There are lots of student houses where I live and on my walk to work. That means at the moment there’s a lot of mess, partly from stuff that’s been ignorantly dumped by departing students and partly by ripped bin bags they’ve left spreading their contents. It’s really annoying and has got me thinking about what litter shows us about ourselves.
Litter is something we do
Litter is the result of a choice to be lazy and selfish. It’s a very practical example of what Christians call sin. Sin is not a popular word but at its simplest definition it means to fall short, something we all do.
Last Friday, as I weaved my way home after a leaving do I stopped for a local delicacy of chips and kebab meat. Some of it promptly slid off my tray onto the pavement. I tutted and strolled on embarrassed. I didn’t scoop it up and find a bin. We all fall short, the world isn’t all we’d want it to be because we aren’t all we want to be. As Jesus put it – stop pointing at the speck in your brother’s eye and deal with the plank in your own.
Litter is stuff we’ve made
Most litter is packaging – fag packets, drinks cans, etc. We are made with the ability to make things, which is great; the issue is what we make and what we do with what we make – we can use things for good or for ill. Mankind has achieved great things – in many ways we have conquered the world with concrete, cars and computers. The challenge is how we use all that energy and creativity we possess. The human narrative is supposed to be one of progress but it depends how you measure it. Student litter like the student graffiti I remember in the Student Union toilets shows that education is not a panacea. Plenty of educated people have done some pretty awful things. It seems we still have a lot to learn about how to use our energies well.
Litter seems impossible – sometimes it’s not
It’s not uncommon when doing a litter pick up for a passer-by to announce that things will look just as bad tomorrow. I always love that.
Every three months my church spends an hour picking up litter – it’s not a huge commitment but it makes a difference and it shows we’re bothered. The thing is it’s amazing what you can do in an hour. I don’t want my community to look a mess so I have a choice whether to stand by and tut or whether to do something about it.
Litter seems impossible – sometimes it is
You can’t get some litter up. Some is welded to the soil. Some disintegrates when you get to it with your litter picker. Frustratingly some litter just ends up being a part of the landscape. It reminds me of the small particles of plastic damaging marine life. Sometimes our efforts aren’t enough. There is a parallel with the things in my life that I can’t fix, erase or expunge. Except when life feels like this I know a God who reaches down to me and cleans me up.
Ultimately litter needs to be picked up
Surely, it’s the council’s job! The thing is I work for the council, so I have to point out that:
- The council didn’t put it there
- The council is skint
The council will do some of it but it won’t be able to fix the problem.
So, every three months we get our bags and rubber gloves and get stuck in. We could, of course, spend the hour waiting for someone to drop the litter and then jump out and shout at them. We could march around telling people how bad it is to drop litter and bemoaning how awful things are. We could but it wouldn’t achieve much. Better to pick it up.
The wider parable is that as a Church we need to be positively involved with our communities, not wagging fingers but showing love and another way do things. Our church like many others does this through things like a food bank, support for families and care for the elderly.
Our response to sin should be as constructive as our response to litter – not to judge or condemn but to offer practical signs of the life that Jesus offers. More than anything we should try and build a positive community with a simple offer at its heart – that the God who made us all can make things work better.