Finding Gold in the Garbage

Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 2:46pm


(An excerpt from Max Lucado’s JUST LIKE JESUS)


William Rathje likes garbage.

This Harvard-educated researcher is convinced we can learn a lot from the trash dumps of the world. Archaeologists have always examined trash to study a society. Rathje does the same; he just eliminates the wait. The Garbage Project, as he calls his organization, travels across the continent, excavating landfills and documenting our eating habits, dress styles, and economic levels. Rathje is able to find meaning in our garbage.

His organization documented that the average household wastes 10 percent to 15 percent of its solid food. The average American produces half a pound of trash per day, and the largest landfill in American, located near New York City, has enough trash to fill the Panama Canal. According to Rathje, trash decomposes more slowly than we thought it did. He found a whole steak from 1973 and readable newspapers from the Truman presidency. Rathje learns a lot by looking at our junk.

Reading about Rathje made me wonder, “What is it like to be a “garbologist”? When he gives a speech, is he address referred to as “trash talk”? Are his staff meetings designated as “rubbish reviews”? Are his business trips called “junkets”? When he daydreams about his work, does his wife tell him to get his mind out of the garbage?

Though I prefer to leave the dirty work to Rathje, his attitude toward trash intrigues me. What if we learned to do the same? Suppose we changed the way we view the garbage that comes our way? After all, don’t you endure your share of rubbish? Snarled traffic. Computer foul-ups. Postponed vacations.

And then there are the days that a Dumpster couldn’t hold all the garbage we face: hospital bills, divorce papers, pay cuts, and betrayals. What do you do when an entire truck of sorrow is dumped on you?

On Rathje’s office wall is a framed headline he found in a paper: “Gold in Garbage.” This garbologist finds treasure in trash. Jesus did the same. What everyone else perceived as calamity, he saw as opportunity. And because he saw what others didn’t, he found what others missed.

Early in his ministry Jesus said this about our vision:

“Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar” (Matthew 6:22-23 MSG).

In other words, how we look at life determines how we live life. But Jesus did much more than articulate this principle, he modeled it.


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