Spotlight, Christmas, and The Darkness Within

I recently watched the film Spotlight which tells the story of The Boston Globe uncovering of the systemic child abuse committed by priests. I don’t remember much of news items from my childhood, but in 2001 and 2002 there were two news stories that made a lasting impression on me, this scandal and 9/11.

Spotlight is an excellent film with a stellar cast telling a horrific story at the methodical pace of investigative journalism: legal proceedings, records requests, detailed detective work, and interviews. It’s understated – a far cry from sensationalism and tabloids despite the scandalous nature of its material.

Stanley Tucci’s character Mitch Garabedian delivers the surmising message of the film, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” Indeed, the film demonstrates how not only the abusive priests, not only the archdiocese, not only the lawyers, not only the insiders, but the whole community including the Globe itself participated in the decades-long cover up. No ultimate heroes, just some courageous survivors and a few others who refused to be part of the problem any longer.

In pondering this moving film, I can’t help but apply its message to our cultural present. The news cycles are so predictable in recent years. They’re long on reaction and short on self-reflection. On so many issues, there are entrenched sides that battle one another for dominance. Cynicism becomes attractively easy – better to accept the way things are than get crushed in seeking change.

I believe there is a more constructive path, and Spotlight is a good guide in walking it. What if instead of offering our favorite canned solution, we admitted that we are part of the problem? What if instead of rushing to blame others – even if there is blame to go around – we took a hard look at our own often indirect contribution and complicity?

To give an example, when you hear of harsh labor conditions which amount to slavery elsewhere in the world, instead of demeaning that culture or blaming that government or that corporation, you might consider your own buying practices and seek to redirect them in a more equitable way. Or when you hear of a mass shooting in this country, instead of rushing to advocacy of either concealed carry or tighter restrictions, you might ponder to yourself for a moment, “We really don’t act like we belong to one another.”

Therein I believe lies the heart of the issue – belonging. Do we believe that we belong to one another – that we share this earth in this time? Look, I know not everyone has this sensibility and that there are some who have made themselves the enemies of others, but the only person I can truly influence is myself. If we want to change them, we have to start by changing ourselves by embracing belonging. Confronting the darkness in the world means confronting the darkness within ourselves.

I started writing this a while ago, but I think it’s appropriate to publish on Christmas Eve. That little child in the manger has been pointing to this all along. He identified with us; he came to his own and we received him not. Then he suffered and allowed the darkness – our darkness – to consume him and turned the world upside down.

So this Christmas, I challenge myself and I challenge you to celebrate the belonging we experience – the belonging made real. Consider who is on our outside, who is other to us. Finally reflect on how we might stand with them so that we all believe that we all belong to one another.

Merry Christmas!

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