8. SALT, PEPPER, AND BLAH
Lorence G. Collins
Articles, presented elsewhere in this web site, which I have authored, are all written in opposition to creationism, and, therefore, their contents may imply to some viewers that I am against Christianity. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I am a practicing Christian and a member of the United Methodist Church in Thousand Oaks, California. In the 1970s and 1980s, I was on the faculty for Holden Village, a Lutheran family camp in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington for 12 summers for varying lengths of time. For twenty years I acted as a coordinator of Lay Witness Missions (sponsored by the United Methodist Church headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee), leading teams of lay people for sharing faith during weekends for more than 100 churches, but I have chosen to retire because the aging mind is not as sharp as it once was. At any rate, these activities should make it clear that my opposition to creationism and the pseudoscience advocated by persons who make a literal interpretation of the Bible, is not in any way in opposition to Christianity. As a scientist, geologist, and Christian, I am in awe of a Creator who has created a universe, using natural laws that are so dependable that no where is there any physical evidence that He/She finds it necessary to break them. In fact, these laws are independent of one's particular faith and religious beliefs, or lack thereof. Nevertheless, I have a strong commitment to Christianity while still being a scientist.
The following is a message that I presented in the 1970s at Holden Village at a vespers worship service. Its contents express my Christian witness which I continue to hold even now. I offer it for those who are interested.
(Matthew 5:13-16; RSV) "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
"Are you worth your salt?" This is a question that a captain in the Roman army might ask a soldier in the ranks. Are you worth your salt? Salt for seasoning of food was a scarce item in ancient times. Its scarcity in certain regions of the world made salt very valuable. Soldiers were paid their salary by receiving bags of salt. The word salary means salt. So if you are asked sometime whether you are worth your salt, you will know that someone is asking whether you are giving honest labor for the salary that you are being paid.
Jesus has told us that we are the salt of the earth. Without salt, you and I would die. Salt is a necessary seasoning that makes life on earth possible. Have you ever thought about the reason why Jesus never said we were the pepper of the earth? If we were the pepper of the earth, we would probably think we were hot stuff. But Jesus says we are the salt of the earth. Without the seasoning of salt, of love, that Christians bring to the world, the non-Christians are destined to die. We are the flavoring that makes life possible.
Have you ever eaten unsalted bread, or unsalted potatoes, or unsalted popcorn? This generally does not happen, but if it does, there is no joy in eating such food. All the ingredients are present except one, --- that flavor of salt. Many people that you know are like unsalted food, just plain blah, until you greet them with a friendly smile or a hug and let them know that the spirit of Christ can be in them. It is his love and the Holy Spirit that puts flavor back into a dead life.
If we are the salt of the earth, how can we become worthless, fit only to be thrown away and walked on, as Matthew says? It is when the salt is stored in bags and not used as seasoning that it becomes worthless. In the small villages where Jesus lived, most of the homes had dirt floors. In some homes were wine cellars where wine was stored and kept cool. If the bags of salt were stored there, then problems could occur. It is not uncommon for pure salt to absorb moisture and cake into hard clots. Our modern salt, purchased from the grocery store, has an ingredient to help keep it dry and free pouring, but this was not true years ago. So the salt stored in bags on the dirt floors would absorb moisture, cause the bags to rot and spill the salt out onto the floor. Soon the salt was useless, mixed with dirt and clotted, and unfit for seasoning food. It had lost its flavor and was fit only to be thrown away and walked on.
It is clear that Jesus in this analogy is telling you and me that if we are to be the salt of the earth, then we must be used. We must go out and season the world. In other words, I cannot stay just in a church building where I am comfortable, clothed in my religious bag, because no matter how beautiful that bag or that church structure is, if I remain stored, I will attract water, and rot, and become completely unfit to be used. All my goodness in my little bag of righteousness will be for naught. My salt will be of no value, unless I am out witnessing for Christ and what He can do for others. I need to season the world with his joy and love.
How does one witness for Christ? That is what I would like to share with you today. It is not my intention to tell you how you are to be a witness, because I don't know what God has in mind for you. And your witness will be different from mine. He has set me free from rules, so I am not about to give you a set of rules to follow. Nor am I after your "spiritual scalp." All that I can do is share with you what has happened in my own life, and say that what has happened is really great. I am having the time of my life.
I started out with a small salt shaker, graduated to pepper, then tried blah, moved back to a larger salt shaker, and now I am beginning to work in the salt mine with a shovel and a bucket. And as fast as I empty the bucket of salt, I discover that the salt mine gets bigger, and God has more salt of love to give me than I can give away. Presently, I am thinking about graduating to a steam shovel, because it sure is becoming fun working in God's salt mine and wondering how big his salt mine really is?
I grew up in a Christian home and as a little boy I learned about Jesus. In my joy as a child, I began to use my little salt shaker. I loved people. I enjoyed them. I talked to them. I wasn't afraid to share what I had. But when I grew up, I somehow got the wrong impression of what a Christian was or is. I thought that I had to be good, to obey the ten commandments, and if someone wasn't as good as I was, then God must love me more than that someone. It was the wrong idea, but when I was my own god, someone had to be less than me for my own security. And I felt compelled in my goodness to help that other person. I took my shaker full of seasoning and shook it all over this supposed lesser person, to help him. I thought that it was salt that I was unloading on this person, but I have since discovered that it was pepper. The more I peppered, the less that person wanted to see me, and the more that person snorted and sneezed and tried to stay away from me.
Have you ever noticed that when you put pepper on food, it sticks only on the surface, right where you put it, and if you put it in soup, if floats to the top? I finally got the hint when someone tried to pepper me with their particular brand of seasoning, and I didn't like it. It was then that I realized what I had in my own shaker --- pepper.
I didn't want to be a pepper shaker, so what happened next? Frankly, I went through a long period in my life, using an empty shaker, doing my own thing, but generally pouring "blah" over everyone, neither hot nor cold blah, just lukewarm blah. I was going to church, but not enjoying it --- just putting in my time, but still wondering at the commandment that Jesus gave me to go out and witness for him. That old question: "How does one witness for Christ?" What do you do? Are you a witness for Christ in your life?
In my own life I will tell you what I did, and you will quickly note it was still an emphasis on what "I" did. I thought there was something wrong with the salt shaker, and so I continued to work on a better design. I tried to beautify the outward appearance. I tried different shapes. I constructed a high-voltage model shaker, and it blew a fuse. I tried a mechanical, super-deluxe, extending-arm shaker, and it squeezed the victim. Believe me, I have gone through some discouraging times, wondering how one became a Christian witness. It was hard work and no fun. But there were some Christians around, some true salt shakers, who had something I wanted, but I couldn't figure out how they made their salt shakers work. I took some of their salt, which they gave to me, and put it into my own shaker, but I hoarded it --- still afraid to try my own shaker, out of fear of what people would think. I didn't want to lose what little salt I had. I was concerned, too, that this salt might turn back into pepper again.
Well, something has happened in the last few years that has changed my life. I finally took an honest look at the original salt shaker, the source of God's salt of love that flows freely, and that is Jesus. This is what he showed me. He said: "Larry, you are not called to be a better salt shaker, not even a good salt shaker. You don't have to improve your design. God loves you just as you are, with all of your imperfections. Larry you are free to be like a little child again. Just let me show you how to use my salt of love so that it flows freely. Trust me, and don't worry about what people will think. You are not called to save people, just to love them."
And that is what has happened in my life. Jesus has said in effect to me: "Salt doesn't choose which food it will season." You put it into the stew, and it doesn't stick in one place or float on the top like pepper. It dissolves in the fluid and emerges as a delicate flavor, in all the ingredients, penetrating to the core. Salt seasons all things and everyone. Pepper says: "Look at me. I'm hot stuff." But the salt of God's love doesn't call attention to itself. It witnesses to the good news that will set you free. It calls you and me to be God's witness and not your own witness. When Jesus is in charge of the salt shaker, you don't have to carry it, decorate it, defend it, or direct it. You just become available to tilt it, when Jesus says pour. You just trust him and know that you are forgiven and loved.
You and I as lay people are called to be the salt of the earth. We are God's salt shakers, his temple, each of us.
Now that I am set free and know that I am loved for what I am, --- I don't go around with my pepper shaker any more. I have finally realized that I am not called to save the world or season it with blah. God does the saving and the seasoning by his grace alone. He doesn't need my help. Instead, he wants me to have life and to have it abundantly. So at times in the past I have been free to play volleyball, and in the midst of what I think is going to be a spike for the glory of Larry, the Holy Spirit says: "Pour salt, Larry." And I discover there is someone beside me I am supposed to witness his love to, and instead of spiking the ball, I am called to give someone a set-up.
It isn't the way I would have planned it, for that person goofs the shot, hits the ball into the net, and God say: "More salt, Larry, more salt." And so I just salt up a storm. On the volleyball court I may never mention the word Jesus, but He says to me, quite practically, "It isn't the right time. Being a religious nut is not a witness to me. Just give encouragement, a helpful word, just pour salt." And to my own eyes, I don't know what the Holy Spirit has in mind, but the Holy Spirit knows better. So, I just have a good time, and am free to be me. A few years ago I would never have dreamed that one could witness for Christ on a volleyball court, and that it could be so unobtrusive.
And then I am out on a geology hike with students and of all places to be interrupted --- I am in the midst of a great point that I am making about some rock, and I hear Jesus say: "Tilt the salt shaker, Larry, I have a message to give." He is so unexpected. It is exciting to see when he wants me to pour, and I am surprised, and gratified to see what happens. Lest I be misunderstood, it is the salt of love he wants me to pour, not theology or geology, and I trust and let go.
And then I see someone standing alone, and I hear a small voice say: "Pour salt, Larry," and I go over expecting to say great words of comfort, and the Holy Spirit says: "Silent salt, Larry, pour silent salt. Just listen." It is hard for me to be silent, but I am learning.
And then there are times when I hear Jesus say: "Pour salt, Larry, tell the person who gave it to you, and what I am doing in your life." And that is fun, and that is why I am telling you this now. But He never tells me how to tell you how to pour salt, because he is the only one in charge, and you have to invite Him in your own special experience that He has saved for you and your salt shaker.
For me I have discovered that it is not easy to be a Christian, but it is a lot better than not being one. I don't have to be good. I don't have to go anywhere special to be a Christian. I am free to be Larry, and wherever I am, he brings people to me, exciting and interesting people, and sometimes I may go weeks at a time wondering when he is going to say: "Tilt your shaker, again, Larry." But in the meantime, I can relax and enjoy life. I just have to remember to be available, that I am his salt shaker, and the salt I have is free and must be free pouring.
Each of you here today is a unique salt shaker. There is no other like you. You are made in God's own special way, and placed in the environment where He wants you to be. He has a plan for your life, different from mine. You are the salt of the earth that brings life and flavoring to the world. You are loved by God for what you are. You are forgiven. There is nothing you can do, and there is nothing that you have done that can lose His love for you. And on top of this, you can have life and have it abundantly.
So I ask you today, are you witnessing for Christ? Is your shaker full of pepper? Blah? Or salt? If it is salt, is it free pouring? I pray that it is free pouring, for I am discovering that God has an endless supply of salt, and it is free for the asking. Try it. You'll like it!