What Tone Are We Setting?
Like many people, I wake up each morning to a torrent of natural disasters and political upheavals near and far, and a smattering of scientific discoveries and movie reviews, and the occasional editorial pouring out of my radio. When it comes on, I get to lie in bed for a moment finding my bearings, calmly establishing who I am, where I am, and what day it is, before my alarm goes off, which then forces me to get up and stumble across the room to silence it. It is no big revelation that mostly bad news gets wider coverage. So the first minutes of my day are awash in mostly bad news while my mind struggles hard to convince me why I should stay in bed instead. But then there’s the annoying alarm I know will be going off soon, so I am forced to get my head in gear.
You might tell me you’ve found a less painful way to wake up in the morning, without the unnecessary distress of hearing so soon about natural disasters and political upheavals, so to avoid the crankiness that bad news might typically generate. It is a cruel assault on one’s senses so early in the morning. I may prefer a gentler approach on most other occasions, but getting up in the morning is no gentle affair. It’s like pulling off a Band-Aid. There is no gentle alternative, and anesthesia is way over the top.
But I will have to admit, the morning crankiness is all me. As well, your morning crankiness is all you. Being rudely woken up is not a pleasant experience. But growing up with 6 siblings and only 1 available bathroom worked wonders for the development of my attitude and over-all approach to life. Then seminary training reinforced the hard lessons. I’m sure you can relate if you were in the military. And I learned quickly that I can either complain or deal with it. I struggled some, but it soon became clear that for my mental health, I should pare down the griping and complaining to a minimum. It’s true, having other people around encourages griping and complaining. But when there’s no one to hear you gripe and complain, you eventually learn to cope.
Now there’s still the issue of bad news so early in the morning. All I can say is, I have since learned to worry only about those things I can actually do something about. Snow in the forecast? Thunderstorms? Sweltering heat? Godzilla? Zombie apocalypse? If I can’t do anything to stop it, I weigh my options. I take an umbrella. I dress sensibly. I get disaster insurance. I move to higher ground. I pray. Now I am not one to just turn to prayer automatically, but everything is accompanied by prayer. Now prayer is not about complaining to God. There will be some of it, but prayer is more about entrusting my deepest concerns to One I trust. I know I need to do what I can on my end. But I am also convinced God has everything under control. I might not know how, but I know.
All that God has accomplished in the world and in human history is amazing and awesome beyond measure. The occasional famous person might make a dent or two, but the rest of us have a more limited sphere of influence. We get to affect the lives of those closest to us, mostly by finding our purpose in God’s plan and leaving the world a better place than we found it. Now occasionally through our participation in civic life, or our refusal to be bothered by it, we have power to collectively change the course of human history. We sometimes hear people lament the insignificance of their one vote or one voice. But have you noticed that people who have suffered long and hard under injustice and oppression strongly believe otherwise? Those who doubt the power and privilege of their one vote or one voice are either badly broken for having failed way too often or gravely misinformed for not attempting hard enough. But that is essentially what God holds us to account for—that we find our purpose in his plan and that we leave the world a better place than we found it.
That is perhaps why much in sacred scripture instructs us on how we find our purpose in God’s plan and leave the world a better place than we found it. The prophet Isaiah cannot be more clear. “Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. … Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer. … If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then your light shall rise for you in the darkness.” Nowhere in scripture are we instructed to neglect to feed, clothe, and shelter those we love, or ignore the wonders and mysteries that surround us, or disregard our vital role in advancing human progress. “Be fertile and multiply,” God tells our first parents in the first chapter of Genesis. “Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that crawl on the earth.” But we must know that God did not just give humanity use of all creation to accomplish great things. God has also given us care and stewardship of all he has made.
And St. Paul, acknowledging how the path of righteousness is often unpopular and unappealing to unbelievers and sinners, challenges us to follow his example, and put faith and confidence in “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” By all measure of this passing world’s standards, God’s way of doing things can sometimes seem irrational, humbling, and unprofitable. But one who knows God and loves God’s ways is not as concerned about gaining profit or prestige. Instead, we are about finding our purpose in God’s plan and leaving the world a better place than we found it.
So Jesus tells us that we are responsible as well for setting the tone. It’s not just we should do as scripture tells us if we can make a profit or that we might take time out of our busy schedule. No. “You are the salt of the earth. … You are the light of the world.” There is virtually nothing there left to our discretion or open to interpretation. Rather, by our very words and example, we are given both authority and responsibility to affect the world and the lives of those around us in the same manner as salt and light. Salt enhances, adds flavor, preserves. Light shines a path, encourages, fosters progress and understanding. Our influence and significance as Christians in this world is not without urgency or power. Either we join God in fulfilling his plan for creation, or we sit back and allow God’s adversaries to undo it all. You are salt. You are light.
How many Christians does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one, really. But before you do, first check to see that the switch is on.
Rolo B Castillo © 2017