One of the funny things I’ve noticed about our suburb, Lansing, IL, is the noise. It’s not just the rumble-thrum of I-80 one mile north of my house, nor even the monthly summer “cruise nights” that bring classic cars with classic mufflers to line Ridge Road, it’s that people in my burb like to make noise. It’s been an adjustment for me, but I’ve made my peace with it by analyzing (Be grateful this post mostly lacks sufficient pie charts. Mmm. Pie.). And, after all, I’m the outsider trying to understand a culture into which I have moved.
More than any other place I’ve lived, the people of Lansing seem to find significance in noise-making. Maybe that’s a function of most of us being hard-working blue-collar people who don’t otherwise feel like more than just another brick in the wall. Every loud sound is our way of making sure that someone, anyone, knows that “I am here! I matter!” Motorcycles are popular, particularly those equipped with stereo systems that speak above the roar of acceleration. Sports cars with “performance exhaust.” Plus the standard number of cars and SUVs rattling their trunks off the hinges with sub-woofers.
And then the week of July 4 comes to town. My house is one block from the border, and hundreds of illegals cross back over, carrying all kinds of illicit substances. Saturn missiles, warning: shoots flaming balls, cherry bombs, and multi-color shells worthy of civic display. Every year, from our upstairs windows, we find ourselves surrounded by several “don’t try this at home” home pyrotechnic displays. The serious artists value sound over sight, and sometimes duration into the wee hours over any clearly-demarcated grand finale, so my family and I have made a habit of sleeping in a basement alcove that week. Any other arrangements result in either “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” resignation or neighbor-shocking revenge fantasies, for select homes:
This fourth of July was about the same, except for the storm.
As we drove home from an Indiana cook out, we tracked the lightning in the rear view mirror and the sparklings of cones and candles in the driveways and backyards. So quickly, the largest explosions of color seemed incredibly puny. The screeching of funneled gasses was overtaken by the hissing wind in the trees. And “Thunder Bombs ®” were pathetically drowned out by real thunder.
I relished it. All creation sings and round me rings! Hear that, humans? Who are we that we make such a racket for our short history? Yes, we matter, but not because we say so. We matter in context of this world over which we’ve been set as caretakers (Genesis 1:28) and yet which overwhelms all our own attempts at significance simply by being what it is. Make all the noise you want, demand attention and validation as you like, but nature will put you in your place.
On the other hand, maybe our habit of clamoring for meaning is not so far from God. Originally, God’s clatter creates: “Let there be light.” Or for the prophet Elijah, God’s whisper is enough to express His presence and power beyond the sound of earth, wind, and fire (1 Kings 19). And Psalm 29 shouts of God, whose voice bends nature to His Will.
Psalm 29, a psalm of David:
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
As loud as lightning can crack, as hurricanes can roar, as volcanoes can erupt, the voice of the Lord can silence them all. God doesn’t need to do it to restore His own sense of personhood, but certainly God speaks for our sake and to set the music of the spheres by His beat.
So let all our clatter be an echo, may the waves on our ears be merged into consonance, and make heard the clear word, not of our glory, but His.
Maybe I’ll go light a sparkler and think of all the stars He calls by name.