I ran into my friend Quinn recently. Quinn is a 30 year-old guy, who happens to be gay. He lives with his partner Terry and their son, Asa, in New York. Like me, Quinn is a pastor in the United Church of Christ denomination. If you need a box to put us in it would be the one marked “liberal.”
One of the things I most like about Quinn is that he’s not afraid to push his own people, meaning us liberals. We need an occasional shove, for in one of life’s little ironies, we liberals — or, if you prefer, “progressives” — can sometimes be so convinced of our own superior open-mindedness that nothing much gets in.
I asked Quinn what he’d been up to lately. Turns out he had just given a speech to a big church conference in the east on “magic.”
Really. What’s up with that?
“Well,” said my young friend, “if you were to go into some of the big chain bookstores right now, you would see they’ve added a new section. Right next to Biography and Travel and Art and Children’s Books and Home Improvement, you will see Teen Paranormal Romance.” He explained this patiently, slowly, as if he was describing an exotic, foreign culture to a clueless tourist.
“Yes,” he continued, “Hordes — hordes — of teenagers and young adults (old adults too) are reading about the love triangles of humans and vampires and werewolves and wizards.”
“And, where’s this going?” I wondered to myself.
Perhaps sensing my impatience he talked faster. “These stories (Twilight, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Hunger Games, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and more) assume there’s a whole other, magical layer of reality just under, or beside this one, that we’re all living with all the time without knowing it, and all you have to do is be tipped off or invited in or put on magic glasses to have a whole world of wonder and mystery revealed to you. Your neighbor’s a vampire, your cousin’s a wizard, there really actually is a troll that steals a sock out of the dryer every time you do the laundry. And always, always, you are swept into a great struggle between good and evil in which you will play a decisive role.”
This was all very interesting, but I had an Easter sermon to write and was about to excuse myself when Quinn cut to the chase. “These kids, these young adults — and let me say, this young adult — are longing to believe in magic. To believe there is something to this world beyond rationality, deeper than rationality, a truth that lies beneath the surface and can’t be seen with the naked eye but which is old and powerful and worth trying to tap into.”
Which led back to what Quinn had said to the big church conference when they asked him to challenge them to be “bold,” which he did but not in the way they expected.
“I suspect,” he told his audience, “this being the United Church of Christ, that the kind of boldness you were picturing is being bold around some social issue: being loud on behalf of immigrants, or bold in serving your neighbor, or fearless in demanding peace, or brave in advocating economic justice or radical in extending a wide welcome to your churches. You should do all these things, but they’re not what I’m here to challenge you to do.
“Here’s the boldness I call you to: Dare to proclaim a faith that is at least partly irrational, unreasonable, unpalatable, indigestible to your modern, hard-thinking, critical selves. I challenge you to proclaim, revel in, delight in, dwell in mystery.”
And this would, for us, be bold. You see my crowd is so concerned about being associated with obscurantism, with fundmentalism, with credulity or the religious right-wing that we’ve bent over backwards to make our faith fit into the modern, rational, critical world and its canons. But in the process something — perhaps the most important thing of all — has been diminished, even lost. That something is mystery, magic and a wild, passionate faith.
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