If you started reading this post hoping for a quick word about evangelism, you are unfortunately mistaken.
Truly, scripture often uses the imagery of light, and it does so in a positive manner. People are encouraged to be light, to not hide their light, to be in the light, and the word of God calls itself a light to our paths. In these instances, light represents either guidance, openness and honesty, or the ability to see the world correctly. It is often a reference to testimony and has a missional bend, one that calls us to share our light with others.
That being said, I make reference to none of these images.
A lot has changed since Biblical times, and while each of the above images concerning light encapsulate a timeless truth, what was once a scarce resource (light) is now readily available. In a literal sense, we have more light than we know how to use. “Why do I say this?” you may ask.
Well, for the first time this weekend, I saw Times Square.
It is almost ironic that this is my first time in New York City, considering the amount of travel that I do. I have seen some big cities, and I am accustomed to crowds. I have walked the crowded streets of urban centers, and I have seen buildings so tall you cannot see the top from the bottom. Yet, when I stepped out of that subway entrance on 42nd Street, I was struck by a new emotion, and it was because of the lights.
Times Square is arguably the most commercialized piece of real estate on the planet. As a matter of fact, it is famous for its wall-to-wall billboards, its flashing lights, and making New York City the city that never sleeps. I topped the stairs that led out onto the pavement, and I was met by thousands of people, scurrying around, bags in hand. Some were shopping, while others were taking pictures with Elmo or someone dressed up as the Statue of Liberty. People bounced in and out of stores and restaurants, bustling around each other as they ran to see the next thing.
Yet, in the midst of this chaos, one cannot help but look skyward. It is unavoidable, because towering over the city streets are the most lights I have ever seen in one place. Giant high definition billboards line the square on all four sides, as high as the eye can see. Images of Coca Cola and Calvin Klein flash across skyscrapers. News headlines race each other around the sides of buildings in bold red lettering. Illuminated posters for Broadway productions tower over people, and clips from the next blockbuster movie play nonstop on screens bigger than the theaters that show them. The sensation is overwhelming.
For some, this glittering marvel stands as a testament to the technological achievements of mankind. For others, it represents the height of American culture, showcasing our wealth and prominence. But for most, it is simply a good time, a place to run for satisfaction.
As I stood there, trying to take it all in, a number of realizations hit me. First, perhaps this is why we have such a problem with attention deficit in America. There is no way to wrap your mind around the busyness of Times Square, and that is how we want it. That is what makes it so grand, and that is how we expect life to be all the time. We are plugged in and constantly connected. Unless on-demand entertainment is always available to pacify our few moments of quiet during the day, we do not know what to do with ourselves. We are so addicted to distraction, we have found ways to keep it in our pocket at all times.
Second, ever-increasingly, the driving force in American culture is pleasure. To be fair, it is not only American culture, and Times Square was certainly an indicator that many other peoples have swallowed that hook as well. Yet, it is apparent that the highest goal in the American mind is rapidly becoming self-indulgence. We couch it in many things. Sometimes it is called happiness. Other times we make it more spiritual and call it fulfillment. Nonetheless, we run after whatever makes us feel good.
As I stood in the middle of that mayhem, lights took on a different meaning for me. They embodied an endless pursuit of fulfillment that never ends with satisfaction. Please do not misundertstand my point. Times Square is not evil nor are billboards or entertainment. However, when it becomes the driving force in one’s life, it has invaded a throne that belongs to another.
In a world of lost souls, this is to be expected. In the church, well, that is another story altogether.