Reflections on Eastertides and plastic bottles

by Donna Schaper

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You may or may not know that plastic bottles have an afterlife. They congregate at the bottom of oceans, after they live a life that could have been lived as a glass or a cup, or more poetically, a vessel or a jar.

There at the bottom of the ocean, they reek havoc on fish and water, while suffering that hell that is reserved for those who are useless or empty or both. The truth of the matter is that nobody really needs a plastic bottle. They are an invention of late stage capitalism, and join the Styrofoam coffee cup and its plastic lid in being useful for the smallest speck of time. 

A vessel goes to shards and ends up in a museum. A ceramic cup joins the user for so many mornings and afternoons that love rubs into it. Sarah Kornfeld, an oceans activist and founding member of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, says plastic is a post-World War II invention. There was plastic before, in the telephone and elsewhere, but plastic became ubiquitous after the war.

“It's really important for us to accept that plastic was created with the hope to remove the edges from the world after WWII -- we wanted a world where nothing could break again and where nothing would shatter,” Kornfeld, a member of my congregation at Judson Memorial Church, in New York, told me.

“The paradox,” she said, “is right in front of us -- we created something in the face of war and horror that we thought could protect us from pain, glass shards, and brokenness. To avoid a war with glass we have created a Shoah of ocean toxins.” 

Sasha Adkins, a GreenFaith fellow and Ph.D. candidate in environmental studies at Antioch University New England, in Keene, New Hampshire, tells me that we can’t really study the plastic conglomerations below the ocean floor, but only measure what comes to the surface. She said few attempts have occurred at quantifying the extent of plastic pollution on the seafloor, but some imagine it around eight times what is seen on the surface.

The oceans are becoming a chemical soup.

What both Kornfeld and Adkins explained is that the problem of plastic comes not only from its harm to the ocean but also its encouragement of a disposable culture in general. It surrounds us with disposability. It is also easier to call someone white trash if plastic is the petty and putrid poetry of our existence. Ironically, things that don’t die, like plastic, teach us to think we are disposable. 

Plastics break the cycle of life and its mentoring. Mentoring has another kind of afterlife. We live on in each other. Mentoring releases energy, increases energy and explodes life into more life.

Mentoring, like parenting, also involves a lot of suffering along the way, as anyone who has been mentored or is mentoring knows. Mentoring is a cup filled with joy and sorrow. I used to be a plastic bottle and am hoping to become a vessel. I am hoping this Eastertide to join the great life cycle.

Easter is a great mentor, if for no other reason than that it declares a usable past.

Many of us suffer from the tragedy of thinking we have nobody to teach us. Or we suffer the twin tragedy that we already know everything we need to know.

Mary Magdalene goes to the empty tomb. There she meets Jesus whom she confuses with a gardener. He calls her by name. She calls him by name, “Rabouni.” In their mutual recognition, they are mutually mentoring. The past is receiving its future.   

Easter tells you that you are teachable, that someone can call you by name. You are not disposable. You are recyclable. You are resurrectable. There is a big difference between being disposable and unbreakable, and being disposed and able to break, even to shatter.

Mentoring is the bridge that connects your past and your future, with a wisdom that calls you out and calls you by name. Mentoring is a vessel that empties and fills so that we can call each other by name. 

And when you throw away a bottle, braid it. Crush it. It will cause less harm to the ocean.

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