Dwayne Bagley shares a lesson, from his days at Albion United Methodist Church. Carrying the light of God’s love into the world may be messy but it is what humans are called to do.
Superintendent, Greater Southwest District
The season of Advent approaches and we’re reminded that those upon whom the light of God’s love has shined are called to bear the light of that love into the world. Knowing that is essential to the Christian life. But like anything you know about the practice of faith, what you do with what you know matters. I’m convinced that we all need to know the essential truth that in Jesus the light of God’s love shines in the world. That light still shines.
I’m also convinced we are supposed to do something with that knowledge, that we’re called to do something in fact. It is something that is so essential to our being here on earth and our reason for living that if we are not actively engaged in doing it, we will forever be left wondering why we’re here. I believe that we’re called to reflect and carry the light of God’s love into the world. For almost 30 years I’ve been seeking the best way to do that.
As I was winding down my time as pastor of Albion United Methodist Church, I wondered what I would be remembered for. A framed remnant of a piece of brand-new carpet marked with a waxy image of a cross and flame hangs on the wall at home reminding me that a person is not always remembered the way they would like or intend. In Albion, I will be remembered as the pastor who set the carpet on fire.
Like so many things that go horribly wrong, it began with what seemed like a good idea at the time. My wife, Shelly, and I were with the youth group for the 30 Hour Famine. We wanted to offer them a graphic, symbolic depiction of the statistic that in this world one child dies every three seconds. Such a reality requires dramatic, symbolic action. You want the image to stick with people.
Shelly heard that some misguided youth group, probably from someplace like southern California, lit 100 candles and extinguished one every three seconds to symbolize the death of another child. Fire certainly is dramatic I thought to myself. I remembered that we had lots of candles in the Coffee House that were just sitting in the cupboard waiting, begging even, to be used for such a higher purpose as this. So, I went into the Coffee House, I prudently grabbed a couple nearby non-flammable metal music stands, placed about 100 candles on each one and lit them up. As I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
What I didn’t know then that I do know now is that when several lit candles are placed together, their heat has a cumulative effect. That understanding is now forever burned into my memory. In what seemed like just a few seconds the formerly solid candle wax had been transformed into a liquid. The tiny flames of the tea lights united to become a conflagration. I was just beginning to think, “This may not be such a good idea after all…”, when the smoke alarms started to go off. That’s when I knew I had to get the fire out somehow.
When you’re standing in front of a flaming music stand before a fire that your stupidity has caused, you try to convince yourself that it’s not really as bad as it seems. After a few moments of quiet contemplation before the firelight, I had myself convinced that I could pick up the flaming music stand and carry the burning contents down the hallway to the kitchen where I could safely dump the pyre into the sink. I carefully hoisted the stand and its lake of fire aloft and was successfully bearing it down the hallway to the kitchen like some sort of ceremonial torchbearer, when one of our youth group members exited the men’s restroom and entered the smoke-filled passageway ahead of me.
The look of sheer terror in his eyes created a sort of negative excitement in me. Panic-stricken, he helpfully opened the bathroom door in the vain hope that we could flush the whole mess down the toilet. With words of gentle encouragement, I invited him to move out of the way so I could complete my journey down the hallway and finish testing all the smoke alarms in the building.
I almost made it. That’s when the rest of the candle wax completed its transformation from a solid to a liquid state. I realized there was fire floating on the music stand I was holding in my hands. I don’t know whether a paroxysm of delight at the thought that I was actually going to make it shook my body, or if it was the fear of what I was doing and what the result might be that caused me to flinch. In an instant fire fell from the sky to the carpeted floor below.
That whole experience left me with more than the shame of my own stupidity and the burnt warp and woof of brand-new carpet. I was left with the realization that maybe if enough people intent upon carrying the light of God’s love into the world come together, it would be enough to set the church on fire.
This Advent season may you come together to carry the light of Christ into the communities where you live to kindle a holy fire of love, hope, joy, and peace.