Updated on August 15, 2017
On being salt and light and why it matters
I’ve read so many words about the riots in Charlottesville this past weekend. I’ve read words of haters and ones claiming that love wins; sad words and outraged ones. I’ve seen friends’ words unravel years of friendship in comment threads on social media; watched leaders stand and lead well into the face of this tragedy while others falter and ignore the evil staring us all in the eye. And you have too, I am sure. And so on this Tuesday with the world feeling a bit like it is tilted in the wrong direction, what are we to do with it all?
We talked with our kids. We prayed over the whole issue in church on Sunday. Our pastor led well and reminded us that, “This is our time to stand up. This evil is happening on our watch and as followers of Jesus who are saved by his grace alone, we cannot be okay with it.” And with all of God’s people we cried, “Amen!” Because, we are not okay with it, any of it.
But, now we are cranking into this new week. It’s just a regular Tuesday.
And fighting racism and evil seem like far off battles that have nothing to do with me.
And it has me worried.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Martin Luther King Jr. said that. And I remember the day my 7th grade English teacher wrote it on the board.
I didn’t get it.
I grew up in the heart of the South — the suburbs of Atlanta in the 80’s. Life was idyllic. We went to the best schools, frolicked through backyard sprinklers in the safest neighborhoods, made homemade peach ice cream and watched the sun set over the tops of our towering Georgia pines. And we never thought much about racism.
Until that 7th grade English class. Our teacher made us read articles and watch news reports (on the actual 6 o’clock news) that dealt with issues like racism and discrimination. She made us discuss things like white supremacy and segregated schools, and she insisted that we realize it was still an issue.
But we didn’t think it was. I went to school with kids from everywhere. Kids from South Africa, Korea, and Japan. Kids of all different religions and backgrounds. And kids who lived right in the middle of the big city, who spent hours on a bus each day to get to our school because the ones in their neighbors were falling apart. We were certain that segregation has been fixed.
But together we sat in that stifling un air-conditioned middle school classroom, the wet Georgia humidity hanging heavy in the air, fans rustling the papers in our Trapper Keepers, and we talked about racism that we didn’t believe existed.
We were the new generation of southerners; the ones who had never known segregation. We were the ones who were going to change the culture of this city that had risen from its own ashes. We were going to be different. We had lockers next to each other, used the same water fountains and bathrooms and ate lunch at the same tables. And we couldn’t imagine it being otherwise.
We played on the same sports teams, rode in carpools together to the same sleepovers. We went to church and temple together. We were friends.
But our teacher showed us a news story about a county only a few miles north of our Sandy Springs school, a county where riots and protests against diverse classrooms like ours were unfolding in the streets.
How could this happen? It’s 1987 for goodness sake! We were horrified! But it would never happen to us. We were good.
And I remember my teacher looking at us and saying, “Don’t think that this is just going to go away. Don’t think that because it isn’t happening to you, it doesn’t matter. It all matters. Mark my words. This struggle will continue and it will be yours.” She was so serious that it shocked us.
But. We still didn’t believe her. And as we walked out of her door, shoulder to shoulder, racial and social boundaries all blurred and bumping right into each other, we laughed about our crazy old teacher.
And yet. Here it is all these 30 years later.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Martin Luther King Jr.
And so on this this Tuesday, after a weekend of watching horror unfold in one of our dear southern cities, I think about my 7th grade teacher.
She knew something we didn’t. She knew that just because we felt safe in our little space, we couldn’t afford to look away from evil that was happening all around us.
The book of Ephesians says this, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our battle is not against flesh and blood but against rulers, against authorities. against powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:11-12).
In other words, it is a bigger deal than we think. I often react to tragic circumstances a lot like I did in that 7th grade classroom; not thinking that they have much to do with me. But here’s what I am learning.
These tragedies have everything to do with me. And they have everything to do with you. We are the way that God will do his work on earth. Our prayers matter. Our words of kindness matter. What we teach our kids matters. How we talk about these events matter.
Many are saying that we as Christians are called to be “salt and light” in these dark times. And we are. But it can be hard to decode that metaphor and figure out what that looks like on a simple Tuesday afternoon.
But what if it wasn’t really that complicated? What if being salt and light just means we need to be willing?
Be willing to talk about it. Be willing to be the 7th grade teacher who looks at a class full of smug suburban kids and reminds them that they have a responsibility beyond themselves. Be willing to look evil in the face and call it what it is. And be willing to think that it might not just be found in others. It might be found in you and in me as well.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free or male or female; we are all one in Christ. Could we be willing to not only believe that, but to put it into practice?
This is our watch. May we stand firm. May we pray hard and everyday may we look for ways to love those who believe different things, think different thoughts, look different ways and live different lives. And may we spread the salt and the light of Jesus as we do it. Even in the middle of a simple Tuesday.