"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine

I was asked to speak at Broughton High School at the interfaith candlelight service on Sunday night.  It was a daunting task, to say the least. 

The topic was:  "The Decision to Shine."

I got to speak between Rabbi Raachel and Imam Oliver.  I hope I held up my place on the program.

Church member and friend and member of Broughton High's class of 2012 Shelby Snedecor read Isaiah 60 : 1 - 7 for us before I spoke, and that text formed the basis of what I said.

Several friends and church members have asked that I post what I said.  Here it is.  Forgive the typos and the errors.  Any oversights are unintensional.

Broughton Candlelight Service

May 20, 2012

Christopher H. Edmonston

Text Isaiah 60: 1 - 7

Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine

Thank you to Shelby Snedecor (for reading that text with all those strange names), also to Megg Rader, to Emily McNair, to Rabbi Raachel Jurovics, to Imam Oliver Muhammed, and to Father Ryan Carnercer, it is an honor to be part of this service with each of  you. 

To the Broughton class of 2012 – thank you for extending me this invitation to speak and share.  You are part of the wonderful and warm welcome that my family and I have received since we arrived in Raleigh last August, and because of your hospitality we are feeling more at home with each passing day.

If the members of White Memorial will allow for repetition, I want to tell a story that I told on Christmas Eve, one that I think instructive – one that I think will help to ‘shed some light’ (hmmm….) -- on our theme and to our purpose here tonight.  It is a story that sets a metaphorical framework for speaking about Darkness, Light, and the Decision to Shine – one that gives us a metaphor for both the challenge and the opportunity of Sharing the Light Within. 

That is after all the question:  will you, will each of you, as you live beyond your days at Broughton, will you share your light? 

That is the question I suspect that I wish that someone had asked me when I was 18 –

will you shine?

The story:  several summers ago we took our family caving. We paid for our tour, and hiked up the path to the top of the hill, where we were met by 21 year old tour guide.  “Hi, my name is Jordan,” she said and with her red plaited hair, horned rimmed glasses, L.L.Bean boots, small black flashlight, and Steve Irwin-like coveralls, Jordan looked the part of the would-be geologist.  Bear in mind as we began the tour, it was only me, my wife, and our six, four, and 1.5 year old children.  With the smallest child on my back in a back-pack like papoose contraption, we opened the door and plunged into the cave with Jordan a few steps ahead of us.

Imagine if you will a would-be geologist and a little family of five deep within the earth.  Just imagine the sound of a shouting 1.5 year old, echoing throughout the cave.  Imagine what you would do if you were this young person leading the family of five.  You might make the all but obvious choice to cut certain parts of the tour; skip a few of the canned jokes; bypass the boring areas of the cave.  Not our Jordan.  Every joke was told.  Every crack was exposed.  Every legend conferred.  She left nothing out!

Inevitably Jordan lost patience with us – she had to keep telling our boys not to run ahead, and not to throw rocks, and not to touch the walls – and the screaming our youngest, a daughter protesting the confining papoose frayed her nerves to their last desperate limits. When I realized we were really in trouble was when Jordan declared not allowed to touch anything, as the entire cave was a trust of the state of Virginia.  No touching of the stones.  No touching of the walls.  No touching of the pools of water.  No touching.

Our oldest son’s hand shot up.  “We are not allowed to touch anything?” he asked.  “Well my feet are touching the floor, am I breaking the law?”  I guffawed.  My wife giggled.  The baby screamed.  Jordan looked flummoxed and pressed on the children mostly ignoring her.  My wife and I began hoping that she wouldn’t press charges because our kids were still hurling rocks into the edges of the cave.

There was one moment, though, when she held the attention of the children and managed to produce silence.  When we were near our farthest point from the mouth of the cave she struck a match and lit a candle, a small candle, and she told us about how people used to tour the cave by candlelight, then like a magician she threw a large switch on the wall, killing the lights.  The flame, this tiny little candle flickered in the dark.  One light, one small shining ember in the pitch dark surrounded by six faces and 12 blinking eyes.  And then almost with no warning, she blew the candle out.


Total darkness. 

Absolute darkness so dark it hurt – complete absence of hope darkness.  Black hole darkness.  500 feet below the ground darkness. 

The children fell silent – the only time all day they weren’t yelling.  The baby squeezed my hand as though even at 1.5 years she could understand the power of the silent, still, darkness all around.

Jordan then whispered something that I have never forgotten.  She said scientists have discovered that after only two days in that darkness our eyes would begin to lose functionality.  After a very short time, that is, we would begin to go blind.  After only two days our eyes would assume the darkness was normal. So used to the darkness that the eyes simply stop holding out hope, they simply stop wasting energy, stop looking and longing for light.  Darkness becomes the norm and we stop seeking anything else. 

We just “get used” to it. 


Now Isaiah, which was read a few moments ago was not written to people in a cave.  Isaiah was a very real person writing to a very real people who were in a darkness: the darkness of exile.  An exile so dark it hurt:  their lives and histories and memories and language stolen by an empire (Babylon) half a world away.  The people to whom Isaiah is speaking were removed from homeland, family, homestead, and well…everything they knew.  They had no hope of returning home, no hope of proving they had once on the land, no hope of finding their children or their parents or their sibling who they had been forcibly separated from.  No hope of finding them on Facebook or Twitter or in the register of deeds.  In the 6th century B.C. if you were exiled in an empire far, far away you might as well have been in a galaxy far, far away.     If that is not darkness then I do not know what it is.  The might as well have been in a cave, deep underground, deep in the earth.  Their situation was hopeless and listless – like a boat on the sea with no wind in its sails they were not going anywhere. 

And here’s the rub the part of Isaiah’s story I cannot escape.  Do you remember from my story of being in the cave – where it only takes two days before the darkness starts to affect us?  Well the people of Israel, those to whom Isaiah is writing and speaking, had been exiled, had been far from home, in the veritable cave of barrenness and despair for years and years and years.  They had been in the darkness of despair for decades not days.  It was a hopeless situation that left them wondering where is God?  Where is hope?  Where is light?

And what I love is how the tension of that very real historical reality shows up in Isaiah’s words – listen for the tension – words like darkness and light, words like cover and arise, words like glory.  And then listen to how it ends – it is with light and with dawn itself.

Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Talk about faith and courage, class of 2012!  Isaiah, in the midst of intense and unimaginable darkness says that light is on the way.  Like a single candle holding back the darkness in a deep, deep cave, Isaiah tells them that light will shine and it will shine in such a way that everyone will take notice – it will beat back the darkness of the exile and the whole world will give witness to it as nations and kings, peoples and leaders, and you and me see what good things God and God’s light will do.


The connection between them and us?  Well the question for Isaiah’s people is this:  are they going to continue to look for the light?  Or will they just “get used” to darkness?  Will they choose, when the opportunity comes, to shine?

Class of 2012 we live right now in an age and a time and place where darkness, hopelessness, and fear of the dark seem to reign.  But  even in the face of uncertainty, when we choose to walk in the light, when we choose to proclaim the light, when we choose to stand for the lights of hope, faith, and trust in our fellow woman and fellow man –

when we stand with the outsiders and the easily forgotten,

when we work to do what is right from no profit motive but from moral imperative,

when we live our lives with integrity,

share our dreams with intention,

and open our tables and homes through the principles of inclusion then we are making a choice to shine.

We are choosing to live in the light. 

Choosing to shine from within. 

I think this is what Jesus was trying to teach his followers in Matthew’s gospel (chapter 5: 14-16) – “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” 

Which is an ancient way of saying (and remember that Jesus lived in an ancient time) that you can choose to shine and light the house!  Or you can choose to hide, and shrink into the shadows!  Whether or not people are from a tradition that follows Jesus, I think that this teaching of his is one that bears a truth we can all adhere to:  we are called to let our lights shine.  So 2012, I ask again, will you choose to shine? 

Honestly, what do you get as you become an adult, as you leave high school behind?  I mean besides a lot of bills?  More than anything else what you get from the world and as a gift from God is an ever growing power to choose:  mature people have the power to make choices and the successful ones among us are those who have chosen well.  What will you choose?  Will you choose to shine? 

I saw an article recently in the Wall Street Journal from Dr. Charles Wheelan, from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago.  He said to a class of graduates:  “You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that ‘changing the world’ also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.”

So will you choose to shine?  Or will you get lost in the darkness.  Will you spread hope?  Or apathetically spread hopelessness?  Will you stand out?  Or get lost in the shuffling?


There is no coincidence that we begin to see light in the womb as infants – we will need light to survive and prosper.  We are not creatures who are created nocturnally.  We must have light.  In the world in which we live, light has become a precious commodity.  Not because of its absence but because of the presence of darkness.  The darkness of war.  The darkness of famine.  The darkness of disease.  The darkness of terrorism.  The darkness of poverty.  The darkness of racial struggle. 

Don’t give into the temptation to see adversaries in every corner and obstacles down every hall.  Let me warn you of this:  as you grow into greater adulthood there will be those you meet who only see darkness and will try to convince you that there is no way for the light to achieve, that enemies are everywhere, and that the world has lost its bearing and is mostly hopeless.  The prophets of doom are real and they specialize in naming those not like them as the cause of their hopelessness.  They will tell you that there is no light.  But the light is there and it is precious – it may be scarce at some times and in some places – but it is always present.  That is what Isaiah is telling his people – arise and shine and give glory to the God that keeps you safe on the darkest night and gives you the power to shine!

When we choose to shine it is a glorious thing – and it is the kind of thing that becomes contagious, the kind of thing that everyone can note because you will become an inspiration to others.  Not even the animals – the rams, and camels according to Isaiah – will miss the wonder of radiance that happens when we choose to shine (that is, why I think the prophet includes all those animals from all those faraway places in Isaiah 60: 5 – 7).  Shouldn’t we want to use our gifts to even “inspire” the animals?  By virtue of the fact that you have graduated from Broughton, you are among the elite of the world.  What you choose to do will go a long way in determining the course of the world – will you sit on the sidelines, or get involved?  Will you give time to others, or hoard it for yourselves?

Will you stick to the shadows, or will you shine?

Back there in that cave in Virginia, Jordan said it only took two days before we adapted to a different state of being – before we “got used” to the darkness.  It may take even less time for our souls.  And the only defense against the dark is light.  Sweet, treasured, blessed light.

I asked some members of my church what to say to y’all tonight:  what do they need to know in order to shine with and through their lives?  One who graduated 50 years ago from High School wrote this:  “Remind them that God has a plan for you but he will not text or tweet it nor will he force you to follow it.   To know it you need to pay attention and listen carefully.”

Broughton 2012:  want to find where God is?  Want to know where God might be leading you as you leave Broughton?  Pay attention.  Listen. And look for God’s light.  That is where inspiration is.

Think about it:  if just one candle can hold back the darkness in a cave, then what can a lot of candles do?  Could it be that one willing light, one candle, can in turn light others if they are willing to be lit?  Can one life, choosing to shine, heeding the light, can one life make a difference in the midst of challenged times?

I say yes.  I suspect one light can do a lot.  One light can do a great deal, even.  But to do anything, to become anything, to be anybody you must make the choice to shine.   

Sharing the light within begins with your decision to shine.

Will you?  Will you shine?  Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Things to think about...from Rebecca Kirkpatrick, Sam Adams, and Mindy Douglas

I am not sure if I have ever met Rebecca Kirkpatrick, but after reading this post on her blog I need to make time and opportunity to meet this Presbyterian Pastor from Indiana.  Read her post from her blog, and then tell what you think.

Bread Not Stones - 10 Things I want to tell parents -- Pastor Rebecca Kirkpatrick

Is she correct?

What would you want to tell parents?

Parents is she fair?  Did she miss something?

I think that these kinds of conversations are how we might best learn from one another and build a church that is both challenging, vibrant, faithful, and engaging.

I will tip my hat and claim my bias:  I think her list a good one.  I might have written it myself.  If faith formation and spiritual development is only to take place at church in 1 - 3 hours per week it is little wonder that youth and young adults find themselves equally or more devoted to other competing claims and causes in the world.

What do you think?

Samuel L. AdamsMy apologies to Sam Adams.  Sam is an old friend and I have done him no justice with this fuzzy picture.  He is much less fuzzy in person!  He wrote a blog on Huffington Post this week which takes an intellectually deep and biblically informed look at social media.  How will church use this tool?  What do the prophets have to say about it?  Sam brings his great mind and keen insight as an Old Testament scholar to this post.  It was picked up by our Young Adult feed -- WMPC Young Adults Word Press blog.  So I know some of them have looked at the piece.  I'd commend it to a wider audience.

So, what do you think about the church and social media? 

Have you seen the new WMPC website? 

Are we using tools well?  Have you found WMPC on Facebook yet?  Have you "liked" out Youth Group, our PYC pages yet?

I think there is a broad based understanding in the church that we'll have to use these tools, but to what degree?

Sam gives a good theoretical, biblical, and scholar account as to how we might approach these questions.

Lastly, if you have a little time in the next few days, my dear, dear friend and fellow Presbyterian Outlook compadra Mindy Douglas the Pastor at Chapel in the Pines in Chatam County delivered a lecture worth hearing and consideration. 

Mindy gave the concluding Sprunt Lecture at Union Presbyterian Seminary last week.  It was about the future of the seminary and what pastors need to know.  It is insightful and well worth the investment of time.  I really like the way she ended her lecture:  a call to initiative.  In my sermons in the coming weeks and into the fall I'll be referencing the four lectures I heard - I literally took 30 pages of notes.  So grateful to be surrounded and supported by a great cloud of witnesses - a cloud that counts brilliant colleagues like Mindy among their number.  Thank you Mindy for the call and the passion.
To watch her remarks, click here:  http://unionlive.org/?p=356.

To view the other lectures, simply go to http://unionlive.org which is a growing and inspiring resource.

As always, I offer these things to advance our conversation and give us all inspiration for prayer and review.

May grace abound in all of our lives.