This evening my family and I attended a public hearing held by our city commissioners. The topic: curbside recycling. Our wonderful little town of "Mayberry" doesn't have it, and after years of egging our community leaders on, they finally scheduled this forum. Strange as it is to say, this has been a contentious issue in our community, as there are some who are vehemently opposed to the idea for a number of reasons. Cost is one of them (and a reasonable one, I confess); but a significant group who view such an initiative as "government intrusion" and even those who see curbside recycling as a not-so-veiled form of socialism (as I highlighted in this previous blog post).
The forum lasted just under two hours. Those who spoke were overwhelmingly in favor of curbside recycling. I didn't keep track, but I would guess that for every one person opposed, four or five were in favor. A lot of the vitriol that had surfaced over the past few weeks in the social media world over this topic was nonexistent.
Both my wife and 8-year old son spoke, as did I. In my comments I approached things from both a pastoral/spiritual angle, as well as a city resident and taxpayer. Below is what I said.
My friends – tonight I come in two capacities to express my support for curbside recycling – as a pastor and a resident of this wonderful town. As pastor, I come not representing the church I serve, but representing many people of many faiths who understand that the call to take care of God’s earth comes first and foremost from this – the scriptures. In the book of Genesis, which serves as the foundation for some 2.2 billion Christians and Jews worldwide, the scripture says this:
Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth, and over the earth itself.
Sadly, over the years that word “dominion” has been misconstrued to mean “do with the world as you wish.” When in fact, the Hebrew here actually describes a scenario where a servant is entrusted with the care of their master’s possessions. So the world does not belong to us – it belongs to God. Like the Psalmist says in Psalm 24:1: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.
People of faith all over the world understand God’s mandate to care for creation – including many here in our community, represented in these signed petitions, stating that curbside recycling is not only a civic calling but a spiritual one as well. I submit these to you for public record on their behalf.
The second capacity in which I come tonight is as a citizen of this town – a citizen who recognizes that waste disposal comes at a cost to the taxpayer, no matter how we go about doing it. We can either continue purchasing additional land for the landfill – land which will eventually fill up and cause us to purchase more land – or we can enact a curbside recycling program that, in the long run, will cost the taxpayer less. If we are going to talk about cost in this discussion, as some people are so eager to do, then let us be open and honest about all costs involved.
It’s become apparent that, if curbside recycling is going to happen in Mount Airy, it’s going to require some "forward-thinking" on behalf of you, our city commissioners. Which is why I’m grateful that this is something you all have demonstrated in the past. Five or six years ago, you will recall, Reeves Community Center was in danger of shutting its doors. It would've been easy for you, our elected officials, to have said, "We can't afford to get involved." Instead, you wisely recognized that you couldn't afford NOT to. So you chose to take over Reeves and keep that vital community resource intact.
And, you know, it strikes me that the city didn’t have to hold a public forum back then to discuss this, even though it came at an additional cost to the taxpayer. So why is this issue so much more contentious? The real reason, I would submit, is not about money. The real reason is about doing something new and different; something we’ve never had before. It’s about change. And as creatures of habit, we humans are not very fond of change. But sometimes doing the right thing, doing the smart and sensible thing, doing the economically viable thing, requires that we do something we’ve never done before.
On a personal note: I’ve had the honor of getting to know each of you on a number of levels. I’ve served with you in Rotary and in ministry. I’ve shared the stage with you for shows you were running sound for. I’ve coached your children in swimming, taught them at the college, officiated your daughter’s weddings. I know you love this town and want very much to do the right thing. My friends, this is the right thing! And, contrary to our local newspaper’s editorial yesterday, this is also very much the right time. I implore you, as a fellow citizen and colleague and friend, to once again engage in “forward-thinking” and bring curbside recycling to Mount Airy. Thank you!
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