For the rest of this month I’ll be digging into the archives (which should explain the outdated mention of Egypt’s version of the Arab Spring midway through the following post). Curiously, three years ago this week I was dealing with a major snowstorm, just like this week when close to a foot of snow fell here in the greater KC metro:
There’s a blizzard raging outside the window behind my computer screen today. It’s a snowstorm the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Kansas City area for more than 40 years. The TV weatherpeople come on the air every half hour or so to give updates on snow depth (at least a foot by tonight), high winds (the small, dense flakes are blowing sideways, first one way then the other), airports closing, and road crews hitting the interstates and major roads first before side streets get any attention.
Somewhere up above the storm and thick cloud cover the sun is shining, I’m sure. But down here, if the snow weren’t so reflective the outside world would be dark and dreary. I can easily get used to living in a world of reflected light, but eventually the sun will come out and I realize what I’ve been missing. Later today I’ll try to push some snow around on the driveway (given the way it’s blowing right now that will no doubt be futile), but for the time being I’ll contentedly remain here appreciating the warmth of the fireplace across the room.
The three light bulbs in the ceiling fixture over my right shoulder provide all the light I need. Two of them are CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs; the third is an old-fashioned incandescent. All three look alike, though. These CFLs have their squiggly shaped tubes encased in a frosted outer globe. They take a while to brighten to capacity, so the regular bulb provides enough bright light in the room until then. That delayed bright light annoys a lot of folks, but I don’t mind the wait. One of the things I find most attractive about CFLs (other than the lower energy cost) is the fact they don’t get as hot as regular bulbs.
Light and heat at the same time isn’t always a bad thing, of course, but generally speaking I think it’s better to have the light without dealing with heat, too. Metaphorically speaking, I’ve had more than a few conversations (particularly in church situations) where whatever light that was introduced quickly became overwhelmed by heat (note: there’s a reason “hot” and “bothered” are paired so often).
On a rather different note, I doubt that Jesus counseled his listeners to be “light” simply so everybody else could see them better and then hold them up as exemplars of righteousness. No, this “let your light shine” idea is not at all about personal ego, reputation, or recognition–and certainly has nothing to do with being the source of “heat” in any situation. I think it’s much more about the good things that come about when light (a metaphor with so many meanings, not the least of which are theological) is brought to bear.
For one thing, to bring things into the light means to bring them out into the open, where they can be viewed openly, honestly, and forthrightly. I’m not sure where all the unrest in Egypt this week will eventually lead, but if nothing else it shines a light on the workings of a secretive and often-repressive dictatorial regime. Certainly any time a million people show up in one place, all calling for radical change at the top after 30 years of oppression, at the very least it’s worth noting that something important is going on.
It doesn’t take a million people gathered in one place to make a difference, of course. The quiet actions of a single person can improve another life, bring healing or hope or sustenance of some kind. That, too, is being “salt” and “light,” as Jesus proclaimed.
The prophet Isaiah also had some things to say about “light.” He called his people to go beyond fasting, beyond sackcloth and ashes (the ordinary, typical way of showing how religious one is), to bring light into a darkened world:
…if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:10-12 NRSV
To “raise up the foundations of many generations” invokes the idea of long-lasting, perhaps permanent change. What I do in my lifetime may seem at the time to be as inconsequential, possibly futile, as pushing snow around my driveway in the midst of 45-mile-per-hour winds and heavy snowfall. On the other hand, it could be a tipping point, a kairos moment, of God’s Spirit breaking in to make everything new.
My book, What Was Paul Thinking? (Isaac’s Press, 2010) is available at both Amazon.com and Barnes& Noble.com in print ($10) and e-book ($5.99) editions. If you’ve ever wondered just what Apostle Paul was getting at (and let’s face it, Paul can be hard to understand and appreciate at times) this is a good place to start.