No matter how engrossed I might be in an episode of Bugs Bunny or Gilligan’s Island, my ears never missed the approaching rumble. It crawled its way down the alley, one man driving, two other men walking alongside. They hefted garbage cans and spilled their contents into the gaping mouth of the truck.

I would bang through the back door, sprint across the yard, swing open the gate, and stand there gawking and grinning as my favorite parade passed by. The muscled men were friendly. They had a dream job. A big, loud truck. All day in the alley.

I was a boy. But when I became a man, I wanted to be just like them.

I would be a trashman.

Over the course of the next three and a half decades or so, my vocational aspirations shifted. For several years I wanted nothing more than to build a cabin deep in the woods, trap, hunt, fish, and live off the land. I considered becoming a farmer and rancher, like many of the men in my hometown. I ended up laboring at feed, tire, and hardware stores; hammering shingles onto roofs; preaching in pulpits; lecturing in seminary classrooms; picking up and delivering freight.

I was a boy once, and when I became a man, I became many things, but never a trashman.
Perhaps I should have gone with my first instinct. For I know a thing or two about trash.
About throwing things away. About being thrown away. Even about recycling.


Isn’t it odd, the power of names? I sit down at a meal, with a white napkin beside my plate. It’s welcome on my table. I pick it up and wipe my lips with it. It is still a napkin, my napkin. I have no qualms about putting it back beside my plate of food, or on my lap, or on my mouth.

But when I’m finished with it, I throw it away. The napkin becomes trash. And once it becomes trash, I wouldn’t dream of retrieving it from the dumpster and putting it back on my table, or wiping my mouth with it. It is no longer anything but trash to me.

The trash can is the great equalizer.
What falls into it becomes what it is.
It is no longer a napkin or any other individualized, named item.
It is simply trash.


A man told me recently that he feels like he's been thrown away. He used to serve a church. He used to be needed, wanted, honored. But now he's unwanted, unneeded, ignored. He feels like nothing but trash.

I can remember a certain family in my home town. Dogs were given greater honor than these people. They were uneducated, dirty, poor. "That family," I was told so many times, "is nothing but white trash."

We categorize people by their weaknesses, failures, addictions, deprivations, sentences. We keep various, labeled trash cans around for the sake of convenience. In them we throw people away.

Jesus can transform a dumpster into an altar of re-creation.

And sometimes we are thrown away. Old friends no longer answer our phone calls. The church where we once worshiped becomes frigid. Sometimes even our families shame us, shun us, trash us from their lives.

In this world, in this life, there's always a season spent in the alley. Amongst the debris that others have thrown away.


Thank God that we have a Lord who walks the alleys. He turns off Main Street, with its shiny shops and smiling people to haunt the alleys where the trashed people live hopeless lives.

And our God, he’s not afraid of trash.
What others have thrown away, he loves.
He is a Lord of redemption, of recycling, of reclaiming.
He recycles lives that we have trashed, that others have trashed.
Jesus can transform a dumpster into an altar of re-creation.

He strolls through the alleys of this world. He picks up the discarded remains of people like us. He washes us, clothes us, feeds us, embraces and kisses us. He even leads us home and adopts us into his family as heirs of the fullness of his grace.

There is no trash at the foot of the cross.

When I was a boy, I wanted to be a trashman. Little did I know that I would grow up to need a God who was a trashman. He unhesitatingly stooped down, retrieved me from the dumpster, and treated me not as an object to be despised but as a son to be loved.

And so he does for all of us. To others, even to ourselves, we may be seem like trash, but to the God of love, we are treasure.

There is no trash at the foot of the cross.

My new book, Your God Is Too Glorious: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places, is now available. You can order copies from Christian Book Distributors, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your favorite local bookstore.