The Dump and the Church
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51: 17
During the summer my wife and I are mostly at the family cabin in the mountains of northeastern Oregon.
On Sundays we go to town, where we have two stops. First stop is the county dump, which is open 10 to 3. The dump is on the outskirts of town, at the end of a dead-end road. There I heft our black bag of garbage into the maw of the waiting dumpster.
Second stop is church, a Methodist church, a block off the main street, where we worship in the summers. The hours are about the same. Going to the dump and church on the same trip makes deciding how to dress a challenge.
There’s another challenge: putting too much distance between our two stops. We sometimes think all the yucky stuff belongs in a hidden, out-of-the-way place; while at church it is only the nice stuff that is acceptable—us highly functioning and working well.
I’m not suggesting that we take our household garbage to church (although that might be symbolically provocative). I am thinking that what we might call our spiritual garbage, the broken parts of our lives, the stuff that has the embarrassing odor of flaw and failure, belongs at church and before God. Author Roberta Bondi once commented, “The church tends to invite our noble selves; God wants our real selves.”
The Psalmist tells us this. He does not tell us that God requires we have everything perfect. Oddly, the one thing God really welcomes is something broken—the broken heart, a fractured spirit. What may be garbage to us may be precious to God, who was into recycling long before we ever heard that word.
Thank you, Lord, for your assurance that my broken heart and contrite spirit are welcome in your presence and in your house. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.