Home Sweet Home: Greed Destroys

Over the past two years, we have found empty 24 oz cans of Icehouse beer on our street. Kate and I pick these cans up and recycle them. They keep appearing. I’ve taken to calling this drinking and driving litterer The Icehouse Bandit.

There are some questions I have asked: Why are these cans here? Who is throwing these out? Who is this person? How old are they? What is causing them to drink and drive and then announce it through litter? Why only in the Forest Meadows area?

Does the Icehouse Bandit not see the beauty around them? The Canada Goose opens her brown wings slowly. The neighbor’s black dog carries sticks around her backyard. One question leads to another. Do they not see my kids? Those out walking? One thing that is so different from Medina than our previous residence in Sylvania is that there are always people out walking. If we’re walking in any one of our Metroparks, we will pass at minimum three other people. No matter the weather, this is true for the last six years we’ve lived here, and it makes me love you even more, Medina.

I hate that someone is drinking and driving in the afternoon on the streets our children play on. I’m as mad as the Prophet Amos about the Icehouse Bandit. Yet here’s the thing about the Prophet Amos and the prophets in general: The prophets aren’t speaking or writing about the individual. The prophets are always writing to a collective.

Amos critiques Israel. The prophet states, “They hate the one who reproves in the gate.” The city gate was the site of most public activity during the day, according to many scholars.[1] There one could expect to find a community elder who would help settle disputes. The “reprover” was the one to remind the community of the law and tradition and uphold the cause of the poor.

Amos isn’t making this up. His critique stems right from the law. Leviticus 19, “Don’t hold back the wages of hired help. Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, judge your neighbor fairly.” The law is for the benefit of all people. Amos is critiquing his nation of not living up to its own standards. Standards that are also baked right into the law. The first three types of sacrifices prescribed by Leviticus are optional. They are sacrifices for gratitude.

Imagine that you’ve just quit a job that was killing your soul. And not just your soul, the souls of your ancestors for 500 years. Then you might understand the Book of Exodus. A logical response would be a desire to show gratitude to the chain-breaking God who freed you from your captivity in Egypt. That’s where Leviticus starts. You can have the priests enact a burnt offering, a grain offering or an offering of well-being. Each sacrifice is prescribed. If you have a lot and can afford a bull, then great; offer that. If you can afford only a goat, then sure. Or a bird like a turtledove or pigeon to show your gratitude; that’s the optional offering that all class levels can give. This is how we know that the Holy Family was poor. For the birth of their first-born son, they offered a burnt offering of a pair of turtledoves in Luke 2:24.

Granted, animal sacrifice seems barbaric to us. Yet here’s a social way to show gratitude or mourning. I think this is way healthier than taking to social media and venting. It’s good to note that we kill way more animals daily than the temple system ever did. Rob Bell’s book Blood, Guts, and Fire: The Gospel According to Leviticus states that in our modern era 23.3 million animals are killed every day.[2] Oh the joys of factory farming.

I mention these facts for your edification and education to ask what level of society is the Icehouse Bandit on? Are they a poor laborer who isn’t making a daily wage?  We as a society always have great reasons to not raise the minimum wage but we never seem to talk about a maximum wage. Amos and the other prophets take issue with the rich who push aside the needy in the gate. The book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich points out that low-wage workers who often work 10-12 hour days are exhausted. Their bodies are worn out. Numbing behaviors like cigarettes, pills, and alcohol are often solutions. They might not be able to afford a big vacation, but they can afford those things and a big screen TV to help cope. I wonder if that’s what’s going on with the Icehouse Bandit.

Or I wonder if the opposite is true of the Icehouse Bandit. Is this person a high-level CEO? The stress of their job and the burden of managing so many people in their professional and private life causes them to drink and drive. The time away from their families… the sense that they don’t like who they have become… the weight of their responsibilities. I wonder if that’s what is going on with the Icehouse Bandit.

Maybe they don’t even have a career yet. I wonder if they are a stressed-out, over-scheduled high schooler. They have all the requirements and pressure and social weirdness of being a teen. Put the stress of any extra-curricular activities on that. Maybe a part-time job. The blessing and curse of high school drama and maybe even a first relationship and how to be a good partner.

These are some questions I ask as I sit at the gate. I think that’s now the role of clergy, part of our call: to notice our common life together and ask good questions. I’m just trying to get us all, myself included, through the gate. Jesus is the gate.

Our Good Shepherd came to live among us and show us all the good things right in front of us. Yet we rejected this good news. I guess saying, “love your enemies and do good to those who harm you” will get you killed in this world but saying, “Let’s kill those people over there” will get you elected to public office.

I have a lot of questions. I wonder why our world rewards violence and greed. It seems as though destructive ways are more rewarded than peaceful and sustainable ways. We call people a “tree hugger” when they point out the harm we’re doing to the planet. Why is that a bad thing? A park ranger than lives in my neighborhood once pointed out that polluted rivers signified jobs. Poor air quality meant progress and bread on the table. When people pointed out that this isn’t a good thing, they were deemed communist or some other nonsense and shouted down. The Rev. Harry Buch spoke of his journey through the oil refineries of New Jersey. He once asked a church member what that acrid smell was, and the reply was “It’s the smell of money.” So good people stop caring, they’re silenced, they do not speak up in such evil times. There is that one young woman in Sweden who is very passionate about living sustainably on the earth and she has been subjected to such abuse and slander. It breaks my heart.

When you walk in our doors downstairs, you see a sign made by one of our children. “There is no planet B.” We don’t have any place to turn to if we insist on destroying this planet. We have not been kind to our home sweet home. Amos talks about how the indulgent ways of Israel caused the land itself to reject the people and send them into exile.  The Land is a character in the Torah. We are commanded to take care of the land. We are to steward it. The dominion we were given over the land was for its stewardship, not for its abuse. Exodus 23:10 states, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat.”

Exodus and Leviticus have many laws and regulations related to the use and management of the land, including instructions for agricultural practices, dietary and clothing restrictions, Sabbath and Jubilee years, and allocation of land among the tribes of Israel. The prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and more point back to these laws and tell the people, the nation of Israel, “Y’all, we didn’t follow those laws. We did not live in right relationship with each other and with the land, and that’s why we’re in this mess.”

When I first arrived here, I saw that we had a lot of paper waste. We connected with the Medina County Recycling Center and got our blue recycling bins. The staff empties these out each week. I think that was a good step. I have a few questions about how we could take the next steps. Remember, I don’t get a vote. I’m just asking the questions. You are the one with the power, church.

I love our coffee hour. Yet this results in a lot of paper waste. Our Caring Team has reported that their budget is way over on paper products. I know that we have a wonderful Hobart dishwasher. Paper plates are convenient, yet with just a little more time we could use our big supply of real plates and wash them. I wonder if that’s something we could aim for this coming fall? Using the dishwasher more and paper products less is not only good for the earth but also good for our budget. A lower budget means you can lower your tithe. NO IT DOES NOT. It means that you keep it the same, but more of it goes to feeding and loving our neighbors and retaining our amazing staff (like the Rev. Meghan who you like and doesn’t ask such questions), and less of it goes to paper plates.

I wonder with rising energy costs; how might we be better stewards in that realm? Shall we put solar panels on our roof? That’d be at least a three-year goal, but I’m sure with the right team, we could accomplish that goal. Or what other options can you think of?

When we visited England last year, my family was rather confused by our hotel room. We walked in and couldn’t get any of the lights to turn on. It was very frustrating. Then I saw a little key holder slot by the door. I took out our hotel key card and put it in this slot. Suddenly, all the lights came on. What a wise approach to saving energy.

I have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. One thing I’m pretty sure about is that drinking and driving and throwing beer cans out the window are not healthy practices. I’m reminded each time I pick up a can to pray for my neighbor, the Icehouse Bandit. To pray and work for their health and wholeness. That day when we all shall experience a peace that surpasses all understanding.

May we turn from the destruction of our greed and learn to live in right relationship with our God our neighbors, and this planet on which we reside. Amen.

Works Cited

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII, page 390.

[2] Also backed up and verified by many sources, including this one: https://ffacoalition.org/facts/number-of-animals-killed/

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