Camel Swallowing 101

Image credit: National Geographic

by Drew Dyck

Swallowing a camel is tricky work – almost, some would say, impossible. For starters, camels are hotheaded. An aspiring Swallower faces the Herculean task of wrestling the obstreperous creature into submission. And camels are clever. One hint of your intention to consume and a camel takes to thrashing, making the swallowing step excruciating. Even after subduing the camel, you still face the highest hurdle: the sheer size of the beast. You can probably imagine stretching your mouth wide enough to accommodate a tail, or perhaps even a hoof. But the head and haunches (not to mention those massive humps) present a formidable challenge. Some literature suggests the animal be dismembered, citing the paltry capacity of the human mouth and esophagus. The subsequent instruction, however, allows for no such concession. We will not acquiesce to constraints of anatomy. We mean to swallow camels; not camel parts. No, despite the impediments, after this short lesson you will be able to ingest the entire creature.

The inherent difficulty of the job demands an interdisciplinary approach. My most startling breakthroughs came when I employed techniques perfected in other fields. For instance, I discovered helpful analogies in the practices of many Christians. Now, we all know that without prudent editing, the commands of Christ can be quite unsettling. They call for bizarre action: treating the beer-soaked bum on the corner like the Son of God, caring for total strangers, loving enemies, abandoning violence. Such commands are clearly outlandish. Unfortunately they are also clearly in the Bible. Like swallowing a camel, remaining a Christian while ignoring these central aspects of the faith is no easy task. It involves tremendous discipline and ingenuity. And yet it is accomplished on a wide scale, with relative ease. When I stumbled upon this phenomenon I knew I had the answer. By carefully extrapolating their methodology I met with unmitigated success in the practice of camel consumption. Soon I had swallowed my first desert dweller, humps and all.

The primary tactic is distraction. Here I must confess my deep indebtedness to Christian friends. For most churchgoers, focusing on the lofty mandates found in the gospels only leads to cognitive dissonance and bowel irritation. In an effort to avoid these problems, one Christian I know hides virulent racism behind a perfect tithing record. Another scrupulously avoids alcohol while nursing a grudge against her neighbor. Still another uses flawless church attendance to exempt his antipathy for the poor.

You can learn much from their example. As you attempt to swallow your first camel, avert your eyes from the beast. Busy yourself with a useless, but tedious task – something that demands your full attention. Remember the examples mentioned above and do likewise – simply focus on something easier to stomach and whoosh, the camel will slip right down your throat! The distraction technique has a paradoxical beauty: the smaller and less significant your preoccupation, the larger the camel and the more effortlessly you can swallow it. As I like to remind my students: Aim small to swallow big. Strain out the gnat and the camel will go down like candy.

However, the distraction method will only take you so far. You must still do your stretching exercises. Because forcing a full-grown camel down your throat is nearly a physiological impossibility, increased flexibility is of the utmost importance. Again we turn to the Christian example. Theological flexibility is crucial for a Christian walk that dispenses with the teachings of Christ. It calls for a very supple hermeneutic. I remember the unbridled awe I felt hearing one preacher justify decadent living in the name of Jesus a homeless, marginalized Jew. "You'll be rich," he promised his parishioners, "because Jesus was rich." Wow, I thought, as my credulity stretched and snapped. That takes flexibility. He had transformed the servant Messiah into a ruthless, esurient billionaire. Don't laugh. That's no easy task, especially in a world where one-third of the population goes to bed hungry. The preacher knew the value of rigorous stretching. He had also conquered the gag reflex. For such an expert, a 900-pound camel is a mere dinner mint.

Well, now you know the technique, but the application is up to you. I hope you're getting hungry. Shut your eyes. Open your mouth. Then tackle your camel with confidence. Just remember the procedure outlined above. If you execute just right, you may never even realize what you've done.

Drew Dyck is a freelance writer currently pursuing his Masters degree in theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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