Within the past year, a new phrase has introduced itself into my vocabulary. I’ve heard people say “Someone’s a bit salty…” over and over again. Baffling as the birth of this expression may seem, I want to take a minute to recognize that the Bible itself gives us permission to be salty. Understanding this expression would likely lead you to think I’m referring to Matthew 21:12-17 where Jesus gets a little salty about what is going on in the holy places. “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” Jesus proclaims, “but you are making it a den of robbers” (Matthew 21:14). Yes, Jesus did indeed get a bit salty, yet this is not the passage I’m referring to.
Let us then rewind to the fifth chapter of Matthew – the beatitudes. Blessed are you who are meek, Jesus says. Blessed are you who are peacemakers, Jesus says. You who mourn, you that are poor in spirit, you that are merciful and persecuted! Yes, all of you! You are blessed. Your reward is great in heaven, you will see God. You will be called children of God. Yours is the kingdom of heaven. You will indeed be comforted. Blessed are all of you!
Blessed are all of you, but who are you? Do you know who you are? Do you know your innermost self? Immediately following these wonderful verses is a command to be salty. All summer long, I’ve been leaving young people and fellow counselors on the journey with a passage I’ve been reflecting on deeply. Matthew 5:13-16 is a call to be our authentic selves, as Parker Palmer might say.
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:13-16, NRSV)
Right here in scripture we are granted the authority to be salty! You might notice, however, that this is not a call to be angsty or prickly to our neighbor. No, this is a call to “let your life speak” as Parker Palmer most eloquently put it. This is most certainly a call to embrace your true self as God so wonderfully made you. This no doubt comes with periods of intense discernment and reflection with the Spirit alongside us. Our true, authentic self is… who? How do we know who our authentic self even is? Yet we are called to be that – to be the salt of the earth. To preserve what is good and true in the world by being our authentic selves, for what good are we if we do not be that which we are so uniquely made to be? If salt does not embrace its saltiness and live its authentic self, what good is it to anyone?
Yes, I believe this passage encourages to be who we truly are. A peacemaker, for example. To be the most authentic version of myself as a peacemaker, I must rely on a sermon preached to me a few years ago by Rev. Vrizola Law as part of my orientation into the XPLOR program (Disciples of Christ). She called each of us to know our story, for what good can we be in the darkest places of this world if we do not know our own light? How can we shine as a light of the world if we do not know where the light switch is? So to be a peacemaker, I must know my true inner self and my story.
My story is that of struggling with my sexual identity from a very young age. Actually, come to think of it, I didn’t struggle at all with it. It was normal to me to be gay, so to speak. It was not normal for the world, though. The world struggled with my authentic self. I fit many stereotypes applied to homosexual men. I walked different, talked different, played music instead of football, got excited over my red sequin shirt for show choir! Yes, they were and are all true of me. I had no problem with this, though. This was not my struggle – this was the struggle of society.
I internalized societies struggle, at which point it became my own. Yes, I internalized the struggle that society has accepting men who are not manly men. I tried to be that caricature for many years so that I could be accepted by society. It never truly fit, though. In fact the more that I tried to be what I wasn’t, the more ridicule I got. No, it didn’t work out at all to be what I wasn’t. So at 26, I gave in to who I am. I lived authentically.
This has empowered me to have difficult conversations all summer about the place of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, and non-binary gender/sexuality conforming people in the church. My authentic self has allowed me to fulfil the peacemaker portion of the beatitudes in my own unique way. It only took the support of several wonderful Pastors along the way, Parker Palmer, and reflecting on one piece of scripture to come to ask myself what good am I for anyone if I cannot know my story and be my authentic self?
Oh friends, there is also danger in this passage. Great danger, to be honest. Consider how one can possibly know if we are being pulled toward an authentic self or we are being misled toward inauthenticity. Growing up Catholic, I tried for many years to be the heteronormative male ideal because the faith I learned taught that the authentic self must only be heterosexual. What a dilemma. That which was inextricably hardwired into my very core was wrong in the eyes of the church. My learned faith taught me to struggle and change it. My owned faith had the final say, however.
Long nights spent with God by my side in discernment of just how to be the salt of the earth or the light of the world taught me the faith I came to proclaim for myself. My relationship with God, embraced and nurtured over many years, whispered truth into my life. This, I believe, is how we come to know ourselves authentically – by relationship with God. You define God! You do that for yourself. I will not say that God needs to look any particular way. Instead I will say that you define God and be in relationship with your unique and true understanding of that which is greater than ourselves. That, I believe, is the understanding that guides us into authenticity.
So as I end my time at camps, I leave you with a few reflections. You will undoubtedly come to know yourself and God in ways that no other person on earth will truly understand. Yet start with knowing your story, as the wise Rev. Vrizola Law taught me a few years ago. Continue with finding your authentic self and letting that speak truth, as Parker Palmer encourages in Let Your Life Speak. Then, reflect on the command of Jesus himself in Matt. 5:13-16. However you know Jesus and God, that knowledge is part of your authentic self. Perhaps it will be ever-changing, or perhaps not. It is that knowledge that speaks to you through this scripture. Then go out – go be salty.