Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Newsletter: Salt on the Street

Michael Palin, the Monty Python alum, has been traveling the world lately. Since 1998, he has been making documentaries of his wanderings. The travelogues are very human, highlighting the many characters that Michael meets on his trips. Recently, someone told me about a time when the host was in Japan.

Mr. Watanabe is the proprietor of a restaurant in Tokyo. Every morning, the man places three piles of salt in the street in front of his restaurant. Apparently, the practice dates back over a hundred years. When farmers would bring their cows to town, the cows would stop to lick the salt. The farmer, having extra time on his hands, would notice the restaurant. Thus, sales were increased. One hundred years ago, it was a clever marketing tool.

Today, in hyper-urban Tokyo, it is merely habit or a tradition. Call me crazy, but I think such traditions are a good thing. Traditions help us maintain connections to people and places long gone. They suggest that life is more than our moment in time. Most Americans don’t think much about tradition. We are wired to focus on the “new and improved.” Still, for one time a year, our minds turn to habits and patterns long established. During Christmas and Thanksgiving, we don’t mind sharing our lives with the past.

One tradition prevalent at this time of the year is attending worship. We hear ancient stories and sing old songs. For once, we are proud that our worship services look the same as the ones we attended when we were children. I would never trade the tradition of the holidays, but I wonder if we are missing something. Is it possible that we have fallen in love with the things of God, rather than God himself? In the poetry of Luke’s gospel, in the familiarity of Silent Night, and in the pageantry of the candlelight service, we sometimes forget the real purpose. God entered history, and nothing, not even death, could stop him. Our worship does not venerate the dead who remain safely dead. In fact, we worship a living God who claims our very lives. Discipleship is more than putting salt on the streets.

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