Equality in Stench

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

–          Genesis 3:17-19


“Your hands shaped me and made me.
Will you now turn and destroy me?
Remember that you molded me like clay.
Will you now turn me to dust again?

–          Job 10:8-9



Rather than going through a few mental pictures from various chemical and food processing plants, farms, and such things that have their own unique odors, I thought I would tell a few stories.  Who knows, someone could be reading this while they are eating.  By the way, I once asked a farmer how he could live downstream of the stink.  His reply was, “What stink?  I only smell money.”


I led a three-man team in teaching a course in Nebraska about fifteen years ago.  For a change, my boss and a colleague drove the truck to Nebraska.  My colleague drove the truck home.  And I got to fly for a change.  I always drove the truck.  What luxury, to sit down and let someone else drive!


After we completed the week of training, the boss, who for the purposes of project control worked for me that week, said, “I am surprised no one noticed.”


We both shot him a glance.


He said, “I have been performing an experiment this week.  I did not bring any extra clothing with me.  I have been bathing, but putting the same clothing on each day, all week.  I wanted to know how long it would take before anyone said anything.  Did either of you notice?”  (To understand my anger at this point, he drove the truck.  There was room on the truck for not just all his clothing, but all his furniture!  He even brought an empty suitcase!)


We said, in unison, “Tuesday!”  I added, “My eyes were burning so bad on Tuesday.  We didn’t know what was wrong, so we tried to stay upwind of the stench.  It smelled like rotting pond scum.  We didn’t say anything, because you have the authority to fire us.”


He said, “I expected something blunt and crude from you.  What say you in the backseat?”  (We were driving to our victory dinner now that our week was done, the project was complete, and the customer was happy.)


My colleague said, “Sir, in the utmost of respect, and speaking only as the person who has sat behind you in the confinement of the car all week, you smell like a cross between a skunk and that stockyard we passed driving over here.”


Does anyone have to experiment?  We stink.  The Scripture from Genesis and Job says from dust to dust.


Of course, I knew about wearing the same clothing for days.  I’d been in the Army.


In early 1979, I completed a two and a half week military training exercise.  Our brigade had reorganized all administrative people into one group for each battalion.  I had written the training exercise (for one had not previously existed) so that the admin group could be tested on their readiness.  The group requested reinforcements, performed grave registration, wrote letters to the next of kin, guarded the POW enclosure, etc.  This group handled the paperwork so that the guys doing the heavy lifting did not have to worry about it.  Of course, this was done as part of a war game scenario.  Each ‘dead’ guy or ‘POW’ became the new recruit and sent back to his unit, once the paperwork was complete.  What I did not figure into the exercise was when I would ever get a wink of sleep.


After passing their tests in tent city, we got to go home.  With my duffel bag over my shoulder, I knocked on the door to our fourth-floor apartment.  My wife asked who it was.  When I replied, “It’s me.  I’m tired, but I have to go to brigade headquarters this afternoon to meet someone.  Open the door, please.  I need to shower and shave and get into a clean uniform – in a hurry.”


From the other side of the door, “Not until you strip naked.”  I protested.  She replied, “It took me four days getting the stench out of everything in the apartment after you returned from maneuvers the last time.  I am not putting up with it again.  Strip or you will never get in here!”


“But I am in a public hallway!”  We finally agreed that I could remove my boots and socks.  She would open the door.  Then I could dive from the outer hall into the bathroom, but I would have to shower with my clothes on.  Then mop the bathroom floor.


Yes, after 2+ weeks without a shower and very few changes of clothing, I stunk.  After I showered, twice – once fully dressed and once after taking the outer clothing off, I opened my duffel bag.  Suddenly, I could smell the stench myself.  I then agreed with my wife in the actions she took.


Upon my first trip to India, my partner on this trip told me, “Do you smell a sour smell on the airplane?  That smell is the odor of the people from India who are returning home.  On our way home, the smell will come from you and me.”


Even though, I have one more story, that’s my point.  You observe someone else with any of your senses: smell, sight, hearing, and / or touch.  (Hopefully, you are not tasting them.)  You may find some excuse to not like them.  But we are just like them, in the most elemental of ways.


People from India love the musk scents.  Could it be that the flower scents clash with their body odor to make things worse?  It is hot in India and people sweat.  I had a French secretary who worked in the typing pool near my office in Germany.  Her bath night was Tuesday.  She poured a bottle of perfume all over herself on Monday morning, but by Tuesday, the flower scent made everything worse.  There was no way to mask the odor.  So, maybe our brothers in India have figured out the best away around that.


My point is that regardless of our differences, we all have a stench about us.  It gets worse when we sweat.  It gets unbelievably bad if we do not bathe in a while or if we do not change clothing in a while.  I prayed for an empty row on the airplane after coming home on each trip from India, Thailand, or China.  My row mates might not understand that I had been in several airports or one airplane or another for at least 18-34 hours by that point.  I could not smell it, but I new there was a stench about me.


You see, we are all the same.  We are travelling the road that both Scriptures describe, from birth to death.


The last story is about my wife’s brother, who passed away six years ago.  He was dying of kidney failure.  He was in and out of consciousness by the time my wife arrived in Texas from Pennsylvania.  On one occasion when he became conscious, he said “You stink!”.  He said this over and over to each person, as he pointed to them in the room.  One of my wife’s sisters took offense to the comment.


But my wife, held her brother’s hand and said, “To our brother, we all stink.  When he drifts out of consciousness, he travels to the other side.  Everyone on the other side smells good, better than the finest flower gardens of this world.  Everything there is eternal, but on this side, everything is in the process of dying.  That includes us.  We are rotting.  We can bathe with the best soap and shampoo.  We can wear the finest perfumes.  But our brother can smell each cell of our bodies that has died since our last shower.”


There is no room for hatred and prejudice in this world.  We are all equal in at least one thing.  We stink.


Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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