Saturday, March 12, 2016

reflections on "spotlight"

Yesterday we saw the film "Spotlight," the brilliant story of how the Boston Globe broke the story of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and I wept through it all.  Not excessive sobs or gushing tears with a honking nose; rather something more like a deep, aching lament. I was not prepared for my emotional reaction - and for this I am grateful. Both the arc of the story, and the art of the film makers, touched me. They helped me connect with the agony of the victims, the brokenness of the Church (all denominations) and the complicated path we all tread on the road towards integrity. I rejoiced, too when the story hit the front page - and the penultimate scene portraying the phones ringing off the hook as victims finally felt safe to share their story was exhilarating - only to find myself caught up in tears again while the list of parishes polluted by priest abuse rolled into view in alphabetical order. It was for me an emotional roller coaster.

As the day unfolded, I sat with my heartache and eventually discerned two interrelated realities:  the emotional agony and shame as well as the theological betrayal and physical pain of the survivors was devastating as was my grief for the whole Body of Christ. I have an easy life. Yes, I survived abuse from early childhood (not by the Church) and often wish I knew better how to make our limited money work more effectively for my whole family. But I have had a long and satisfying ministry: I am married with the light of my life, the father of two wonderful women, a grandfather of  the sweetest little boy, an artist and musician who gets to write, pray and think profoundly in the safety of a warm and safe home and am all too well fed. I have a delightful dog, Lucie, who smothers me in hugs and kisses every morning and makes me laugh uncontrollably with her antics nearly every day.I work with trusted and creative colleagues and have known blessing upon blessing.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered the blessing of tears.  As Fr. Ed Hays taught, tears are our most honest unspoken, unformed prayer. Scripture says that "Jesus wept." He knew the misery and delight of solidarity. He embraced and took upon himself the suffering of the world. As St. John the Baptist says:  "He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." So I pay attention when the tears flow without warning.

Yesterday I wept for the devastating sorrow of the survivors:  so many must reconstruct their inner and outer world after such abuse. These women, men and children are heroes - and not all of them make it. As Dianne said as we left the theatre, "The film was dedicated to those who survived... but think of all those who did not."  It took me awhile to realize that my heart was praying this Sunday's psalm as the movie unfolded:  "May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!" (Psalm 126) Such a prayer takes tremendous courage and practice to embody. It takes a nearly impossible amount of trust, too - a trust long violated and corrupted by broken church leaders who were called to be shepherd not predators. Truly, it is the grace of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit and an act of the will that empowers people to live and pray and be healed.    

God grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; 
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next. 

My tears also revealed how wounded I felt for Jesus: his priests and ministers lay in wait to ambush and devour the
most vulnerable rather than carry them to comfort. For a moment I had the feeling the all of the abusers were crucifying Jesus all over again. And, indeed they were: "Whatsoever you do unto one of the least of these my sisters and brother you do unto me." The scene in "Spotlight" where Sasha, a reporter, finds the home of a pedophile priest who then tells her, "Yes, I abused those boys sexually, but I didn't rape them, because I found no pleasure or satisfaction in what I did" ripped through my heart. I almost vomited but found a way from my gut back into tears. Without even knowing it at first, I was hearing the ancient Byzantine prayer known as "the Reproaches" being sung to my soul:  "O my people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you."

I know that we are all broken; "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of  God." What this film did for me through its artistry and passion was to take the scales from my eyes. It painfully articulated the disastrous consequences of our sin: the sin of abuse, the sin of poverty, the sin of violence, the sin of silence, the sin of washing our hands of responsibility and the sin of violating the love of Christ poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Over and again, "Spotlight" carefully and compassionately showed me what it looks like for the "sins of the fathers and mothers to be passed on to the third and fourth generations." The suicides, the needle tracks, the physical violence, the burning shame and the desecration of both trust and precious flesh are all too real reminders of the anguish that lingers.

The late John O'Donohue once observed that the Greek word for beauty - to kalon - is related to the word - kalien - which has to do with being "called." He writes:

When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life. The call of beauty is not a cold call into the dark of the unknown; in some instinctive way we know that beauty is no stranger. We respond with joy to the call of beauty because in an instant it can awaken under the layers of the heart a brightness.

Such is the blessing or art well conceived and executed: it calls us beyond ourselves into loving solidarity with all that is tender, real and precious. There is a useful small guide to this film that the United Church of Christ has prepared for use in congregations. (check it out here @ If you choose to view this movie, give yourself time afterwards for prayer and conversation. It is an essential film for our times, but please practice self-care, too.  We can only truly love one another if we are loving ourselves.

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