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With race in thoughts, Christians rethink language of darkish and lightweight at Introduction

(RNS) — The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow has all the time been bothered by Introduction’s emphasis on the imagery of sunshine and darkness.

For a minimum of the final decade, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor has been urging different clergy to be considerate in how they use the language — typically equating gentle with good and darkish with unhealthy — in the course of the liturgical season of Introduction within the roughly 4 weeks main as much as Christmas.

“My annual plea to preachers that in Introduction we pay attention to how a lot and the way typically we equate darkish with unhealthy and lightweight with good,” he tweeted final yr because the season started.

“The concept that darkness is inherently unhealthy wants no reinforcement, so let’s let go of the confining imagery and embrace inventive reimagination.”

The dialog about that Introduction imagery of darkish and lightweight — and the way readily it may be related to pores and skin shade — is one many Christians are having years right into a racial reckoning for each the church and the nation, sparked by the murders of George Floyd and different Black individuals in 2020.

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The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow. Courtesy photograph

And, Reyes-Chow mentioned, it looks like extra Christians are listening — or a minimum of, he instructed Faith Information Service, fewer Christians are objecting as loudly as they as soon as did within the feedback on his social media posts.

Reconsidering the language and imagery Christians use at Introduction isn’t about “banning phrases,” Reyes-Chow mentioned, however about increasing Christians’ understanding of God and the way God speaks to them.

“I simply suppose that it is a liberating time, and so why let ourselves be, in some methods, nonetheless sure by this imagery that’s not liberating for many individuals? In reality, it’s extra confining,” he mentioned.

There are a number of the explanation why the imagery of sunshine and darkness comes up a lot in the course of the season of Introduction — together with within the lyrics of the best-known Introduction hymns, like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”: “O come, thou Dayspring from on excessive / And cheer us by thy drawing nigh: / Disperse the gloomy cloud of night time / And demise’s darkish shadow put to flight.”

A part of it’s merely meteorological. The darkish winter nights stretch longer throughout Introduction within the Northern Hemisphere, mentioned the Rev. Wil Gafney, an Episcopal priest and professor of Hebrew Bible at Brite Divinity Faculty.

And, as some level out in protection of the imagery, it seems within the Bible, together with lots of the Scripture passages learn throughout Introduction: “The sunshine shines within the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The Rev. Wil Gafney. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Wil Gafney. Courtesy photograph

However the context by which the writers of Scripture composed these metaphors may be very completely different from the context by which they’re learn in the present day, in response to Gafney, who has been translating Scripture for greater than 20 years.

In Western Christianity, she mentioned, all these issues come collectively in a church that profited from slavery and has for hundreds of years misrepresented holy peoples as white. It associates the language and imagery of whiteness with “virtuous issues to be admired” and presents the language of darkness as “nearly all the time unfavourable.”

“We’re listening to in praying language, which is harmless, the traditional use of metaphors for gentle and darkish and shadow. However we’re listening to it in a world and in a church that’s deep in white supremacy and infrequently has the pictures of white supremacy on the wall,” she mentioned.

That context adjustments the best way these phrases are obtained and understood, perpetuating the evils of white supremacy and institutionalized racism, Gafney mentioned.

“I feel any and all non secular symbols can be utilized for good or unhealthy,” mentioned the Rev. Steven Charleston, the previous Episcopal bishop of Alaska and writer of the guide “Ladder to the Light.”

To Charleston, darkish and lightweight aren’t in competitors however mutually interdependent. That’s what makes Introduction’s message of sunshine within the darkness so common.

For a lot of Indigenous peoples in North America, the darkish winter months are a time of regeneration and relaxation, of “deep non secular consciousness” when sacred tales are shared that aren’t instructed at another time of yr, mentioned Charleston, who’s Choctaw.

Steven Charleston, author of "Ladder to the Light." Images courtesy of 1517 Media

The Rev. Steven Charleston, writer of “Ladder to the Mild.” Photographs courtesy of 1517 Media

Darkness is a spot the place new life is shaped, he mentioned. You can’t be born with out darkness. You can’t take root. You can’t have gentle.

It’s not one thing to concern or to disclaim, however to embrace and reside into, he mentioned.

“The darkness, as we understood it over centuries, is a time that is stuffed with the potential perception, knowledge and energy of the sacred, so it turns into this actually important a part of our entire non secular cycle. It’s a season, simply as we acknowledge Introduction as a season,” Charleston mentioned.

Constructive imagery of darkness additionally could be present in Scripture.

Authors Sharei Inexperienced and Beckah Selnick level out quite a lot of these photographs in acquainted Bible tales within the image guide “God’s Holy Darkness,” revealed earlier this yr. They identify what they describe within the guide as “the wonder and goodness and holiness of darkness and blackness and night time.”

Selnick mentioned the concept for the guide got here to her after studying a Dwelling Lutheran column titled “God’s Beautiful Dark Works” by her mom, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Perhaps it was as a result of she had a toddler on the time, however the entire photographs of darkness in Scripture learn to Selnick like a youngsters’s guide — the form of guide she needs her two youngsters to learn.

“God’s Holy Darkness" by Sharei Green and Beckah Selnick. Courtesy image

“God’s Holy Darkness” by Sharei Inexperienced and Beckah Selnick. Courtesy picture

When Selnick approached Inexperienced with the concept for “God’s Holy Darkness,” understanding it was a narrative she as a white girl couldn’t inform by herself, Inexperienced mentioned she tried to think about what she would’ve wanted to learn when she was a younger Black lady.

Even now as an grownup, Inexperienced mentioned, seeing God depicted with darkish, flowing locks by the guide’s illustrator, ELCA Program Director for African Descent Ministries Nikki Faison, strikes her to tears. It makes her consider, she mentioned, “I, too, am made within the picture of God.”

“It’s one factor to do the work to consider it as an grownup. It’s one other factor to see it,” Inexperienced mentioned.

Even with these constructive associations with darkness, Faison mentioned, there are different photographs and themes Christians can draw on in the course of the season of Introduction. It’s a time of ready, a time of preparation, a celebration of God showing in a human physique.

“If we solely select to speak about darkness throughout Introduction, we’re lazy theologians,” she mentioned. 

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Final yr, Reyes-Chow deserted the imagery altogether on the congregation he was pastoring, First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto. With all the things occurring on the earth on the time, he didn’t need to perpetuate the concept darkness was unhealthy in any means, he mentioned.

“When you select to see that darkish and darkness and lightness are perceived in a sure means, I feel you may’t return,” he mentioned.

This Introduction, he’s taking an extra step. A decade into urging his fellow Christians to not middle whiteness of their observance of Introduction, Reyes-Chow blogged earlier this week that he realized he was doing that very factor.

Advent wreath by JayBanWorks with dark brown Christ candle, center. Photo via Etsy/JayBanWorks

Introduction wreath by JayBanWorks with darkish brown Christ candle, middle. Picture through Etsy/JayBanWorks


When he pulled out his Introduction wreath this yr, he realized he had positioned the normal white candle at its middle — “the LAST one, the BEST one, the MOST IMPORTANT ONE,” the one symbolizing Jesus, whose start Christians rejoice at Christmas, he wrote.

Impressed by a dialog with the Rev. Carlton David Johnson, affiliate director for theology, formation and evangelism on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), who talked about putting a black candle on the middle of his Introduction wreath, Reyes-Chow changed his with one that’s darkish brown and urged others to think about what may occur in the event that they did the identical of their church buildings.

Some churchgoers could object that the Christ candle must be white when Scripture describes Jesus because the “gentle of the world,” he wrote. Nevertheless it is sensible to him, he continued, when Jesus himself — who Christians consider was born hundreds of years in the past in what’s now the West Financial institution — would have been dark-skinned.

“The factor is, the sunshine just isn’t generated by the colour of the candle however from the sunshine that that candle provides to the world,” Reyes-Chow wrote.

“Candles of all colours is usually a gentle to the world, even black and brown ones.”

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