darkness

Born Again, or Blind?

Alexander Tihonov / Shutterstock.com

Alexander Tihonov / Shutterstock.com

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.

Hope in the Dark Times

Sunset. Image courtesy Oleksii Sagitov/shutterstock.com

Sunset. Image courtesy Oleksii Sagitov/shutterstock.com

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.”

Has Humanity Entered a New Depth of Degradation?

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. Photo courtesy of Tom Ehrich/RNS

I was scanning my Facebook news feed when I read articles about murders in Iraq.

It seems Islamic extremists in Syria are using beheadings and crucifixions to intimidate opponents. Photos and videos look eerily like scenes from illustrated Bibles.

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 read about gay bashing in the militaryAnti-Semitism in EuropeDomestic violence in Baltimore. And on and on.

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?

Why I Stay in the Church

A QUESTION ASKED of me 100 times in the last 10 years: Why do you stay in the Catholic Church? How can you stay in a church where thousands of children were raped around the world? Where men in power covered their ears to the screams of children and moved the rapists around from parish to parish so that smiling welcoming parents presented their awed shy children to the rapists like fresh meat? Where women have been marginalized and sidelined for centuries and their incredible creativity diluted and wasted and left to rot? Where power and greed and cowardice so often trumped the very humility and mercy and defiant belief in the primacy of love on which the church was founded and for which it claims to stand today?

Because, I said haltingly, in the beginning, when I was unsure of my honest answer in the face of such rapacious crime and breathtaking lies, because, because ... because how could I quit now? What sort of rat leaves the ship when it is foundering and your fellow passengers need help? Why would I quit now, of all the times to quit? How could I leave the ship in the hands of the men who nearly sank her? How could I abandon the brave honest mothers and priests and nuns and teachers and bishops and dads and monks and children who are the church, who compose the church, who sing the deepest holiest song of the real church?

Because, I said more and more energetically as the years went by, because there are men like my archbishop in my church, men who stood up to lies and crime and accepted the lash of public insult without a word, though the sins were not theirs.

Because there are people like my mom and dad in my church, who refuse to let the sweet wild idea of the church die in their souls or their lives or their parish, and refuse to let someone else define the church they know to be a continual verb, and endless possibility, the most revolutionary idea in the history of human beings, not merely a noun, a castle, a council of cassocks.

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And God Said, 'Let There Be Darkness'

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Dark gothic scene, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

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: A Call to Change Course

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still. StarTrekMovie.com

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.

What Are We Guarding Against?

Airport security, Tifonimages / Shutterstock.com

Airport security, Tifonimages / Shutterstock.com

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.

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