Trashed

Inspired by 1 Corinthians 2: 1-12
There is an overarching theme in 1 Corinthians leading us to reimagine discipleship as a lifestyle that is compassionately connected and intentionally countercultural. To imagine, as Paul suggests, living in this world while behaving as though we are not of this world. 

Let’s begin with the basics:
When Paul cleans out a room of theological clutter, he likes to throw everything into two bins.

In this organizational episode of “Picking Up With Paul,” people are either in the saved bin or they are perishing bin.

The ‘people’ bin Paul puts us in appears to be directly related to the bin from which we have found our wisdom. (Generally speaking, I would say Paul defines wisdom as the way in which we know what is going on, know what matters, and live in accordance with this knowledge).

Now, in Paul’s system of organizing wisdom, there are again two bins of wisdom, just like there are two bins of people. The first bin of wisdom is holy but remains secret and hidden. The second bin of wisdom is public and promoted by structures of power. The first bin of wisdom leads to an earthbound process of salvation. The second bin of wisdom is ingested like lead water, existing as flavorless, resulting in perishing.

“Pick me for the first bin, Paul! Pick me! Pick me!”

Besides raising anxiety levels, there is a purpose to Paul’s organizational methods. In clearly labeling, sorting and packing up these two ways of living in the world, Paul is urging us to identify and surrender to the wisdom of the Spirit discerned through the participation in community.

Paul is not picking on us in his organizational system. Moreover, Paul is picking us, just as Christ has chosen us, to reject the false reality of our separateness and to instead rely fully on the Spirit to alter one’s patterns of behavior for the good of the community.

Placed into the context of our 21st century lives, Paul’s message invites us to become curious about what it would look like to center our concept of discipleship on our biblical responsibility to care for creation. To alter our individual patterns of consumption for the benefit of the whole of creation.

This centering of discipleship on the care of creation holds the potential to highlight the bins we, ourselves, are pulling from for our own sources of wisdom. One bin exposing the nature of our inescapable interconnectedness. The other bin glossing over the impact of our everyday behaviors on the world around us.

The bin from which we source our wisdom, individually and collectively, communicates the health of our spiritual lives and reveals a pattern of saving or a picture of perishing.

Now, contrary to Paul’s preference for organizing things into one bin or another, I prefer to skip the organizing and just throw stuff away.

I really love throwing things away. I am very good at throwing things away. I throw things away every day, all day long. I throw things away that are broken, and I throw things away that are no longer useful. I throw things away that no longer fit, and I throw things away that are taking up too much space. I throw things away because I don’t need them or want them or know what to do with them.

And, I would argue that there is no better way to identify an addiction than the absence of an activity.

Case in point, I realized my deep and abiding love for throwing things away after a week of trying to not throw anything away.

At first, it didn’t seem too overwhelming; plastic containers from strawberries, plastic cups from Greek yogurt, plastic bags from cereal boxes, plastic bottles from shampoo and laundry detergent and dishwashing soap.

I cleaned them all out, stacked them all up and thought about what they could be used for now.

This place, the space of resurrecting old things for a new purpose, was where my brain stalled out. I sat there on the side of the road of creativity for a long time trying to repurpose or recycle or resurrect the things I had collected until, eventually, the height of my pile was surpassed by the length of my to-do list and I gave in and started throwing batches of this sacred stuff away.

It might sound unusual to refer to trash as sacred. It’s just trash, after all. 

But trash I created came as a gift from creation; fossil fuels, water, other stuff people smarter than me know about. All of this is stuff used to create other stuff for another purpose. 

It upsets me that I throw so much stuff away because the wisdom I subscribe to reminds me of the reality that the marketers would prefer we ignore; there is no such thing as throwing stuff away.

All of our stuff comes from somewhere and all of our stuff goes somewhere. Waste, poured into bins and set out onto the curbs, is exactly what we have learned to so apathetically call it. It is a waste.  

Throwing things away, I would argue, has become the single most ritualized activity of a linear economy… and I completely understand why! It’s totally addictive!

“My name is Stephanie Price and I am addicted to throwing stuff away.”

In the traditional linear economy, we submit to a ‘take, make, dispose’ model of production. Waste is both a necessary and a rewarding act. For me, it feels just as good to get rid of stuff as it does when the stuff was bought in the first place. I send my stuff to the curb, the recycling center, the thrift shop. I love a clean, organized house, clutter-free and convenient without any mess of my own leftovers.

The problem in this model is that I am pulling from the wrong bin of wisdom. I am pulling from the bin that not only says I need more, but creates a false narrative suggesting there will always be more for me to have.

The same internal conflict that inspired me to hoard trash resulted in a spiritual rejection to a wisdom that had taught me that stuff can be thrown away.

Caring for creation relies on a wisdom that is both secret and hidden in a linear economy. It requires a spiritual awakening to the gifts bestowed on us by God and a reconciliation of God’s system present in creation with our own system of relating to the gifts of creations. It suggests a commitment to the wisdom of a circular economy and a compassionate connection to a culture loyal to the rituals of a linear economy. 

This interweaving of intellectual knowledge and spiritual transformation is difficult to sustain, but it is the only direction that remains walkable if we are to experience the communal salvation that Paul envisions for all of us.

We may very well be past the possibility of a planet returning to the state it once was before humans meandered down a highway constructed from the wisdom of personal convenience. But this reality does not release us from responsibility and there is still much to hope for beyond a prescribed outcome or a salvation that serves our self-interests. 

Wisdom speaks, “Now, we must do what is right. We must do what is right even if it is for no other reason than because now we are aware that what we were doing was wrong.” 


Let us Pray

God of Creation,
In community, may right action rise as a collective relearning of God’s wisdom of God manifest in our everyday behaviors.
In community, may right action result in a cooperative recommitment to upcycle knowledge into a starting place from which we expand our definitions of discipleship.
In community, may right action evolve from a corporate willingness to acknowledge that now we do know better. And still, may we walk further toward that which remains unknown. Amen.