Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Some words about salt

When I stepped off the bus in front of the church, I realized there was hard packed snow topped with ice where people stepped off. My morning’s work was cut out for me.  With ice breaker and shovel, I cleared the path to the steps where people wait for the bus, not that the shelter’s gone. Freezing mist is icing everything. I go in, get a bag of salt to spread. Another storm is predicted for tonight. 
My Blackberry has a message for Germany reminding me to take an action to tonight’s Presbytery Social Witness Council meeting. Last summer’s PCUSA General Assembly passed an overture joining with Europeans to remember the immigrants who have died crossing the US-Mexico border and crossing the Mediterranean. It’s the first international cooperation between European Asylum workers and US border activists following the exchange of visits I helped to set up. This is good.
It also tells me that Hugo is anxiously awaiting becoming a grandfather again.
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost it’s taste, how can it’s saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5: 13)
Let’s drink to the salt of the earth.                                                                                                      The Rolling Stones
The predicted big storm never came.  What did come was freezing sleet and ice.  As I get to the church, for the first time I feel like giving up.  All my work of yesterday turned into a sheet of ice. It’s too much. Like I’ve been feeling about this whole project. What I see before me is a metaphor. OK, that’s it, I’m done. The ice has finally defeated me. But when I see people slipping and sliding, I know I have to dig in. It’s an arduous process, compared to shoveling. You have to start  with the ice breaker then the broad shovel and finish with the scoop shovel. Layer by layer, inch by inch I work my way through one corner. I try to do something about the lake at the crossing but the water keeps flowing back on me. The city’s going to have to deal with this. 
I move on to the next corner. Still ignored by those who walk past and over me. Deacon Linda walks by on her way to her volunteer work at the Campaign Against Hunger. She’s there almost every day. “Reverend, you’re out here by yourself? No one to help you?” “People work, and well, you know.” “We’ve got so much ice,” she says, “but it looks really good.” I thank her. And collect a few more thankyous. One woman even says “Good job.” It must be children’s hour as stroller after stroller pass by with nannies or moms. (One newcomer to the city was amazed at what she thought was an unbelievable number of biracial families until she realized those women pushing the strollers were nannies.)
It’s slow but steady process. You get through the top layer of black ice and slowly the underlying white appears and finally the sidewalk. I’m thinking back to my breakfast with John. Our discussion of a budget that just might work. The nagging boiler issue. Non-responsive politicians. Potential renters and what we might get in return. Hope’s ready to just pay for the boiler ourselves to get the rentals started. I wish these tasks were as easily accomplished as digging my way through the ice. Maybe backbreaking persistence is the metaphor. What are the necessary tools?
Two corners done. Can I quit now? I think about Linda’s question. Who should, could  help? Where will they come from? When does all this work stop being like a spiritual discipline and start building a church? I see people slipping as they step off the bus. No, I can’t quit. Another metaphor? Every hour I invest makes it that much more difficult to give up.
I clear off the front of the bus stop fairly easily. The back part, in front of our steps, is more difficult. Every time I want to quit, another bus pulls up and I keep going. But finally with six unyielding inches to go, it’s time to stop. It’s been an hour and a half. 
I get out the broom and trash can. Clear the garbage that’s been uncovered. Look back at the unfinished bus stop. “Salt,” I think. And I think back to today’s lectionary study. 
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost it’s taste, how can it’s saltiness be restored?” (Matthew 5: 13) But wait a minute...does salt ever lose it’s saltiness? These bags of salt have been lying around the basement for three years. And have not “lost their saltiness?” What exactly does that mean?
Salt. It preserves. It seasons. On a wound, it causes pain. Sown on conquered cities, it means total devastation. Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt for looking back. Makes food taste better. Causes heart issues. But what about in this situation?
Salt cuts through the ice. We are supposed to be salt. Maybe the point is the salt never loses its saltiness. It can be buried in the basement of the church for three years and still cut through ice. Our salt can be buried in the basement of our lives and still be salt. Still able to cut through the ice of domination, of indifference, of economic ice that freezes people out, the ice that cuts people off from our care. The ice of exclusion. The ice through which we just plain do not see.
I've been rereading Siddhartha with Daniel. Remember Siddhartha's words to his old friend Govinda, Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. I'm thinking about this as I chip away.Hey, that guy in the down jacket and Steeler stocking cap shoveling snow just might be an ordained minister. With and earned doctorate, for Christ’s sake. But if not so what? Still a person. A child of God. Salt of the earth. Like the people who gather in juke joints and roadside cafes and create inclusive, caring communities. That are already what we seek to become.  Salt of the earth. Can we do that ? Be that? Cut through the ice?
I know what I have to do. Go down to the basement and get another bag of salt. There’s sidewalks, a bus stop to salt. And more to come. I’ve just used up my first bag of salt of the season.
On my way home, I’ll stop by Council member Brewer’s office. Tell her scheduler to make a meeting. More ice to cut through.
Let's drink to the hard working people 
Let's drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil 
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier 
Spare a thought for his back breaking work 
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth
And when I search a faceless crowd 
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange
Let's drink to the hard working people 
Let's think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag taggy people 
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Let's drink to the hard working people 
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Let's drink to the two thousand million 
Let's think of the humble of birth
The Rolling Stones

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