In 1935, a biologist named Hugh smith visited a mangrove forest lining a river deep in the jungle in Southeast Asia. While floating in his boat, Hugh looked across to one of the mangrove trees, and noticed that suddenly the entire canopy glowed as if a lightening bolt had struck it. Then it went dark.
Then three seconds later, the canopy lit up again. I imagine he thought he was going crazy from the humidity. But he kept watching and every tree on one side of the river for a thousand feet was flashing and then going dark at exactly the same time.
One he realized he was not dreaming, he realized the trees were not in fact glowing, they were covered with bioluminescent creatures we now know as fire flies (or lightening bugs).
When he returned back to his home in Washington, Professor Smith wrote of his findings, however many biologists thought he made it up, and many Mathematicians dismissed it. Even Entomologists asked how millions of fireflies could see enough other fireflies to create the same pattern, given the limited visibility in the mangrove forest. So during that time it seemed both biologically and mathematically impossible.
But guess what? It wasn’t. And thanks to advancing science we now know deeper details about these creatures. The reason the fireflies glow in unison is due to the fact that when they light up at random times, the probability of a female responding to a male is 3 percent, however when they light up together, the likelihood of females responding is 82%. The rate of success increases by 79% when they flash as a community rather than individuals.
Scientists chalk this up to evolution. But I believe God is teaching us a lesson through the fireflies: the power of community. Specifically, the power of the church working in unison.
You see, we are taught constantly in the world that it is better to be the brightest individual light, the loudest voice, or the most popular on social media.
Individualism, especially expressive individualism is creeping into the church.
For those that do not know, expressive individualism in the mindset of looking “deep into our hearts to discover our inner essence and express that to the world.”
Well intentioned “Christians” promote this message with constant calls to “find your purpose, find your calling, and say things like: if it doesn’t serve you, get rid rid of it.”
So this can feel conflicting when we meet with our church family and perhaps hear a hard message from the pulpit… A message that doesnt fit our "truth" or "purpose" or "calling." A message that perhaps challenges us on our stance about something.
The world would tell us to never return to such a place as worship because the minister is not honoring “our truth.”
When we get down to it, the true message of Christianity is and should be countercultural.
Christianity as obedience to God—stifles the Call to find the “the real me.”
To follow the ancient ways of Scripture, or to conform to a moral standard that comes from outside, feels like a betrayal of my identity.
Submitting myself to Truth that comes from outside myself feels like I am abandoning the call to “live my truth.” And so, the primary message of the church, one that confronts the “Me” with the claims of God, feels wrong.
This writer said it best:
"We believe in the dignity, indeed the sacredness, of the individual. Anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decisions, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious. Our highest and noblest aspirations, not only for ourselves, but for those we care about, for our society and for the world, are closely linked to our individualism."
What happens to the church in this environment? It’s not that suddenly all the churches are emptied and the church gets rejected.
Instead, the people who continue to attend church do so because they believe the church can help them find and express themselves.
The church morphs into something adaptable, something you embrace on your own terms. Faith is no longer focused on reality or something true; it’s a therapeutic choice intended to aid you in your pursuit of self-exaltation and self-fulfillment.
This quote demonstrates it best:
"Now in the Age of Authenticity, with its expressive individualist outlook, we have a qualitative shift: “The religious life or practice that I become part of must not only be my choice, but it must speak to me, it must make sense in terms of my spiritual development as I understand this.” The expressivist forges her own religion (“spirituality”), her own, personal Jesus. . . . It becomes less and less “rational” to accept any external constraints. A new spiritual injunction arises: “let everyone follow his/her own path of spiritual inspiration…"
There is just one problem here: The Gospel.
The Gospel shows how the depths of our hearts are steeped in sin; it claims that what we need most is not self expression, or finding ourselves…”
What we need most is redemption and community (the church).
It is in the church where we are refined by each other as we come together to worship our creator despite our differences and mold our lives in accordance with the scriptures.
Many people are denying themselves redemption in the name of self-fulfillment and defining their impact by the amount of likes and followers on their social media pages or how fulfilled they make others feel.
This leads to jealously, division, and competition among women, even in the church.
Expressive Individualism is huge and I fear it is plaguing the church.
God in His wisdom, shows us through His creation and through His word that there is a better way.
it is not individualism that creates the greatest impact, it is community.
In his book, Shawn Achor researched the life of the fire fly and what it meant in terms of community. I think his quote says it best:
“The lightning bug researchers discovered that when the fireflies were able to time their pulses with one another with astonishing accuracy (to the millisecond!), it allowed them to space themselves apart perfectly, thus eliminating the need to compete.
In the same way, when we help others become better, we can actually increase the available opportunities, instead of vying for them. Like the lightning bugs, once we learn to coordinate and collaborate with those around us, we all begin to shine brighter, both individually and as an ecosystem.”
He further says:
“Biologists who have explored these jungles now know that the glow emanating from those mangroves can be seen for miles. This means it is even easier for other fireflies to find their way to the light. So the brighter it shines, the more newcomers join and add their light. This is true just as much for humans as it is for fireflies: The more you help people find their light, the brighter you both will shine”
So what is God, in His wisdom, showing us through the fireflies? What can we take away from this.
There is power in community when it comes to Illumination: We were created to illuminate in a dark world, but our illumination will penetrate further when we knit ourselves together. This often means "denying ourselves" and avoiding expressive individualism and embracing community.
Multiplication: Just as unity among fireflies promotes the multiplication and reproduction of fireflies, our unity should be multiplying the members of our congregations. Nonbelievers should be drawn in and captivated by our love and service and unison. Unity among Christians increases the speed of the spread of the gospel. When we are united, there is an unstoppable momentum that makes it possible for more people to hear and encounter the grace and love of Jesus. I can’t help but wonder what it would look like today if the Church united and illuminated the dark world like the fireflies. If we fought against expressive individualism and fought for unity in our church homes.
When fireflies illuminate in unison, It is said that you can see the light for miles. If Christians come together in unity, I imagine our light would shine even further.
While our culture is increasingly one of conflicts, division, partisan politics and hatred toward one another, I pray we shine the light of Christ through unity, humility and love.
"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me." John 17:21