Tuesday, March 26, 2013
How I Sin with a Broken Coffee Maker
It's All Too Much
As Lent draws to a close on Sunday, I will be free again to buy clothes. It was a weird to thing to give up for Lent, but I came to the realization that each week, I would shop at the thrift store and pick up a new pair of shoes or a sweater, a new skirt, or something. Granted, nothing cost more than five or six dollars at the most, but the steady stream of stuff coming into my house had my husband saying things like "I don't even recognize your clothes any more" and "those Potter's House price tags are everywhere!" What was worse is that I often don't try clothes on in the store and end up with stuff I don't actually like that much after all. I buy it thinking "I should try some of those more modern styles" and end up hating the way they look on me. So not only have I brought in more stuff, I don't even really like it or wear it more than once or twice.
I was also stressed out by my vintage stock closet as it was overflowing with items I had purchased months ago and never gotten around to photographing and listing. It was hard to maneuver in there. I broke a lamp because it was stacked too dangerously on other things. Helping my friend Holly with her organizing business project added to my mental nausea for stuff.
And then there was our last experiment at Vintage. The one where we dealt with this:
Yeah for Us!?
My friend Holly and I led the Experimental Collective that was in charge of getting rid of the stuff we all donated during the previous simplicity experiment. We spent our six weeks together sorting the pile of stuff that was donated and educating ourselves about our stuff... why we have so much of it and how it affects us and the community and world in which we live. We learned about good thrift stores and better thrift stores. And we forced ourselves to face the facts about where stuff goes after we donate it. We held a garage sale and stocked a flea market booth which continues to generate funds. We raised more than 600 dollars which we used to fund four Kiva micro-loans (which will likely be re-paid so we can re-circulate those funds) as well as helping two local families in need. Yeah for us, right?
We also have two broken coffee makers that were donated (one of them was mine). If we just throw them in the trash, we are throwing away various kinds of metal and plastics that could be recycled.
But if we just recycle them, many recycling companies actually sell this kind of thing off to companies in China that will pick out the good parts of metal and then burn the rest, creating extreme super-toxins that pollute the air, water and dirt.
So we have to find a recycling company or program that will do it ethically, and that takes time. And even when we do donate those broken coffee makers to them, there will still be environmental problems getting rid of every single part of those broken coffee makers. There is no such thing as 100 percent recycling.
Screw the Environment
Based on what I read on Facebook, many of my Christian friends don't care that much about what happens to these coffee makers. Some are brazen enough to say that because the environment is important to political liberals, they are not only free to ignore the environment, but also gleefully participate in gobbling up resources "just to screw with liberals." They claim that humans couldn't possibly ruin the world because God made it. I used to believe that too. Until I realized that Jesus was crucified at the hands of people. God himself was murdered by human beings. And if we could pull that off, we could also probably do some serious damage to creation as well. Just the other night, I was watching a comic who would offend many with his choice of language, especially when imitating God himself. But the gist of his shtick was, "If you really believe God made the world, why in the world would you be treating it the way you do?" The truth is that Americans have a sick consumption problem that leads to an even sicker sanitation problem. Christians can throw liberals the bird all they want, but landfills aren't getting any smaller or healthier. (And also, great job with the loving people and being citizens of the kingdom. "The world is not my home" but America needs to be as comfortable for me as possible apparently.)
Where it All Goes
The stuff we couldn’t sell at the garage sale and flea market booth...that went to a thrift store. It was a good thrift store which uses it’s profits locally to run job training and mentoring programs. But if they can’t sell the clothes (and only about 30 percent of the clothes Americans donate end up on other Americans), they will be sold to other agencies. Those agencies will take the clothes and bale them into giant bundles that get shipped across to the ocean to countries like those in Africa. The clothes will be sold to merchants there who will sell the clothes to locals who want to wear "American" clothes, which were probably made in China or India. Because the people can now buy cheap American second-hand clothes, their own local seamstresses and tailors cannot afford to sell their own work, and their local economy is being negatively impacted.
You see, even when we try to do the right thing, we still fail. We can never recycle everything we consume. We raised money for the poor from stuff we didn't even want. I was leading the group, driving around for weeks with garbage bags full of clothes I was too ashamed to bring inside the buiding to let the team sort. I buy almost all of my clothes from thrift stores, but I consume thoughtlessly. Yesterday I spent hours of my life by my toilet trying to replace cheap plastic parts with more plastic parts so that I can have cleaner water in my toilet bowl than most people in the world have to drink. Those cheap plastic parts were purposely made to fail eventually so that I will have to buy more cheap plastic parts. I live in the free-est country in the world, but my government will make choices today that will frustrate me and oppress me and fail to operate in my best interest. I adopted one beautiful little girl, but how many little girls in the world today have no home and family? I can't go back to not knowing what I know now. I can never go back to thinking the environment, orphans and justice are not my problem. But I also am only one person. What can I possibly do?
We have been studying the book of Exodus. At Vintage. As a family. I feel like I have internalized this book in a way that is hard to explain. I'm living it. Finding myself in the story...I am both oppressed and oppressor.
God brings the Children of Israel to the foot of Mt. Sinai and reiterates his covenant with them. But the people are afraid of the mountain. It is too big. To rumbly. Too scary. God requires so much. They push Moses ahead and say, "You talk to God for us. If He talks to us, we'll die." God offers them a covenant and they say "thanks, but no thanks."
We do that now too. We push Jen Hatmaker, John Piper, John MacArthur, our pastors to the front...."You wrestle with these issues. Tell us what God says so we don't have to deal with God ourselves. We'll just do what you say." The problems are so big. We don't know what to do about them. So we'll just pretend they don't exist. We reject the New Covenant. What is the New Covenant? It's the Covenant that Jesus offers. The one we reflect on this very week.
It's the deal Jesus makes with us:
"I'll take the fact that you can't even get rid of a broken coffee maker without hurting other people and the world I made, and you take my grace and forgiveness."
Any illusions I have about saving the world have been shattered by the realization that I am part of the problem. And yet, as one who has been offered grace and forgiveness, I have no choice but to try. I bring my little loaves and fish and let Jesus do the multiplying. I participate in small ways and learn bigger ways. As Maya Angelou so sweetly put it, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better."