Winter 2005
Volume 5, Number 1

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Renee Gehman

If you count knowing "This Little Light of Mine" by heart, the Christian calling to be salt and light had been in my head since I was a three-year-old girl singing her favorite song on her rocking horse. After the rocking horse, flannelgraphed Sunday school lessons, church sermons, and going to private Christian school thoroughly exposed me to the metaphors of Jesus. I thought I had it all down.

There is, however, a pattern to discern in hearing the same thing many times. The first few repetitions go in one ear and out the other. You think, Yeah, Yeah, I’ve heard this before, you raise a mind-numbing barrier against the portion of your brain in which deep thoughts occur, and send your mind skipping through Friday’s lunch plans or that pesky hangnail.

But inevitably there comes a time when even hangnails become a lackluster topic. Out of desperation you let down the intellectual barrier a bit . . . then BAM—suddenly find yourself hearing the old words in a new and intriguing way. You realize, Hey! This is a good point!

I experienced this with my dad’s reiteration that 14-year-olds are too young to date and, most recently, on tour with the Gordon College Choir. In the course of four days this past November, I heard my choir director give the same speech about 12 times, because it was the speech through which he introduced the closing number for all of our concerts (an arrangement of "Here I Am, Lord"). He would begin by stating Gordon’s objective: to prepare students to serve as "missionaries," basically by excelling as professionals in all fields, being model Christians while working as lawyers, teachers, scientists, artists, and so on.

Then he would talk about our call to be salt and light. This is what really awakened the walled-off section of my brain. He believes it is easy to be light, because all you have to do is plant yourself in a spot and just be what you are. Others will see your shine and feel your warmth—and that’s it.

To be salt though, you can’t just be salt; you must get into the "pot" (such as of soup). There you must allow yourself to mingle with the unsalty, dispersing your flavor throughout your surroundings, all the while maintaining your own potent, salty quality. The choir director sees Gordon’s aim more as to educate students to become salt, going out to season the professional world with a Christian flavor.

Well, this was something new! My understanding had always been that salt and light were just two different images of the same thing; their relationship being one in which unity was found in sameness. Now I was seeing one as good, but the other as better. Exhilarated by a fresh perspective, I came away from choir tour with a new and exciting understanding of what I was to strive to become—salt.

Then a week or so after the choir tour’s conclusion, while sitting in the school cafeteria, I noticed a student eating French fries alone. Normally I wouldn’t watch a French-fry eater for more than a second or two, but this time I found myself enthralled by this student’s curious ritual of re-salting his fries after every two bites.

Now I could understand a second salting, and maybe even a third, because sometimes the first salting is deposited with discretion, for fear of overpowering and ruining an entire serving of fries without even having enjoyed any. But as I observed a seventh salting, then an eighth, I was completely baffled.

Maybe it was the observation of monotonous repetition. More likely it was the salt itself. But in any case, my mind wandered back to choir tour, to my director’s thoughts on Christians as salt and light. Now I wondered, Does the salt analogy still apply to Christians when we think of something as being too salty? Can Christians be too Christian?

The answer depends on who is defining Christian. Suppose I define Christian as one who adheres to Jesus’ command in Matthew 22:37-39 to "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind . . . and love your neighbor as yourself." Then no, I doubt a Christian can be too Christian.

But if one polled secular society, including the "unsalty" professional world, might words such as hypocritical, condescending, and judgmental come up? Might they arise from occasions in which someone tasted an oversalting whose unhappy excess lingered on the tongue?

The afflicted tongues might be those of the indigenous tribespeople whom the missionary asked to discard their customs; of the man cut off by a maniac driver with a Christian bumper sticker on his car; of the single mother on whom at church the disapproving eyes bear down.

I still see insight in my choir director’s thoughts on salt and light. But if salt were the best image of the Christ’s call, then why would he have bothered to introduce the concept of his followers as light as well? And if, as I thought for years, the call to be light was synonymous with the call to be salt, then are we to conclude that Jesus just had a redundancy issue?

A more reasonable explanation is that Jesus knew people. His provision of two similar (and yet different!) images of the Christian calling accounts for the diversity of God’s creation.

Our world needs the salt-shaker dwellers, those who let themselves be salted vigorously into society in obedience to the great commission. But not everyone responds to the same kind of approach. Those who would shy away from the salt approach might find comfort in the quiet warmth of the light on the hill.

Salt and light are not united by their sameness, and one is not greater than the other. Their connection lies in the complementary way in which they image the Christian calling in its different approaches.

The idea of being salt—in a pot of unseasoned soup, adding flavor to the whole thing—is still exciting to me. But even though the sun is millions of miles away, still its light burns bright enough to make the flowers grow.

So as I continue on this path with salty soup on my mind, I must also make sure not to hide my light under a bushel. No, I’m gonna let it shine
. . . let it shine . . . let it shine.

—Renee Gehman, Souderton, Pennsylvania, is a junior at Gordon College, Wenham, Massachussett; and DreamSeeker Magazine assistant editor.


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