“You are the light of the world! But if that light is under a bushel, Brr, it’s lost something kind of crucial. You got to stay bright to be the light of the world”from the musical Godspell paraphrasing Matthew 5:14-16
I recently was screwing new LED fixtures into our almost finished “master” bathroom in the parsonage thinking about light and change. I never would have imagined that 9.5 watts of power would produce the same amount of light as an old 60 watt bulb and promise to last 10 years, and with none of the nasty mercury that is a part of compact fluorescent technology. It’s pretty to neat to think about saving the church a few shekels in electricity and doing a little bit to help mother earth cope with our energy hungry society. In the midst of my pondering I never would have imagined that this LED bulb technology would garner a Nobel Prize in Physics for the two Japanese and one Japanese-American physicists who developed the blue LED technology that paved the way for creating white light with LEDs.
I could easily understand this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners: a 60 year old Indian, Hindu, man and a 17 year old Pakistani, Muslim, woman “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” I always appreciate when the Nobel committee challenges the world to reach across boundaries and barriers – this time of age, nationality, religion, in a profoundly conflict-ridden setting – to honor those who are trying to transform our world. As a Christian I appreciate these two voices from two other religious traditions who are seeking to “let the little children come to me,” people who are living out our call to “love your neighbor as yourself.” I often have excitement around the Nobel Peace Prize (as political as it may be).
However, I didn’t expect to have news about LEDs excite my imagination the way that it has. You see while it’s interesting to watch new technologies lower our energy bills and have the potential to improve our environment, those seem like first world concerns. But then when you start listening to how the ability to create bright, long-lasting, highly energy efficient light changes not merely our lives but the lives of those in the developing world, the news moves beyond just “a bright idea”. I remember as a young man spending time in homes in the developing world at night. Light was provided by kerosene lamps, or if the village was lucky enough to have a small generator or hydro-electric plant, then it was a couple of bulbs strung from the ceiling. Electricity was touted as essential for reducing deforestation in fragile environments and preventing dangerous house fires and carbon-monoxide poisoning for people dependent on those kerosene lamps. (Ironically it was one of these electrification projects that itself caused an electrical fire that burned down a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Nepal that contained a major collection of ancient manuscripts.) Now as prices drop for LED technology combined with solar there is a quiet revolution going on. In the past six months, 2.1 million LED-solar products have been sold to people who are unable to plug in to electrical grids. People who were spending 30 percent of their income on kerosene so that a family could gather around a light and maybe get an hour’s worth of studying in before it burned out now have a radically different safe, clean, option. Who would have thought that Nobel physicists and child advocates would both be transforming the households and lives of children around the world.
I always hear these stories and imagine in them the hand of God using the gifts and passions of ordinary human beings to transform lives and the world. Often the end result seems unimaginable or unattainable at the beginning. But somehow applying our passion, our gifts, always with an eye toward being God’s light in the world, living the love of neighbor as our self, has the potential to see our hands and hearts become those of God. A tiny blue light touching the world…
We are coming into a season of Stewardship and Thanksgiving… and the two are inseparably linked when we imagine how God would be at work through simple blessings. What small light do we have to offer the world? “You got to stay bright to be the light of the world…” Shine on!