Like a Punch in the Face

Christine and I came home from church yesterday afternoon (after enjoying a good mexican meal with some fellow church people), and when we got out of the car to enter the house, a smell hit us like a punch in the face. There was no smoke, but the smell was definitely fire. Smoldering fire.

It was strong enough to catch in our throats and sting our noses. It was pungent, thick even.

For a brief moment, my mind raced through all the possibilities. Nothing looked out of place, our dog was curled up on his pillow like nothing was wrong, and there was no visible indication that anything was burning.

But then after that moment, I noticed that one half of our fluorescent (tube) light setup was not functioning, and it was humming like a banshee (if only banshees could hum).

I quickly turned off the light, unplugged the unit, and then took our dog out from the stench to save his lungs.

My ballast had gone bad. Upon closer inspection, there was a thick, tar-like substance oozing from a point on top of the light where the metal had become too hot to touch. Thankfully this light hangs a few feet below the ceiling, otherwise this story might have a different ending. Needless to say, we aired out that particular room, and we’ll be looking for replacement options.

But I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a spiritual lesson to be learned from this experience. That light has hung in our mudroom since we bought this house six years ago. Other than replacing a couple bulbs since then, I’ve never given it another thought.

I’ve taken it for granted.

It’s easy to take our fixtures for granted. Unless they get in our way (like the original dining room light that kept hitting my head when we first bought the house), or malfunction (like the current light that is the subject of this post), we just assume they’re going to continue working as they’ve always worked.

We rely on them to do their jobs…and if we’re not careful that reliance can easily lead to neglect, which isn’t good for anybody or anything.

When I unplugged my light, I noticed it had a fabric covered cord (in case you were wondering, that makes it “old”…like a lot of things in our house). It probably should have been replaced long ago. But it was still working, so good Mennonites that we are, we’ve been happily using it for the past six years, oblivious to the fact that it might be a fire hazard.

I’m talking about physical fixtures in our house and the need to not only keep them in good repair, but to make sure they’re up to date where safety is concerned.

But the same is true of our spiritual dwelling place. It is good practice, from time to time, to go through the rooms of our theology, to examine what’s there, to discard the hazardous waste and replace it with good, solid thinking.

I’ve had the advantage of a seminary education to help me begin this process, but I also find that it’s ongoing. Not that our experience should exclusively shape what we think about God…but it certainly contributes, doesn’t it?

All of us have inherited these theological fixtures from the people who have passed faith down to us. Some we have examined; many we have not. And in order to make our spiritual houses truly our own, it behooves us to take the responsibility to consider what’s inside this package that’s been handed down.

It’s like so many of us have made our home in a house that really isn’t ours yet. You know a house is really yours when you’re able to fill up bags full of garbage left behind by the previous owners. But when it comes to faith, I’ve noticed a general reluctance to bag up the garbage, partly because we feel like it would disrespect the ones who have come before, partly because it’s too much work and it intimidates us.

But failing to do so poses a risk. Fixtures that have outlived their usefulness need to be replaced with quality alternatives, whether we’re talking physically, spiritually, or theologically.

There’s no time like the present to go through your rooms. Get some help with the job, because it’s bigger than any of us can do on our own.

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