The Great American Waste

Hello all,

It has been ages since my last post.  Something tells me you haven’t been waiting with baited breath to see what I would write. So without further ado…

While at my mother’s house in Connecticut spending a lovely Christmas holiday, the idea for this post started to take root.  Driving through the town my mother lives in that I affectionately dubbed “East Bumblejoe”, a local company sign caught my eye.  The name of the company was “Great American Waste”. It is a sanitation company, of course and a patriotic one at that.  And while it is probably difficult to come up with a clever name for a waste company, the name “Great American Waste” certainly speaks volumes beyond the intended purpose.

As the name tumbled around in my head a wealth of clever quips and snide comments about life in suburbia came rushing to mind.  For once, I took the high road and ignored those thoughts in an effort to make way for ideas more profound than the suburbs are a Great American Waste and the like.  I began pondering what America wastes.  What is it that we carelessly throw away? What are those things we unjustifiably toss asunder while ignorantly and defiantly calling ourselves “great”.  What are the ways to become great again?

The most obvious waste in America is food waste.  The EPA determined that Americans waste close to 30% of our consumable food stock.  This number includes all food waste culprits including restaurants and grocery stores-the two main culprits of food waste in this country.  Do not think the average American is any better than our neighborhood grocer.[i] Quite the contrary:  We waste pounds of food a year at an average of about 13% of what we purchase monthly.  I myself know individuals who throw away closer to 20-25% of their monthly grocery purchases.

In a nation where tens of thousands of children go to bed hungry, we should all be ashamed of our wasteful ways.  And that is just food waste.  Let’s not get into the general “disposable” culture we have created in this nation, of one time use items like mopping wipes, and paper towels.  I consider myself a fairly conservative individual when it comes to consumption, but as I sit here typing this I am staring at my empty lunch plate now holding 3 used napkins.  3? Two would have been adequate and 1 would have sufficed.  But when ensconced in a culture of carelessness, it is difficult not to get caught in the fray.  Of course, there is no excuse for wasteful behavior only explanations and repentance.  If food and paper were the only items Americans wasted, I wonder if I would have even taken notice.  I won’t touch upon the amount of petroleum and water we waste in this nation as it would consume the whole post.

Needless to say, we have more than we need and we act like it.  We are well aware of the exhaustible nature of our resources, yet we continue to plow through them like a rich kid through his inheritance.  Much like the prodigal son, we will find ourselves running back to our heavenly father for forgiveness.  Though, my hunch is that there will be far more reckoning to be done than when the prodigal son faced his transgressions. No. Like a spoiled brat, we have a vague understanding of consequence, but care more about our comforts and convenience to make real changes in our lifestyles or our society.

As a nation that works hard to be more comfortable, we waste so much of our energy and financial resources on entertainment.  Lately, the more mindless the entertainment the better.  I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that Americans would take pleasure-nay-pride in sitting around watching and conversing about the lives of other people whose only claim to fame is being just ambitious enough to get on television to display their mediocre lives which are only slightly more interesting than that of the average person.  Seriously, 40 years ago a socialite was a person who was rich and only mildly famous because of their family’s wealth and influence.  Now, a socialite is the child or friend of a child of any 6-figure wage earner. Really?  Why do we care about keeping up with anyone let alone a Kardashian or anyone who lives on any shore, hill, peak or valley? We care because we’d rather be entertained than to be educated.  We want to be intrigued more than we care to be informed.

Being informed is a right and a responsibility.  Being educated comes with great requirements like holding our systems and institutions into account for any laps in effectiveness or impropriety in which they involve themselves.  It means knowing full well that at our society is not the great white hope we make it out to be; and that many of the intractable issues we have are brought on by our own greed and poor judgment.  Being informed means that we cannot reduce “the other” to “the enemy” simply because they live in closer proximity to the resources to which we are addicted.  It also means comprehending that resources are in fact, exhaustible, and like debt, war and poverty are handed down generationally through the short-sided behavior of unscrupulous predecessors.  That information is a lot to bear.  It takes strong minds and deep resolve to retain all of the knowledge while simultaneously bringing the resolutions to a head.  If our children’s standardized test scores are any indication of our acuity and our penchant for political finger- pointing and blame-shifting is the litmus test of our resolve, then it is no wonder most of us watch more dancing with the stars than daily news.   We waste our ability to form to a more perfect union and waive our rights to be full actors in the creation of our society.

The Christmas season is probably the most commercialized and publicized seasons in the American calendar.  I don’t think there is a time that is more Americanized, save 4th of July, than the winter holidays.  However, acculturating a religious holiday into the societal fabric has serious consequences.  Unfortunately, in this country those who hold the religious aspects of the holidays so tightly end up strangling the Christmas message and leaching the season for all the joy it possesses.  Some Christians have declared there is a war on Christmas in America.  Problem is they are the only one’s waging it.  We name-call the secular community then cry foul when our illogical behaviors are called into question.  In our attempt at peace and good will towards all men [sic], we try to cram the little baby Jesus down everyone’s throat in an effort to secure our own freedom of religion.  We forget that Jesus is our savior and not the other way around. Try as we might, we cannot offer God protection because He is the Creator and we are merely the created.  If the alleged attacks on Christmas were legitimate, God would and could vindicate himself.  He certainly wouldn’t need our expertise.

Again, if Christmas was the only time Americans engaged in this behavior, I am not sure I would have noticed.  But the truth is, we do it all the time.  We exhaust so much energy creating animus out of nothingness when it comes to issues of immigration, religious difference and culture inclusion.  America is a nation consisting of many immigrants who, once they reached the level of their desired acculturation, developed a vicious, contagious strain of amnesia about their own immigrant history. America is like a sports team made up by the descendants of rule breakers that have received trophy after trophy for their above average winning percentage, but are now determined to change the rules in the middle of the game because the incoming players are stronger, faster and pose a threat to the record of the current team.

As far as religion goes, American Christians are probably the least familiar with the tenets of Christianity than any other group of Christ followers on the planet.  We have watered Christianity down so much, it is a shadow of its former self and somehow bears a striking resemblance to American culture.  Not to mention, any time the beliefs, words or actions of Christians past or present are challenged, American Christians call it an unjust persecution.  Not only are we grossly exaggerating the challenges; it shows how ignorant we are to the reality that Christians are supposed to be persecuted.  In the early church true persecution was seen as a marker of how much the truth of the Gospel of Christ was reaching those who needed to hear it the most.  Further, Christians from other nations are actually being persecuted for their beliefs.  They do it gladly, for the truth of the Gospel is worth persecution. When we call accountability for our hypocrisy “persecution”, we mock our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who endure true persecution for the glory of Christ Jesus.

No, what Americans have are arguments and disagreements – even mockery of our faith.  We waste our time trying to combat these petty skirmishes and one-sided “wars” until we don’t have enough energy to combat the real problems.  The real problems include a broken immigration system, xenophobia and religious intolerance.  Those are real wars that need fighting.  Unfortunately, Americans have wasted all of our ammunition against our countrymen to be able to do battle with any of our real enemies.

Moreover, when it comes to religion, we have a strange inability to distinguish people’s culture from their religion and religious interpretations.  It probably has something to do with our inability to distinguish Christianity from American culture.  In any case, Americans cannot be trusted with religious plurality or cultural inclusion.  Try as we might, we cannot seem to see beyond color or religious difference.  We blame outside forces like terrorism, but the reality is we need terrorism and things of that sort to help us hold tight to our fear of “the other”.  Our ignorance to other religions and cultures is not enough.  It only serves to start arguments and create unjust laws.  No, we need fear to help up marginalize and oppress people in order to make ourselves feel “great.”  We are not great  – we are wasteful.

As I sit here ranting to you, I am engaging in yet another form of waste.  With record-high unemployment matched with record-high frustration over wars, broken education, immigration, financial and judicial systems, the smell of revolution is in the air.  The only problem is, those who would love to see revolution are doing this: talking about it. Like me, I’m sitting here prattling on about the problems of this nation, but I have never once organized anyone to do anything about it.  And I probably won’t.  I’ll probably get up from here, turn on the television and scour it for the funniest sitcom or movie I can find.  Because I know, the weight of these issues is more than I am willing to bear.  I, like every other American I have described above, would rather be complicit in the creation of the Great American wasteland, than preserve the Great American promise land.  It is my fervent hope that God raises up a people that will not waste any more time complaining about squandered talents, energy and resources.  He will choose people that will rise up for Him to teach the rest of us how to steward the immense amount of blessings and responsibilities we as a nation have been given.  I pray that time is now.  And if anyone reading this feels you are one of those people, well, you have an ally in me.  If you are looking for me, you know where to find me.  Somewhere deeply immersed in the Great American wasteland.


[i] Martin, Andrew. “One Country’s Table Scraps, Another Country’s Meal – New York Times.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/weekinreview/18martin.html (Accessed December 12, 2010).

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One response to “The Great American Waste

  1. Wow, this was a really well written post!!!!!!!!! I liked the honesty and call to action at the end.