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Posted: August 6, 2010 12:30 a.m.

About Faith: Pardon my dust

Well, my doctor has advised me to reduce my salt intake for the sake of my blood pressure, a task which has proven to be very difficult. I can pass by the obviously salty things like chips and bacon, but salt is hidden in everything from artichokes to zucchini. Cooking without salt is not hard, but dining out low-sodium style is next to impossible.

Being a man of the Bible, I ask myself what the Good Book has to say about salt, and it does not help much. "You are the salt of the earth" only adds a sense of guilt. The fact that Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt isn’t much help either. I’ll bet her blood pressure was crazy. I guess I’ll just have to do this myself.

But wait. The Bible is not about nutrition, it’s about wholeness. It is not about salt, it’s about behavior. It is not about my going it alone, but about my relationship with God and other people. So maybe the Bible does have something to say about the subject, if the subject is habits rather than salt. If the Bible seems not to give answers, it is usually because we frame the problem as something external to ourselves. But as the song goes, "It’s me, it’s me, it’s me O Lord!"

A habit is "a thing done often, and hence, usually done easily; an act that is acquired and has become automatic." We all have habits, for good or bad, and they constitute a significant part of our existence. Even babies are sometimes born with a thumb-sucking habit. Much of our lives is spent on auto-pilot. Habits enable us to take care of the mundane while we concentrate on the exceptional.

The Bible does not use the word habit, but speaks of it as a part of life. Many scriptures focus on behaviors that are done repeatedly and have become engrained in our lives. Scriptures pertaining to drunkenness, sexual practices, idleness, gossip, etc., really have to do with habitual behaviors that we need to address. When we speak of fruits of the spirit, we are talking about habits that we have acquired by God’s grace as we grow in faith. Paul gives us perhaps the final word on habits when he writes of becoming a new person. "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind" (Romans 12:2). "You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self,… and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).

My overindulgence in salt is an affront to God, who owns the body of which I am the caretaker. "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19). Well, if my body is a temple, it is much in need of renovation.

If the problem is habit, and if the solution is renovation, the Bible indeed has much to say. We are all under renovation, and all by God’s grace. Pardon is ever-present, but this does not excuse our failure to change. Change is a gift, but this does not mitigate our responsibility to put away the old self and put on the new self. As partners with God, we cannot change without God’s help, but neither can God change us without our cooperation. Anyone who has faced the Twelve Step Program of Alcoholics Anonymous knows this profound truth. Alcohol is not too big, nor salt too small, to pray about.

Perhaps I should get a T-shirt that says, "Pardon my dust while we are under renovation." Now that’s biblical.

The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.

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