Among the most familiar wheeled vehicles that clutter up our world is the grocery cart.
These utilitarian mobile baskets have a massive influence on our lifestyle, health, shopping habits and financial outlays.
Consider: if we shopped with ordinary baskets we couldn’t load it with all the processed and canned food, plastic bulk packed vegetables, cartons of yogurt, 36-packs of potato chip bags, frozen foods and so on.
We would need to go shopping more often, go as a team, pay to have the stuff delivered or order online. So the cart colludes with our appetite for quantity, our lust for bargains, our downhill addictions to more than enough.
Grocery carts are the workhorses of the postmodern consumer, necessary hardware to enable the big shopping, the habit of impulse buying.
Do we ever notice that contradiction in terms? That we’ve become habituated to buying what we didn’t think we need because it was there?
And they come in various sizes and styles, from the deep loader, to the standard size, and then there’s the smaller, quicker “whizz-around” version that can still take about four bags of stuff if you pack carefully.
As I was walking along the beach in Aberdeen, Scotland, recently, I came across a shipwrecked, partially buried grocery cart, an eloquent protest at our capacity to grab and gobble, produce and procure, spend and consume, load up, pay up and use up.
When I walk the shoreline, most often I’m down on the sand, enjoying the sound of the waves, liking the smooth billiard-table feel of sand compacted by tide, feeling body and mind begin to find the rhythm of wave, wind and weather.
The next time I take a walk, I’ll take a grocery bag and a pair of gardening gloves, and see how far I can walk until the bag is full of the rubbish that washes up, much of it previously transported to the checkout on a four-wheeled grocery cart.
Much of it around Aberdeen is just as likely to have come from the industrial catering and offshore maintenance of oil rigs and oil fields.
Of course, filling a single grocery bag is a futile gesture, not even a drop in the ocean of debris and detritus that washes around our shores. Why bother?
Maybe as an act of symbolic repentance for our greed and carelessness. Perhaps as a prophetic enactment of our inability to look after our planet and yet the defiance that will be required if we are to make a difference.
Maybe as a prayer for the healing of creation, an embodied act of cleansing of a broken and soiled world. Or even as a liturgical act of doing for others what they haven’t done for themselves, taking away their rubbish.
The Christian doctrine of creation is less about arguments on cosmological origins, and more about stewardship, creation care and environmental ethics rooted in accountability beyond ourselves.
Organized cleanups of beaches and parks, forest walks and mountains are not mere acts of damage limitation; they are statements of value.
Such actions are enacted resistance to the consumer-disposable culture, rich in things and poor in soul, satisfied only when consuming, and suffering a hunger that remains an ache no matter how much we stuff ourselves with stuff.
Perhaps alongside harvest thanksgiving there should be organized occasions of cleanup, cultivation, culture, conservation and celebration of creation, and an asking of forgiveness for our sins against the Creator.
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.