Sunday, July 7, 2013

Turn out the lights?

July 9, 2013

Dear friends,

As I write this, Annie and I—thankfully—have safely survived the first week in July. Two things happened. I had a “Bah, Humbug!” moment that raised an interesting question. Annie had an unexpected adventure.

In this week’s blog I want to share the “Bah, Humbug!!” question the holiday raised. Next week I plan to share Annie’s adventure and the ripple effect it has had on our lives together. Already July has evoked new learning. It promises to be a good month.

My “Bah, Humbug” moment focused around an annual irony I observe.

"See!! It has happened again,” I fussed to myself. “Cities with limited budgets none-the-less manage to purchase thousands of dollars of fireworks. What an interesting approach to serving the common good: money invested in fireworks which are then shot into the night sky for an hour's entertainment of the citizenry. This presupposes, of course, that the general public can find a parking space from which to observe the show. I wonder if these cities fund a summer lunch program for kids at risk. If you can’t afford bread and circuses, then by all means fund the circuses.” (I warned you that this was a decidedly “Bah, Humbug” moment.)

My Inner Critic (always watchful, always listening for error) promptly pointed out that my snarky monolog closely resembled the disciples’ criticism of the woman who “wasted” expensive oil to anoint Jesus before his death.

Inner Critic and I regularly engage in sharp disagreements and interesting debates. I have learned through experience, however, that Inner Critic must be watched. She cannot be trusted to play by the rules. “Not fair,” I protested. “That was an act of private religious devotion. This is a public expenditure of tax monies. The issue is not the same.”

I thought for a while, attempting to define my objection more clearly (and more charitably). Then Inner Critic raised a somewhat snarky question herself. “I suppose,” she said, “you have an alternative celebration in mind?”

Who could resist an opening like that?

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said. “Here is my proposal. At a specified time all up and down the Front Range cities would turn out their lights. Then when our eyes became adjusted to the dark and our ears stopped being surprised by the absence of traffic noise, we could look up and see the stars. We could watch the brilliant pattern of the summer night sky and hear the silence of the dark. As the earth turns, we could see the Big Dipper moving toward the western horizon. City children who do not often see stars could learn to locate the North Star. People could think about the courage of those who sailed tiny ships across great oceans navigating by the stars. We could think about the contrast: their dangerous earth-bound travels—brief and perilous—plotted in relation to the slow massive movement of the distant stars. We could think about the North Star as part of God’s GPS. We could think too about words and the metaphorical way we now use ‘North Star’ to mean a safe guideline for living.”

“Additionally,” I added, “it would provide for a quiet time in which those of us who are so inclined could raise a moment of grateful praise to God for the liberty we enjoy, and ask for the common sense and courage necessary to keep it.”

Inner Critic has little sense of humor. “It is clear that your thought life is quite ridiculous today,” she sniffed.

“You have to admit that there are advantages to my proposal,” I responded defensively. “Think of the savings that would accrue from the drop in the use of electricity. Think of the educational value of people actually seeing—some for the first time—God’s nightly Summer Light Show. And consider the advantage of this sensible response to dry Colorado’s high danger of fire.”

I then sat quietly in the porch glider playing Idea Lego. I explored the virtues and disadvantages of my proposal, revised and expanded the original idea, and considered the nature and number of indignant objections that would be raised by the general citizenry if such a proposal were presented to the public.

It was a good game full of sensible nonsense and serious irreverence.

But, game over, I want to think  with you about an aspect of the issue that lies beyond civic fiscal priorities and the challenge of serving the common good.

It appears to me that habitual, culturally sanctioned patterns of celebration need routinely to be countered with at least one Scrooge-like question: what happens to me if—when—so to speak,  I go along with the show?

For example, Fourth of July fireworks provide drama, brilliance, and lots of “Ohhhh—look at that!!” Beautiful, and great fun, and, for the thoughtful, an opportunity for gratitude for the civic freedoms we enjoy.

But, thinking metaphorically, it is a fact that watching the fireworks does not teach me to understand the importance of the North Star, nor to locate it in time of need.  Indeed, what happens if I assign an importance to the show that makes me oblivious to my ignornace and my inabilty to reckon direction without a GPS? Finding my way to the city park is not likely to be the most important navigational task in  my life.

Thinking with you that since the lights are almost certain to go out sometime during life’s journey, even in our high-tech world of the GPS, wise people still learn to locate the North Star.

See you next week with an account of Annie’s adventure.


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