When Lisa Heller was a student at Syracuse University, she lost a ring her grandmother had given her. As a last resort, she decided to search the trash dumpster for it.
She didn’t find the ring, but what she did find shocked her: clothes, furniture, lamps and other household goods, all in perfectly usable condition. She also found enough canned food to feed a family of four for a week and a cigar box containing rare stamps, one valued at $400.
Stunned at what fellow students regularly threw away, Heller continued to scour dumpsters for the remainder of her time at Syracuse and later when she attended the University of Richmond, collecting as many usable items as she could. Some items she kept and used personally; others, she donated to Goodwill.
During her second year at University of Richmond, she collected so much that she had a yard sale, giving the proceeds to the university’s debate team and the remaining items to Goodwill. The next year, with the help of the Sierra Club, she organized an official effort to collect and sell the recyclable items.
From Heller’s efforts, Dump & Run™ was born. The non-profit organization is dedicated to reducing waste students generate on college and university campuses by extending the useful life of things they no longer need. It also works to generate capital for nonprofit environmental and social groups that participate in the projects and educate the public about consumption and conservation.
The amount of waste Americans generate in a single year would fill a convoy of trucks long enough to circle the Earth six times and reach halfway to the moon. Sadly, much of what we throw away is not trash, as Lisa Heller discovered. It is perfectly useful. Because we no longer need it doesn’t render it valueless.
Our culture has conditioned us to we believe not only that we regularly need new and better things but also that a lot of what we have is of no value simply because newer models have come along.
This raises all sorts of questions for those serious about discipleship. How much do we really need? Is it wrong for us to have things? Is it wrong for us to have more and newer things?
The answers are both simple and difficult, and we find them as we apply Jesus’ teachings.
The idea of constantly acquiring and consuming more than we need while others lack the basics for survival ought to do more than make us squirm. It ought to propel us into action.
When we carelessly and wastefully use possessions and resources, we add to the suffering of many who live in constant need. That is more than wrong. It is sinful.
Sometimes we can faithfully use what we have in ways that enhance others’ lives. That is why God gives us more than we need. But when what we have stands in the way of our following Jesus without reservation, then we need to let go of it.
When we do, we can develop the kinds of relationships that allow us to pursue justice for everyone.
Christian discipleship involves working for justice. Sometimes we do it with our hands full; other times, we must first empty our hands. Both require complete commitment and unshakeable faith.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.