Letters to My Friends:The true spirit of recycling

    07 February 04: I don't see boats as metaphors for the spiritual journey, floating down the bubbling stream of life.

    Boats are just boats, and when I work on a boat in my shop, or row one on the Erie Canal, these are crucial ways in which I get as close to God as I am able.

     Boats aren't metaphors, but they are true and beautiful. Perfect. A blessing.


The true spirit of recycling

January 2005

By the Rev. Jon Rieley-Goddard

Dear friends,

    The other day, I bought a discarded library book for 25 cents at the perpetual sale at the Buffalo and Erie County Library’s main branch downtown.

    A week later, after posting the book to Amazon.com on the Internet, I sold this same book to a professor who lives on an island in Ireland. He paid $45 plus shipping.

    I love to recycle things.

    I’m sure that the professor who paid $45 American for a book that had fallen so low would be delighted to learn that I had plucked his coveted title from the dustbin of dustbins – the last-chance bin at the discard counter at the library.

    The book was a real sleeper, one of the sort that I automatically snag whenever I see them. It was a book of literary criticism concerning the novels of Jane Austen, one of my favorite writers. I even passed up this particular book on at least one previous visit because the dust jacket was in terrible condition.

    Who knew that a dinged and discarded work of literary criticism from a respected publishing house, concerning a first-sort English author, would have such value?

    In the end, I did.


    I was at a meeting during this same time span in early December. While sitting around, chatting after we had finished up our work, a colleague turned to me while wrapping up a conversation with another while donning a coat and muffler, and said: “And I see your church dying with dignity.”

    Maybe I could have held my tongue; maybe it would have been better to simply grind my teeth and silently grow a tumor. Instead, what followed was a spirited discussion of my merits, your mortality, and my colleague’s blind spots. And my blind spots, too, I suppose. I won’t bore you with the heroic details, save to say that the two of us were the only ones to hear the conversation, everyone else having left the building. Suffice it to say that I impressed upon my colleague, with some light and heat, a variation on Mark Twain’s comment in response to a newspaper obituary that had him dead and in the grave.

    The news of my demise, Twain said, has been greatly exaggerated.


    Pierce Avenue Presbyterian Church has landed in the dustbin of churches that run out of reserves. That cannot be denied. What is more important, however, is to understand and to educate brothers and sisters who don’t know any better that this landing in the dustbin is not a comment upon or a reflection of our worth, potential, or future. If I can find a $45 treasure in a 25-cent last-change book bin, then we can take a lesson from that about value, low points, and the course of the future.

    It’s not over until God says that it’s over. And God ain’t saying that, at least to me. What God has done is to open a door while closing another.

    God does stuff like this all the time.

    All the time.

    If all goes according to plan, at the Annual Meeting of the congregation, on Jan. 23, the Session will present for information a budget for 2005 that reflects a reduction of my compensation from 10 segments to 5 segments. The budget will go from $80,000 and change to $50,000 and change.

    That is the door God closed, so to speak.

    The door that is already opening for me is my success with selling used books on the Internet -- a job that I simply adore. I literally can do half of this job in my pajamas, if I so choose. And it has to do with books, which are as near to my heart as my wife, my cat, and my truck, to name a few of my favorite things.

    Rather than feeling shame, I feel joy, because I have sought a tent to live in as a minister for a long time, and now I have one with room for me, my wife, and my cat.

    That probably needs some explaining. You see, a minister who works part time in ministry and part time in other things has traditionally in our denomination been called a tentmaker (the Apostle Paul was a tentmaker ...). And a Presbyterian tentmaker’s tent is the job that helps pay the bills so the minister can continue to answer a call to do ordained ministry. Some tents are big, some are small, and some are just right, like mine.

    My call to ministry has always been precious to me, and at the same time I have treated my call with varying degrees of attention and inattention. I made the Dean’s List in my first semester in Seminary. Then I fell in love with the Reverend, and we got married in our second year of Seminary. I didn’t make the Dean’s List after that first semester. In our life together, we have found that time and again, when we are in deep and even desperate need of assistance, that God has opened a new door for us while closing another. At least three times since moving to Buffalo 10 years ago, we have been convinced that we would have to leave the city we love, because we could not make ends meet. Each time, there have been surprising and helpful changes, late but not too late. This has happened so many times for us that we have come to rely on this precious knowledge to force a thin wedge between us and the panic that sometimes presses close.


    In our years together, while learning to hope in the Lord and wait on the Lord, and at the same time to push and shove our way through life, the best we can, the Reverend and I have learned the value of recycling:

    – an ugly trash-filled lot across the street, by our organizing efforts and with our neighbors, became Herkimer Hollow, a community garden.

    – Our 100-year-old-plus house on the corner, a drab two-story Shotgun Bungalow, took on a new meaning for our neighbors when we moved in. Enterprising renters had painted the trim black. A new coat of paint and a bit of attention to the landscaping, with the slow but sure spreading of the knowledge that two Creatures had moved in, recycled our home.

    – As the year 2000 approached, the Reverend began to amass a pile of donated computers and monitors. I turned this various pile into computers for everyone at her nonprofit agency and a six-computer network for the kids. Mostly from recycled parts.


    Recycling can be fun. There was a movie that came out a few years ago about the comic aspects of trash collecting. Three men in overalls are looking into a garbage bin. “Look,” one of them says, “someone threw away a perfectly good white guy!”


    Recycling can be spiritually uplifting, too. When we here at Pierce Ave. ramped up our rummage/jumble sales last fall and set dates for quarterly sales, we didn’t impress anyone, including ourselves. After two sales three months apart, both grossing more than $1,000, we began to be impressed. I’ve sought to point to this simple exercise in dusting off and re-tooling an important idea from the past as an example of what it means to renew – recycle – the mission of a church.

    We sell hundreds of items of clothing, in particular, for pennies per item. The people who come at the end of the rumage sale day to fill bags for a few dollars are not collecting clothes to make artsy-craftsy things. They wear those clothes, because they cannot afford to drive to the mall, let alone buy new clothes at retail prices.

    If that isn’t a renewal – recycling – of our mission, I’m ready for the dustbin.


    Take off your shoes, now, for we are about to step onto holy ground, while still talking about recycling.

    God recycles, too. From the water that evaporates to become the rain that falls somewhere else, to the dying and rising of plants in their succession, and on and on and on, God closes and opens, in a kaleidoscope of creativity.

    God does not need to run to the craft store to be creative. Everything God needs is at hand, and no new materials need to be created. God creates moment to moment using only the original materials that the creation started with. Nothing has been lost, and little or nothing save Jesus Christ is the same as it was, but the creating – recycling – continues. This is the heart and soul of recycling, and the reason that we can rise from the dustbin of cast-off churches ... rumpled, chastened, and joyful. Recycled.


    I’ve been feeling what I am about to say for a long time, and still haven’t found the best way to say it, but here goes anyway, bare feet and all: The resurrection is an example of God’s fundamental preference for recycling.
Simply put, standing shoeless on holy ground, I say that God in bringing God's son back from the grave, recycles Jesus for new service in a new body and spirit that still resembles the old in all the important and outward ways. Divine economy.

    If it seems silly – or worse -- to call this recycling, perhaps we have not yet redeemed this fundamental and essential word and activity. And if we still have work to do in understanding the depths of what it means to recycle, it may mean that we are still learning about the New Thing that God has been doing, is doing, and will do in us, among us, with us, and for us. Recycling is generally seen as a means of salvation for the global good and economy. Recycling is also our salvation.


    Did you notice a few paragraphs ago that I mentioned that our neighbors slowly came to realize that two Creatures had moved in on the corner?
The house next door to us is a rental, the sort that in Buffalo is called a Double. Traditionally, the owner lives on the first floor and rents out the second. A Double is a vertical duplex. One day, I was working outside and a little girl next door called out to me. “I hear,” she said, “that there’s two Creatures living in that house. The lady upstairs said so.”

    I thought for a moment, and it dawned on me. “No,” I answered, “there’s two preachers living here, my wife and I. We’re preachers, not creatures.”
A lot of good that did. A few years later, little Red, a Dennis the Menace lookalike who used to live in that house next door, flew by on his bike, past the Reverend and I. He offered a variation based on, and extending, the previous conversation with the little girl.

    “Hi, Mrs. Peach! Hi, Mr. Peach!” he yelled.


    If you wish, you can recycle that story, and if you do, I guarantee that you will bless those who are listening to you.

    What more could you wish for? Recycling is a saving grace.

Blessings and peace

Pastor Jon

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