One summer when I worked at camp, there was something that happened that became one of our favourite laugh-out-loud stories. It involved a sweet little boy whose name was Kenneth. One particular night, his leader noticed that he had gotten sick during his sleep. His sleeping bag, his pillow, and even his face was covered in puke, even though he was sound asleep.
The counsellor woke him up. “Kenneth, sweetie, you have to wake up. You’ve been sick. Let’s get you cleaned up…”
Kenneth was confused, and then aghast. “I didn’t do that!” he declared.
No amount of convincing could persuade him. “Somebody PUT that there!,” he continued, as the leader helped him change his pajamas, cleaned him up, found him some clean blankets. “I didn’t do that!”
(Us camp staff quoted those lines for years to come: “I didn’t do that! Somebody put that there!”)
It’s funny, of course, to think of being covered in vomit and insisting that the vomit could belong to someone else. Who would sneak puke onto someone’s body in the middle of the night? It had obviously come from his own body.
But I get where Kenneth was coming from, I really do. I get it more and more every day. Because, these days, I feel like I want to say: “That’s not my vomit!” ALL. THE. TIME.
I’m a Christian.
I’m an evangelical Christian.
I’m a BAPTIST, for goodness sake!
And, my oh my, sometimes I think I should make a t-shirt that reads: “That’s not my vomit!” And I could wear it and re-wear it and maybe have a little arrow to point it at someone all those times my brother and sister Christians make me feel almost ashamed to say that we are in the same family.
Hateful political policies?
“That’s not my vomit!”
Protests at Pride parades?
“That’s not my vomit!”
Embarrassing posts by Christians on the internet?
“That’s NOT my vomit!”
I feel it close to home,too. Sometimes even in my own little corner of faith there are people with which I would rather not be associated. Even in a church, there are times when people we love are going to act in ways that are gross to us. And we will probably want to say: “Those people? What they did? Yeah – that’s not my vomit.”
But, the more time I spend wanting to declare that the vomit of other Jesus followers has nothing to do with me, the more I know I also need to find a way to respond more like that counsellor did to Kenneth that night:
“Wake up, sweetie, you’ve been sick…we need to get cleaned up.”
When the vomit gets to be a bit overwhelming, I don’t think the solution is to simply disassociate. It would be easier, of course, to just walk away. But I think God has something better for us.
I think we are called as the family of God to come alongside someone when we see they have vomited all over themselves, to shake a shoulder, gently. To say: “Did you know that you’ve been sick? And then to say: “Let me help you clean it up.”
I’m not saying it’s easy. I can’t pretend that I don’t despair. I can’t pretend that there aren’t times that I would rather just say “That’s got nothing to do with me!” and just throw some of my brothers and sisters under the proverbial bus.
That’s when I need to remind myself that being in the body of Christ actually means a lot. It means we belong. It means we matter. It means that we each have roles to play and everyone counts -including all the people that embarrass, or annoy or even hurt us.
And THAT means that, sometimes, we’ll have some barf to clean up. Because whether or not it’s our vomit – it is definitely our body.
This means that in our churches and communities, we don’t give up on people. We have real conversations when people hurt us. We get to know people and try to understand where they’re coming from. We seek healing when it seems easier to walk away.
In the big picture, when we read those internet posts or we hear the stories that anger us, we can still name that things are exactly what they are – barf. Barf that has nothing to do with Jesus.
And we still love. And we still acknowledge that we are part of the same body – vomit and all.
I know that I will still have lots of “That’s not my vomit!” kind of days. My prayer is that on those hardest days, when everything in me wants to bolt, that God would help me to act like that camp counselor. I pray God will give me grace to deal with the vomit, even if it’s messy and gross, because I would remember all the times people had grace for ME – vomit and all.