On the day after my daughter was married, I saw a sundog. We were driving to the local bagel shop to pick up breakfast for 20, on that bright blue-sky morning when the air temperature fell to -22˚F. The rising sun refracted its light through frozen water vapor, and I saw rays of color. Normally hidden in plain sight, light’s individual colors are always there, becoming visible when conditions are right. Sometimes, as with sundogs and rainbows, the results are lovely.
In these strange times, we often forget what we have in common. Our conversations, news reports and Facebook posts are sharper, edgier and more polarizing than before. I’m as guilty as the next. I hold strong opinions, and based on my Twitter feed, you do too. Yet there are things we all agree on: we want the world to be better for our children and our grandchildren. We struggle to find unity along a middle path carved from a win-win mentality, not from a zero-sum game.
You may recall that Jesus had things to say about light and salt. He wanted his followers to be a light for the world and salt of the earth. This weekend, I heard secondhand of a marvelous sermon by Craig Lemming, currently the transitional deacon at St. John’s Episcopal Church and the director of Circle of the Beloved, a local chapter of the Episcopal Service Corps. Craig expounded on salt, a common, stable compound, which is made of sodium and chlorine. Combined, they make a common mineral that’s an essential nutrient for life. Alone, the story is quite different: sodium explodes when it touches water. Chlorine was the base ingredient for poison gas in World War I.
Salt separates. Nations have gone to war over salt. People have boiled spring water to extract salt for use, and tried to remove salt from ocean water to make ocean water drinkable. We use it on snowy days to de-ice our roads, and we condition our water with it.
In his sermon, Craig Lemming said “I think we sometimes forget how our presence, our words, and our actions flavor our lives and the lives of those around us. At a time when almost every day we are bombarded by aggressive and mean-spirited words – like that lump of pure sodium dropped into a bucket of water that explodes with enough force to kill – when we encounter those aggressive words, we must remember that we are the salt of the earth. When the toxicity of “alternative facts” spew out of the mouths of elected officials like the deadly chlorine gas from the First World War – we must remember that we are the salt of the earth. With a pinch of our salt, we can bring out the God-flavors in each other. Instead of reacting like a volatile lump of sodium or poisonous chlorine, let us respond with that small pinch of salt that can bring God-flavors out of tasteless conversations.”
Mixing elements can bring life and hope to problem-solving. Brainstorming groups are most creative when the group is random. Mixing people of different backgrounds, education, and professional experiences tends to increase a group’s ability to generate good, workable new ideas. I try to remember this when speaking with someone who voted differently than I did. I hope that I can assume positive intent on the part of all, and to recognize the beauty when light splits displaying a rainbow of colors, knowing that all colors represent true light.
We are called to be salt and light. If we separate salt into sodium and chloride we are simply combustible and corrosive. And light needs the full spectrum of color. To be our best selves, we need each other. That is our strength and our challenge.