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May 15, 2013

The Spiritual Practice of Shredding Stuff

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Last month my wife and I left our house in the wee-hours of the morning and joined other households in Carroll County for the shared experience of putting box after box of old documents in a large ravenous shredder-truck which devoured the paper voraciously.


It was quite a liberating experience. Of course, there was a certain irony in the ritualistic-feeding of the paper-eating monster truck sponsored by the Carroll County Office of Recycling.


The vast majority of my papers to be recycled are from the 40 or so years I served on local, county or state boards, committees or commissions – for many years, as an elected official – all of which were accompanied by bringing home boxes of papers, documents and records. It was only fitting and proper that I ‘give’ the papers back to the county.


The further irony is that many of those 40+-years were served on various committees and commissions which focused on the environment, municipal solid waste, agriculture, forestry, water and wastewater treatment – and recycling.


I, for one, am quite thankful for the shredding service. The recycling office reported that we were one of 316 other households that made the trek to the county maintenance facility.


The paper shredder in my office only allows me to feed it up to 16 pages at a time. At that rate, it would take me about two hours to shred one box full of papers. The county shredding service saved me days of mind-numbing work.


As I discussed in my column in on June 20 last year, “Fighting the ‘Stuff Monster,” goals are simply tools to focus one’s energy in positive directions. These goals can change as one’s priorities change and new ones are added, and others dropped.


One of the several priorities I have established in recent years is to greatly simplify my life and cut-out as much of the clutter as possible.


April 13 was one of the few warm and pretty spring days we have had this year. However, after taking a truckload of boxes of old papers to be recycled, I spent the rest of the day at a gathering of the Westminster Conference of Lutheran Churches for a discussion on hospitality and evangelism, led by our bishop, Wolfgang Herz-Lane and assistant to the bishop, Pastor Ron Schlak.


Several columns could be written on the discussions at the conference, but one of the many takeaways was off-topic and serendipitous. As I looked through my briefcase for some of the conference materials, I came across an article in, “Lives Cluttered – the spiritual practice of shedding stuff.” Of course, when the article caught my eye, I read it as ‘shredding stuff,” hence the title of this column.


However the working title for this column had been “Reducing the hail of unwanted junk mail,” which is also not an original title. I have seen the phrase in multiple media accounts in the last year of so.


I’ll write more on this topic in the future. The not-so-trivial matter of the huge volume of unwanted junk mail I have received in the last several years has percolated to the top recently for several reasons.


In my attempts to reduce, reuse and recycle in the last several years, I have renewed my battle with unwanted and unsolicited direct – junk mail. I have come to believe that there is a special place in hell for junk mailers, and, at times, my bud of calm has blossomed into full-blown hysteria accompanied by unchristian thoughts. It has been ugly and not fun – and it is going to get worse.


According to an article posted last September 20 in The Huffington Post that caught my eye last fall, “Postal Service's Newest Idea To Save Itself From Collapse: More Junk Mail,” the author wrote: “Imagine a world without junk mail. Now stop, because the one real one is about to have a lot more of it. The United States Postal Service is cutting new deals with businesses and marketers in an effort to boost its junk mail, or standard mail business as it's more nicely known…”


In one of my boxes of papers, one of the many files that caught my eye was on Rowan v. United States Post Office Department. Although, it is technically an ‘obscenity’ case, I consider the matter of an industry that shipped 5.56 million tons of junk mail in 1999, to be pretty obscene.


Nevertheless, more research is needed, but I believe that the case has been used to further expand the right to permit ‘‘every householder to exercise control over unwanted mail,’’ according to Chief Justice Warren Burger; who went on to say, “Nothing in the Constitution compels us to listen to or view any unwanted communication, whatever its merit…’’


Meanwhile, junk mail has raised the blood pressure of many people for many decades – without much progress toward a solution. We may not be able to make much of a change in public policy toward the junk mailers, but we can change how we conduct our own lives.


The Lutheran magazine article suggests that we go about tackling our ‘spiritual clutter’… “Living a full life is difficult when you’re distracted by noise and ‘busy-ness.’ You can help clear clutter from your spiritual life when you,” … develop a vision, simplify your calendar, pause for meditation and prayer, and forgive and reconcile.


That said, take a memo for the junk mailers. I believe that to forgive is divine; to forget is not my policy.


I’m just saying…


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