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Waste, salvation & egg shells

Waste, salvation and egg shells

Jonathan Cornford

Manna Matters September 2019

A Red-Browed Finch.


We have six bins in our kitchen. Seven, if you count the container for used egg shells. Three of those bins are to separate our food waste: most of our food waste goes to our blessed worm farm, that mystical system that simultaneously produces the most sublime compost and filters our kitchen water, turning it into worm wee for the garden. The choicest morsels of food waste go to the stupid chooks (I’m a bit dark on them at the moment, for reasons I will not explain here, but with which any chook-owner would sympathise), except that which goes to the dog (via the dog-food-quality-control-officer – my youngest daughter). The bits of food waste that neither worms nor chooks eat, and which dog-food-quality-control-officers reject, goes into its own compost pile for hard-core biodegradables (do not touch the glass, do not approach the glass …). Then we have a recycling bin for the standard council recycling items and also a soft plastics bin which gets taken once every couple of months to the Red Bin at our local supermarket. Finally, we have a landfill bin, which, on average, sends one or two shopping bags worth of waste to the wheelie bin each week.

Let’s face it, if we weren’t motivated by love, this system of waste sorting would be a complete pain in the arse. If we felt that this is what we have to do because that is what is required of just and ethical Christians, then it would be oppressive. If we did it to mark ourselves as ethical and sustainable consumers (ie. the righteous elect) then we would be insufferable. If we did it to try to please God, then we would be spiritually dead.

But that is not how we experience our six bins (seven, if you count the egg shells). In actual fact, it’s a joy. When we sort our waste we participate in our salvation.

Ok, now you are feeling a bit worried I have said something heretical.

Not at all. The Apostle Paul tells us that in Christ, God is reconciling the whole world (kosmos in the Greek – ie. 'all things on earth or in heaven', Col 1:20) back to himself. In Romans 8, Paul tells us that the suffering earth is waiting for our redemption - humanity and the earth are redeemed together. In effect, the saving work of Christ restores us to the communion of love between God, human and creation that we see in Genesis 2 and which is fulfilled in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation. We are saved from our alienation from God, each other and the earth and we are saved to the great communion of love. Salvation is, by definition, the restoration of sundered relationship.

When we sort our waste, we are acting out of care for a creation that we have come to love deeply. We do not do it to fulfil some abstract criteria of sustainability, but we act in relation to an earth that is suffering because of human carelessness. Our six bins (seven, if you count the egg shells) are an act of relationship. This is what we have been saved by Christ into and it is good news.

This is objectively true, but it is also made true for us because we have made a discipline of paying attention to the earth and its creatures. As I write, a flock of red-browed finches has flown into our back yard. Their presence here is an indicator of the health of the bush adjoining our property, which has regenerated magnificently since the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009. I walk in this bushland every day, often bird-watching as I go. I have only learnt about the 50-odd native bird species that inhabit our local Box-Ironbark ecosystems since we moved here four years ago and it has been a pure joy (and I mean that literally). But on every walk in the bush I also see, everywhere, the damage of plastics pollution. Written into the fabric of this bushland is both pain and joy and our lives are bound up with its pain and joy. We have placed ourselves in its presence and encounter the reality it faces.


Dumping in the bush is a big problem around Bendigo.


It is only people alienated from the earth or from society, or both, who can dump their crap in the bush in such a fashion. Damaged people damage creation. Damaged creation damages people. There is a direct correlation between the family breakdown and family dysfunction that is endemic in our suburb and the ecological degradation of our bushland. (Let me hasten to add, this is not a judgement on these people per se, although none are exempted responsibility for their own actions, but a judgement on a society and economy that so alienates people.)

Once you have been drawn into God’s love of all creation, once you have eyes to see its hurt, then sorting waste in the kitchen is not a pain in the arse, but seeing plastics in the creek is a pain in the heart.

Love means the entry into grief and pain. That is God’s reality and it becomes our reality when we enter God’s. That is why the second Beatitude, directly following the promise of 'the Kingdom of Heaven' which comes with the first, is 'Blessed are those who mourn …'. To be drawn into God’s love for the world is to be drawn into an ocean of grief. This is one of the Golgothas to which we must go with Christ. But it is only via Golgotha that the stone will be rolled away.

And just as we cannot really love people in abstract, but only those real people who enter our lives, we cannot love creation in abstract. We must love real places, which means seeing both the beauty and feeling the brokenness of those places. It is only as we learn to love particular places, warts and all - which must include knowing and understanding those places - that the many practices of creation care can become acts of love rather than burdensome sacrifices.


Puppy with a sore paw.


Our family dog (still just a puppy) has recently cut its paw badly and needs to be confined in the laundry so it can’t run about on it. The dog-food-quality-control-officer, who can have some nasty moments of Pharisaical legalism, has taken it on herself to sit long hours in the laundry with the puppy to keep it company. This is not an act of ethical obligation, it is an act of love - an act of entering into pain which, in turn, transforms pain into tail-wagging.

Christ has come into the laundry of our self-inflicted pain and got our tails wagging again, and it is the Spirit of Christ working in us that sends us into the laundry of the world with acts of care and care-fullness. And so our kitchen with its six bins (seven, if you count the egg shells) becomes the laundry of the world and it is all one great, beautiful mystery.

(Actually, most of it makes good sense; the real mystery is why we separate the egg shells. I have to ask about that one day …)