Uni and I grew up, dated, married and started our family in Muskegon, a city on the western shore of Michigan. Muskegon was a seaport on Lake Michigan. Ocean-going ships would sail in through a channel from the big lake into Muskegon Lake, a smaller lake with a deep harbor, around which the city was built.
Growing up in this environment we took for granted the sights, sounds and smells of the "sea." Sitting on the channel walls, fishing for perch or dipping smelt which ran in the early spring. Hearing the bellow of the foghorn in the early morning as its deep BEE-OOHH sound carried for miles.
The ship channel ran in an east-west direction. On its north side sat a large red lighthouse. South of the channel a breakwater, made of huge rocks and concrete, extended far out into the big lake. On the far end of the breakwater, perhaps a quarter mile out sat the ugliest lighthouse ever seen.
But to Uni and me it was beautiful. When we were teenagers we could walk out hand-in-hand on a warm summer day or evening and have a brief few moments alone. There were times when, of course, we were unable to walk the breakwater, when huge waves went crashing over the top. In the winter waves would be frozen over it.
Songs we sang and heard in church -- old gospel songs -- seemed to fit right in with this "seafaring" atmosphere. We could visualize them and feel the waves crashing as we sang:
"I've anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest.
I'll sail the wild seas no more ..."
"Let the lower lights be burning,
send a gleam across the waves ..."
"Thank God for the Lighthouse ..."
This past September we celebrated our 56th wedding anniversary by "honeymooning" along the Wisconsin and Michigan shores of Lake Michigan, spending much of our time seeking out some of the lighthouses, strolling out on the breakwaters, climbing up into some lighthouses, snapping pictures. (We thought our 56th anniversary was special because '56 was the year we were married.)
Each lighthouse is unique in appearance, in structure, in history, but each also has changed with modern times.
Some have ceased to function, having been replaced with simpler, more high-tech (but less romantic) towers. Of these non-functioning ones some just sit there crumbling, while others have been torn down.
Many of those no longer in use have become private property, perhaps used for a family home, even a bed-and-breakfast.
Others have become museums, giving visitors glimpses of a by-gone era when these structures were absolute necessities for those who sailed, welcome sights for captains and crews.
Those that still function have been updated with more modern, electric and electronic lighting systems; the old kerosene burning lights have long ago been left behind.
Now I'm not writing these things as a lament, a longing for the "good old days." The past is the past. But as the old gospel songs expressed, those lighthouses serve as a metaphor for the church -- us -- those who know and follow Jesus Christ.
"You are the light of the word, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden"
said Jesus (Matthew 5:14)
And I can't help but compare and wonder.
Some churches have ceased to function, replaced by something more up-to-date.Some just sit there crumbling, unaware that their light has gone out.
Some have been torn down.
Some have become private property -- run by some modern day Diotrephes (3 John 9).
Some have become "bed and breakfasts" -- good for a brief visit only.