Saltshakers in the City

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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I recently got a call from the founder of the Houston Palestine Film Festival. She asked our church, The Awakenings Movement, to partner with them by bringing Awakenings and local Palestinian poets together in the festival’s “Spoken Word” segment. I immediately said, “Yes!”

This festival is one of the most progressive gatherings of young artists in the city and has a cult following of many open-minded innovators.

Hearing her invitation, I did a quiet little celebratory dance in a restroom stall of the loud coffee shop where I had answered the phone, thinking to myself, Our work to influence culture in the city is paying off. All those late nights in seedy clubs connecting with musicians, midday lunch conversations with artists, and early-morning community-organization meetings with stale coffee had finally led us to this moment.

Still dancing, I ignored what she continued to say as I asked God (in a good and faithful tone), “Are we finally the salt of the earth, incarnate Lord?”

But my silent celebration quickly halted as I learned the real reason for the invitation. The festival had booked the same space and time we use for our Thursday night discussion community. They were told to either change the date or work with us on the night of the festival. Suddenly, I was not in a glorious space in mission with God—I was back in a stinky restroom stall negotiating a date with another organization.

However, what she said next showed me what it means to be salt. She told me, “I was prepared to change the date when they told me we had to share the space with a church! However, I did my research and discovered that Awakenings is not just a church; it’s a cultural movement that has underground influence in the city.” She had asked her friends and contemporaries about us and learned that local innovators and community agents of change believed in who we were as Christ followers working to make Houston a place of rich character and creativity.

This proud Palestinian woman had discovered she and I were drawn into circles of cultural influence and human development that reach beyond lines of religious difference and contextual dissonance.

Our “salt of the earth” reputation had somehow erased a 100-year-old line of conflict that, in most cases, would have deterred her from working with us.

She explained that the festival was meant to deconstruct the demonization of an ethnic group and reveal their human stories. I realized then that, beyond my delusions of personal satisfaction of knowing we were seen as influencers, there lies a deeper responsibility to Jesus’ words, “You are the salt of the earth.” Isn’t it our purpose to deconstruct opinion and reconstruct humanity? Isn’t that what Christ did at a well with a Samaritan woman and around a fire with a demon-possessed boy? Christ helped them excavate their humanity from the ruins of religious borders and ethnic distinctions. As followers of Christ, we are called to be leaders in human development and transformation.

At the festival, it was standing room only as poets from both communities came together as one voice for human decency and one heart for divine potential.

Later, the festival founder and I talked about life, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and who Christ is to the world. Please pray that our journey will not end there.

Note: This article is a reprint, courtesy of Outreach Magazine and High Calling member, Marlon Hall. Marlon is the cultural architect and spiritual leader of the Awakenings Movement, a grassroots church community of social visionaries who worship in coffee shops, clubs, and bars in Houston.