A Dark Night

This past Friday morning I checked my Facebook and saw a strange collection of posts. Many of them were about people tired from a long night spent out watching the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises. Some were about the simple going’s on of life: the joy of it being a Friday, quips about funny things their kids did, or excitement for the upcoming weekend’s plans. And then I started to see a different sort of post. Posts of shock and horror. Prayers for peace. I wasn’t sure what this was about, until I saw one:

What sad news about a gunmen entering a movie theater and killing 14, injuring over 50….it’s so sad that none of them were able to protect themselves or their children

I checked CNN’s page to see what had happened. Though the numbers had been slightly inaccurate in this initial post by a friend, the horror of it was true. 12 people had died. 58 were injured. I was shocked.

The Dark Knight Rises’ Director, Christopher Nolan posted this on the official Facebook page of the movie:

“Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community.

I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.

The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.

Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”

When I was in college studying film production I sat in classes alongside many with dreams of creating films that would create an impact on the world. While my intentions with film production were always through the lens of film in the context of church, most of the other students desired to be famous directors and producers. They would be the Christopher Nolans of the next generation. People would line up for hours to go to their midnight premieres, filling theatres and audiences with excited fans.

I’ve only been to a handful of midnight movie premieres, but at each one there was a palpable energy; an excitement that we were among the few, loyal, informed, and excited fans. As you can probably see by the multiple posts I wrote about “The Hunger Games,” it was a movie that I had looked forward to a long time. The premiere had been on my calendar for over six months and I drove three hours to watch it with my sister just so I could be in a group as excited about the movie as I was. We sat attentively, anyone who was leaving the theatre for a bathroom break got strange stares and we all thought “why would you want to miss a moment of this?”

With that experience in mind I can picture the mood in the theatre. It was likely celebratory, intense, excited. Initial reports from the massacre said that some movie-goers thought at first that the attack was special effects for the premiere. The idea that it could possibly be real gunfire, real evil was unconscionable.

I echo Nolan’s sentiments that, “The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.”

Movies are a place that we come together collectively to explore creativity and imagination. Brian Selznick, in “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” writes this about movie production: “If you’ve ever wondered where your dreams come from when you go to sleep at night, just look around. This is where they are made.”

In film classes professors encouraged us to be storytellers, giving voice and image to what would otherwise be silent and invisible. While working with the campus television show, Connections Live, we were encouraged to be open minded when looking for subjects for the show. We repeatedly heard the adage, “everyone has a story.” In the wake of this tragedy we are hearing the stories of the victims and the stories of the gunman. When tragedy is given a face and a name it becomes more real to us. These people are not simply a number, but unique and individual reflection of creation.

With any horrific act such as this there is an overwhelming desire to know why this happened. There is a belief that naming the root of evil can protect us. We think that if we are able to place blame on a societal, relational, or psychological cause we will be able to avoid it, inoculate our lives and our loved ones from pain.

Evil does not adhere to formula.

Blessedly, neither does hope.

I would encourage you to listen to this sermon by Nadia Bolz-Weber, a preacher from “House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver Colorado. She writes of horror through the eyes of Mary Magdalen, who was witness to the horror of crucifixion:

I think St Mary Magdalen…would not shy away from the dark reality of innocent people slaughtered while it was still night.  She would show up and name the events of 2 days ago exactly what they were: horrific, evil, senseless violence without a shred of anything redemptive about it….

I think she would show up and tell us that despite it all despite the violence and fear that it’s still always worth it to love God and to love people and always, always it is worth it to sing alleluia.  For surely the devil hates the sound of it….

It drowns out the sound of the political posturing, the sound of cries for vengeance, the sound of our own fears and anxieties and the deafening uncertainty – because all of it is no match for the shimmering sound of the resurrected Christ calling our name. Because in baptism we are a people marked by the cross of Christ.  Upon our foreheads is the mark of violence and death but this violence and death has been overcome by the love of a God who in the 3 days between Good Friday and Easter reached into the very bowels of hell and said even here I will not be without you. This is the God to whom we sing.  A God who didn’t say we would never be afraid but that we would never be alone. A God who shows up.  In the violence of the cross, in the darkness of a garden before dawn, in the gardener, in a movie theater.”

At the end of Nadia’s sermon you can hear the congregation singing “Hallelujah,” with rewritten lyrics. It’s hauntingly beautiful.

It is my prayer that especially in the face of horror we would be a people of hope, people of the Light.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. – John 1:1-5

Amen.

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