Dumpster Diving

The Dump (notice the buzzards lined up along the top of the hill)


Recently, I made a trip to the dump to jettison our bi-monthly garbage collection. My outings to the local landfill are always an adventure since I am still a kid at heart. Three things utterly fascinate me about the dump: the size of the machinery rumbling around pulverizing the garbage, the sheer number of turkey buzzards lurking on the outskirts awaiting mealtime, and the remote possibility that I might find something useful that has been discarded (one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the saying goes).

As I was offering my rather large sacrifice of big, black Hefty bags on this mountain of refuse, I seemed to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit telling me to look around and pay attention to the scene unfolding. You may be thinking, what’s to see—it’s the dump already. Sacks of rubbish were being shredded and pulverized by the tracks of the large dozer as it methodically ran back and forth across the crest of the pile. Crumpled cans, punctured plastic jugs, broken glass, and a paper menagerie of every shade and color surrendered to crushing force of that relentless Caterpillar D-9. The tortured terrain was otherworldly—sort of like a scene after the Apocalypse.

To make the landscape even more uninviting, a horde of vultures surrounded the perimeter, just out of harm’s way, waiting for the precise moment when the machine stopped compacting so they could begin dining on a smorgasbord of rubbish. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a turkey buzzard up close, but they are big, ugly, and intimidating. They don’t walk—they hop, and here at this dump, they don’t fly unless they are forced to. They just wait…and wait…and wait for something dead.

Standing there on the bed of my old truck I let the scene my eyes were seeing ruminate in my mind, and then it sank like a rock into my spirit. This mountain of debris is the world Jesus came to visit in the Incarnation. This pile of compost is the place we make our home. God created a garden and we traded that divine domain for a rubbish pit. Not a very appealing picture I know, but an appropriate one nonetheless.

It was then the Holy Spirit reminded me of something. What he was teaching me was not an environmental lesson about being a better steward of the earth, but a spiritual lesson so that I might open my eyes and see the reality around me. Every day, we walk through a garbage dump littered with the lives of broken and crushed people. Scattered all around us are the wounded and the hopeless—trash in the minds of some, but treasured in the heart of God. Men and women crushed by the unpredictable tracks of life and hammered by their own mistakes and choices. The scene was ghastly as it unfolded. I could hear their groans and theirs silent cries for help.

In the midst of the ghoulish landscape stood the enemy and his henchmen patiently awaiting that moment when they could swoop in and hell’s jaws would engulf another helpless soul. I was reminded of how Jesus used the city dump of Jerusalem in the Valley of Gehenna to illustrate hell—the place where the worm never died and the flames were never extinguished. His illustration took on life as my senses were overloaded with the sights, sounds, and smells before me.

In that moment, I realized as followers of Christ, our responsibility is not to add to the amount of garbage already on the pile, but to fish out those who have been abandoned, or crushed, or shattered and left for dead on this rubbish heap on which we live. This is not our home—this is our mission field. Jesus plucked us out from beneath the crushing weight of sin, healed our hearts, implanted his Spirit within us, gifted us, and commanded us to be dumpster divers. We are heaven’s treasure hunters sent out to scour the pits, the piles, and the pigsties for those who are beloved of God.

My future visits to the dump will never be the same. What about yours?