Most of my work is done sitting in front of a computer, balanced out by chasing my two young boys around. But one day in September I got outside with my boys and I set out to do some harvesting in our yard. I was harvesting the compost we have been accumulating from our kitchen waste and yard trimmings.
Generally, my life is filled with straight lines and tidy systems. I like things to make sense. Most of my work is much less messy than harvesting compost. The goal of sifting through our compost pile is literally to get dirt — nice rich dirt that will feed the things we grow in our yard.
For those of you who don’t have a backyard compost system, here is how ours is set up. We have two places we can throw our food waste and yard waste – one is generally full and resting as it breaks down. The other we contribute to all year round. We throw in everything from vegetable peelings to eggshells to avocado pits. I did throw in a few leftover waffles this summer – but those didn’t end up breaking down, the birds ate them – I saw a crow flying away with a whole waffle in its beak, but I digress. We also throw in our leaves in the fall, the tree branches that fall or are cut down. All of it is contributing to the backyard ecosystem.
Once the compost has rested for a while, I borrow the shifter my dad built and I set up a tarp next to the compost pile. I take the board off the front of the pile and start shovelling what is there through the sifter so that the nice fine dirt falls on the far side, and the larger chunks don’t make it through.
As I shovelled this time I was observing all the things that were falling on the front side of the sifter. My dad has said it is time to harvest the compost when you don’t recognize what you threw in anymore. This compost pile hasn’t been harvested for about three years, so as I shovelled I was seeing the last several years of our life (at least the organic side of it) falling at my feet. Some organic things were not broken down yet. No problem, toss them back into the compost to keep working on the natural process. Corn cobs, pumpkins stems, avocado pits, many of the eggshells (wow, we do eat a lot of eggs) – those all still need some time. A few inorganic things surfaced – a marker top, part of a light bulb, bits of plastic. Those I lift out and put them in their place – the trash. They won’t ever break down and contribute to the organic process.
The pile of nice fresh dirt was slowly growing on the far side of the sifter. All the things that we needed to take the time to put in their place to breakdown now could not only be used as soil to grow new food, but it is wonderful soil that grows nourishing food.
I couldn’t help but think that compost is such a great metaphor for the deconstructing process of the faith journey. Nothing is wasted.
Go with me on this one – but don’t press the metaphor too far. As part of our faith journey, there are always things that are thrown away. We eat the juicy fruit of sermons, books, the advice of friends — then we throw away the pits, peels or spoiled food. We move the food from our kitchen into the compost pile, sometimes for good reasons like discerning the truth of an idea, sometimes because of hurt or abuse that wields religion like a weapon. Sometimes tossing away an idea feels freeing and right like throwing away the inedible peel, other times it feels like a failure as what seemed like a good idea spoils like unconsumed fruit. Either way, parts of our life end up in the compost pile. But, nothing is wasted. Those experiences of deconstructing our perspective on God, the ideas that have spoiled on the shelf, they are best suited to be loved no longer for their food value but for their biomass that will contribute to growing new food. Continuing to eat spoiled food will only make us sick.
In contrast, by allowing those ideas to break down in their proper place, they can fuel the future. After a while, we can take out the sifter and sift through our pile of discarded ideas. Oh, a rest from that tradition turned into something beautiful again. Oh, that failed idea for ministry can actually be rebirthed as I share my experience with others. Oh, that bit of pain still needs more time to break down — but it has started, guess I’ll just throw it back in the compost pile for more time. But, that over there, the wound from someone in authority, that should never have been in the compost, to begin with, I’ll fish it out – it no longer stings. I can see it for what it really is and I’ll put it in the proper place now — the trash.
At New Leaf, we like the organic metaphors for what God is doing in the Canadian church. Yes, things are changing. Yes, all of us are on a journey in our faith development – we don’t stay the same. Yes, there are failures and successes (and apparent successes), but nothing is wasted. Even when it feels like we have thrown God in the compost pile, the nutrients and life-giving elements of food that are now spoiled can be broken down and be the foundation to grow more life in the future.
Your experiences are not wasted.
Your ideas are not wasted.
Your failures are not wasted.
You are not wasted.
God has put everything we need for the future of the church in Canada into our soil. But we may get a little dirty harvesting the compost pile from time to time.