Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Eat More Dirt

Dear Friends,

I was a pretty dirty kid and, if you are a member of my generation, you probably were too. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles and our first house had a large dirt back yard that was my personal playground. There was also a huge vacant lot on our street that was our baseball field in summer..the great frontier where we played “cowboys and indians”..and when it was half-filled with rain, it became our swamp where we built rafts, chased frogs and caught polliwogs. When I was nine, we moved to West Hollywood where we again had a large backyard. During the hot, lazy days of summer when school was out, I’d lie out in the dirt under the lemon tree just to smell the scent of the lemons in the sun. I’d dig a large hole until I was tired of digging it. I’d fill it back in and go to another part of the yard and dig another large hole. My dad teased me and called me his “gopher” and my mom kept the washing machine busy in a futile effort to keep me clean. 

Too many kids today live in “asphalt jungles” where the only dirt on their concrete play area is the black dust from our car’s asbestos-containing brake pads. It is clear that today’s children are facing an unprecedented physical and mental health crisis in our Nation. The increase of autism alone in America’s children is very disturbing. Surveys in the 60's showed the presence of autism was in one out of 2,500 children. In 2014, it was one out of every 42 boys and one out of every 189 girls. Something has changed. We are raising a generation of obese children who have arthritic conditions in their hands from playing video games that used to be seen only in senior citizens. Many kids now struggle with diabetes and heart disease which was almost unheard of in children until the past decade. Reports show that children were much healthier back in the 50's. I wonder if that’s because we spent our days outdoors playing in the God-created dirt.

Dr Kevin Bonham is a medical scientist in the microbiology and immunology department at Harvard Medical School. He says, “While there is no doubt that sanitation and hygiene are critical in reducing the spread of infectious disease, it’s possible that we’ve gone too far in trying to live a sterile life.” In an article published in Scientific American, Dr Bonham explains that microbes living in dirt are actually healthy for us to ingest and he advocates buying organically-grown vegetables and then just rinsing them with tap water before cooking them. We thoroughly scrub our vegetables squeaky clean and even buy special sanitizing produce sprays to kill all organic matter on our veggies and yet medical science has determined that these soil-based organisms clinging to our carrots and potatoes support gut health, reduce inflammation and increase immune response. Scientists have even discovered that these soil microbes have an effect on the brain similar to the antidepressant medication Prozac, but without the side effects! There is also increased evidence that soil microbes affect our cognitive well-being and they may even ward off dementia. Perhaps our new health mantra should be: “Eat More Dirt !”

We may not want to drink a mud smoothie or bake a batch of dirt cookies, but it’s never too late in life for us to go outside and get a little dirty. We improve our overall health when we do what God created us to do – go outdoors and plant and grow things. I have a friend who has a backyard filled with greenhouses and she is never happier than when she’s working in the potting sheds as a volunteer at the Huntington Library Gardens. She is in her seventies and is happier, healthier and more active than many who are decades younger than she. Is that because nearly every day she plays in the dirt? Gardeners inhale the organic microbes from dirt, ingest it through their mouth and get it into their bloodstream if they have a cut on their hands.

Your body is about 65% water and if it was completely dried out, what would be left is mostly six elements that are abundant in the natural environment that is God’s Creation. According to both medical science and the Word of God, you are essentially “water and dirt.” Our God is the potter and we are His “clay.” Isaiah 64:8 He first created a world of waters and the “firmament (dirt) in the midst of the waters.” Genesis 1:6 And then God sent some rain and went to play in the dirt. He took up a handful of moist soil and breathed life into this handful of dirt and it became man. Genesis 2:6-7 Then, “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” Genesis 2:8 God created man out of a handful of dirt to live in a garden but the closest most of us get to a vegetable garden today is when we go to the grocery store and buy that plastic bag of spinach greens that’s been triple-washed and sanitized with a chlorine rinse for our protection.

Sunday, April 22, is Earth Day. Environmentalists this year are focused on banning detachable water bottle caps and criminalizing the use of plastic drinking straws in California. This week in our schools, older children will be lectured on the dangers of these plastic straws while young children will be using their crayons to color trees and plants before being sent outside to play on an asphalt playground. After church on Earth Day Sunday, I say go ahead and let those kids and grandkids sip their smoothie through a straw and then send them outside with a shovel to go and play in the dirt. And let’s you and I also go outside and plant some seeds by using our hands to dig into God’s Earth. Go ahead. Get dirty. It’ll be good for what ails you. AMEN?

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