On Making Something from Nothing

A violin made from trash recovered from a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay.

A violin made from trash recovered from a landfill in Cateura, Paraguay.

The lectionary gospel text for Sunday, January 16, 2013 was the story from John 2 about Jesus turning water into wine.  My pastor, who also happens to be my wife, included this trailer from the upcoming film Landfill Harmonic in a sermon on the vast material disparities between the rich and the poor in this world transformed by global capitalism. That many people sustain life by gleaning the discards of others–living atop urban landfills on the outskirts of some of the world’s largest cities–is a powerful example of this disparity.  While researching and writing Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard I spent a great deal of time trying to understand the relationship between frugality and material prosperity as market capitalism penetrated deep into the North American interior.  Was John Chapman’s choice to embrace a life of radical frugality a personal protest against the new materialism of his age? When John Chapman’s neighbors retold stories of his radical frugality–his determination to dress himself and feed himself from the discards of others, was he the butt of their joke, or an object of admiration?  I intend to continue to examine the idea of frugality in future posts, but today I’ll just share this video clip about people for whom living on the discards of other is not a choice, but a necessity of their circumstances.  What they make of those circumstances is nothing short of heroic.


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