I am more and more convinced that beauty lies in the margins.
Raised in evangelicalism, we often prayed to reach those who remain in the darkness, that God would open their eyes and see the truth. We had been born again. A veil had been magically lifted off our eyes, welcoming us into the land of all that is bright and right. Like the blind man in the Gospel of John, we proclaim, “I was blind, but now I see.” Those who believe now possess some sort of special knowledge inaccessible to others, and we are tasked to go and lift the blinders off as many as possible.
It sounds a bit arrogant, which has been a common accusation against evangelical Christians. But every conversion experience is a form of turning from darkness to light. An a-ha moment, a lived miracle, a season of wrestling with doubt and crisis that somehow brought the person to a divine encounter with God. These stories ought to be honored and not dismissed. Something has changed, and it is worth celebrating a liberation into hope. I marvel at genuine, earnest faith.
The problem is when we have become blinded by our light.
The first time I really got it, I was 16 years old.
I had traveled by myself to visit distant relatives in Paris, with the hope of improving my French. Somehow, a weekend visit to the beach ended up with me on an unaccompanied trip on a train from a lazy seaside town back to the city. “I’m lonely here, God,” I thought. “Would you show me you are with me?”
Looking out the train window, there was a brilliant sunset hanging over the fields of canola flowers. There was my reminder of God’s love! As the train curved away from the sunset and it fell out of view, I sat back in my seat, satisfied with the gift I had been given … only to start up again as the train took a sharp curve to the left, the sunset back in full view.
“Oh,” I thought, “that’s what they mean by love being abundant and our cups overflowing. I get it.”
The first time I really got it, I was 18 years old.
On my first winter break back from college, I was driving in my parents’ car, listening to the radio. On air was a county executive discussing why a curfew might be a good idea for the county’s youth. According to him, instituting the curfew would help police arrest young people they suspected of other crimes. The implication was that it would only be enforced against those people who looked suspicious. Another voice on the show expressed concerns that what this meant was that the curfew would only be enforced against black teenagers.
“Oh,” I thought, “this is what they mean when they say the police target people they instinctively assume to be suspicious, even if they haven’t done anything wrong. I get it.”
I was scanning my Facebook news feed when I read articles about murders in Iraq.
I read about right-wing hate speeches on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, stirred by opposition to immigrants but proceeding on to everyone else they hate.
I have two responses. First, I applaud those who post such things on Facebook. Cat pictures are fine, but if this ugliness is going on in our world, we need to know about it.
Second, has humanity entered some new depth of degradation? Or do we just know more?
I’ve always had a curious sort of sympathy for the bad guys. I cried when King Kong died. I wept at Darth Vader’s demise. And I felt like the whole melting thing was a little bit harsh for the Wicked Witch of the West.
Maybe they didn’t really want to be bad. Maybe they were just written that way. Could be that they had a rough childhood, or people made fun of them for being green, or big and hairy, or breathing through a big, black mask. I mean, imagine that on the playground …
Ever since my childhood I’ve felt more comfortable in darkness than most kids seemed to as well. My 10-year-old son won’t even go into any unlit room in our house without being accompanied by our dog, Maggie. But I actually enjoyed being in the dark. It seemed like the one place where I could let the otherwise literal, concrete parts of my brain take a rest, and allow my imagination to run wild.
Theologically, we’re taught to hate, or at least fear, the darkness. We are children of light, God called light into being, and it was from this light that all things were formed. So what use do we have for darkness?
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.
Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial Formula
In a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.
Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:
Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.
Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.
As I stood in line at Orlando International Airport, a little girl did not want to go through airport security. She was desperately clinging to her grandmother.
I had already been pondering, as I *always* do, the enormous investment the nation has made in these checkpoints, going on 12 years now, in response to the actions of 19 men. 19 persons. These lines are here forever now, just one more cost of the fall, one more insult to our usual illusion of normalcy.
I'm not inconvenienced by the searches or the scanners, or worried about my personal liberties, though half stripping in public is embarrassing (we men have to take our belts off). At least the posture in those full-body cylinders reminds me that, at a very real level, this ought to be my more constant pose: found wanting, presumed guilty, and in need of throwing up my hands in surrender.
Still, I marvel at the sheer amount of money we must spend for all of this equipment and personnel, hoping this all somehow makes us safe. I'm skeptical.
One of my most vivid childhood memories of Halloween 1977, the year my family moved to a new town in Connecticut right after the school year had begun. I don't recall what my costume was, but I do remember going door-to-door with my father, meeting new neighbors and collecting a heavy bag of candy, as the suburban warren of Cape Cods and manicured lawns morphed into an other-worldly fairyland.
I was 7 years old and the new kid on the block, so when the cover of darkness fell at sunset, I hadn't a clue where I was. As my father deftly navigated our way home in the crisp autumn night, it felt like he had performed a magic trick. When the morning came, I couldn't believe that our adventure the night before had been on these same streets. To my young imagination (and heart) it felt as if we had been walking through Narnia or Rivendell rather than a sleepy New England suburb.
A few years after that, my family stopped celebrating Halloween. We had become born-again Christians and our Southern Baptist church frowned on the practice. Halloween, I was taught, was an occult holiday (or maybe even Satanic!) and good Christians should have nothing to do with it.
The April issue of Sojourners magazine takes on climate change denial. One challenge is that the truth is hard to face -- but, as scientist Sasha Adkins describes from personal experience, one strategy is to draw inspiration from the comforts of home.
The question that I am most often asked when I talk about my Ph.D. research on the impacts of pollution has nothing to do with my methodology or my data. It is, "How do you live with this knowledge? Where do you find your hope?" It's a good question. My research results on the impact of plastics on human health and the environment are often quite demoralizing to hear. More than once when I am presenting them, an audience member has literally started to cry.
I took a year off from my environmental studies program to search for the answer to that very question, to find hope -- but this time, instead of turning to peer-reviewed journals for answers, I turned to my cats. I asked them if they would be willing to try living without fossil-fuel heat for the winter.