What do you notice as you walk along the streets of your city? Do you see beauty? Do you see gleaming new buildings or grand historic structures? Do you see people in all their magnificent diversity? Or do you see trash, graffiti, litter? Do you see what is ugly?
I was in Kinshasa, Congo, and everywhere I looked I saw small plastic bags. They were on the trees like translucent leaves. They clogged drainage ditches. These bags were the main source of clean water—you’d buy from the local seller, rip off a corner to get the drink, then toss the empty bag on the ground. I commented to my Congolese friends about the bags, and nobody knew what I was talking about. They didn’t see their own trash.
Do you see the trash around you? Do you step over the litter, walk by the crushed fast food cup, ignore the torn candy wrapper? Or do you see? What do you do about what you see?
In seeking to liberate India from British colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi challenged Indians to take responsibility for their own cleanliness. There was a lot of dirtiness around India, and Gandhi said that was the responsibility of Indians themselves. For him cleanliness was a step for inner liberation, taking control of one’s own living condition.
What do we say about our home, our city, if we litter? What do we say about the value of our community if we pass by litter with unseeing eyes?
Prayer often involves confession. We acknowledge before God what is morally fouled or dirty in our lives. Then when we hear of God’s forgiveness we feel cleansed. Many religions have rituals of washing, symbolizing our need to be clean as we come before God.
How would confession and cleansing look as we pray for our city? If we walk as we pray, how does cleansing take place?
Maybe I should keep my trash until I can dispose of it properly. Maybe I should clean up the litter in front of my home and in front of my place of work—not grumbling at the filthy pigs who threw that cigarette butt on the sidewalk, but as a prayerful spiritual discipline.
Maybe I could even take a small trash bag with me as I walk the city to leave the place more beautiful than I found it. When I hike in the forest, that’s the backpacker’s commitment. You pack out your trash, and maybe other people’s trash too. Why can’t we apply that ethic to our city streets?
What other ways might prayer and confession “hit the streets”? How can God’s cleansing in you cleanse our city?
(Note on the photo today: The clean-water bags in Congo and many other countries around the world generally are clear. The photo today is of grocery bags familiar to Americans—and a more common sign of litter in our cities.)
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