Let Your (Our) Light Shine

Whether it’s Benjamin Franklin’s kite or Thomas Edison throwing a switch, electricity is strange, powerful stuff.

Doctors have those white lab coats. Knowledge.

Clergy (once, sometimes even me) wear stoles or clerical collars. Authority.

Judges don black robes. Power.

Doctors. Clergy. Judges. What other uniforms are worn? Of course, the military. Sports teams. How ‘bout the guy from Lowe’s?

I watched him walk toward me while waiting at the Customer Service counter. I knew the fellow approaching me was a manager. How did I know? He wore a Lowe’s uniform, an orange vest. And the vest, even in the distance, had lots of doodads attached to it. I didn’t doubt for a moment that he was the manager sent to deal with me.

A while back, I visited Lowe’s with a receipt in hand and a phone message from Friendly Frank.

Let me give you a brief history about holding a receipt at Customer Service. In a fit of home improvement inspiration, my wife and I trekked over to Lowe’s. We wanted backyard floodlights that could turn on and off by the flick of a switch. We did not want photocell lights. We did not want motion sensor lights.

Our purchase, based on information displayed on the lamps’ colorful containers, seemed to fit our needs. Since this job involved electricity (which always makes me nervous), we hired a guy from Handyman Connection for the “shocking” deeds.

Wrong lights. Not on/off. They were photocell lights. I should not have judged a light by its box cover. But wait, I’m Larry the Customer! Lowe’s should not place a deceptively labeled container on its shelves! As Larry the Customer, I emailed Lowe’s to explain and complain. Politely but indignantly, I mentioned that we’d paid someone to attach the wrong light fixtures.

My note to Lowe’s caused Friendly Frank, the store’s manager, to call me. “Come on down,” Friendly Frank said. “We’ll cover $50 of the labor costs. We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Just bring that Handyman receipt and we’ll help you out.”

Simple, eh? Simple if Friendly Frank is there.

The orange vest—knowledge, authority, and power—approaching me was not worn by Friendly Frank. A nametag dangled from the field of orange: Sam. By the way he looked at me, I’d say he was Suspicious Sam.

“What’s the problem?”

I told him Frank, the store manager, had called me. No reaction.

I pointed to my receipt. He gave me a noncommittal nod.

Where was Friendly Frank when I needed him? But then it happened. As I shared my woes, I added, “I’m a complete idiot with home repair, but I try to do some things. However, electricity scares me, so we wanted to do it right and hired a guy . . .”

Suspicious Sam became Sympathetic Sam. I saw his eyes, indeed his whole face, transform. Instead of unblinking pinpoints of judgment, his eyes opened wide. And he actually grinned.

“I know what you mean,” he said. “You gotta be careful with electricity.”

If you’ll pardon the electrical pun, it was a moment of connection.

And here, in my meandering way, I found myself wishing more folks treated God like electricity.

Go ahead, explain electricity to me. It’s a mystery. Whether it’s Benjamin Franklin’s kite or Thomas Edison throwing a switch, electricity is strange, powerful stuff. I know electricity involves positive and negative forces, and it’s a “fundamental entity of nature,” according to my dictionary. But all the explanations about what it is, and how it works, always seem inadequate.

The orange-vested Lowe’s manager and I were suddenly just two guys who knew we both knew it’s important to be careful and respectful when you work around electricity.

I think of how people frequently claim (including those of us wearing the clergy stole and its declaration of authority) they know what God thinks or wants. And yet, we don’t. Not really. Show me a place in the Bible where God supposedly proclaims, “Do this!” . . . and I’ll bet I could find another place where that “Do this!” is contradicted. I love the Bible, but it was written by Friendly Franks and Suspicious Sams and Larry the Customers. Humans, all.

In Luke 11:34, Jesus was quoted as saying, “Your eye is the lamp of your body.” In that first century world, before lamps were lighted by the mystery of electricity, Jesus reminded us of the crucial value of seeing and being seen by the other. Of trust. Of truth.

I remember the moment Suspicious Sam transformed into Sympathetic Sam. As I admitted my ignorance and caution, his eyes, lamp-like, filled with light. I was like him; he like me. None of us have THE ANSWER. There’s so much we don’t know.

We might as well to try to help each other, and let our lights shine together.

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  1. What a difference a week can make! First, I want to tell you and everyone else who reads your blog that your light was what made the difference during this week. Here we are hundreds of miles apart – two clergy persons really trying to make a difference. My humanity got in the way and recently I just let darkness invade my spirit in the form of sadness, loss, a sense shame listening and watching the senate, guilt – that electric shock which straightened me up was more like a loving and brotherly hug which allowed me to cry. It was so different from the clergy person who raped me forty years ago. Your words were the light, the warmth which helped me begin to heal when I thought there was no more healing after all this time.
    Second, my thanks will always be. When you think of Job – remember it was what you wrote about Job and then to me after I basically said “damn Job! I don’t give a crap about Job!”
    Finally, we never know how or where what we say changes lives. So, please, Larry keep being Larry! You know a whole hell of a lot more about electricity than you think you do!

    1. Hey Pat:

      Glad you are feeling better. If only there were instant ways to make the dark days brighter. But some moments, hours, and days are just that: dreary, without light.

      Keep growing, Pat. You inspire me . . .

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