Last week, I headed to Austin for the annual MidWinter Lectures at Austin Seminary. Austin, the city and the seminary, have been formative places for my faith. In the seminary, I learned how to truly read the bible. I studied Greek and Hebrew, theology and mission, ethics and pastoral care. I preached in a classroom and in a chapel to get legs underneath me and breath in my lungs. I studied, practiced, thought, and read in the safety and comfort of seminary walls, lush landscapes, and iconic live oaks.
The city of Austin was also formative to my faith. Beyond travel, I never lived beyond a twenty mile radius surrounding Tulsa, Oklahoma until seminary. I had seen the world in travel, but, perhaps, only the shiny spots. Austin was different. Austin was and is a contradiction. Democratic capital in the middle of a red state. Rampant homelessness alongside a city spotted with “McMansions”( and the real ones). Bustling college town across Town Lake from a colony of retired hippies in south Austin. Musicians, techies, politicians, hipsters, and hippies all side by side. Every race and creed blended together. People enthusiastically practicing the unofficial Austin motto of “Keep Austin Weird” next to the decidedly un-weird crowd of the Texas State Capital. (They are actually weird also, but in their own unique way.)
What Austin taught me and continues to teach me is that whatever we think and believe in the context of the seminary or church has to translate beyond the property line of our institutions. Our theology must speak to the world that exists around us. Our missiology must relate to the communities we seek to serve. What we preach and say must matter to God and humanity, particularly that humanity we call neighbor.
This is a lesson not just for me, but for Connecting Point Presbyterian Church, as well. What we think and believe matters little if it is not translated into action and effect beyond the walls of wherever it is we call home. In Matthew 5:13, it says “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Saltiness used to be a term of derision. “Michael, you sure are being salty today.” I would take it as a compliment today for myself and our church to be called salty because of our willingness to take what we believe beyond Sunday morning. In the Kingdom of God, only the “salty” church is changing the world.