I don’t suppose there is any household where someone likes taking out the trash. I know I don’t, and sometimes I put it off because, well, I don’t want to deal with it. It’s stinky and gross.
The truth is, we live in a world in decay, and trash is one thing we cannot escape dealing with. We may get away with avoiding it for a while, but eventually, it needs to be dealt with. And usually, when it piles up–whether it is physical, emotional, or spiritual trash–it ends up much uglier and messier to deal with.
This article discussed the plastic debris humanity throws away. The statistics are staggering. For example, over 414 million plastic pieces washed ashore Cocos Islands, “Australia’s last unspoilt paradise.” Many of them were single-use items like straws, sandals, water bottles, lids, and the list can go on. Things we use every day, either ignorant or indifferent to the effects on others and on our planet. Why must places of tranquility become the garbage cans of humanity?
An article linked in this article included an estimate of the amount of rubbish that entered the ocean while I browsed. Apparently, some 100,000 kg of plastic are dumped in the oceans every few minutes. This trash not only causes visual pollution but endangers the ecosystems and threatens the lives of creatures over which we’ve been called to exercise good stewardship. Through the food chain, it may also end up having adverse effects on human health.
Lately, I have often grieved our selfish convenience. Do we need several new plastic bags every time we shop? Do we need a bag for every produce item we buy every single week? Must we use straws for our drinks? I have also been frustrated at the lack of alternatives. Sure, I can take unbagged avocadoes to the cashier, but two unbagged pounds of tomatoes would rightly raise some eyebrows. Yet I can’t help thinking we can do much better. What is keeping us from finding wiser alternatives and choosing to implement them? Why do we act like we own the future when we don’t even own tomorrow?
Musing over these things, I am inclined to ask four hard questions. I am asking you as much as I am asking myself:
- hat kind of trash do you produce? This may sound like a weird question because we usually don’t realize that some of the trash we make depends on our choices. We tend to think it just happens, because, well, life just sort of happens. But we have the power of decision over what trash we produce, and some of–maybe much of it–is not necessary.
- Deriving from this, what is the trash you produce that is not necessary? This can be anything from food leftovers (avoidable with better planning), to packaging you can do without, to household management, to thoughts, words, and actions. Are they good, or are they bad? Do they produce good fruit, appealing and nourishing, or rotten fruit, stinky and infectious?
- How do you dispose of the trash you create and how often do you deal with it? Do you dispose of it properly, or do you just dump it on others? Do you avoid it and let it pile up in your life until it stinks so much it keeps others at a distance? Somewhat ironically, our own trash can make us unpleasant even to ourselves, and much misery comes from self-loathing.
- Is it possible that we could actually generate nourishment instead of trash? Just survey your words and attitudes over the last few days. You will probably find some circumstances in which you could have reacted better; maybe showing gratitude instead of entitlement, appreciation instead of critique, or love instead of indifference; maybe uplifting someone instead of diminishing, encouraging instead of dispiriting, or respecting instead of denigrating; maybe controlling your tempter instead of letting it reign over you.
Our actions affect people thousands of miles away (we literally send our trash across the globe) and years into the future. They have a definite and unavoidable effect in space and time. In the large scheme of things, it may not seem like our small decisions can make a difference. But if even one bird won’t die choked in plastic, you’ve made a difference. And if just one coworker is more cheerful today because you’ve shown appreciation, you’ve made a difference. Things are big or small depending on the perspective, but one thing is sure: they all have consequences.
Calling Out Abuse
It seems incredible that a doctor was able to sexually abuse more than 177 men during his work at a university. I don’t mean incredible as in “how can a human being do this?”, though I grieve such sin-powered ability. I mean incredible as in, “how could this happen in such a public place and for so long?” This is precisely what the article conveying the story highlights.
“College officials knew about the actions for years and did not act to stop them.” Actions like groping students, asking them to strip, and inquiring about their sexual practice, all under some medical pretext. While eventually removed from his job, the abusing professor retained tenure and opened a clinic off campus where he continued the malpractice. Apparently, no report of his behavior was filed for seventeen years, despite complaints from students and despite the fact that some of the personnel was aware of the issue. On the contrary, he kept receiving “excellent” on these performance evaluations.
Throwing stones is not something God condones, I know. And because we all have our sins, we may be tempted to close our eyes to those of others. I cannot elaborate on this here; but suffice to say that mutual lack of accountability is a sure recipe for compound damage, personal and collective, and for heading to hell holding hands. It does no one any good to avoid the messy work of calling each other to accountability. But several things can prevent us from doing so. While I have no intention or qualification of providing an exhaustible list of impediments and the ways to overcome them, the few I will share below are things I have found valuable to understand. I hope you will find them helpful, too.
- I may not have the right attitude and approach. Indeed, accountability is a high calling that requires wisdom and tact. But not possessing these is no reason to give up, it is reason for more prayer and personal development. See the story of Solomon.
- What if I am wrong? Abusers often try to hide and masquerade their work, so things may not be very clear. Wouldn’t I embarrass myself by speaking out if it turns out I was wrong? Here is an alternative approach: recognize the lack of certainty but find someone trustworthy with whom to share your suspicions. Educate yourself more with valid resources and inquire among specialists not only about the “signs and symptoms,” but also about how to approach things.
- It is culturally appropriate here. When a situation of abuse is so common that it becomes culturally acceptable, it sets the normalcy standard. Unfortunately, cases that should call for police involvement and church discipline become things we laugh at, make jokes about, and ignore as culturally appropriate. But treating abuse as triviality may be the single most dangerous forms of enabling. You can choose to play no part in such enabling by illustrating a biblically appropriate behavior, refusing to indulge in reproachful laughter, and educate others as appropriate. Whether through silence or speech, you can help change the course of society and bring it more in tune with God’s principles.
- If those in authority aren’t doing anything, who am I to speak out? It is very discouraging to report abuse and see that those in authority do not take it seriously. Much is at stake for an institution when abuse festers within, and leaders are not always capable of dealing with it properly. Such was the case at this university, where
many former students … believed that Dr. Strauss’s actions were an ‘open secret’ on campus, but felt that coaches and other team doctors did not seem inclined to stop it. … [and where] several coaches and players … reported Dr. Strauss’s actions over the years to various athletic department officials, but those complaints never seem[ed] to gain traction at the university or progress to higher authorities who might have acted.
Should we then remain silent and capitulate in the face of evil? Not if our consciences can differentiate between right from wrong and if our fear of authority does not paralyze our care for the vulnerable. No easy task, I know. A holy calling nonetheless. See the story of Jesus.
- It is risky to speak out. Okay, this is a tough one. We do expose ourselves to risks when we speak out, whether the abuse is directed at us or at someone else. Our reputation, relationships, and even our job may be at stake. Our security, financial and otherwise, is probably a main factor in deciding how we deal with abusive situations of which we become aware. But we can ask ourselves a few questions: How would you like someone else to react if you were abused and no one stood up for you? Is it worth fighting even if you don’t win? Will the present security cover later regret? Obviously, wisdom and caution are necessary, and no needless harm should ever be done. But, unfortunately, often times our choices are not between good and evil, but between a greater and lesser evil. Fear is one of the most potent enemies of good, yet I cannot help but wonder what changes we’d see in our world if we acted more out of love and less out of fear.