Spilled Salt: Origins and Purpose

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By Adam Van Dop

There’s a scene in an old classic movie, from 1994 where Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are in a small town diner for lunch, with “laid-back country folk,” as they are traveling across the nation to return a forgotten suitcase. In this scene, Harry picks up his flat pop to take a drink, and in the process he knocks over the salt shaker, spilling the salt. Lloyd, in all his great wisdom blows the salt off the table, and advises Harry that spilling salt is “very bad luck” as they are “driving across the country, the last thing we need is bad luck.” Then Lloyd tells Harry to “quick, toss some salt over your right shoulder.”

This myth, actually calls for the offender who spilled the salt to toss a bit of salt over their left shoulder, not their right shoulder like Lloyd directs. This myth is rooted historically in that salt was a precious commodity, even sometimes used as currency. So when someone spilled some salt, it was considered a sacrilegious offense and would leave the offender exposed to the crafty schemes of the devil. The act of throwing the salt over the left shoulder was thought to prohibit the devil from seeing your actions while you tried to clean up the mess that was made.

Immediately following Lloyds direction, Harry picks up the salt shaker, and tosses it over his right shoulder — it lands a couple booths behind him on Sea Bass’s head, a not-so-laid-back-country-folk. Sea Bass then rises and says, “Who’s the dead man who threw the salt shaker?”

Harry spilled the salt. He never actually put the salt on his burger.

Salt is a combination of two elements, Sodium (Na) and Chloride (Cl). Somehow, although no need to get into the nitty-gritty of details here, these two elements have come together and formed a white powder (NaCl) like substance that makes our food taste better, called Salt. Salt is commonly found in every home in small shakers, ranging from decorative glass with chrome plated tops, to the typical cardboard tube shaker.

Early in the ministry of Christ, right after He tells his listeners the well-known beatitudes, Matthew records the words of Christ, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13) Jesus wants us to be this salt.

In a College and Career Bible study night that we had a while ago, we studied this passage and discussed what it really means. During a time where we went around the circle talking about what we learned about ourselves in this passage, one girl shared something like this:

“I envisioned myself as a grain of salt stuck in the shaker, needing to get shaken out.”

She was accepting the fact that she was called to be this grain of salt, destined to make this world taste better, but she felt that she was trapped inside this shaker, mingling just with other grains of salt, and maybe the odd grain of rice. Her purpose was not being served. Kinda like Harry’s salt that just ended up on the floor after Lloyd blew the salt off the table. We need to find a way to get out of the shaker, but yet to be useful. Christ calls His followers to exist as something that makes this world a better place, which means all sorts of things, and if His followers fall short of their purpose, they are “no longer good for anything.”

Harry’s spilled salt that ended up on the floor was wasted; it would have been trampled on by his own feet. It’s not like he could have got up, found a broom, swept underneath the table into a dustpan and then sprinkled what was swept onto his burger. Imagine the diner — would you trust the floor for cleanliness? I think the 10-second rule could not apply. The waitress did not care about the flat pop, (you’ll have to watch the video to understand that). I’m sure she did not care that the floor could have been covered in dirt and who knows what else. Either way, the dustpan salt would not have made the burger taste better. The only way that the salt will fulfill its purpose, in this case, is if Harry would have taken the shaker and actually shook some of it onto his actual burger.

We, Christians, find comfort in these shakers; we can call these ‘churches.’ In these shakers we mingle with other grains of salt, we talk about:

  • how much we love our particular shaker.
  • how much we love other grains.
  • how clean our shaker is.

We also talk about:

  • how awesome it would be to actually serve our purpose.
  • how we can go about making something taste good, or even better.
  • how great our shaker is, and how we need to upgrade the lid and get better etching on the outside.
  • how one grain is a little bit different than the rest.
  • how motivating the main grain is.

These are just a handful of conversations among many other topics.

Paul writes to the Colossians, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col 4:6). This salt that Paul refers to is more than just flavor enhancing, this salt provides a zest and liveliness to the conversation, and then maybe to a lifestyle. Dictionary.com defines zest firstly as, “keen relish; hearty enjoyment; gusto.” How many conversations do you have that are filled with Christian gusto? How often does your lifestyle reflect this same Christian gusto?

When Harry spilled the salt, those grains never got to see their true purpose, they ended up in a landfill somewhere. But when you order some fries from McDonald's (arguably the best fast-food fries available, at least in my opinion), their flavor is enhanced by the generous amounts of salt provided. Those grains fulfilled their purpose.

Are you fulfilling your purpose?
Are you making the world taste better?
Do your fellow students, co-workers, family members, friends … etc., ever get a bad taste of Christianity after talking or hanging out with you?

I am not saying that I’ve got it figured out, cause I don’t. Sometimes I find myself staring out of the glass shaker into a broken world, but not wanting to get out. But that’s just not right. We have a higher purpose here, and we know what it is — but how do we get about doing it? The purpose of this blog is then to figure that out. How can we get out there and be the salt that we’re supposed to be?

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