I glanced at the news as I sat down to write this article on “vision” and noticed an interesting headline on my newsfeed: “Church Pastor Struck by Lightning.”
“Okay,” I thought, looking heavenward to the great global newsfeed. “You have my attention.”
Turns out, on August 13, in Alabama, immediately after Sunday services, Pastor Ricky Adams of Argo Church of God was struck by lightning just as he was leaving and locking the church doors. Pastor Adams explained it as “God had his hands on me.”
Suddenly, I was curious. Was this a hoax? “Fake news?” Nope. Corroborated by all the papers and news stations. So, I next wondered how many times this happens. A lot, it turns out.
On July 1, 2003, lightning struck the First Baptist Church in Forest, OH. And it happened during church. DURING THE SERMON. Kid you not. Snopes verified.
“It was awesome, just awesome,” said church member Ronnie Cheney. “You could hear the storm building outside and Pastor Hardman (a guest preacher from Virginia) just kept asking God what else he needed to say.” “God’s voice often sounds like thunder,” Hardman preached. “That’s right, God! We hear you!” And then — KA-POW! — Lightning struck the church’s steeple. From the back row, Erick Smith saw sparks traveling from the belt pack to his head mic on the wireless system. “He was asking for a sign and he got one,” Cheney said.
Later that summer, lightning struck another church close to Forest. That one burned to the ground, which led one local reporter to quip that the memorable July strike on Forest Baptist Church was merely “God’s practice throw.”
Of course, that’s not true. Natural disasters, contrary to claims by fundamentalists as a sign of God, are leverage for neither pastors nor politicians. As much as I wanted to say that lightning would strike a pastor for locking his church or having the hubris to assume God is speaking directly to – or for – them, it doesn’t work like that. God doesn’t strike churches with lightning to make a point any more than God pushed Katrina to landfall.
Why? Because that’s not the way “vision” is transmitted. Unlike lightning, vision doesn’t come in a flash and isn’t usually limited to one person.
Real vision, like lightning, comes from a place that’s charged up. And it seeks to connect with something receptive to that charge. Real vision looks to share energy with what is truly grounded around it. Real vision, like lightning, brightens the landscape and shines light on what were once shadows.
If you’re waiting for lightning to strike here, in Santa Monica, I need you to understand this: in churches like ours, it doesn’t happen that way. In churches like ours, energy comes OUT of the church. And usually not from the pulpit. It comes from the pews.
It’s time UUSM uncovered its lightning in a bottle. Then, throw away the bottle (in a recycling bin, of course). It’s only when we’re grounded and connected and focus on making magic with the world that we will truly harness our vision.
To the glory of life.
— The Rev. Greg Ward