An Old Salt!

An Old Salt!

It was during the months of June 1953 through to September 1955 that I first saw him. The place was Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station near the coast of North Carolina.

As I observed the man and heard him in conversation with others, I concluded rather quickly, "Now there is an old salt!"

I was introduced to the term by my senior drill instructor, Sgt. David Berkman, and his assistants at a place called Parris Island along the coast of South Carolina during the fall of 1952.

As I heard them use the term from time to time I came to understand that "an old salt" was a person who was super gung ho -- he had been in the ranks for quite a long time -- and he may be a bit non-conformist in some things. Part of the proof of one being "an old salt" was a statement he would make to others occasionally -- "I have more time in the pay line than you have in the chow line!"

Pay day in the USMC in those days followed a certain protocol. There was an officer who carried a box of cash accompanied by an MP armed with a 45 caliber Colt pistol. Once a month you lined up with your buddies and as you came to the officer with the money, you provided your ID and then he counted out your monthly pay in cash.

So "an old salt" was a guy who had a lot of time in the Corps and who could say to another guy who was young in the ranks, "I've got more time in the pay line than you have in the chow line!"

Now let's go back to the "old salt" whom I saw at Cherry Point. He was a master sergeant and was talking to an officer. It seemed that the officers were very familiar with him. He was bulky in his build and getting quite gray headed -- it was obvious that he had been in the Corps long before the days of WW II. His face had a rugged appearance and he spoke with a note of authority -- the kind of a person who, when speaking, causes others to hush and listen.

But what was most striking was what he was wearing -- in a sense, he was out of uniform, but no officer made an issue of it.

You see, when I entered the USMC in '52 we were issued what were known then as "dungarees" -- our work and fighting clothes. These consisted of shoes, cap, trousers, and a kind of loose fitting jacket which was worn over a tee shirt. The jacket was worn with the bottom outside of the trousers and extending about 6 inches or so below the belt line. It was light olive in color and had the letters USMC stamped in black ink along with the eagle, globe and anchor emblem on one of the chest pockets. The buttons were metal with the letters USMC embossed on them. Our caps also had the Marine Corps emblem stamped on them with black ink.

Shortly after arriving at Cherry Point there was a major change in our every day work outfits. The color was changed to a dark olive and the jackets were made a bit smaller and were to be tucked inside the trousers as one would do with a shirt. The buttons were now plastic without the embossed letters.

There was some complaining about the new style primarily because the older style was more comfortable to wear. But everyone was expected to conform to the new style of work dress and everyone did, that is, except for the "old salt!"

And so it was that day I first saw him -- wearing the old style with jacket hanging out and the outfit he had on was aged a bit -- quite faded but the USMC and the emblem were still plainly visible on the chest pocket. It was also obvious that the officer with whom the "old salt" was making jovial conversation had chosen not to make an issue out of proper attire which Marines were now expected to wear for work. At this stage the "old salt" was unmistakably a non-conformist!

After 46 years in ministry in the UMC (you see, by the grace and mercy of God, I moved from the USMC to the UMC!) I have about reached the status of being "an old salt!"

I confess to being a non-conformist in a number of things. Due to influences over the years plus actions on the part of United Methodist General Conferences, the style of ministerial and theological "dress" has changed dramatically.

We are now expected to accept and celebrate our "diversity" -- diversity meaning a wide range of differing beliefs and viewpoints which have manifested themselves within the UMC. The not so subtle message to all is this -- don't question and don't resist these trends which will make us a better and stronger church. For instance:

    A bishop spread heretical teachings (actually his own unbelief system) about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. And there are those who say this is a good thing -- it shows our "diversity" and we can thrive in the midst of our diversity even if such truths as the divinity and the resurrection of Jesus are called into question or flat out denied!

    Another bishop exhorted UM's to forget about the Great Commission given by Jesus and the fact that we should not invade other cultures in the world and try to convert them to Christianity. We can help them with social and material needs but leave Christianity out of the picture -- they have their religions and we shouldn't interfere in that arena.

    And there are bishops and pastors as well as numerous lay persons who insist that sodomy and lesbianism are acceptable lifestyles -- that we need to be tolerant and accepting of our "Christian" gay brothers and lesbian sisters. Further, it is claimed that God is giving us "new revelation" in this area of human sexuality and the church needs to recognize that homosexuality is just as normal as heterosexuality!

    More than ever before the Bible is being regarded as a book of contradictions, open to whatever interpretation you wish to place upon it while "literal" interpretation and application should be avoided at all cost because that approach is so disruptive and divisive!

    The popular trend of the times is to be involved in "dialog" with those with whom there is a degree of disagreement on various issues. By means of dialog we learn to appreciate and respect all "points of view" and come away from our dialog sessions with an upbeat feeling that we are indeed one big happy family! Our differences just sort of melt into the background as we are caught up in our euphoria of dealing with our differences in a most cordial and civil manner!

As "an old salt" I still hold to what is more and more regarded as a very radical and "bigoted" position -- or what some church leaders describe as taking the "I'm right and if you disagree, then you are wrong!" position.

But wait a minute -- I'm in such a position because I choose to be in total agreement with the best Friend I've ever had in my lifetime. His name is Jesus. Have you ever taken time to examine what He claimed for Himself (such as "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life…") and the demands He has placed on all humans (such as "…unless one is born again…")? If you take Him seriously on such statements, it is most obvious that He allows for no other alternatives as humanity treats religion like it is a super buffet where you pick and choose anything that strikes your fancy and you'll come out OK!

Therefore I cannot dialog with a Muslim, Buddhist, a Hindu or a member of some other religious "ism" or spasm and suggest by such dialog that their positions are just as legitimate as mine which is centered in Jesus Christ. Mind now -- this is not my "opinion" -- I'm simply taking Jesus at His word. So if you disagree, your disagreement isn't with me -- it's with Him Who holds the title, "King of kings and Lord of lords." So you'll have to take the issue up with Him.

Further, I cannot "dialog" with a group of sodomites and lesbians, since by doing so I'm suggesting that they too have a legitimate moral position and our differences are simply minor ones -- and due to our "respect" for each other and our positions, we are "brothers" and "sisters." God's clear revelation is that fornication, adultery, bestiality, incest, and homosexuality are morally wrong and those guilty of such acts are called to repent and cease such involvements! God has also revealed that there is no real communion between light and darkness!

While I may be accused of being "mean-spirited," "self-righteous," "homophobic," and all the other rhetoric hurled against me, I say to the Muslim, the Buddhist, the Hindu or those living in immorality or anyone who is bound and enslaved to the destructive ways of this world,

"Jesus loves you just as much as he does me and He died for your sins just as He did for mine -- repent and ask His forgiveness -- receive Him into your life as your Savior and Lord and experience His peace and everlasting life -- live with the assurance of His comforting presence each day and possess that solid hope of being a citizen in His eternal Kingdom throughout the countless eons of eternity!"

This "old salt" lives with a never wavering conviction that God means precisely every word in His holy Scriptures which He inspired to be written over centuries of time and in the process has made available His Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us into the truth, if we are willing to be so taught and guided. The crisis comes when we think we are so smart that we can figure it out all by ourselves without any outside help -- and maybe because we have some academic degrees hanging proudly on our walls, we then assume that automatically make us an authority on just about anything.

And while being accused of being a "literalist" in interpretation, this "old salt" does not always interpret all Scripture literally -- for instance when Jesus said, "I am the door…," I don't picture Him as a panel of wood with a door knob attached and swinging on 2 hinges or when He said He is the bread of life, I don't picture Him as a loaf of Wal Mart's Great Value wheat bread -- nor do I preach to people and tell them that is how you are to interpret Jesus!

And in Psalm 91 when I read a word of assurance that He will "cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will take refuge" I don't view God as being a pigeon or a goose!

But on the other hand, this "old salt" does take a lot of things revealed in Scripture very literally, with no apology for that. Such as when the Scripture reveals that God prepared a great fish which swallowed Jonah and Jonah was in the belly of that fish for 3 days and nights. Then the fish vomited him up and he carried out the mission which God had in mind for him. Now there are any number of persons who have a problem with this, including theologians and pastors. In the vain attempt to justify their unbelief they say that this is just a myth (or "fairy tale" kind of thing) which has a "spiritual lesson" to it, etc.

The God I have come to know and with Whom I have walked for many years is powerful enough that keeping a man alive inside a great fish is no problem -- in fact, He could have kept Jonah alive inside the belly of that fish for a year if He had chosen to -- that certainly would have given Jonah quite a bit of time to ponder over whether one can run away from God and get away with it! And God is under absolutely no obligation to give us all the "ins and outs" of such an act as this -- it seems that most of the time He chooses not to give detailed explanations as to why He does anything -- the only thing that we can grasp a little bit if we will is the fact that God loves us more than we are capable of grasping. And the proof of that love is most clearly seen when He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus, for the sins of the whole human race -- everyone ever born, being born now, or to be born in the future! Honest people who are open in mind and spirit have to admit that Allah, Buddha, Vishnu and whatever other deities you want to add to the list have never done anything like that, have they?

Someone did make an interesting observation about the Jonah episode -- the big miracle was not that God prepared a great fish which swallowed Jonah and Jonah survived that experience alive, but rather it was in the fact that the great fish could keep a back-slidden preacher down for 3 days before it vomited him up! Come to think of it -- back-slidden preachers as well as the skeptical ones that can't believe that God can do much of anything do have a sickening effect on people, do they not? In such cases the expression, "He/she makes me sick!" is not completely out of line!

Well, anyway -- this "old salt" has been greatly blessed over the years during those times of searching the Scriptures and learning more about what has happened in the past, what is going on now, and what is going to happen in the future as God works in completing His wonderful plan for His creation.

Finally this "old salt" harbors a burning desire best expressed by Paul the apostle:

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing." -- 2 Timothy 4:7,8

July 6, 2005
Clayton D. Harriger
Retired Elder in full connection
Western PA Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church
and presently serving as pastor at
Gipsy Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Gipsy PA


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