(This blog post appeared on Good Friday, April 3rd, 2015, as part of a Holy Week series for Presbyterians for Earth Care).
In 2012, the world generated 2.6 trillion pounds of garbage with over half of that amount going into landfills around the planet.
Those landfills are home to 1% of the global population. Children and their families who are the poorest of the poor live on the outskirts of landfills. Many use these landfills as a place of work—trading garbage for cash or consuming salvageable waste in order to survive. What was food for the dogs and flies becomes food for a family.
- La Chureca is the largest garbage dump in Central America, located on the edge of Managua. One thousand people live and work on the “City of Trash” every day. There is even an elementary school located on the dump with six classrooms.
- More than 2,000 families live on the Bantar Gebang landfill that lies outside Jakarta, Indonesia.
- Thousands of families call the Tultitlan garbage dump in Mexico City home while spending 12 hours a day, in scorching hot sun, looking for recyclable materials to sell and make less than a dollar a day.
- The Veolia landfill 100 miles south of Atlanta, Georgia, known to locals as “Trash Mountain,” received toxic coal ash from a massive spill that occurred in December 2008 at a Kingston, TN power plant. Taylor County, where Veolia landfill is located, is 41% African-American and more than 24% of its residents live in poverty.
In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was the landfill located just south of Jerusalem. This was the city dump of Jesus’ time. When Jesus would speak of hell, it is thought he was speaking of Gehenna which was filled with the household trash, Empire’s leftovers, and bodies of the dead. With no sanitation or plumbing systems in Jerusalem, people would toss their urine and feces into the streets. Imagine this: the streets of Jerusalem steaming with human shit and pee as Jesus was taken to the Imperial cross of execution. The Roman Empire closed in on Jesus and his followers, and Jesus’ final footsteps on the planet were pressing upon the garbage ridden streets of Jerusalem.
As a small child in La Chureca landfill picks through garbage, as birds and dogs and flies hover over the “what is left,” there, too, is Jesus’ body, naked, broken resting upon the planet’s garbage. It is with the poorest of the poor, the poor who make a home and eat dinner in garbage dumps, where Jesus rests his body each and every day, pushing us to see garbage as sacred.
It’s all sacred. All of it. The plastic water bottles. The rotting meat. The Styrofoam. Ripped Clothing. Banana peels. Broken bicycles. Flies. Rats. Dogs. The poop of the rats and dogs. Seagulls. Children of the garbage dumps. Their school. Every bit of the “what’s left” is sacred and holy.
There is no division of the sacred and the profane. In fact there is no profane. On this Good Friday, we sit at the foot of the cross, an Imperial cross that might have been possibly littered with trash and human feces from Gehenna and Jerusalem, a cross soaked with blood and dripping flesh. Without mercy, Jesus was nailed to a cross with those viewed as human garbage hanging next to him. It is in the nailing that Jesus nails us to each other.
From my garbage in Arlington, VA, to the sanitation workers of Arlington County who pick it up, to the garbage ridden waters of the Anacostia River which borders Washington D.C., to the the poor living near the Veolia landfill to the families of Bantar Gebang; to Gehenna and the human waste of Jerusalem, the nails on the cross today pierce together what is seen and treated as the waste of the planet.
Ecofeminism stretches us to embrace it all as sacred, to see how each and every bit of what’s treated as garbage, the human and the material, are nailed together.
On this Good Friday, we sit and wait. Together. Nailed together as the planet continues to be pierced, broken, torn, and rendered. As your hands and arms stretch out today to toss away a piece of garbage, as your hands and arms extend to pick-up garbage, we remember the ones who live, eat, live, learn and are family on a garbage dump. Today we remember Jesus and his outstretched arms, executed in a city that looked and smelled and was a garbage dump.
Prayer: Holy One. Holy One of garbage and landfills. We are nailed together. Garbage and all. May we never, ever forget it.