Rankin File

Ruminations, fulminations, and cogitations on the spiritual life

My Dirt Doesn’t Bother Me

In my haste to get out of the office shortly before Christmas, I left a quarter-full coffee cup sitting on my desk. A week later when I went to the office to climb back in the work saddle, there was the cup with a thick slab of dried coffee in the bottom. Off to the bathroom I went to clean things up.

It was amazing how many rinses it took to get all the sludge out of that cup. And that’s when I thought, “You know, if I were in someone else’s office watching this process, I’d be a little grossed out.” Then came the next thought, “My dirt doesn’t bother me nearly as much as someone else’s dirt.”

Last Friday, Joni and I met halfway between our work places to pick up a part for a home bathroom project. We decided to make it a date and go for dinner. Now, you need to know that I’m culinarily challenged. I eat what’s put in front of me. I like pretty much everything I eat. I’m not very picky or discriminating. And I promptly forget what we just had after we eat. I’m a happy, but quite dull, don’t-notice-much eater. Sadly (for my wife), I’m married to something of a gourmet cook, who loves to try new things and who really, truly gets the chemistry of cooking.

OK, back to the date. Joni suggested that we go to a new Japanese Steakhouse that she had spotted not far from the national chain home repair/building/supply store we had just frequented. So off we went. The restaurant was brand new, so new, in fact, that they didn’t have their liquor license (ergo, no saki after dinner). We sat, as people do in Japanese steakhouses, with total strangers, at a big cooking station with seats surrounding it.

That’s when we started noticing – the place wasn’t very clean. The cook station was slightly dirty from the previous meal: little bits of rice back up under the edge of the grill, a stray pea, a sticky spot on the floor under my feet. Our cook was good. He was funny. (He was also Mexican, not Japanese. I love this country.) But somehow, the food just didn’t taste quite right. We didn’t relish the meal like we would have had we gone to the other place where we’ve been before. As we left Joni said, in that philosophical tone, “Well, I’m glad we tried it, but the next time we want Japanese, I probably won’t recommend we come here.”

My nasty coffee cup didn’t bother me at all. A less than perfectly clean restaurant made my gullett a little jittery.

I don’t really mind my dirt. Now yours…? Hence, my problem. I’m so thankful Jesus isn’t squeamish like I am.


January 7, 2008 - Posted by | Christian Spirituality


  1. Nice parallel. There’s that in-between zone of “cleaned dirt,” silverware or cookware still a little cruddy after being run through the dishwasher. I’d rather not eat my cereal from it, but it’s fine for cooking spaghetti. I think the Church is all about making one’s peace with “cleaned dirt” — your own and that of others. The worst is when the spoons seem cleaner at the non-believer’s house.

    Comment by istorik | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  2. Ah, yes, good point. We have that griddle with the bottom that never comes clean which we regularly use.

    “Cleaned dirt” – you have me thinking on that one.

    Comment by Steve Rankin | January 8, 2008 | Reply

  3. steve, i know it wasn’t necessarily your intention, but that was truly a funny post! you tell stories like i like to tell stories (and how i like to hear them!). oh but how often i have realized that my own dirt is far more satisfactory to me than anyone else’s. it makes me think of the saying that we judge others most harshly on what we despise most in ourselves.

    and, it also made me remember an idea from dostoyevsky: Ivan Karamazov complains, despite his alleged “love of humanity,” that it is impossible to love one’s neighbors, for they have “smelly, ugly faces.” that wasn’t my thought … it’s a quote from a syllabus for a class i’m taking this spring semester called ‘the face of the other’.

    Comment by kyledawn | January 16, 2008 | Reply

  4. Well, maybe I was trying to be a little funny…

    “Smelly, ugly faces…” About a week ago I attended one of our college’s basketball games. A group of about 5 elementary-aged girls came in and sat down next to me. Well, they didn’t really sit down. You know how kids get up and down and switch places. It was constant motion. I’ve seen some of these girls before. I’m pretty sure most of them come from very poor, difficult home situations. My point here – they smelled.

    One of my favorite (and most daunting) scriptures is when Jesus touches the leper (Mt. 8, Lu. 5). Jesus the God-man overcame the natural repulsion for skin eruptions, not to mention his love for the Law (since, in touching the leper, he made himself unclean), because of his deep compassion. Man…

    Comment by Steve Rankin | January 16, 2008 | Reply

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