The goodness of useless things

Sep 14, 2016 by

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It turns out you can eat corn smut. Who knew?

The ancient peoples of Mexico, that’s who. They call it xuitlacoche, and they covet smut as a mushroom-y filling for quesadillas.

I first discovered that you can eat corn smut in a radio program I heard last fall, and I’ve been half-hoping to see it break out in our tiny sweet corn patch ever since.

I got my wish this year. As summer ripened, the corn tasseled and silked. Ears stretched and pebbled under green husks. And then I saw it: the tell-tale bulging of smut, blue-gray vegetable tumors boiling out the end of the ear.

Until this point, corn smut was useless to me, a loss, a swell of nasty bad luck. But this time, I saw something more — not smut, but xuitlacoche. So I tried it. I fried my smut with onions, garlic and cumin. It made a lovely quesadilla. Pretty good for something useless.

What if this is a parable?

If you’re anything like me, you have places in your life that seem lost to God. They’re a waste — the lost time, the missed opportunity, the wandering that turned out to be a dead end. Life’s corn smut. But what if (what if!) in the goodness of God’s mercy, those moments are not all a loss, but by God’s secret fermentation can become something more? Think of your life, with its tragedies and tragicomedies. Think of the missteps and the failures. Think of the success that drifted away like smoke. There are plenty of moments like this in my life. Just about every Sunday, I wonder: Did that sermon do anything, or was it a loss?

Think of Ernest Hemingway’s story, The Old Man and the Sea. Maybe you read it in high school. The fisherman Santiago hooks a giant marlin, and then as he struggles to bring it in and bring it home, his efforts are gouged by exhaustion and sharks. What then? He struggles back to shore, the fish’s skeleton lashed to his skiff. “Now is no time,” says the old man, “to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.”1

There’s a song we sing in church that says, “Nothing is lost to the heart of God…no beginning too late, no ending too soon, but is gathered and known in its goodness.” 2

Nothing is lost to God. In God’s mercy, may he gather up what seems useless, and redeem it into something good.

1 Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (New York: Scribner reissue, 1995), p.70.

2 Colin Gibson, “Nothing is lost on the breath of God,” (Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Company, 1996)

Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. He blogs at The Doxology Project, where this post first appeared.


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