Random Thoughts on the Church, Poop, and [bad manners].

November 13, 2007    By: Matt W. @ 10:37 am   Category: Life

This past Sunday, I gave a talk on service. (In which I embarrassed my wife, as usual.) Then I took our 7 month old to the bathroom to do the dirty work of changing her diaper. (before anyone gets impressed that I am such a good dad and husband, I’m not. I’m the guy who starts to gag and almost pukes when I smell poopy diapers. I do them when necessary, and take the wet ones strategically so as to be able to hand the baby off on poopy ones. In short, I’m a wimpy jerk) The diaper changing table is in the only stall in the men’s room at our church.

The smell caught my attention. The toilet was over flowing. It looked like someone had thrown a large plastic bag (or possible a t-shirt, it was hard to tell from the material) in the toilet and then, judging by the look of the toilet, 5 or 6 people had gone to the bathroom and used the toilet to disastrous results.

My first, entirely stupid, response was my desire to call maintenance and tell them to come clean it up. It was stupid because this is the church, there is no maintenance. My second thought was to leave it, but that’s what everybody else had done, hence the disastrous results. This is my church, after all. My third response was to remember my baptism, and how, as I came out of the font, and went into the adjacent bathroom, the first thing I noticed, after I had put my glasses on, was that I was standing in somebody’s poopy diaper, wet and barefoot. In fact, it looked like said poopy diaper had been used to mop the floor.

The end result was the same, Last Sunday, I went and grabbed a plunger and a trash bag and used the trash bag as a large glove to pull the crappy bag/shirt out of the toilet. On the day of my baptism, after the well wishers left, I went into the bathroom and scrubbed the floor.

I could wrap this up with some sort of impressive and clichéd “poop happens, and look at my good example of how I chipped in and dealt with it” but that would also be a load of poop. Remember, I’m the guy who avoids poop diapers.

Here’s the question. Why does poop happen?

I’m not talking about theodicy.

I mean, who throws a big piece of plastic/t-shirt in the toilet? Who sees a toilet full of crap and then uses it anyway? Who takes a diaper off their kid and just drops it on the ground? Judging by how much poop was all over the ground, who later steps on that diaper and tracks the poop around the church on the bottom of their shoes?

I know and understand that the church is not for perfect people, but maybe more church’s need signs on the stall doors like that one I was laughing about Saturday from the Ghana MTC.

I also know and understand that the missionaries perpetually meet people with [bad manners] and bring in people from that culture to try to assimalate them into “Mormon culture”. But how do you do that? How do you crack [bad manners people have developed all their lives]?

Maybe I’m just expressing frustration at how far we are from where we need to be (how far I am from where I need to be.)


  1. I’m not sure which to be more aghast at:
    (a) the fact that someone left this refuse in the toilet, and one or more others subsequently used the toilet on top of it; or
    (b) the fact that you seem to automatically, and without the slightest hesitation, attribute this incident to the so-called “culture of poverty.” In other words, you figure some “poor” person must have done it.

    I’m not sure who’s actions are worse, but they’re both pretty…well…”poopy.”

    Comment by Nick Literski — November 13, 2007 @ 11:26 am

  2. Nick-
    1. The culture of poverty doesn’t have much to do with financial fortune, in my opinion. You make a good point and perhaps I should seek out a different term to use. I didn’t invent the term, anyway. JNS and Melissa Mason have discussed it much at BCC. Further, I am making a judgment that those in the culture of poverty are “not as good as” those in the more typical working class culture, and this is also up for debate. It seems to me the culture of poverty lends itself more to thoughtlessness, ignorance, and self-victimization. Others have expressed other opinions.
    2. You also have a point that perhaps it is wrong of me to think someone who does these things is somehow exhibiting “poor” character, even though it could just as easily be attributed to ignorance. That may also be an unfair judgment.

    All in all it was just a frustrating situation.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  3. I have been fortunate to avoid this poop in the wards I have lived in. But let us not forget this is not just a Mormon issue. From my experience I am much more likely to see this type of thing in restrooms other than the ones at the church. I have lived in wards where the restrooms were always pretty much spotless. Perhaps I have simply been lucky that way.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — November 13, 2007 @ 12:37 pm

  4. Eric:
    I guess the reason it seems so poignant to me in the LDS setting is that in a typical public restroom, someone is being paid to clean up messes like that. Like I said, my first reaction was to call our non-existant maintenance staff to clean it up before I realized I was the maintenance staff. So in a way, it was more like an anonymous stranger came into my house and pooped on the floor. It just baffles me.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  5. Yuck yuck yuck and yuck.

    I do have to agree with Nick, though. If anything, I would wonder if it’s more likely that some people thought they were too good to do something about the problem. I am not convinced this has anything to do with the culture of poverty.

    It’s also possible that there were innocent, unsuspecting children adding to the mess without really understanding what was going on with the toilet.

    Regardless, I am not sure I would have had the wherewithal to do what you did.

    Comment by m&m — November 13, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

  6. m&m: I had considered both those things. But I have to admit that I am disappointed in the innocent unsuspecting children in any case, becasue there had to have been 4 or 5 of them, or they have the biggest colons I’ve ever seen.

    I also have to admit, attributing the problem to the culture of poverty seemed easier to me than attributing it to plain old evil pride. (I’m too good for this) Somehow, blaming it on culturally determined behavior feels less angry to me.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 1:06 pm

  7. This sort of thing (which interestingly happened at the MTC while I was there) are typically the result of young men with an odd and undeveloped sense of humor.

    Comment by Clark — November 13, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  8. BTW – are you sure about the lack of a dedicated maintenance person? I’m pretty sure someone is at least called to be on top of these issues. If nothing else mentioning it to the Bishop would probably result in the Priests or Teachers being delegated to do cleaning duty.

    Comment by Clark — November 13, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

  9. Clark, I am not sure it was a prank in either case. If I thought it was, I’d actually feel a lot better about it.

    Anyway, to Nick and m&m, maybe it isn’t the culture of poverty, but the culture of being a spoiled kid?

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  10. Yeah, Matt, I saw that right after reading this. It could be pride, or just laziness. No matter the cause, it’s not pleasant, and it’s not right.

    And your big colon comment made me chuckle.

    And, for the record, I teach my kids not to go in a toilet that is clogged, and not to clog one. I have certain pet peeves, and overflowing toilets is one of them. I believe children can be trained to not contribute to problems like this. Ahem. (It’s also part of the reason I’m not a fan of 2-year-olds being trained (even 3-year-olds), but that’s another topic altogether….)

    Comment by m&m — November 13, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  11. I am ok with 2 year olds being potty trained, but I don’t even let my 4 year old go to a public bathroom by herself. It’s too scary a world for that…

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 2:20 pm

  12. If the mess was really due to utter indifference and not-my-problemism, I see an excellent argument for capital punishment.

    I don’t really know why serial killers are the way they are and I would argue that killing lots of people makes a good prima facie case for some sort of mental difficiency. I am a bit uncomfortable handing down capital punishment to someone on account of their mental difficiency.

    However, indifference and laziness are things I understand very well, so I feel more comfortable passing judgment in those matters. I have no use for someone who would use a clogged toilet and then go on their way.

    Comment by Jacob J — November 13, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  13. Jacob J:
    You sound like my mother! I think I was more disappointed and disheartened than angry or ready to kill. To be honest, my Catholic mom recently came to church with me and talked about how she likes a lot of things about the church, but it bothers her that people come to church and do their nails and brush their hair and act tacky in other ways during church. The poop fiasco, to me, was just a magnification of that general tackiness…

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

  14. I have the dubious pleasure of spending my days with diplomats– some of the most privileged people on earth in more ways than one. These are people to whom the normal rules don’t apply: people who smoke in the bathroom when non-smoking signs are clearly posted, leaving ash and cigarette butts on the ground; people who don’t clean their skid marks off the shelf in the toilet (those who have served in Europe will know what I’m talking about) with the provided brush; people who generally make a mess wherever they go ’cause some Filipino lady will clean up after them.

    The problem isn’t (just) white-trash, trailer-dwelling, good-for-nothing, chain-smoking, busted-pickup-driving po’ folk messing up the place. Well-off, higly-educated professionals with an unhealthy sense of entitlement can be just as bad as any bum you ever met in the projects.

    Comment by Peter LLC — November 13, 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  15. unhealthy sense of entitlement

    Well said, perhaps this post should have been Church, Poop, and the Culture of the “unhealthy sense of entitlement”. That is a lot closer to what I was trying to say.

    Comment by Matt W. — November 13, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  16. Peter, that was the word I had in one draft of my comment. I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Comment by m&m — November 13, 2007 @ 3:17 pm

  17. hmmm – why are these stories always about men’s restrooms? :-)

    Comment by notaman — November 13, 2007 @ 11:11 pm

  18. Speaking of church bathrooms, has anyone else noticed that LDS church bathrooms have a distinct smell, especially in older buildings. It’s kind of a musty, old smell. It’s not a horrible smell, it’s just odd. It doesn’t matter if the building is in Oklahoma or Utah, the same smell is always there. I always hold my breath when I go into church bathrooms because it bothers me so much.

    Comment by Brett — November 14, 2007 @ 12:55 am

  19. Maybe we should rearrange the phrase to “poverty of culture?” Whether rich or poor financially, or even young and old, these kind of people are impoverished in the culture of the common decency towards our fellowbeings. Some of the haven’t been led to better and some have been misled that _they_ are better. “Let every man esteem his brother as himself…” goes along way to cracking both the culture of poverty and the poverty of culture.

    Comment by mondo cool — November 14, 2007 @ 7:07 am

  20. Are you sure this is a “poverty of culture” or an “entitlement” thing, and not just a male/female thing?

    You know how Boy Scouts are trained to leave a campsite better than they found it? I think women are trained to leave a restroom better than they find it. Almost every time I enter a public restroom I wipe spilled water from the counter, paper towel some hairs from the basin, etc. I can’t imagine any woman leaving a mess such as you have described. Although not all would be as valiant as you and clean it themselves, they certainly would track someone down who could help.

    Comment by BiV — November 14, 2007 @ 7:19 am

  21. …and now I have responded to a “poop post,” something I vowed I would never do.

    Comment by BiV — November 14, 2007 @ 7:22 am

  22. BiV:
    I am sure.

    I will, however, also agree that not enough of “female” culture is observed by not enough males.

    Comment by mondo cool — November 14, 2007 @ 8:08 am

  23. I would guess this is more of an entitlement issue (not dis-similar from the gender one; someone may be used to the woman of the house cleaning up) than a poverty one, but it bothers me that many people maintain the idea that poor=dirty. Surely you know of clean, fastidiously so, poor people?

    Ever read Nickel & Dimed? I liked the realization she came to when she was working at Wal-Mart. People made her section really messy and she was inclined to feel judgemental about it when she realized that the people who were being careless in her section were doing so in Wal-Mart because this was the ONE place in their lives they were the customer, the person who was right, the place where someone else would come along and clean up the mess. At home and at work, these people were the cleaners, but at Wal-Mart, they could be the queens. This realization made her feel like she was providing a service to the women and changed her attitude toward them.

    Anyway, I have no idea if this is the case, but I think it is conceivable that someone might feel that outside of their home/work, they could be served rather than serve. [I agree, it should not apply at Church, but…]

    Comment by a spectator — November 14, 2007 @ 8:21 am

  24. If you’re in the USA there is maintenance to call.

    Comment by a random John — November 14, 2007 @ 8:26 am

  25. Here in our Lagos, Nigeria ward, I am relieved to say that I’ve been here a year and haven’t yet been forced to use the church bathrooms. When I arrived, other American expatriates warned me against them. There’s often not running water to flush and I guess they get pretty nasty. Not many people bother to take a bucket out to fill with water in the courtyard and bring it in to flush. One Sunday our Nigerian Relief Society president gave a very direct and pointed announcement that our toilets in the church were “not of good report” and we are women of the church who have learned good hygiene and we need to do better. I don’t know if they gave the same harsh talk to the priesthood, however.

    Comment by CAW — November 14, 2007 @ 1:08 pm

  26. [Post edited for clarity. I used a term incorrectly.]

    Comment by Matt W. — November 14, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  27. Incontinence! Incontinence, I say!

    Comment by David T. — November 16, 2007 @ 10:45 pm

  28. In an odd twist of fate, there was a toilet backed up in the women’s restroom this week, so the restroom was cleared and I was sent in to plunge.

    To contrast with last weeks experience, all I needed to do was jiggle the handle and give it a good solid second flush and we were good.

    In other news, the women’s restroom is better lit, has whiter walls, and smells better than the men’s room. (Not to mention the two large recliners it has in the adjacent mothers room)

    Comment by Matt W. — November 19, 2007 @ 7:14 am

  29. Noble Matt W!

    Comment by mondo cool — November 19, 2007 @ 7:53 am