Another Look David Faust
First the pet peeve: littering. Why does anyone find it acceptable to toss bottles and fast-food wrappers on the ground? According to a survey conducted for Keep America Beautiful, it costs an estimated $11 billion per year to clean up litter along our nation’s highways. Litter tarnishes city parks and country roads. Trash piles are health hazards where rats and other pests reside. Litter pollutes water, decreases property values, harms wildlife, and contributes to traffic accidents when debris falls from moving vehicles. Plain and simple, litter is ugly, impolite, degrading, and unnecessary.
So much for my pet peeve. Here’s my pleasant memory. A wise, godly gentleman named Orrin Root worked for Standard Publishing for what seemed like most of the twentieth century. He wrote a Bible commentary column for the lookout every week for 54 consecutive years. Before Mr. Root’s death at the age of 98, he lived at Mount Healthy Christian Home, which adjoined Standard’s property. It was common to see Mr. Root walking the grounds carrying a bag and stooping down to pick up trash. Ridding the neighborhood of litter was his way of getting exercise, he explained—and a small way to make the world a better place.
Lately I’ve been thinking about an insidious behavior we might nickname “spiritual littering.” Its instigators are spiritual litterbugs who make messes in the church and expect others to clean them up. Their bad attitudes pollute the atmosphere. They trash reputations by tossing out mean-spirited accusations and scandalous bits of gossip. They tarnish the bride of Christ instead of making her more beautiful. Spiritual litterbugs consume, but don’t contribute. Instead of being salt and light to make their neighborhoods brighter and better, they blend in with the darkness and add to the spiritual smog.
Thank the Lord for those wonderful Christians who, like Orrin Root, make it their task to clean things up even when others made the mess. They don’t litter, they glitter—bringing a bit of brightness to every situation. They don’t need a “program” for reaching the community; they simply keep their eyes open to their neighbors’ needs, and in the process find endless opportunities to serve. There’s always someone in the hospital who would appreciate a visit; a single mom who needs a hand with her kids; an unemployed dad who could use some part-time work; a senior adult who welcomes some company; a dedicated school teacher who would welcome assistance from a volunteer; a public safety worker who hardly ever hears anyone say “thanks.”
Caring Christians model social action at its best. When someone needs hospitality, their home is open. When someone needs to be heard, their ears are open. When someone needs prayer, they are on their knees. When the community hurts, they are part of the healing.
Litter has a long-lasting negative effect, whether it’s the material kind or the spiritual kind. It takes a tin can 80 to 100 years to disappear from the environment, and sins like gossip and divisiveness impact families and churches from generation to generation.
But there’s something more powerful than litter, and that’s love. Love reaches out. Love cleans things up. And even when it’s simply an old man picking up trash morning after morning, love makes the world a better place.