Which Comes First?

You are an egret on a gloomy day in the San Joaquin Valley.

Which, for me at that very particular moment, felt the same as, “You are the light of the world.”

(Photo from - Creative Commons / Mehmet Karatay)

On a recent morning, I’d read the snippet from Matthew on “the light of the world,” a passage I’ve used with sermons, Bible study, and—in deeply private ways—for my prayer life.

Hours later, while pedaling through a park, I glanced right, abruptly squeezed my brakes, and came to a complete stop. An egret stood, still as a statue, in the middle of the field. Behind, vehicles rumbled by on a busy street. Beyond the roadway, suburban homes sprawled, backyards jammed together, and endless driveways poured more cars into the Fresno-area roads. Above and around me, low clouds dulled the day, creating a vase expanse of monotonous, relentless gray.

The 5th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 6, 2011

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” (Matthew 5:14)

The egret, a magnificent bird with feathers as white as fresh snow, remained immobile. It seemed, in that dreary cold, like “the light of the world.”

Alive. Glowing. Phosphorus.

I stood, watching. I pray for my faith to be that bright. That metaphor. That truth. To be, if only for a handful of others, if only once or twice in a lifetime, alive and glowing and phosphoric enough so that those others may see my, in Matthew’s words, “good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

I wish all of us would remember that we are the light of the world, that we are called to shine forth with beauty and mercy. It’s awful hard these days to “shine forth” with the divides between red states and blue states, liberals and conservatives, angry Biblical literalists and people like Christopher Hitchens and his God Is Not Great atheism. On too many days, the world seems roiling with hate and spoiling for a fight. What difference can I make? What difference can you make?

After my early morning read of Matthew, but before I’d witnessed the egret’s brilliance, I’d watched a segment of NBC’s Today Show. Mostly I used the broadcast for background noise while stretching muscles before bicycling. And there loomed Glenn Beck, hyping a newly published book. Meredith Vieira, one of Today’s hosts, pushed Beck to explain his (and others) recent vitriol over the Tucson shooting. Now, I should be forthright here . . . I’m no Glenn Beck fan. On the one hand, I don’t think any of Beck’s words—and he can loud and divisive—prompted the young man to shoot Representative Gabrielle Giffords. I suspect, as more information surfaces, we’ll learn that the killer of six innocent lives was mentally unstable. But the other hand exists, and the other hand often seems squeezed into a fist because many like Beck (on the “right” or “left”) intentionally create a gloomy, angry environment.

Beck, responding to Vieira, made a startling admission. In my biased view, he revealed something about himself rarely expressed in the right vs. left verbal attacks. Below is a clip from the January 19 program. (If you watch it, fast-forward to minute six and listen through minute seven.) Beck defends his divisive verbiage with two examples. He asked Vieira if what he has said is any different than what’s found on Jon Stewart or the Simpsons. Wow. Wow again! Jon Stewart, who in some polls is more trusted as a “newscaster” than the anchors on the alphabet networks, is nonetheless a comedian. His show airs on The Comedy Channel. The venerable Simpsons, which for decades has cast a relevant and irreverent eye toward culture, is nonetheless a cartoon. Stewart’s Daily Show and the Simpsons are entertainment. Did Beck admit he too is entertainment?

As Beck himself noted in the interview, “lines have become very blurred” in how viewers experience the information dumped onto them every second on television, the Internet, and beyond. And yet maybe I didn’t really understand what Beck meant. But, liberal or conservative, libertarian or contrarian, I weary of the hate around me. I weary of entertainers casting darkness before them.

The egret remained, motionless, sublime. How can animals do that?

Would I have been as stunned with the bird’s beauty had I not just listened to Glenn Beck defend his angry perspective because it wasn’t that much different than other comedians? I don’t know. And I certainly don’t know how to stop the apparently endless fury of finger-pointing and blame-hurling. I also certainly have no idea—with apologies to the egret and its fellow birds—what comes first, the chicken or the egg . . . the media merely reporting the hatred that creates enmity, or the media itself fomenting the hatred.

None of this I can figure out. Too many lines are blurred.

So, I watch the unmoving egret, humbled. I let go of Glenn Beck’s peculiar defense of his actions. On a cold and dreary morning I’m thankful to be away from the 24/7 chatter of news that’s not news and pundit thundering. I watch, breathing in and out, and remember those words from Matthew’s Gospel . . .

You are the light of the world.

I take a few tentative steps toward the egret. Up, it rises. Beauty unfurled, wings working with the invisible air. My prayer, in that field of morning metaphors, is to seek to be a light.

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  1. I am a Methodist minister thank you for sharing your comments on being the light of the world. Where I live I have the view of the harbour and at night it is beautiful to see the darkness of the city come alive with the lights from the ships in the bay and the tourist liners I am challenge by your thoughts as a minister to let my ministry be of such that it pierces the many issues in our church which bring about darkness thus causing so many of our members to loss their faith. Thank you and God bless

    1. Thanks for your comment, Julie. Depending on which part of the country you’re in . . . you may be very, very cold.!

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