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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Arc

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice."
~ Theodore Parker then Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend recently commented on how so many people in his circles were referring to the "long arc of 'this'" or "long arc of 'that'" or "long arc of ...(insert history, universe, time, space, or whatever)."   Perhaps it's been since we celebrated MLK Day or because we observed the 50th Anniversary of the Pettus Bridge march in Selma.  For whatever reason, it seems to be one of those phrases that often "catches on" in the lingo de jour, and people use it, quite often out of context and for their own purposes.

My friend's comments got me to thinking about another kind of arc, the kind when electrical current literally jumps through air from one conductor to another producing a flash or bolt of light. This in turn brought me around to the carbon arc light in which electrical current is run through two carbon rods that are slightly separated but not enough to break the circuit. The ensuing combination of heat and carbon gases creates a brilliant white light that is sustained by keeping the carbon rods trimmed. Most people have experience this kind of light from large search lights like the ones in lighthouses, movie theater projectors, and the "Supertrooper" spotlights at concerts.  Carbon arc light or some variation of it, has it own "long arc," and has provided light in different forms for many years.

Now back to the "moral universe."  Its arc may be long and bending, but sometimes when conditions are right and the moral air is charged with passion, persistence, and courage there are brilliant flashes of justice.  Such was the case with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.  The same can be said of other social, moral, political, or religious leaps of justice after which the world is never the same and the long arc bends a little more toward justice.

In my corner of the religious world, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), such a brilliant arc occurred last night as the denomination ratified an amendment to our constitution upholding marriage equality. Surely there has been a long arc, over thirty years of sermons, overtures, debates, votes, anger, fear, and separation,  But that arc has been bending toward justice and yesterday the rods of justice came close enough to ignite a brilliant flash of hope.  The challenge now, as in every moral movement, is to keep the rods of justice and hope trimmed so the light shines on.


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