The Pastor Who Picks Up the Trash: John Marboe and Sonia Ausen-Anifrani
May 29, 2015
This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives.
Pope Francis describes contemporary culture in the developed world as a “throwaway culture”—one that is willing to throw away natural resources, history and tradition, and even human lives out of a misplaced sense of abundance and a lack of reverence for people, for the precarious things that are human societies, and for the Earth, our common home.
Francis speaks from his experience as a pastor in Buenos Aires—and his words are strikingly consonant with those of Rev. John Marboe, the “Reverend Garbageman” of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Marboe is at once a Lutheran pastor, an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, and a garbage hauler for the City of St. Paul. He occupies the three roles together with relish. “People either laugh or they look at me like I'm crazy—which is the right reaction,” he told his university colleague Sonia Ausen-Anifrani during an American Pilgrimage Project conversation in St. Paul in 2015.
Hauling trash, Marboe gets insight into “what a disposable society we all live in.” More than that, through his work he is joined to the religious ways of being—past and present—in which people beg, make do, and practice simplicity as a way of life. He is put directly in “solidarity with people who do the very menial jobs that we all depend upon.” Marboe gains a sense of how much of our personal identity we gain from our social roles and finds that simple source of identity stripped away through his work, in a manner akin to the ascetic practices of Christianity and of world religions generally.
“Our sense of being here in the world so often has so much to do with our roles,” he says. “We gain a sense of power that way; we gain a sense of self that way. [But] it's important that we do things that strip away that mode of self-identity.” Some do it through meditation, or the practice of stillness, “but for me there's nothing that does it like putting on this dirty shirt and being a garbageman.”
The interview was recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.