We should not be surprised by manifestations of good or evil.
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Someone on the neighborhood listserv wrote about antagonistic crows. “Crows buzzing me. Three times over the past couple of months, a crow has flown by me and whipped me with its wing. I am not sure what to make of this behavior.”
The neighbor is working in his yard when he is buzzed by crows. He is not antagonizing the crows, there is no visible nest. “I can't tell if this is aggressive behavior, or playful,” he writes. The comment thread is not particularly helpful. One neighbor replied, “Tell them to stop. Crows respect directness.”
My college pastor, a former hippie who came up in the Jesus Movement, talked about shooing away demons like crows. They were pesky things, the way he described them. If you hear a door knob rattle, touch it, pray, and go back to sleep. “Sigh. You again.” Don’t make it a big deal.
In a world very open to spiritual exploration, the idea of angels and demons remain cartoon-ified, or found in ceramic form in a dusty display case. Angelic beings are incredibly uncomfortable to consider for many Western Christians. But if we are crazy enough to believe that Jesus is actually God come to earth, we might as well believe in the whole thing, which includes the existence of heavenly beings.
Who You Gonna Call?
As a kid, I often imagined an angel stretching her wings over my bed in a circle of protection. It was sort of like how Sigourney Weaver looks in Ghostbusters when she hovers above her bed, only my image was of a good and not evil presence.
We talked about dramatic scenes at sleepovers with angels appearing to protect a woman alone in an alley. I’m telling you, every Christian girl sleepover contained some version of this angel-coming-to-earth story. It’s always a version like this: The woman was alone in the alley, met a would-be attacker, was vulnerable, but walked by unharmed.
Later, someone would ask the would-be attacker why they let the woman walk by. He would say there were a group of muscular dudes surrounding her. Looking back, it never dawned on me that the angel could have been a woman, or that the woman could have been fought back. In the 80s, the white American Christian woman needed protection.
Personally? I've never seen a physical manifestation of good or evil, and if you’re not a Christian reading this you’re like no duh. But there are stories. The old pastor of the country church drove past the building one night and saw a great white being stretching her arms across the roof of the church. I’ve found him on Facebook and have wanted to ask him about what he saw. I love the image, a giant white presence hovering in the Indiana sky the color of rye bread, beatific. Literal, physical protection over God’s house. A middle-of-nowhere dwelling.
Then there’s the story about two friends walking from my old church to the next door parsonage and seeing two small creatures with red eyes in the trees. These are reasonable people, my acquaintances who had this experience. There would be no reason to make it up. This sighting happened in a season in the church where there was some dark stuff going on, folks oppressed with afflictions, and a few reports like these cropped up.
If it’s true—if the old pastor or my college friends did see an angel or demon, there would be no denying it. Poof! Forever, lifelong proof that there is a spiritual world. What unusual reassurance, to witness a terrifying manifestation that would prove the existence of God to counter the presence of evil.
What more evidence do we need to prove the existence of evil than looking around the world today? What is disordered, oppressive, and catastrophic in the world is clear evidence of evil. There is work to do to manifest God’s goodness in the presence of war, genocide, holocaust, addiction, political oppression, and familial abuse.
Rather than imagining negative beings as terrifying creatures from a Renaissance painting, it’s much more intuitive to recognize that there are powers and principalities behind structures that oppress, nations that invade, and institutions that won’t come clean. The humanity of the perpetrator is destroyed to gain power, and multitudes are victimized. The Christian witness teaches that there is a spiritual dimension beyond evil, and that is precisely why Christians can recognize and name abuse and abusers.
There is little need to search for supernatural experiences in the presence of real suffering. But God’s love is greater than all fear. Which is why it’s essential to believe we are loved by God. The same love in which we are loved bends to saturate evil. And in the end, it is this same great love that will restore our souls and the world.
4 Yr Eyes Only
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The Age of Houseplants: “A house plant is never ‘just’ a house plant, the same way a couch is never just a couch or a movie is just a movie.” [Culture Study]
Big Tent Revivalists and Social Media Influencers: “We became internet revivalists, collecting followers on our way to collecting converts” [Drew Brown Writes]
Hillsong, Once a Leader of Christian Cool, Loses Footing in America: Amid a series of crises, including the resignation of its leader, the evangelical powerhouse has shed more than half its American churches in just a few weeks. [NYT]