Steve Dresselhaus February 24, 2013

Gehenna was a  smoldering, smoky  valley at the edge of Jerusalem filled with garbage, the refuse that no one needed  or wanted, the rotting,  unclean,  smelly stuff which culture, tradition and the human nose had declared  unwelcome to the point of getting rid of it.

Move forward 2,000 years from the time Jesus described Hell by comparing  it to Gehenna, and we learn that nothing has changed.  Garbage is still hauled away from where we live.  It is still dirty, smelly, wet, and unwelcome.  It still smolders and smokes in a steep canyon  which  year upon year is being filled with all the stuff society no longer wants.  This Gehenna is not in the Middle East; it is in Guatemala City, and it is  still a body-shudder reminder of what Hell is and will be. 

I have just spent the last three days in  the Guatemala City dump and an adjacent neighborhood that like a parasite, lives off the dump.  I’ll be here for three more.  Yesterday, at the invitation of one of the foremen of the dump, we were  led on a private tour of Gehenna.  We descended into the pit, really a miles-long canyon which is being filled with all the garbage a city of several million can generate.    Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, a steady stream of overburdened trucks descend the dirt road into the pit.  As the trucks near the dumping point, streams of people run to catch up to the trucks, lining up on both sides, fighting to be in position next to the truck so that when it stops and begins to dump, they will be in place to grab the best of the trash as it is extruded. 

As the trash falls from the truck, the people lurch into it like in a slow motion swim.  Bare hands, unbooted feet and maskless faces plunge in and begin pushing useless garbage aside in the pursuit of value – valuable things like plastic bottles, sheets of cardboard, bits of metal, glass,  all things which in this macabre world are worth shoving and fighting for.  Occasionally the scavengers pause and take a sip of whatever remains in the bottle they just pulled from the  garbage truck’s excreta.

As the people dig through the garbage, this moist, sour-smelling hell, with ungloved hands , who knows what they will find?  Broken glass? Jagged metal?  Toxic chemicals? Dead animals?  They have created a hierarchy, a pecking order which gives Darwinian preference to some and relegates others to be the scavengers after the scavengers.   Strong young men actually gain access to the trucks prior to the dumping and get the best of the best garbage.  Then come those strong enough and fast enough to get in position and keep up with the rolling trucks prior to the dump site.  Last come the little old ladies, bent over, widowed or abandoned, who pick through what is left, keeping slightly ahead of the bulldozers which level out the mounds of trash and cover it with dirt trucked in from elsewhere. 

I looked out over this mass of suffering humanity and thought once again of that little verse in Genesis that says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Really?  So this is what God looks like?  Not cool.  Not cool at all.   As I looked out over this Gehenna,  I really didn’t see the image of God.  I saw a corrupted version of it.  I saw not the beautiful creation of God  but instead an intentional  Satan-designed perversion of it.  I  saw a purposeful design  to make us scorn the Creator – to laugh  at him.  I saw a design geared to dehumanize people to the point where they are of no more value than the garbage they are attempting to gather in order to survive.   Instead of living off the bounty of Eden, as we were meant  to do, these people are living off the filth created by others.   The purpose of an image is to make us think of the original thing.   We are designed to make others think of the magnificence of God when they see us.  However, right now when I see little, bent-over  women piling up  fly-covered  filth in the hope they will get enough money from selling it in order to eat that day,  the loving God of the Bible is about the last thing I think of.  Here in this Gehenna, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to see the beauty of God . 

But then something beautiful can happen.  When those of us who used to be as filthy as these scavengers, at least in a moral state of filth if not the physical, are transformed by Jesus, he gives us a love for those who are still unlovely, who are still covered with the filth of dirt and of sin.    He lets us see beyond the what is to the what will be.  He helps us joyfully endure the journey as we work towards the reconciliation of all things to God through the blood of Jesus.    Yes, I do look forward to the future. Even here in this Gehenna.


Shark Attack in Baja


Tecolote Beach, La Paz,  Baja California Sur near where the attack occurred.



Steve Dresselhaus

Divers almost always approach  sharks hoping to get a better look at the sharks they encounter.  There is something primal, something compelling, something overpowering which like a tractor beam on Star Trek lures us in to get a better, closer look.  Rather than instantly  fleeing back to beach or boat, we generally  maneuver toward the swimming machines-of-death known as sharks.

This is my story.  It happened to me about five years ago while diving in the Sea of Cortez near  the city of La Paz in Baja, Mexico,  at a very popular swimming beach called Tecolote.    A few hundred yards west of the beach,   I was snorkeling in shallow water, maybe ten feet deep,   just off a rocky cliff.  The water was almost flat calm.  There was no current.  No waves.  Visibility was average for early summer, about 40 to 50 feet.   The cliffs dropped into the water,  planting their feet into a white sand bottom that spread seaward well past the edge of visibility . 

It was a perfect day.  Above me in the cloudless sky, pelicans, gulls, and  frigate birds  surfed the rising updrafts hurled skyward  by the  cliffs at the water’s edge .  In the near distance the occasional bark of a sea lion from the colony on San Rafaelito Island could be heard.  Below me  and around me in the water  swarmed schools of  ocean perch, mullet and sardines .  Solitary porcupine fish patrolled midwater, secure behind  their needle-pointed armor.  Racing schools of blue runners, jacks and ladyfish zoomed by, seemingly on their way to something important.  Occasional sea bass would hang out at the edge of visibility, fearfully assuming  that as a diver I carried  a spear gun.  Only on this day I had no spear gun.  I had no defenses.

And then I saw the shark.  At first I wasn’t sure but as I swam closer, the deadly , fearsome shape emerged  from the fog of distance and  became clear.  The high dorsal fin and the rigid, angled slightly downward slope of the pectorals were  an absolute  giveaway that the creature I was approaching was indeed  a shark. 

I should have been forewarned by the shark’s behavior as I edged curiously closer.  Generally, in fact almost always,  a shark will make a languid, gentle,  effortless glide away from  the diver.  This shark, however, did not flee from me nor did it glide away.  Instead, it fixed its unblinking gaze  on me.  It seemed to be staring right at me,  its ice cold eyes emitting no more emotion than a wood chipper.   The mouth did not shut, exposing several rows of  jagged teeth to the light of day.  Shark teeth, depending on the species, are often serrated  like a hacksaw blade.  Even their skin is covered with little teeth called dermal denticles.  Dried sharkskin used to be used as sand paper.  In every way imaginable, sharks are designed for two things: killing and eating.  They do both exceptionally  well.

Suddenly, without warning, the shark lunged, not away from me but directly at me.  I remember jerking away from the shark; but in  movement-slowing  water, a clumsy,  out of his element human is no match for the lightning fast attack of a shark.  Faster than my eye and brain could coordinate an image,  the shark was upon me, clamping its jaws shut on me.

 Sharks bite with hundreds of pounds of  pressure per square inch.  The muscle filled jaws exert a huge force,  concentrating it on the tips of the  pointy teeth.   These teeth  can with ease slice through human flesh like a hot knife through butter.   Not even large bones like the human femur can withstand the pressure   of the bite of a large shark.  As the teeth-filled jaws clamped down on my body  with all the strength and power the shark could exert, I clearly  remember thinking “This doesn’t hurt. I can hardly feel anything.”  I do remember feeling the pressure of the jaws closing on me as I clumsily tried to pull away from  my attacker but I felt no pain, none.   Going through my mind was the thought,  I have been attacked by a shark.  I am being bitten by a shark.

Suddenly the shark relented.  It eased its grip on me.  It only took the one bite  before releasing me and swimming off.  After the lightning fast attack, I was still whole, intact–arms, legs, torso– and I was able to swim back to shore unassisted. 

I slowly moved my hand in front of my diving mask to examine the middle finger where the shark had bitten me on the knuckle.  The skin was unbroken, unbruised,  unmarked,  about  what one would expect after being  bitten by a baby shark about a foot long which I had wakened from its slumber by tweaking its tail.  In an angry hissy fit the little beast  had turned on me and bitten my finger.

Was I attacked by a shark?  Yes.  Did it bite me? Yes.  Did I feel the pressure of the bite? Yes. Could I swim back to shore unassisted?  Of course.    Was the shark big or dangerous and did it bite me anywhere other than my finger?  No to all three questions.  I never said those things.  I told the absolute  literal truth in this story; but my intent was to make the reader think I had survived a near-death experience after being savaged by a massive great white.  Telling lies by speaking absolute literal  truth must be some sort of a pinnacle of human creativity.

We who self-identify as followers of Jesus must learn to tell the truth without misleading.  We who are macro Christians and who believe we have a role to play in making the world a better place today as well as into the future,  need to be very sure that what we tell people is accurate,  understandable and clear enough that it will help them find a better life through following Jesus.  Tricking someone into following Jesus through misrepresentation, manipulative content selection, exaggeration,  or  by making extra-biblical promises is not something we should be doing.  Neither must we bore or insult people with memorized, flow-chart-style,  prepackaged gospel presentations in which  we tell them what others have told us we should tell them.  To categorize people this way insults individuality, morphs them into targets, and  makes them feel like  a  cookie cutter product.    We want our words about Jesus to be exciting, personal and promising;  and they must also be true in both content and intent.

One day, as I was hiking along a dark , Tarzan-worthy  trail in the jungles of Venezuela where I grew up,  a snake, a deadly pit viper . . .