this:
They hang out in poop. So not interested.
I don't know and I don't care.
Dung beetles have no relevance to my life.
Dung? That's elephant poop, right?
Now, if we asked the same questions about God, it might sound similar. They'd say:
God hangs out with republicans. So not interested.
I don't know and I don't care.
God has no relevance to my life.
God? That's the guy on the cloud, right?
Buechner is considering how we see and understand one another, which makes all the difference. Actually, our human desire to understand is strong enough for us to organize ourselves around studying all kinds of things together. Even dung beetles. The reasons some find dung beetles interesting enough to study might surprise you.
Although these Darth Vader wanna-be's can be found anywhere on the planet; they are pure gold to non-brittle environments like the arid west or the Middle East, and countless other parts of the world. Non-brittle environments experience only seasonal rainfall; and little of it at that. As a result decomposing organic matter, such as leaves from deciduous trees, manure, branches, and millions of other organisms and micro-organisms that cycle in the soil don't break down and feed the soil like year round rainfall causes it to. Constant moisture fuels decomposition, which in turn, fertilizes the soil. The soil is our bottom line for sustaining ourselves on earth.
In this process, dung beetles are royalty. It's true they hang out in dung, but what they do there rocks.
They dwell, tunnel, and roll.
(reminds me of Snuffy, the Talking Fire Engine teaching kids to Stop, Drop, and Roll in a fire - we booked him on every national media outlet for Burger King, a former PR client.)
The rollers form little balls and roll them away like the stone on Jesus' tomb. They then bury it for a snack later, or lay their eggs on it. Tunnelers drill under the pile and bury this special treasure. And dwellers take up residence and live inside it for a one-stop dung experience.
Dung beetles are whimsically resembling theology types this morning. Rollers bring evangelists to mind. They take what they learn and spread it around, hoping a seed births something new in the places they pass through. Tunnelers want to dig deep and keep digging. These are like professors and writers who hope new understanding is born from their digging efforts. And there are those who embody the dung, not straying far, and immersing themselves in it. They live and breathe it - a lot like clergy.
I couldn't resist, but in reality, this beetle's activities are a god-send to arid environments where dung remains intact for years if there's no rain, particularly during months it's frozen solid. We used old cow-pies in spring to feed the fire that keeps us warm, to clean up the dung littered landscape on public lands. Historically, the hoof action of large herds roaming this dry ground broke up the manure and recycled it back into the soil. We don't have herd like that today. That's why dung beetles are super heroes!
The beetles break the dung open. Without being broken open, dung won't fulfill its highest purpose - a lot like us when you think about it.
These metaphors may be a stretch, but they're not as far removed from reality as we think.
It's unlikely we'll fulfill our highest purpose without being broken open too. Heck, it's when our insides are cracked open that we begin to really know ourselves. At least that's my observation after hanging around a few years.
Once broken open, what's been locked up inside us is freed and can be spread around. When we put the truth of who we are out into the world, we integrate with the people around us. As a result, this sharing of our deeper self makes them stronger too. Courage, vulnerability, and emotional honesty is contagious. Before long, we're building community that's more diverse and kind, growing more capable and healthy too.
So, maybe dung beetles are a little like God too. If we let God break us open, while handling us with care, we become tools to enrich the world around us. Everything cycles, and perhaps all living things have something to teach us, and just maybe, we're not all that different than we think.
So, next time someone asks you how you feel about dung beetles, maybe you'll see them differently. Perhaps you'd like to add the last word on this...because this subject is begging for a more whimsical and edgier, close :)
Peace to your house,