Spotlight: the devastating truth and our own two hands

TRIGGER WARNING:  this post is about Spotlight, the newly-released movie that tells the true story of the investigative journalists at The Boston Globe who uncovered the child-abuse scandal in the Catholic church.   Proceed with caution.

Andy and I went to see Spotlight this past Friday night.  This is a movie that I believe every adult should see, if you want to live honestly in the world.  There is truth here that we all need to face.

But this a movie with layers, and the more you're willing to think into the deeper layers of truth, the more challenging those layers are to digest.

A lot of people will see Spotlight mostly as its primary, outer layer:  a well-constructed story about how investigative journalism works, and the good that writers and even lawyers can do in the world.  

  • If you mostly see Spotlight that way, you'll walk away feeling glad that good people are doing their jobs like they should, at least sometimes.

Then there's the next layer:  a terrifying story about how human beings can use religion for power and control, justifying horrific, systemic, known abuse with platitudes like, "But look at all the good we've done."  

  • If you get into that layer (and most people will), you'll walk away feeling pretty angry with the people who perpetrated and abetted crimes against children, only to be promoted within their religious system.

Deeper still, there's another layer:  the emotionally devastating story about the life-long impact of abuse on the lives of its victims.  While abusers went unpunished, victims suffered unimaginable, unbearable pain.

  • If you sink into that layer, you'll walk away weeping bitter tears for all the immeasurable harm done--now, today, this week--in the name of God.

And then there's another layer yet:  a personally challenging story about how we remain in relationship with institutions that have knowingly caused harm to others.  (Lest we think this is exclusively a Catholic issue, Boz Tchividjian, a former prosecutor of child abuse cases, and a voice in child advocacy, says otherwise.)

  • If you get down into this layer, you'll walk away deeply troubled about your own place within religious systems and practices.  

One  of the characters says, "If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one." 

And we have to ask ourselves, "Is my village (my church, my family, my community) a safe, loving place for children and other vulnerable people, or are the vulnerable open to exploitation while the system is built and maintained to protect itself?"

If we're willing to grapple with questions like that, then we're suddenly faced with more than just child abuse decades back in the Catholic church.  We're left wondering about the poor, the mentally ill, the disadvantaged, the stranger, the refugee.  

Am I part of a village that abuses people, and protects the abusers? 

Am I part of a village that's a stronghold for the powerful, rather than a refuge for the weak and suffering?

And if I am, what am I supposed to do about that?  

Those are the question I'm left with, anyway.

The most emotionally devastating moments of the movie came for me after the movie itself was over.  In the original story that Spotlight portrays, eventually 150 abusive priests were identified, along with over 1,000 victims--just in the Boston area.  After Boston, more scandal unfolded.

As the end notes rolled, diocese after diocese after diocese was listed, where subsequent scandals were uncovered.  (If you want an idea of the scope of the abuse, here's a Wikipedia page with some statistics.)

As all those place-names rolled by--Dallas, TX, Oklahoma City, Kenya, Tanzania, Philippines--I just wept.  

All those children. 

All those children.

All those children.

Abused by people who claimed to be God's representatives on earth.

Disregarded by church leaders who KNEW what was happening, covered it up, and moved the abusers onto other parishes where they continued to abuse more children.

It's incomprehensible.

And yet it's not.

This is our world.

It happens today.  We talked about it here, just this summer.

So we got into the car to drive home, me ugly-crying (and not in the good, healing way, just super ugly-crying for all the children), listening to our local public-radio music station.  

And I'm not making this up, people.  Ask Andy.  I'm telling you the truth.  This was the playlist:  Let it Be, and With My Own Two Hands.   

That made me think again with gratitude of the journalists at The Boston Globe who used their own two hands to tell the truth and halt an epidemic of abuse.  

It made me grateful to know so many people in so many places who use their two hands for healing and hope.

It makes me want to be a person who uses these two hands and whatever I've got to make the world a kinder, better place.

This, I believe, is what Jesus came into the world to do and be, and he did it just with a few friends around him, and the people within walking distance of his home town.  

If we're going to celebrate his incarnation in any kind of truly meaningful way this holiday season, let us all ask ourselves:

What am I called to do, with my own two hands, to make this world a better, kinder place?

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