For more than a decade, your dad has teased me about my compulsive behavior related to rinsing out Ziploc bags. I turn them inside out, rinse them, and then prop them at random places around the sink to let them dry—the faucet, on top of used water bottles, that sort of thing.
I know that single-use plastic is a Big Deal Thing for a lot of people. In fact, I know a some who really believe that their refusal to use single-use plastic will somehow singlehandedly change the world.
I do not believe this.
But I do think it matters.
Maybe it goes without saying that it matters to the environment in some small way, but my rinsing out of the plastic bags in my life time—even if I use a thousand or ten thousand—will not change the number of plastic bags produced in America. If everyone stopped using them? Okay, maybe, but that motivation is not the best reason to do a good deed—doing it on the idea that if everyone else did it too it would then make a difference.
Honestly, I think you’d get really discouraged pretty fast if that’s what you hooked your conviction on. I don’t recommend it.
So, what I mean is, I think the reason washing out my Ziploc bags matters is bigger than that, and yet also smaller than that.
It matters because it changes us and the way we place ourselves in the world and, what’s more, how we relate to the world.
It matters precisely because it is an inconvenient thing to do.
This idea of inconvenience is way bigger than whether I rewash Ziploc bags or you use plastic straws.
(You don’t, by the way. Our children’s minister gave all of you metal straws last year when you did an environmental justice unit at church.)
Just to get the full scope of where I’m coming from, let me just outline our myriad family habits that have developed over the years related to the environment. (There are quite a few.) We don’t use paper napkins or paper towels and instead have piles of cloth napkins and lots of rags to sop up spills. We recycle what we can—plastic, metal, and corrugated cardboard–locally, which isn’t curbside, for the record, and requires a lot of basement storage and driving to the recycling center. Every few months we remember to drive our accumulated glass to the next city over in order to recycle it. We save newspaper and small yogurt cups for painting projects. You have a large box in the homeschool room where we save the items you want for “trash art”: plastic and metal lids, small trinkets, old ribbon, twisty-ties, you name it. We compost. We rarely have a full trash can on trash day. We accept hand-me-downs. We give hand-me-downs.
What I mean is, we try to live simply and do our part.
But even though we do all of these things, and have been doing all of these things for some time, and these practices are woven into the fabric of who we are as a family living in our community, it’s not like I actually want to do these things much of the time.
It’s not like they’re the easy thing to choose at any given moment. Even for me. Let’s be real.
Of course I would prefer not to have overflowing cardboard and plastic bags and three trash cans full of glass recyclables and a constantly half-full bin of “to donate” stuff in our basement and laundry room.
Of course I would prefer not to walk stinky compost out to the bin when my flipflops are going to get covered in dewy grass clippings.
Of course I would prefer to throw away, buy new, pay someone else to do XYZ. The list goes on and on and on.
Of course I would prefer to do the easy thing. Because I am a human being.
Because the easy thing is easy.
But the easy thing is about me, and you know what I see when I read the Gospel? That the Kingdom of God isn’t about me.
Are you thinking that was a great big leap of logic? Let me back up a minute.
Am I really saying that composting is about the Kingdom of God? I think I could probably argue for this on many levels, because I have actually written a handful of poems about the sacramental process that is composting, but what I’m trying to draw out here is both more than that miraculous mystery—and less than the mystery. (So many things are both more and less when we are talking about the Kingdom.)
But my connection today is simple: composting is a small and concrete task that makes me think not of myself but of others and the world that God created and called good.
Is rinsing out my plastic bags about the Kingdom of God? Or using your old cloth diapers as rags to wipe up the kitchen floor? Or any of the other annoying, less-than-convenient things we do? Are they really about the Kingdom? Yes! They are all small and concrete tasks that can remind me of my own preference for an easier option and also the privilege I have to make the choice to do something easier or harder. So many others don’t have that choice, girls. And that’s another part of this.
I could go on and on. Trust me, on some days, I do.
But this idea of choosing the inconvenient thing? It’s important.
Life would pretty much always be easier to not do the inconvenient thing. The hard thing. The awkward thing. Always, girls.
I’ve been feeling this with so many topics lately.
It would be easier to go-with-the-flow and not say “that isn’t true” when others I’m around say things that aren’t true.
It would be easier to just give up on the American church that often preaches prosperity and security more often than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.
It would be easier not to be consistent with social distancing and mask-wearing, easier to let life go back to “normal.”
It would be easier not to wrestle with my own internalized racism and not work through challenging books. It would be easier not to try to talk with you about racial privilege and what it would be like to be nonwhite in this world.
But the Kingdom of God is not the easy option.
And that, well, that’s all I can manage to say about that for today.
It will have to be enough.