Monday, February 07, 2011

A Roman solider, Julia Child, Mohandas Gandhi and NJDOT....

Salt, a common thing to all of us...combine some salts with some proteins, mix them up and life, well, is. As I readied last Sunday's sermon, I found myself leafing back through the pages of my memories while ruminating on the concept of Jesus telling us that we "are the salt of the earth."

It is a bit of the gospel that we often over look, or glide past on our way to rejoicing in being "the light of the world." I share that eagerness, to toss the salt over our shoulder so we can finally get to a rousing chorus of "This Little Light of Mine," complete with hand gestures. At our morning Bible Study, it was a consensus that we would prefer to look toward the light, and not so much to the salt as we explore metaphors for our role in Jesus' inbreaking kingdom.

I think part of that is because being "light" is a pretty easy thing to achieve in our present day. Easy enough, anyway, to cross the room as the sun sets and put your hand to the light switch. A little twitch of muscle against the resistance of the lever and light floods the room. Forget moulding a lamp out of clay, or pressing oil, or trimming a wick, or even sparking a fire with flintrock and a bit of iron. Being light is easy. And with that light comes lightness. An airiness of heart and mind. Light is cheerful, warm, right? Well, for the most part.

What is salt?

Salty. In fact, our culture right now is oversaturated with salt. We are brimming over with too much salt. It is in our food, beyond what might be needed to add flavor or to preserve freshness. The average American exceeds healthy salt intake by something like a factor of four every day, I think I remember hearing. Why should we want/need/bother with salt?

As with all things Biblical, let's take it in context...and with a willingness to follow Jesus where he is leading us in his effort to remind us to be salty people.

Salt was a necessity in ancient days, and a precious commodity. It took effort, resources, to process and produce. The word salary itself, as we popularly know, came from the Roman salaria, a portion of salt cashiered to each soldier as a portion of his compensation for laying down his life to the honor of the Senate and People of Rome. Julia Child reminds us, in the present day when processed foods have for the most part taken over our lives, to eat with a mindful joy and to enjoy the flavor and color brought to food by things we are supposed to be afraid of, like butter, salt and duck fat.

Salt also can be a sign of inbreaking social justice. Gandhi, on his Salt March, found a way to challenge the hegemony of the British Viceroy in the wake of India's Declaration of Independence that served to challenge the oppressive authority of the British while at the same time preserving the movement's nonviolent moral and spiritual core. He walked, from his ashram to the sea-a journey of almost a month-and broke the law. He picked up a handful of salt crystals. He made his own salt, something the British government forbid. They demanded that all people had to buy salt from their government-sanctioned salt merchants. Poor people could not afford to buy salt (when they had made it by hand or bartered for it before), and instead had to expend valuable and essential resources to purchase something that by Gandhi's assessment of Indian identity they had a birthright access to in the first place.

The most important aspect of salt for us, at least as it bears on our comfort and safety, is the salt strewn on the roadways by our traffic departments. This time of year, there is anxiety about having enough rock salt for all. Just go down to the Home Depot, or Lowe's, or your local hardware. Salt is flying off the shelves. We only miss it when we need it.

So, what use to us are Jesus' words, telling us that we are the salt of the earth? They are paramount. Salt brings flavor to life. It sustains life. It is essential to life being able to exist. If we are salt, as the Body of Christ, then why not be paramount, savory, vital and essential?

In an age when the Church is declining in the Western World to a place of ennui and irrelevance, it makes sense to me to remove some of the complicated, over-worked metaphors and attempt to refresh some old ones. After all, don't we wall aspire, in our heart of hearts, to hear from other people that they think we are "the salt of the earth." I don't think there is a higher compliment.

Time to remember that and get our salt reserves into shape.....

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