world on fire

great for decor, not so much for light or heat.

nice decor, but not much light or heat.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve logged about 2500 miles, many of which took me through the cotton mill regions of the Carolinas. (Also, unrelated, I would like to note that, though those miles were mostly in red states, there were an awful lot of people hugging the left lanes.) In antique malls in the textile south, I found groovy industrial spools bearing remnants of generations of piecework. I thought of my grandmother, who worked in a “sewing room,” and what that life may actually have been like. Some I’d seen before – the narrow ones with wide ends, that look like they’d make a great bar table for Barbie. But there were others, tapered, like candles. I figured they would fit in my candlestick holders. I bought a variety to use on my Christmas mantle. Amidst the greens and reds and speckled, they had rich blues and pinks, and I thought for a minute about using them for the Advent wreath. But I decided not. Because they aren’t real candles. Advent begs for fire.

The exodus story came to mind, how God accompanied the wandering people, present in a pillar of fire. In a couple of days, our Jewish neighbors will light the first candles of Hanukkah, remembering the miracle of an ancient revolt; and maybe we’re all reading various prophecies, the stoked rhetoric of revolution. This week in the church I attend, along with Christians all over I guess, we heard the Jesus thing from Luke about signs and distresses and general upheaval. Stuff that makes one faint from fear, says Luke.

We don’t really faint. Only perhaps metaphorically. Maybe. To avoid the dizziness and whatnot, we tell ourselves that faith is private, and public life is, well, public, and ne’er the twain etc. What once was temporal, we relegate to the spiritual. I don’t think we could be more wrong.

One of my favorite Advent hymns, drawn squarely from scripture, notes that, for the fulfillment of God’s vision, new protocols will have to be declared – protocols that, when we are brave enough to look at them up close, look dangerously, uncomfortably, frighteningly, like some kind of God-endorsed socialism. Protocols like that require something much, much more substantial than quaint, fake candles made from nostalgia. Protocols like that could make us actually faint. Or free us from the prisons we’ve created for ourselves.

Of course, fires are not always to be celebrated. Industrial fires in “sewing rooms” across the world have been in the news, with huge losses of life. Sometimes this season, we’re bound to hear about a turkey-frying event that went horribly wrong. Holiday lights that overloaded a circuit and ignited a tree or something. Electrical service that was shut off for non-payment, causing a family to use the gas stove for heat. A bad space heater or old wiring in a poorly maintained rental home. House fires are more common this time of year, and our neighbors in poor communities are more vulnerable for a variety of reasons. So I’m probably not suggesting we actually torch anything. But it isn’t just metaphorical, either. I think we have to ask ourselves and one another: What kind of fire is required to shape our public life and move us to a new vision? Are we brave enough to set that kind of fire?

And when there are fires that we didn’t plan, didn’t set, didn’t see coming, can we learn lessons, take courage, own our complicity and become better local and global neighbors?

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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