Sunday, March 14, 2021

What the Light Reveals | Fourth Sunday in Lent 2021

We're told never to judge a book by its cover. Oftentimes a person who appears to be one way will turn out to be something entirely different. Susan Boyle is a prime example. Her fame began with the third series of Britain's Got Talent, singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables. Her homely appearance had the judges and audience expecting her to sound like gears grinding, and instead the beauty of her voice left them stunned and amazed. Then again, there are times when people are exactly what they appear, because of what their misplaced allegiances and crimes are doing to them. 

One of my favorite scenes in the Doctor Strange (2016) movie is when Kaecilius, pictured above, attempts to persuade the good Doctor to join him in ushering in the Dark Dimension. 

Kaecilius: So, you know. The ritual gives me the power to overthrow the Ancient One and tear her Sanctums down, to let the Dark Dimension in. Because what the Ancient One hoards, Dormammu gives freely: life, everlasting. He is not the destroyer of worlds, Doctor, he is the savior of worlds.

Dr. Stephen Strange: No. I mean, come on. Look at your face. Dormammu made you a murderer. Just how good can his kingdom be?

It's a common trope in film for the bad people to look evil, and yet that fact isn't apparent to others around them. In real life, that isn't the case, right? Appearances can definitely be deceiving, although in some cases perhaps they should be taken as a notice to be more alert. I won't go into what I think the cast of characters we saw come and go at the Trump Whitehouse would tells us.

For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:20-21 NRSV)

These verses, from the Gospel reading this week, lead me to two separate thoughts.

First, the past few years have been an apocalypse of sorts, in the original sense of being an 'unveiling' or 'revealing.' Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia were for a long time burning under the surface of American culture. It was obvious to many, but for most white folks I don't think these were considered prevalent issues any longer. Smartphones, however, have enabled black folks to record and share the police violence that they have always complained about. Women were spoken about as objects by the holder of the highest office in the land, and many defended him for it. The LGBTQ+ community was made to feel afraid and undefended, while transgender people were facing the threat of bathroom bans in various states. None of this came about overnight. All of these wrongs come from the hate and xenophobia that's been festering in the hearts of Americans for generations. Once their fear was in power, it became completely manifest.

Second, there's a serious risk of this evil, now dragged out into the light of day, becoming normalized. Other countries have long suffered from very public corruption, and genocide is present throughout the world, be it counted in bodies or in cultures destroyed. The light alone won't burn away the disease. We must be reminded and be able to remind one another of a better standard, a higher ideal toward which we can and should all strive. Documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights tell us about the way things can be, not the way they are. This and other resources, from religion, science, philosophy, and the arts are required in the light as well.

As the reading says, the evil hate the light and their deeds are exposed by it. Those who do justice live with honor and transparency. Written in the actions if not the faces of each of us is the truth of what ideology inspires and motivates us. Will it be life-giving, or death dealing?