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Dumpster Diving for Dinner

Back in the fall of 1981, shortly after I got out of the Army, I hitchhiked from Tacoma, WA to the family farm in Langdon, ND. A couple days into my trip, after spending a long afternoon standing on the side of the highway in Forsyth, MT fruitlessly trying to get a ride, I decided to try riding the rails. Some friendly workers in the yard pointed out a train that was heading east. I climbed into an open coal hopper and waited for the train to begin its journey. But after an hour or so, I decided my choice was unsuitable. Not only was the car too dirty, but the temperature started dropping rapidly once the sun went down. It was late in September, and the nights were getting frosty. I could easily catch hypothermia in the open car once the train started rolling. So I climbed back out and looked for more comfortable accommodations. Thankfully, I found three cabooses in the middle of the train which were presumably headed for a maintenance shop somewhere. I settled in the first one and waited for the train to get underway.

Once it rolled out of the yard early the next morning, the hobos came out of the woodwork. I had no idea they were on board. There were more than a dozen. They held a hobo-meeting in one of the cabooses and compared notes. Some of the experienced riders knew the route: which towns the train would stop in, where the stores were, where the apple trees and gardens were, where they could get water, where they could recycle cans and bottles, where there were food pantries, and what days the stores dumped outdated goods into their dumpsters. It was a gold mine of information … for hobos.

One of the men recalled that the Safeway store in the next major stop would be dumping outdated goods that morning. So when we stopped, the old timers sent several of us young bucks down the tracks supervised by one of the experienced hands. We hit the jackpot. Sausage, bacon, eggs, donuts, sweet rolls, coffee, orange juice, and chocolate. When we sauntered back into the hobo camp, heavily laden, we discovered that the others had a fire going in a metal bucket. They had even rustled up a fridge grate for toast and sausage and a slab of steel for a makeshift griddle. We feasted until we couldn’t eat another bite.

Now many would be too ashamed to eat out of a dumpster. And I can empathize with their concerns. But this shame is a relative matter. If our economy were to go down the toilet, and federal benefits like unemployment and food stamps were either diminished or deceased, leaving many working-class folks with empty wallets and cupboards, then their squeamishness about grocery sources would evaporate in a hurry. They would avail themselves of dent-and-bent stores, food banks, and even dumpsters. When men are hungry, shame goes out the window. And when men are hungry, if shame keeps them from eating the food they need to stay well-fed and healthy, that shame is a detriment, not a help.

But this story isn’t an end in and of itself. It is presented to illustrate a point—the cost of being a Berean. We need to eat good spiritual food and not worry whether or not men appreciate the perceived source. I say perceived source because every point of truth taught by the Bible is rejected by broad swaths of the church, sometimes the majority of the church, as garbage. No matter how many passages you point to, and no matter how well-framed the argument, influential folks will sneer at the biblical position and mock those that hold it as spiritual lowlifes who have stooped to eat out of the spiritual dumpster.

Dear readers, be Bereans! Steel yourselves in your hearts that you will not allow the sneers or disdain of anyone to turn you away from any portion on the table spread before you in the Bible—not the big names at large, not the big names in your own circle, not the influential men in your own church, not your own family, not your own friends. Bereans stick with the Bible no matter who challenges it. The original Bereans didn’t give anyone a pass, not even the apostle Paul (Acts 17:11). They exalted the word of God above his exceptionally profitable ministry. They trembled at the word of God. Let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4).

Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.

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