I made a run out to the landfill this morning. I’ve made the trip at least half-a-dozen times over the past couple of weeks as I’ve unpacked. This city doesn’t do cardboard recycle bins like our former city does. That’s because every home has its own cardboard recycle can, which works fine if all you are disposing of is boxes of Wheat Thins. But it isn’t efficient for recycling dozens of packing boxes.
For that, you have to drive out to the landfill.
As far as landfills go, this one is pretty spectacular. The views of Smith Rock and the Three Sisters are some of the best around. Who could hate working at a landfill when surrounded by such beauty?
And for a landfill, it’s fairly organized. I don’t have to pay to drop off cardboard boxes and I can pull directly up near the spot for unloading. That’s where I was today along with another couple, who were also disposing of flattened boxes, when a woman hollered at me from the back of my car: “You want some help?”
I didn’t realize at first that she was speaking to me, but then I saw her carrying an armful of boxes my way.
“Oh! Thank you!” I said.
“I thought you just had a few but I see you have a trunk full,” she said.
“Yes. We’ve just moved here.”
“Well maybe you will be all set for the holidays,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know. It might take me until the end of January to be finished unpacking.”
“It’s a lot of work, isn’t it?”
“More than I remembered from previous moves.” (I didn’t mention that I was 20 years younger the last time we moved).
Pushing up the backend of her pickup, the kindly woman told me that she and her husband had thought about moving to Idaho but decided against it. Now they were looking for a place. She wanted to know where we’d bought and if we were happy with it.
Oh. Yes! I said, offering that our builder was a quality fella.
We stood there at the trunks of our vehicles chatting for a moment about the region and all it has to offer in the way of community – an indie bookstore, college nearby, hiking, biking, music, art – and then the lady with the generous smile and thick greying hair asked, “Are you a Christian?”
Keep in mind there are no fish stickers on my car. The only bumper stickers refer to my disdain for Trump. Hardly a clue to my affiliation of faith.
I paused, unsure for the first time in my adult life on how to answer her seemingly harmless question.
Are you a Christian? is no longer a question of congeniality. In these times, it’s a perilous question.
I waited a moment before answering, weighing my response. It’s not Christ I’m ashamed of being associated with – it’s Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham and the ilk of Christians who have claimed allegiance to Roy Moore and Donald Trump.
The thing is I have always been regarded as a woman who was never afraid to speak to my faith. I’ve had people throughout my life tell me how it encourages them to see me be so public about being a woman of faith.
Yet, there at the landfill, I hesitated. Am I a Christian? I didn’t know what answer to proffer.
“Yes,” I said, “but not the Jerry Falwell sort. Not the Donald Trump kind.”
“So it’s all about Jesus?” she asked, raising her arms upward.
“Yes,” I said.
“We have to be willing to speak out.”
“Speaking out isn’t a problem for me. I just hate how some have co-opted faith for political purposes.”
She nodded in understanding. We exchanged personal information with the hopes of running into each other again soon, this lovely lady who helped me with my recyclables, who offered me a kind word of encouragement there at the landfill with the stunning views.
As I drove away, I thought how it seems like I’ve been in a wandering place, a dry and barren land. I thought about how violated it feels to have my faith stripped away by a people whose allegiance isn’t to Christ but to a doctrine of pro-gun, pro-life and pro-Apocalypse.
I wondered if I have ever really known Christ, or if I have just grown up in a religion void of the personhood of Christ. Perhaps all I’ve ever really worshiped is some American construct of a white Christ child grown up to become a bloody warrior.
It can be difficult fettering all this out. It’s a bit like waking up next to your spouse of 40 years and not recognizing them.
Christian is a term I have identified with for the bulk of my life. It’s as familiar an identity to me as my name. Yet, it is no longer a term I want to be identified with – at least not without qualifiers. Some means of letting others know right off the bat that while I might be all about Jesus, I do not in any way shape or form, identify with those who seek to monetize the name for money, power or fame.
Or the presidency.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A Novel