Visitors to places like Cairo or Karachi often come back and talk about how incredibly filthy the streets are. They are struck by the waste that is everywhere, an ever-present result of masses of humanity living closely together combined with a poor or non-existent infrastructure to deal with the trash.
It’s not only cities like Cairo or Karachi. It’s a problem all over the world in urban settings.
Take the city of Cambridge where we live, a wealthy city. Unlike our suburban home, where a well-kept and swept sidewalk bordered on a pristine yard and led to the front door, the city is shared space. It doesn’t matter how much we may sweep and clean our space, it is used by others in our building and subject to their footsteps, habits, and trash.
In cities you have to deal with garbage. And sometimes a lot of it.
The garbage is all around after a busy weekend of events, traffic, and people. The garbage multiplies as services like street cleaning and trash day are suspended during a holiday weekend. Only minutes after being picked up there will be more trash on the ground.
Because where there are humans there is garbage. Inescapable garbage.
But where there are humans there is also the presence of God. In the midst of the pristine cleanliness of suburbia where garbage is well-hidden behind white fences and beautiful gardens, and in the midst of the city where garbage spills out over dumpsters and trash cans– God is there. He is there and he is active. He is there and he is searching for people stuck in the garbage.
“We do not worship a deistic God, an absentee landlord who ignores his slum; we worship a garbageman God who came right down into our worst garbage to clean it up. How do we get God off the hook for allowing evil? God is not off the hook; God is the hook. That’s the point of a crucifix.” Peter Kreeft
This is my hope on this Monday. That somehow I’ll be one who sees the people beyond the garbage. That I’ll reach into the unreachable and extend grace.
“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.” Mother Teresa
5 thoughts on “Reaching Beyond the Garbage”
Beautiful, Marilyn, this finding of God in our (metaphorical) trash. I think in developing cities, especially, it’s difficult to look (and smell) past the trash. But if we can’t, we will miss all the beauty and wonder that is there underneath and in the midst. And my city does have beauty — although I still hold my breath when passing the dumps and the open sewers!
My own experience is in Kenya: 1980, 1988, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2014 – second home.
I so appreciate you bringing up smell! The joke in our family is my nose. I can smell dirty socks from 50 yards, garbage from a mile, dead things from 5 miles. My nose has been my curse in the developing world and my curse as a nurse. It takes all of my prayers to walk some places so I really relate with this. It amazes me though how pretty we can make sin when we dress it up. Which is why I do appreciate the whole metaphor of our garbage man God. Thanks Elizabeth.
Oh you’ve made me laugh. I have a sensitive nose too! Ever since childhood.