by Josie Smith.
Some of my favourite television programmes are the archaeology ones, where people dig trenches in ordinary-looking places and find evidence of a whole community, a whole way of life, maybe a whole lost civilisation in which people (who were just as real then as we are now) lived lives a lot shorter and harder than ours, and unwittingly left bits of themselves behind as evidence.
People like Professor Alice Roberts, or earlier the equally entertaining characters on The Time Team, get all excited about tiny shards of crockery, wisps of fabric, twisted bits of metal or the remains of a child’s shoe, and point to the ghosts of post holes where buildings once stood. Sometimes they literally strike gold.
One of my cousins, a farmer, moved into a new (to him) farm many years ago as a newlywed. He was intrigued by a raised bank at the bottom of the garden, obviously neglected for years, and wanted to level the ground so began to clear it. He found among the weeds and rubble a sizeable collection of unbroken, ancient glass bottles, some with those built-in glass stoppers, many of which were now ‘collectors’ pieces’ and actually worth money – and could be dated to a time long before the local council started collecting such things in a refuse wagon. Generations of previous occupants had simply put them out of their way.
We are learning the art of recycling now. (Some of us who can remember W.W.2 never lost the habit. There were constant reminders to Make Do and Mend.) There are recycling sites at which lines of cars queue to deposit unwanted ‘stuff’, and television programmes dedicated to ‘up-cycling’ in which something old is cleaned up, given a coat of paint or new fabric or whatever, and put to use again sometimes in an unexpected form. We are advised about going through the wardrobe and selling e.g. unwanted party gear worn once, and charity shops proliferate on every high street where you can find a ‘pre-loved’ bargain.
Not just inanimate objects, either – I had a rescue cat once, the runt of a litter, unwanted by anyone even its mother, which became the subject of a story and was published in a book about cats. He continues to inspire long after his final visit to the vet. And there are many children, the despair of teachers because they seem incapable of learning to read or do sums in the conventional way, who become beautiful, kind, gentle, thoughtful grown-ups.
What has all this to do with Theology?
I was once asked to lead morning worship at a residential weekend where almost all the other participants were entitled to wear clerical collars. What on earth could I possibly bring to a gathering so versed in Scripture and so practised in prayer? I went to bed hoping for the answer to be revealed to me as I slept. It often is when there’s a problem. But no, nothing spoke to me. No revelation from on high. And then as I drew back the curtains in my room in the morning, I saw, two floors down, the edge of the garden. It had a number of bays separated by wire fences, each one containing garden rubbish at varying stages of becoming compost, good garden earth in which food would grow rich and tasty and nourishing. That’s it, I thought. That’s my thought for this morning. Whatever we threw on yesterday’s rubbish heap is silently, unnoticed, becoming nourishment for another day and other people. The sun shines on it and the rain falls on it, and time makes it new again. We behave as though we think it’s our idea, but it was God who invented recycling.
Think now of people who were once the rubbish of society. Hardened criminals, drug users and pushers, thieves, caring nothing for the welfare of others. Some of them, against all odds, are now new people. From prison cell to pulpit is not an unknown progression!
This Monday morning spot on the web (or wherever it is) is called Theology Everywhere, and I find God in rubbish because I know what can happen to it with time, rain, sunshine and a skilled gardener. I think that is Theology, and it is certainly to be found Everywhere if one has eyes to see.
One of my favourite mental pictures is of a little broken and apparently dead twig, found on the pavement, broken off a flowering tree in my garden by a passing youth with nothing better to do. I was sorry for it, brought it into the house, put it in a specimen vase in water, and left it to see what would happen. Some time later it put forth tiny leaves, then later still burst into the most beautiful vivid flower. I almost expected it to sing! I was intrigued some year later to see in somebody’s downstairs loo a print of a very similar ‘rescue twig’ painted by David Hockney, but there had been no collusion!
Creation is happening eternally, and God who invented recycling is at the heart of it.
Thanks be to God.
One thought on “Rubbish”
Interesting idea to think of God as recycling us. What came to my mind is what we mean by redemption. Is it as you say – “Hardened criminals, drug users and pushers, thieves, caring nothing for the welfare of others. Some of them, against all odds, are now new people” or is it that case that the love and forgiveness of God is unconditional, so we are loved and forgiven whether we repent or not? The phrase that “Jesus consorted with sinners” suggests the latter, in which case redemption is not required! On the one hand I want to avoid the criminals and sociopaths who come over as downright evil and lock them up, but to “love my neighbour as I love myself” means I should love and forgive them! It is a big ask! I tend towards this anarchic, unconditional love of God, but really I have no agenda here, I am just confused! Any ideas?