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Why in the world am I sorting spinach? you might ask.

Well, because the big bag of spinach we bought from Costco (with all the good intentions in the world of making salads and smoothies galore) has been slowly turning that dreaded dark green which signifies that certain leaves are better suited for compost than for consumption.

And because there are still a bunch of good leaves left, and–I think to myself–perhaps I can still eke out a couple more salads from this bag . . . .

For some, this stage of development is the stage at which they simply throw out the rest of the spinach and get a new bag. And sometimes I do that, too, considering that my time is worth more than it would take to separate the yummy from the yucky, and deciding that composting is not quite so wasteful as throwing the whole mess in the trash. But tonight it seemed worth my while to sort through the bag of spinach looking for the good leaves in and amongst the mush.

And as it is a rather large bag, there is time for thought as well as for action . . .

I take a spinach clump in my hand. The dark green seems to be predominant. No, wait, there’s a nice vibrant and whole leaf still on the bottom. And in pulling that one off, I find a couple smaller ones all bunched together. Ew, this dark green sludge can go in the compost stack, and with it these other leaves that are so covered in the sludge that I doubt they’d last long even if I did save them.

I take another clump. The one on top has a large bit of dark green in its center, but I see that it’s from another leaf that has turned to mush on top of it. The leaf itself may still be good. No, actually, it’s starting to rot, too, right where the sludge was lying on top of it. This leaf won’t last long. Too bad. If I weren’t trying to salvage more than just today’s salad, I’d probably keep it and eat it as it is. But I’m hoping to save some for tomorrow, so this leaf won’t make it.

It occurs to me that much of my life is spent sorting spinach. Pulling things apart to see what is good and what is not; what to keep and what to discard.

I am surrounded by ideas–from books, from tv and movies, from stories people tell and from actions that people take, from conversations and from silences. Not ideas, as in “hey, let’s do this!” but ideas as in opinions, beliefs, themes, and notions. What is good? What is worthless? What is decaying, and what is alive? Like spinach, the ideas are all clumped together and sometimes seem inseparable. And like spinach, sometimes a vital thought comes sandwiched between worthless ones.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach, of course. I’d rather buy it from the store–presorted, prewashed, certified good and ready to digest.

I’d rather not have to sort the spinach. When it’s starting to become all gross and slimy, I’d rather just toss it and get a new bag. But tonight, its value as a source of nutrition was worth the trouble of taking the time to sort through.

And it occurs to me that we all choose what is worth sorting.

Here are a few reflections that come to mind in thinking about sorting:

First: It’s hard to sort carefully. And sometimes we don’t want sort carefully, we just take whatever we can get at the moment! We’d never do that with a handful of dark green–and slimy–spinach, but we don’t mind it with a funny movie! I’m not here to disparage our viewing habits, I’m simply reflecting on the fact that I know I have swallowed things I’ve seen or read or heard without really recognizing that they were decaying rather than vibrantly good–and often at the same time as taking the good.

Second: Sometimes we choose not to sort. When we come up against something that is clearly slimy and icky, it is sometimes quite best for us to decide to toss the whole thing and start afresh. (I tend to feel this way about horror flicks. It’s pretty easy for me to decide to toss the whole thing rather than picking through for the one or two leaves I might find there. Might.)

Third: Sometimes we choose to sort and get little from it. We toss and toss and toss and toss, and we are left with nothing. The thing is that there really are some bags that are completely gone. But sometimes it’s just that we don’t want to touch anything that’s not perfectly whole. If it’s even slimy, don’t wash it off; just toss it! That’s not going in my mouth!

Fourth: Sorting often yields surprises. My family and I recently visited the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. Fascinating site! Also fascinating to watch the scientists carefully sorting through all of the tiny little pieces they find, painstakingly separating them from their asphalt coverings and reconstructing prehistoric (and not so prehistoric) skeletons. To them it is worth getting down in the black sticky mess if they can come away with a shred more information to add to what they already know about “life back then.”

And it’s no different with us. Where we might be terribly tempted to discount ideas where we see absolutely nothing but slimy green . . . it’s somehow worth our while to do some sorting when someone we know and love is handing us the spinach of life. We can toss out everything they say as untouchable, but we toss them out with it, too.

And this is where Common Grace comes in.

Because every human is made in God’s image, every human has good leaves mixed in with their decaying ones. In fact, all of us have slimy green beliefs mixed in with our very best ideas about life, the universe, and all things in between. And because we are each made in God’s image, it may just be that our ideas are worth hearing out and sorting through rather than being thrown out at the first sign of sludge. It’s one thing to sort out a horror flick, but what about my neighbor?

I can think of some very personal examples–things I have been sorting through in my own life lately, finding unexpected good leaves and being uncertain about others (will they stand the test of time and eternity?). But rather than giving a lot of backstory for personal sorting, let me choose a more national example.

Islam.

For those of us who have lived our lives by the truths and traditions of Christianity, the thought of welcoming Islam into our schools, communities, and friendships–let alone our country!–is a no-brainer. Islam is not the truth, it’s the dark green decayed sludge. Toss it out! Keep it out! It’s dangerous in more ways than we can count (even without its associations with terrorism). Don’t sort it, toss it!

But I remember a movie I saw the summer of my junior year in high school. It was about a young adult who’d gone to an Islamic country on a mission trip, and had made friends with a Muslim man who, in the movie I watched, immigrates to the United States. The American man does his best to win the Muslim man to Christ, but instead finds that he is learning from this non-Christian’s example how shallow his own Christianity really is. We’d love for the movie to end with the Muslim recognizing his need for Christ and being gloriously saved, but the movie ends instead with the Christian man recognizing his need for Christ and for the lovely zeal he sees in his Muslim friend’s life.

Thinking back to that movie, I see that it forced me to do some sorting. Rather than throwing Islam out, I had to recognize that it had something to teach me. No, not that I should be working harder as a Christian, but that maybe my love for and zeal for God should be strong–though for a different reason, perhaps.

And thinking today of the White Helmets of Syria, the group that goes into danger to save as many lives as they can, I see many vibrantly green leaves to honor: courage & compassion among them. Their motto “Whoever saves one life, saves all of humanity” comes from the Koran. That isn’t something I can easily toss.

And so I find myself sorting spinach yet again.

 

 

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November 11, 2010

I just figured out tonight why Psalm 103:5 would need to happen.

I was reading the background Lois Lowry gives for her book Number the Stars in her afterword. She spoke of the courage of the Danish resistance fighters who dared to defy the Nazis in so many ways . . . and of the youth of so many of them. One young man she spoke of was only 21 when he was executed by the Nazis. Young, brave, and idealistic, he wrote a letter to is loved ones asking them not to lament the past that has ended but to work for the future they truly longed for (and needed). So young. So brave!

And it hit me that I have grown old at heart. Afraid to risk, afraid of the pain, afraid that all I’ve done and risked in the past was a mere foolish waste after all. All that pain, that fear, that doubt is crippling. Because when you’re young you know that the risks are there but you haven’t experienced them firsthand. And you tell yourself that you are proceeding in spite of the risks when really you are simply throwing yourself out into the fray as though there are no risks. Because for the young, the risks don’t exist. But when you have experienced the risks, you grow up, you become conscious of the cost, and you grow wary.

And before you realize it, you’ve grown old.

Perhaps you become more strategic, but maybe that’s a nice way of saying you play things safer.

And perhaps that’s why we need God to renew our youth like the eagle’s–so we can launch ourselves out again and take the risks as though they aren’t even there. Because in the real world, the world that matters, the risk of loving others is great, the greatest, but it’s the one ideal that is the most important. Because if we are going to act like God does, we are going to have to love like He does–in spite of the risks. And–like those young, brave, Danish resistance fighters–perhaps even because of them.

 

Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth. Psalm 71:9

Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things: so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Psalm 103:5

Oh, God of dust and rainbows, help us see That without dust the rainbow would not be. ~ Langston Hughes

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