If you’ve every spent a winter in Vancouver you’ll know that there is very little salt or light. Growing up in Winnipeg I know that most Canadians experience a great dose of both salt and light. Salt, liberally spread on the icy roads in the winter to keep driving and walking safe. Light, on the other hand, in the brilliant reflection of the winter sun on snow covered fields and roofs that lift people’s spirits and have them say things like, “Well, it’s a dry cold.”
Most winters in Vancouver have neither salt nor light. There is no need for salt on the roads where it only dips below freezing every few years. There is no light in the winter as dark and stormy rain clouds hover over the Pacific Northwest from Portland to Port Moody, mid-autumn to early spring. And then, there is this year.
I remember flying out of Vancouver in December 2008 just before the last big snowstorm shut down the city. Sure, we’ve had a bit of snow since then over the years. It comes for a day or two and then melts. Frosty the Snowman has a short shelf life here on the west coast. This year, however, is different.
Snow started falling (and staying on the ground!) on December 5th. Over a month later as I write this blog, there are beautiful large, white snowflakes dancing down from the sky outside my window. The snow is bright and beautiful in this city covering golf courses, palm trees and distant mountain peaks. Yes, there is light in Vancouver this winter. But it appears, there is not as much salt as some people think they need.
The region is running low on salt and residents are gripping that back streets have not been plowed or properly cleared making alleyways and sidewalks a skating rink. The City of Vancouver responded by offering free salt this past week available in large piles in front of local fire halls. The result, humanity’s flaws on display for the whole nation to see.
While hearing Vancouverites complaints about icy streets and -1 degree Celsius weather is embarrassing to me and hilarious to the rest of the country, sights and sounds from local media outlets watching people fighting over limited free salt has not been as entertaining. For some, it seems inconceivable that in polite, refined urban Canada today citizens could be shoving and yelling at others, jumping queues or letting their tempers flair to the point where police have to intervene. And yet, as a Reformed Christian, one of my favourite doctrines has long been Total Human Depravity. Yup, when I came to Christ as a teenager, part of it was taking stock of the world’s claims that “deep down we’re good people and can solve our own problems” verses the gospel’s claims that “deep down we’re messed up and selfish, sinful and broken, and need a Saviour to rescue us.” Um, it was pretty clear around me and inside me that the latter statement was true. Total Human Depravity. And there it was, on full display this week, as neighbour fought neighbour for free salt in the streets. I don’t think I was the only one who wondered what will happen when the big earthquake eventually strikes this region. If we can’t even share salt with our neighbour what will happen when buildings collapse, bridges fail and our food and water supplies run low. Lord, have mercy.
Sharing salt and light with our neighbours. Hmm, I’ve heard that somewhere before:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost 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. (Matthew 5: 14 & 14)
Now might be a good time for followers of Jesus in this city to ask themselves how their devotion to Christ might translate into something visible – salt and light for those around them. Today is a great day to speak and act as one living with full awareness of the covenant of grace and abiding love in the one who is the Mediator of that same covenant. Time to be seasoned by the Saviour and a bright light in this season of Epiphany!
Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and teaches at The Vancouver School of Theology and Regent College.