Our Austral-merican family has made a fishing village home among dear Basque friends. Just last year this seaside town was reported by the New York Times as a top place to visit. We improved on the suggestion and settled here.
Today, like every day, I walked hand-in-hand with our sweet-songed toddler bobbing to school, passing vineyards, modern-historic architecture, yet something distracted me from what I normally love to gaze at—the horizonless sea.
Hidden to tourists’ and reporters’ eyes is a trash-strewn path—wrappers of all descriptions, articles of clothing, copious amounts of construction debris and even a pipe spilling human poo from the workmen’s cubicle.
And the most disturbing part of all this waste is that it’s there. And no one seems to care.
It flies through town during storms, scatters along the beaches, and is finally engulfed by the trash- imbibing sea, part of a bigger worldwide problem that ends up choking sea birds, intoxicating fish, and suffocating seafood that splutters and almost beseeches us from the dinner plate to just stick to eating, enjoying and not trashing the world.
The problem with trash and poo is that if you don’t clean it up, it gets into you. From land to sea it will always somehow become part of me.
My wife and I paved the blunderous path of trying to explain this problem by planning for twenty university students from the U.S. to do a bit of tidying along the path. All was well until my dear wife mentioned, offhandedly, about the project at the town hall. Her idea landed her in a personal meeting with the higher ups, who were taken aback and graciously explained that it felt a bit unseemly for outsiders to do that which the townspeople should do.
As foreigners, trash talking is not our place.
And I have to say, our own trash-spilling countries are also far from green. I grew up near a beach with huge sand hills, used as Saharan deserts in films. The glass industry mined them and now the beaches are disappearing and people complain. In my country-in-law, I’ve envisioned skiing down the growing slope of the local landfill that serves an area the size of France.
It baffles me how in diverse once-pioneering landscapes people pay to recycle in American suburbs.
Words can be like trash.
Words can heap up and block the view of reality just like that Hoosier landfill blocks the sunset. As followers of Jesus, trash talking about our world is equally not our place. Like my compulsion to pick up trash, I also catch myself expounding on the negative, magnifying the unholy, glorifying the faults, and not focusing on the good. I find myself lifting up the poo, in you, in me and in what I see.
I’m finding there’s another way, each day is an opportunity to apologize, seek forgiveness and reconciliation in this culture in which I live and enjoy daily. Really, if I am going to go trash picking, I have to pick up my own trash first. Refreshing people with words rather than reinforcing stereotypes like a broken pipe spewing stuff nobody loves.
Recently I had a conversation with a new friend and fellow Jesus-lover, and one word stuck out that represents this whole trash talking idea for me. This man works with one of the most well-known Christian ministries in the USA, and he was telling me about the “crusade” he was going on to share about Jesus. When I questioned whether there wasn’t a better word to describe what he was doing, he didn’t seem to understand my concern. If you’re in the same boat as him, click here to try searching “crusade” in Google images. Even better, ask someone outside of church circles what the word “crusade” conjures up? Watch their face, listen, and don’t try to correct their “misunderstanding”. Words matter. Word matters.
So I’m off on my only personal “cru…”, whoa I almost used that word again, to rid the earth of, well… just my trash. . Along the way I’ll surely mess up, yet I vow to pick up, apologize for my hurtful words, undo the misrepresentative labels, throwing off everything that hinders the view of the beautiful Jesus scenery—my thoughts that judge, my words that condemn, my actions that cement misleading perceptions
That stuff is rubbish.
That stuff takes the focus off Jesus.