I recently heard a fantastic episode of NPR’s “This American Life” that revealed the secret lives of parasites – those disgusting little bugs that sneak into our bodies, hide in our darkest corners, and eat away at our insides.
In the podcast, Carl Zimmer, author of “Parasite Rex,” tells a fascinating story about the lancet fluke, a crafty little worm that lives in three separate hosts before it finds its final home. If you’re not squeamish, I think you’ll enjoy the story. Hopefully it’ll also speak to your experience as a LGBT person…
According to Carl, the lancet fluke starts his life as a tiny egg resting peacefully in a pile of sheep poop with a few hundred other lancet fluke eggs. As night falls, a hungry snail slowly passes the poop and decides she’s hungry. The snail isn’t picky. She’ll eat anything. During her midnight snack of sheep poop, the snail not only eats the fragrant, steaming excrement – she also accidentally gobbles up the lancet fluke eggs. Days pass. The eggs hatch. Tiny lancet flukes start squirming around inside the snail. The snail, not happy about hundreds of worms wiggling around inside her gut, gets a bellyache and spits the tiny worms out in a wad of sticky goo. Classy.
An ant marches through a field, following a tasty trail of the snail’s slime. The sticky goo is one of the ant’s favorite treats on a hot day. Imagine the ant’s delight when it finds a tasty wad of snail slime right in the middle of the trail! The ant reasons that the snail must have left it there the night before. The ant is so excited that it doesn’t even notice the tiny lancet fluke babies swimming in its supper. It eats the goo, worms and all.
The ant starts acting strangely. It’s not aware that one of the tiny lancet fluke babies it accidentally ate yesterday has worked their way through his body and is now clamped onto his nervous system.
From this strategic vantage point, the lancet fluke is able to control the ant like a puppet, telling it what to think and feel.
Inside the ant, the lancet fluke knows there are sheep in the field grazing on the tall grass nearby. He also knows that he’s never going to get back inside one of those sheep if his host stays buried deep inside an ant hill. And so, the lancet flute tells the ant it wants to climb. Obeying the lancet fluke’s every command, the ant leaves its nest and climbs to the top of a tall blade of grass.
Sitting on top of the tall grass, the ant can see a herd of woolly sheep grazing in the distance. One of the sheep wanders closer. Before the ant can retreat, the sheep lowers its head, eats the grass, and chews the ant into small, mushy bits.
The lancet fluke survives both the chewing and the swallowing. Finally free of the snail and the ant, the lancet fluke swims happily in the sheep’s stomach, ready to lay her eggs and restart the cycle.
The lancet fluke lives in a pile of poop so he can endure the snail so he can find an ant who will eventually help him get back into a sheep. He lives a complicated life.
Can you relate?
As LGBT people who believe (or are trying to believe) in God, many of us spend some time in the belly of the snail. We go thorough so many stages – so many changes – during our journey. It’s not easy to move from the snail to the sheep – to move from fear and doubt to self-acceptance and celebration.
We seek God. We separate from God. We question God. We thank God. We rebel against God. We doubt God. We fear God. We hate God. We cry out to God. We worship God.
We live many different (and complicated) lives. Our identity, ideas, and beliefs are constantly changing… growing to accommodate our experience… stretching according to our stage in life.
What I believed about my sexuality when I was a zealous Christian teenager was vastly different than what I believe now that I’ve gained a few years of faith. What I once feared, I now embrace. The snail has given way to the ant.
The upheaval I experienced when I “came out” cleared away some of my less-grounded and unexamined ideas about God. The demolition was painful, but it also cleared space for more mature beliefs. The ant is leading me to the sheep.
It’s comforting to know that this lancet fluke journey of ours is leading somewhere; that every stage – no matter how frustrating, frightening, or confusing – is simply a stop on the twisted way back home.
Like the lancet fluke making his way through a complicated life cycle, it almost seems as if Christ is orchestrating something… Bringing us back… Reuniting us with God… Moving us through the progressive system of salvation.
Through Christ God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.
He’s reconciling everything to himself.
He’s making peace with everything in heaven and on earth.
This whole journey – even the crappy parts – is moving us toward redemption.
Kind’a makes the snail and the ant easier to endure, doesn’t it?