Sorting Out the Trash


“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”             Philippians 3:7-8a


Everyday life in Japan can present quite a few challenges for newcomers. For example, the correct separation of the trash (called “gomi” in Japanese) is a ritual that foreigners must learn in order to live in harmony with their neighbors and demonstrate cultural sensitivity.

In Japan, gomi is classified into many different categories. Herein lies the immediate challenge for a novice. First of all, it is essential to know the basic genres of gomi, which are burnable, unburnable and recyclable. In addition, there is often a separate category for clean plastics and another one for hazardous waste items like batteries, thermometers etc. Additional fees are charged for the pickup of larger stuff ranging from furniture to refrigerators. Collection days for differing categories of gomi, using specific collection bags, vary according to one’s local neighborhood and city regulations. The list of rules defining such matters is endless. For example, aerosol cans must be carefully punctured, newspapers and clean milk cartons should be tied up with a specific string, fluorescent tubes must be placed in their original boxes and branches must be bundled in tidy piles not exceeding a certain length etc. etc.

The classification of certain items can differ from area to area and the breakdown of recyclable categories can be even more complicated. Thick pamphlets are produced and duly distributed to insure compliance and protect well-intentioned people from folly. Any gomi that is incorrectly prepared or deposited on the wrong day is rejected by the trash collectors with a large X sticker, with the expectation that the gomi transgressor will shamefully haul it back home. As a consequence of all these regulations, everyone maintains multiple garbage cans in their homes designated for different types of gomi. All members of the household are well drilled on what gomi goes out on what day and everyone (incredibly) cooperates.

In Philippians 3, the Apostle Paul gave great advice about sorting out “trash” of a different sort that we would do well to heed. He testified that there are many things this world has to offer that we may be tempted to value or collect, but we must constantly evaluate them with a heavenly perspective. Upon closer inspection, they pale in value when compared to the eternal worth of knowing Jesus. Like sorting out the trash, we need to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us while also exercising diligence in disposing of anything in our lives not closely aligned with God’s purposes.

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