Monday, June 29, 2015

The Stink of Rotting Flesh

Queues seem to be the order of the day today. According to the news this morning the queue for tickets to Wimbledon began sometime on Friday.  I will admit to a prickle of envy – not so much for the queues, or even the tennis as Andy plays tomorrow, but for the weather.  The weather people talk about heatwaves and tropical temperatures but the north of Scotland is swathed in cloud.

The BBC interviewed one of the Brit girlies.  She plays her first round against a previous Wimbledon champion.  She talked about the honour of playing on the centre court and crossing racquets with a champion.  I would have taken an outside court and an obscure nobody and a chance to make it to the next round any day.  Is that a streak of yellow down the centre of my back?

Another queue much closer to home is outside the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh where one of the world's largest and smelliest flowers has blossomed for the first time in Scotland.  The visitors have been promised the “stink of rotting flesh, mixed with fish, and perhaps a hint of sweaty feet”.  It has taken the staff 12 years of careful nurturing to reach the point where the Amorphophallus Titanum has a flower.   It takes a long time for the plant to store enough energy to bloom and to sustain its bloom for just a day or two.  Does that make it the holy grail of the horticulturalist’s world?

I assumed the smell came from dead insects that fell into the flower and, unable to crawl out, decomposed.  The plant is not a carnivore.  One can fall into it safe in the knowledge that one can climb out.  The plant’s smell is nature’s way of attracting insect attention to make sure the plant is pollinated.  Carrion beetles and sweat bees crawl around, lay eggs and pollinate the plant – and the 12 year wait for the flower begins again.

One cannot help but wonder whether a nicer smell might attract a nicer class of insects who would do the job just as well.  Maybe with just a day or two to attract the pollinator, and the competition from other plants who hang around all summer, it makes sense to go for carrion beetles and sweat flies.

What happens in the world of nature is often a picture or a shadow of what happens in the world of people.  Something blooms in one part of the world that attracts the human equivalents of the carrion beetles and the sweat bees.

In a TV discussion, the religious programme on a Sunday morning, they were talking about Islam and whether people are ignorant about understanding the way a Muslim thinks. I didn’t need to watch it for long before ignorance was revealed.  There was some debate about whether the Qur’an supported violence against women or honour killings in Muslim communities.  It seems to me that anything can be supported. It’s a matter of an extreme interpretation of a line here or there.  A woman stated that Jihad was one of the five pillars of Islam – duties that Muslims must observe.  It isn’t and the mistake was quickly corrected.  Someone else on the programme insisted that he didn’t need to know about Islam.  The old chestnut, unchallenged as ever, about religion being the source of all the trouble in the world was tossed about.

I was thinking about the smelly flower, the carrion beetles and the sweat bees.  Is that not a perfect picture of the Islamic State in Syria and other parts of the Muslim world and the kind of people that flock to join them?  Even in my near ignorant state of all things Islam – what they are doing is wrong.  It is a stinking flower if ever there was one!  There appears to be nothing admirable about what they stand for or what they do. It is not the kind of Islam that most Muslims demonstrate.  Just as Amorphophallus Titanum took a long time to store up the energy to push out a flower – it seems that the Islamic State has stored up years of resentments and petty grievances, and some not so petty ones, to push out their own brand of violence.  It’s not the butterflies and the honey bees that head out there to pollinate something fragrant and wholesome.  No, it’s the men and woman, dragging their children with them, attracted to the “stink of rotting flesh”, who cross the borders.  I suppose they don’t smell it as rotting flesh but something nobler and something other than the Western culture of stepping on people to reach the top of the corporate ladder.

If only there was just the one smelly Islamic State flower out there.  Christians have nurtured their own smelly flowers throughout history, and not the long-dead variety of history. For me, perhaps, it is not the smell that offends – but, more often the absence of smell. 

“To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (1 Cor 2:16 NLT)

How much of a presence, or absence, of a strong fragrance of life is there in our individual lives or our churches? We should be living our lives in vibrant colours and patterns.  We should be concerned not about drawing people to ourselves, but rather to Christ in us.

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