Seeking the Light
Those of you who read this blog regularly may have noticed that our postings were a bit ..."unusual"... last week. Ron Hicks posted a wonderful post about never knowing the last time you would do something, and then it went out again, and again. By Thursday, the church staff were laughing: no, you really don't know when something will come to an end! The repeated posts were a by-product of the new distribution system we are using, Mailchimp. I think it's safe to say that at this point, in the struggle between man and chimp, chimp is definitely winning.
But that's not the whole story. When it came down to it last week, I couldn't write a cup of good news. After Sandy Hook, after Orlando, after so many of these senseless slaughters, I couldn't find any words of hope that did not seem trite or facile or a willful act of denial. And if it's hard for a preacher to come up with words of hope, which is our job, I cannot imagine that it's easy for much of anyone else.
Here's the thing: Christian hope, like all true hope, begins with the telling of truth. About a century ago, G.K. Chesterton found words to express some of that truth in a poem that he wrote:
O God of earth and altar, bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.
From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation of honor, and the sword.
from sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!
If the truth is that we are broken, that our world is damaged, that some of us insist on injuring one another, and that our leadership is unwilling to take action to begin to stem the tide of blood, then we, as free agents, have more than one way to respond to that. We can choose the path of nihilism, seeking whatever solace we can find in pleasure while we are yet alive; we can choose the path of cruelty, seeking our own benefit over that of others come what may; or we can cling to the slender, golden, unbreakable thread of divine promise.
The theologian Marilyn McCord Adams writes, "horrendous evils require defeat by nothing less than the goodness of God...Many ...insist that the worst evils find their true measure in being utterly [ab]surd, permanently incomprehensible, and absolutely nondefeasible..whether by human or divine power. My contrary intuitions are that the very worst evils are the ones that demand the most to be defeated and that Divine goodness to created persons cannot be sustained if God permits horrors beyond the reach of Divine defeat." In other words, the very existence of horrors must throw us back into utter dependence on the goodness of God as the only force that can restore to our lives the integrity that the horrors themselves destroy.
For myself, I have been taking comfort in some words from Madeleine L'Engle, who reminds us that "the greater the circle of light, the greater the perimeter of darkness." The violence and bigotry that infest our culture are the mirror image of the great expansion of human rights and dignity that has occurred within the last half-century. Fifty-three years ago, our nation had not granted full equality to African-Americans, women, or gay and lesbian citizens. Today, while we still struggle to put that equality into daily practice, most of the legal barriers to equality have vanished.
It is easy, at times like these, to keep our eyes on the darkness. But we need to remember that the circle of light is still growing. It is growing in the rich courage of men, women, and children who have stood in their place and proclaimed their humanity and made the rest of us take notice. And its future growth depends on us -- on each one of us who has seen their dignity, who honors their humanity, who is willing to stand with our brothers and sisters, rather than against them.
The circle of light is still growing, and it is up to each one of us to stand within it, or to stand against it. But God is light. God is still light.