Friday, June 20, 2008


June 20, 2008

The pre-dawn stillness is shattered by the hiss of air brakes, the roar of truck engines, the whine of hydraulic lifts, and the clatter and clang of dozens of bottles and cans crashing into each other with all the vociferous clamor of a hundred overactive, rhythm-challenged adolescents turned loose in a cymbal factory. My heart pounds wildly, my body recoils, and my mind tries to process the sudden journey from peaceful slumber to startled consciousness. A few seconds later the vexing disturbance recurs with increased volume and I am suddenly, painfully aware of the annoying source. It is Tuesday morning—trash day. The garbage truck has found our street. The waste wake-up service has arrived. The refuse industry's revenge on late sleepers has begun!
The untimely arrival of a heat wave, which forced us to leave all the windows in our home wide open, serves to amplify the early morning harassment. The syncopated symphony of tormenting percussionists passes on down the row of waiting trash receptacles only to return five minutes later on the opposite side of the street. Any attempt to fall asleep again is thwarted a few minutes later by a second parade of earsplitting mayhem (the recycle bin requires its own truck), followed shortly by a third (likewise with the green-waste bin). Of course the second and third parades also enjoy their own irritating reprisal as the disquieting procession returns to service our neighbors across the street. Whoever dreamed up this sinister sanitation system was obviously some early rising sadist delighting in daybreak disruptions.
As I sit on the edge of my bed in my pre-coffee, dazed delirium, I find myself longing for the good old days when a garbage truck required a crew of three people, one driver plus two men riding on the back. The truck would pass by only once down the middle of the street while the outside crew dismounted, picked up the trash cans on both sides of the street, emptied them into the back of the truck, and carefully returned them to the curb picking up any escaping article of refuse and tossing it in with the rest of the trash. When it was time for the truck to pull forward the two men would jump on the back of the truck and signal the driver to proceed. The signal usually consisted of a sharp whistle or a shout. Although it was still annoyingly loud it never reached the decibel level of our modern trucks and it was all over in a matter of a few seconds.
One such crew I remember included a man who would signal his driver not with a whistle or a shout, but with a song. In fact, he was constantly singing. When his voice got noticeably louder, the driver would know it was time to pull forward to the next house. The singing took the edge off the early morning wake-up call. It is difficult to get angry at someone who can carry a tune while he's carrying your trash. His voice was no operatic marvel, yet its beauty was enhanced by the contrasting ugliness of his surroundings. His song seemed strangely out of place in such an occupation and so alien to my usual morning moodiness. While I was greeting the morning with a scowl, he was greeting my garbage with a song. While I was vegetating over my morning coffee, he was vocalizing over my discarded coffee grounds. While I was crying over my lack of sleep, he was crooning over my abundance of trash. While I was regretting the early reveille, he was rejoicing in the rubbish.
I am uncertain as to the nature of his song for his language was foreign. I suppose his lyrics could have been cursing his job along with our trash, but his voice sounded far more like a blessing than an irreverent oath, soothing rather than swearing, praise rather than profanity. I wouldn't be surprised if his intended audience was more heavenly than earthly. Who else besides a grateful child of God would have reason to rejoice so consistently amidst such a fowl environment? His sweet song is a beautiful testimony that the attitude of our hearts need not reflect the reality of our circumstances.
I have often thought of the blissful tune of the salvage psalmist during times when I've felt surrounded by the refuse of life. A job I thought was secure is lost. An income I counted on never materializes. A friend I trusted in proves unfaithful. A loved one I cherished is taken from me. A Christian brother wounds me with hurtful words. My team loses the championship. My favored candidate loses at the polls. My desk is piled high with bills my bank account can’t cover. At such times I am tempted to sling the garbage of anger and sorrow rather than sing the glory of God. But if a trash collector can rejoice in the midst of the world's rubbish, why can't I?
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.” – Hebrews 13:15. Does that really say “continually?” “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 5:19-20. Does that really say “always?” And does it really mean “everything,” including Tuesday morning trash pick-up? "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." – Habakkuk 3:17-18. I wonder if Habakkuk ever worked as a sanitation engineer. I could certainly picture him singing praises in the midst of a wagonload of trash.
May I inquire as to the nature of the tune you are singing? Are you railing against the refuse or rejoicing in the rubbish? Are you bringing glory to God or bitterly complaining over the trash that surrounds your life? Are your neighbors edified by your song or are you adding to the annoying din of an accumulating heap of garbage in your community? Does your tune change along with your circumstances or does it reflect a sacrifice of continuous praise? The next time you find yourself down in the dumps, startled by a deluge of life's garbage, just listen for the sweet song of the sanitation singer and join the joyful chorus! "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" – Philippians 4:4. Does that really say "always?"

Bill, a child of God learning to rejoice in the rubbish


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