Taking Out the Compost

November 19, 2019

My wife and I started composting a few weeks ago. We started composting for the same reason anyone starts doing anything in 2019: we read an article. Well, to be fair, my wife read an article. She came home convinced that composting our food waste, rather than throwing it in the trash, is a more responsible way to care for the Earth. I took her at her word.

We live in Chicago, which means we actually pay someone to stop by our apartment and pick up our compost. On Wednesdays, I walk down from the third floor to the alley behind our apartment with our pail of compost and lock it to the iron bars guarding our trash bins. Someone, I assume a guy with a bushy beard and crocs, comes to take the compost away and  leaves us an empty pail.

This past week, I was doing my husbandly duty by walking our compost down to the alley. It just happened that the city dump truck turned into the alley just before me. I strolled up and got a whiff of tangy sweet trash. The woman standing on the back of the truck saw me with my pail and kindly asked, “Is that for me?”

“No,” I said, lifting my pail. “Compost.”

She nodded and smiled as if she were saying, “That’s cute.”

The dump truck rumbled into the alley and hefted bin after bin of waste into its dark mouth. I stood there watching, my pail of compost in hand.

This is what it feels like to live in 2019: holding a pail of compost, watching a garbage truck hoist steaming piles into its gullet.

This is how it often feels to work for an institution like the church in 2019. Trends so much larger than myself make my prayers and pastoral work feel meaningless. I’ve been feeling this way about my denomination, the RCA, recently. Each week in our church, we say some version of this refrain: When the person of Jesus Christ is at the center of our lives and our worship, there is space for loving one another in disagreement.

It’s like I’m holding a pail of compost in front of a bellowing dump truck. It seems inevitable that the RCA will choose to walk in the well-trod path created by a culture marching towards disunity with those with whom they disagree. We are walking neatly in the footsteps of the denominations that have preceded us, splitting over complex issues because we have no imagination for something that would rebuke the cultural forces of sectarianism. As a young pastor, it is defeating. It makes my years of prayer for this body feel futile. I can’t imagine the frustration of those with decades of prayer behind them.

In our own congregational context, we strive on. We are still trying to create a community that is united around Christ and not around our agreements about Christ.

In a recent conversation with someone about our denomination, I realized that, despite impending conflict, we still have these important conversations as the RCA. We aren’t giving up on that tough conversation at our church, anyways. We still think it is good for sisters and brothers to dwell in unity. They say they won’t give up on praying or working for unity in our denomination. It is encouraging. It makes me think that if enough people don’t give up, then maybe we have a shot at something more heavenly than “irreconcilable differences.”

It feels like holding a pail of compost while the dump truck grumbles past. Does it really matter that my wife and I have started composting? Will praying for unity make a difference? I don’t know. I don’t have to know. I just have to get up on Wednesdays and walk the compost down to the alley.

About the Author
  • Caleb Schut recently moved to Australia with his family. He graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 2016, served as the associate pastor at Grace Chicago Church in Chicago, IL for six years, and currently is an Assistant Pastor at an evangelical church in Sydney. Additionally, Caleb and his wife run a non-profit called Beautiful Response in partnership with leaders in Uganda and Haiti.

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