Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
July 27, 2008


Manure stinks but it is valuable to those who know how to use it


          A friend of mine is having a tough time at work. Some of his colleagues are giving him a hard time, treating him quite unfairly. The longer we talked, the more I got to thinking about manure. That’s what my friend is struggling with – the manure of life that some people use to get their way.

          I remembered writing a piece about manure eight years ago. I want to share those ideas as I have revised them. It took me forever to figure out how to write about manure so there is no need to think of another way to approach the subject. Actually I hoped I would never have to write about manure again, but it may help my friend – and anyone else who is trying to avoid stepping in the stuff right now.  

Using life’s manure effectively is a fine art. For example it can be used to grow beautiful roses. And there are multiple other wonderful uses for manure.

In Haiti I was stunned by the brilliant way manure was used in a mission station.  Chickens, hogs, and two milk cows were housed on the top of a small hill.  Slightly down hill from the animals was a healthy garden. An ingenious plan allowed the manure of the animals to be washed downhill to fertilize the vegetables.
          Growing up on a farm I learned the great value of manure. Though the stuff stinks, it smells like money to those whose livelihood depends upon the crops they are growing.

The wise use of cow or chicken manure can provide vegetables for the table all year. For that reason I shoveled tons of the smelly stuff which my parents used to grow hearty vegetables, fruit trees and flowers. Money was scarce during the depression years but there was always food on the farmer's table, and manure was the reason why.

Farm workers sometimes wear rubber boots. That’s because they often step in manure while working with animals. To be honest, stepping in manure is a rather disgusting experience, especially when it is fresh manure. And if it happens to be hog manure, your boots will never smell good again. Nothing stinks as bad as hog manure.

My mother could smell me before she could see me. Before I got to the back door she was shouting "Take those nasty boots off before you come in the house!" Even with your boots outside, the odor can remain attached to your clothes, prompting even those who love you to remark, "You smell like a pig pen!”

My grandfather, Seth Johnson, taught me a valuable lesson about manure. He likened stepping in fresh cow manure to "cutting your foot." More than once, while walking in the cow pasture with him and my father, he would warn me with the wry remark, "Don't cut your foot, Walter Junior."

Little did I realize that his warning would become an important principle for life – To survive everybody must learn how to handle manure. It shows up everywhere, having many clever ways of manifesting itself. One favorite disguise is criticism.

None of us lives long without having to deal with the complaints of others. Like weeds the faultfinders are everywhere. Do something, anything, and some obnoxious child of God will sound off. Do nothing and somebody will bellyache about that. The solution, then, is to decide what you think is best, and do it, come hell or high water.

While we may all learn from criticism, the trick is to make it work for us. For example we can learn to let rebukes serve us much like manure makes our gardens flourish. Dad taught me to use manure wisely. Too much manure will "burn" the plants. And putting it directly on the tender shoots of the plants is harmful. It is the root system which needs just the right amount of manure.

There are two basic types of people: the evaluators and the affirmers. Some people are always evaluating us, ready to offer us their opinions of our actions. They are the people who are experts in the clever use of putdown, sarcasm and repartee; they enjoy making others seem stupid and inferior.

Thankfully there are others who delight in affirming us with encouragement and approval. They are the beautiful people who cheer us on, who lift us up rather than put us down. They help us believe in ourselves.

In treating condemnation like manure, we can let judgmental words keep us sober without "burning" us. Rejection can help us examine our perspectives; we may see the need for a mid-course correction. But we can refuse to join our critics by being hard on ourselves. Nothing is gained by heaping rejection upon ourselves for in so doing we become the creator of our own misery.

We can allow our critics to remind us to give thanks for our affirming friends. This is an excellent way to use the manure of complaints to help us grow a healthier attitude.

Criticism, like manure, abounds in our world. The trick is not to step in it and allow it to "cut" your spirit. Roses use it; we can too.  When we see it, we should recognize it for what it is. Then, instead of complaining, we can find a use for it. Manure may stink but it is valuable when used wisely. + + +