The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops kicked off a gathering in St. Louis of approximately 250 of the nation’s bishops by referring to Ferguson.
“We mourn those tragic events in which African-Americans and others have lost their lives in altercations with law enforcement,” said a statement prepared by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., which was read by Bishop Ronny Jenkins, general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on June 10.
“Racism is an evil which endures in our society and in our church.”
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.
In the church of my childhood it was taught that the “age of accountability” was somewhere around 12. To hit the age of accountability was to, like, spiritually go off of your parents’ insurance. At age 12 the clock starts ticking, spiritually speaking; you know right from wrong now and because of this you are accountable for every time you screw up. And if you sin knowing right from wrong and then die before you chose to be baptized, you might burn in Hell for eternity. So age 12, as you can imagine, is when kids start choosing to get baptized. The lag time between entering the age of accountability and having your slate wiped clean through baptism can be terrifying. Many of us kids would pray not to die in a car crash before we were baptized, like other people pray to not get sick before their employee benefits kick in. So basically, 12-year-old Church of Christ kids experience a wave of devotion like a Great Awakening comprised only of sixth graders. And this is partly because we were all terrified of the devil and temptation and sin. Since, as we were told, all the bad things we’d done may have been washed clean in baptism, but the devil was waiting right outside the baptistery to try and get us to be bad again.
That cry has echoed ever since news of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
As the names of those who died are made known, that cry is followed by a question: Why? Why does God allow evil?
This agonizing question arises among religious believers after tragedies great and small. It’s also one that priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams will wrestle with.
The Rev. Jerry Smith of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville said that although this weekend marked the third Sunday in Advent, which focuses on hope in advance of Christmas, the church also has to talk about the reality of evil.
“We have to speak about this shooting and we have to recognize, this is the very darkness that Christ came into the world to dispel,” Smith told The Tennessean.
The Rev. Neill S. Morgan, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sherman, Texas, says on the congregation’s website that now is a time for prayer.
But, says Morgan, “all the existential questions about God, justice, and love” will come. “We wonder what we can do to prevent such violence in the world, our nation, and our community.”
As the credits rolled after Looper in a packed Chinatown movie theater in Washington, D.C., I simply sat in reverent silence. Moviegoers on all sides began to rise and quietly leave the theater, but for a brief moment all I could do was just sit there. Quite simply, the movie blew my mind.
When I snapped out of it my thoughts started racing, analyzing the ending, which I won’t ruin for you, and the movie as a whole. It wasn’t a question of whether it was “good” or captivating — those were givens. Rather, I started mining the film’s rich themes and questions, particularly what it said about love.
While sitting there, lost in my mind, I began to notice the music accompanying the names moving onscreen. The song’s chorus sang something like, “I loved you so much that it’s wrong.”
I don’t think the song choice was an accident.
That lyric, I think, illuminates the crux of the film: can something like “Love” — not just romantic love — become perverted? Or, in other words, can our love for one person lead us to do horrible things to others?
There’s a famous maxim that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Though Wikipedia says otherwise, the statement is often attributed to Edmund Burke.
I doubt that Wikipedia will give me the credit for this 200 years from now, but I’d like to take a crack at a counterpoint to Burke’s famous maxim anyway: Sometimes evil triumphs not when good people do nothing, but when good people fail to distinguish between hypothetical evil and real evil, and end up doing something about the former when they should be doing something about the latter.
Case in point: National Conservative Christian radio host Kerby Anderson’s attempt to rally his followers to thwart the Senate from ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty.
Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul … except for … the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous—horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.
My friend, Harry Jackson, said that my ideology isn't "Christian" but I suspect what he really means is that it isn't Republican and that's why he disagrees with the things I have said. It's important for Christians to understand those aren't the same thing. I think Bishop Jackson's economic ideology that is indistinguishable from Republican and Tea Party talking points, but I would rather have a civil discussion together as Christians about our differences; rather than his accusing Christians who don't share his conservative economic opinions as coming from "the councils of Hell." C'mon, Harry. I believe the Bible's teachings on wealth and poverty challenge both Republican and Democratic economic views which, sadly, are both often sold out to the interests of the wealthy and large corporations, when they should be focused on the ones Jesus calls "the least of these." Can we discuss that Harry?