Morning prayers – 19 November 2012

Ecumenical Centre - Geneva

World Toilet Day 2012


Guillermo Kerber

Yesterday while we were having dinner at home,  when I told my family I had to preach at the service today and that the topic would be « toilets » they started laughing. Toilets are part of our everyday life but it seems they are quite far away from our faith, our celebrations, and our worships. We tend to consider that spirituality has nothing to do with something so “profane”.

However, the Bible does speak about toilets. It is, for instance, mentioned in the story of Eglon and Ehud in Chapter 3 of the book of Judges. The king Eglon, while he was “sitting alone in his cool roof chamber”  (Judges 3, 20) – a nice way to talk about toilets – receives Ehud, who would use this opportunity to be along with the king to kill him. Interestingly, monarchs used to receive visitors while sitting in toilets. Not only in the Bible, but until the Middle Ages. It was a way to express their power, their authority, and I believe, to make visitors feel uncomfortable.

Furthermore, Deuteronomy as a matter of personal hygiene, explicitly requests: “You are to have a place outside the camp to serve as a latrine. You must have a spade among your other equipment and when you relieve yourself outside you must dig a hole with the spade and then turn and cover your excrement” (Deut 23, 12-13).

I think we shouldn't be ashamed of talking about toilets. Of course, it might seem something strange for us living in Geneva, who can even choose the long or short flush of water, but not for billions of people around the world who do not have access to sanitation.

The first reading of the Bible today (Deut 10, 16-19)  reveals us a God who cares, who loves, who does justice to the poor, in the well known triad the orphan, the widow, the stranger. Poor today are also especially those who don't have access to sanitation, 2.5 billion people in the world, one in three people do not have access to a toilet ! As you may imagine these are the poorest. Access to sanitation is a matter of rights, of dignity and justice.

The advocacy work of the EWN has focussed for years on Water AND Sanitation. In fact, the UN Assembly recognized the Human Right to Water and Sanitation in July 2010. And the Human Rights Council appointed a Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation to make these available, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination.

For us, Christians, it has been quite easy to talk about water. The second reading of the Bible, from the Book of Revelation (Rev 22, 1-5) is just one, among many,  which stresses the relationship between water and life.

This has been also the case for politicians. Many would easily talk about the relevance of water and you will see many pictures of them when new water pipelines or wells are being inaugurated.

But there are not so many pictures of politicians inaugurating sanitation facilities,  toilets, drains and sewers.

We cannot consider access to water without sanitation. As an African governmental official at a meeting of the EWN stated: « Clean water without sanitation is poison ». Many even consider that access to sanitation is more significant than access to water as lack or bad sanitation dramatically  increases child mortality, spreads diseases and significantly jeopardize health in a community.

This is why we have a World Toilet Day. This is why we can also reflect about it at a Monday morning service. As Christians, if we really believe in God's Incarnation in the man Jesus and the Resurrection (of the flesh) then nothing has been left out of redemption.

Let’s pray and act together for water and sanitation on this World Toilet Day.