Wonky veg, two-legged carrots and lumpy potatoes are among the unwanted products of our picture-perfect culinary world. As much as 40% of our food is wasted, globally. Much of it is left to rot on farms because it is too large, too bendy, or too ugly. Some great food just doesn’t fit our visual preferences. There’s a whole blog in that! and the consequences on God’s good world for our picky food choices.
Nevertheless, this week’s blog is written in praise of waste.
Stay with me.
The story of Ruth is brimming over with good stuff, too much to squeeze into a single sermon. So, consider what follows as a bit of gleaning from the leftovers around the field of sermon preparation, a little extra about some extras that I can’t fit in. This is, in fact, a gleaning about gleaning.
God insisted that Israelite farmers were wasteful in their harvesting. They were not to screw down their yield to the tightest of margins or squeeze every last grain from their crops. Instead, they were to leave overspill around the edges. Essentially, they were to deliberately waste a little. This liberality was to be a destitute person’s living. This social action provided for people who could not support themselves. As disinherited women this was exactly Ruth and Naomi’s predicament and gleaning what she could from the fields began Ruth’s road to economic recovery and social inclusion. Leaving a margin for the needy was the right thing to do and it displayed God’s particular concern for the undervalued, overlooked, and impoverished. In God’s economy, social justice was not a bolt-on to salve sensitive consciences or tick the social responsibility box but a real manifestation of the justice which is core to God’s revealed nature.
A church member recently told me he built generosity into contracts with service providers – that way he built good relationships with subcontractors who were then keen to help when things went wrong and to see their contribution to solutions as more of a co-creative partnership. His point? Paring things to the bone creates the wrong kind of working relationships.
It got me thinking about our time-critical, cut-to-the-bone, zero-tolerance, quick-to-cancel cultures. Because it’s not just financial margins we cut but mercy margins and relational grace. Of course, it’s right to be effective and efficient but are we not in danger of eliminating time for friendships, scope to help the struggling, and focus to listen to others? I picked up somewhere that even boredom can be the engine of invention, but how can you find space to be bored in an endlessly stimulated world which exists in the palm of our hands?
So, here’s a thought:
- Are we living right up to the edges of our capacity?
- How can we gain some margins (rather than make marginal gains)?
- Where can we leave time (our most cherished resource) for others, for thinking creatively or praying contemplatively?
- Could we find some space for someone who simply needs company, or to create space for people to encounter the grace of God through social action and faith sharing?
Someone was once asked to describe in one word what quality they saw in their Christian neighbours.
Boaz didn’t harvest up to the edges of his field but left margins for the needy to glean. As a result, he gained more than wealth; he gained a wife! And a place in the Royal line that led to Jesus.
Who would have thought that wasting some good things would result in something even better?
PS. There is bad waste too and we need to get a grip on the worst parts of throwaway culture. Follow, the campaigner and friend of QPBC, “lesswastelaura” https://www.lesswastelaura.com/ for help hints and campaigning on waste (the bad kind).