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Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Reformation

My robes are royal purple with gold trim, sharp at the shoulders, sleek of cut, almost unadorned save for three gold buttons on the high black collar. I’m walking briskly down a cobblestone street, and I’m not alone; the faithful are gathering, heading, like me, for church. Many nod and smile at me; they know I’m facing a significant transition just a few minutes from now.

It's a gorgeous day. The sun caresses the city, warming the lush parks, the meandering river, the spotless streets, the colourful adobe houses. The church rises from a hilltop overlooking an expansive green pasture; it’s a cherrywood edifice of soft curves and oval entryways and window frames, warm and welcoming.

I step through the side entrance, directly into our administrator’s office, a good-humoured, lovely, raven-haired woman of late middle age. And yet she is typical, for although our people are diverse in many ways, we all share certain traits: a need to poke fun at ourselves, a certain agelessness, and, frankly, good looks. My own frame is lithe and strong, even closing in on 50; my hair remains thick, my skin unlined. The only mark of age is a distinguished touch of grey in my sideburns.

The administrator and the bishop are sharing some acerbic but good-natured banter about paperwork. The administrator waves me through as they hurl balls of wadded-up documents at each other.

I enter the great hall of the church. Hundreds of congregants are sliding into the wooden pews, sharing smiles and quiet gossip. The retiring Cardinal is already behind the pulpit, jotting down notes, peering over the top of his glasses, which are perched on the tip of his nose.

I take my place at the secondary pulpit, and the congregational murmur dies down. According to the order of service, I should now welcome the congregation and invite the retiring Cardinal to speak.

Instead, on my left, the Bishop starts to speak. He apologizes for hijacking the proceedings, but warns of a great evil on the horizon, one that could break the church community. Indeed, he reaches out, pointing at the skylights to direct our attention to the dark clouds forming outside. Behind those clouds coalesces a sharp-edged obsidian shadow, shaped something like the head of a hawk, but at the same time unutterably alien.

The Bishop claims that I must take my place as the new Cardinal, as was planned, but that by doing so I could create a schism in the church. Horrified by the thought, I leave the pulpit and circulate among the congregants, including crucial influencers like the black members, the LGBTQ2+ members, the women, merchants, artisans, veterans, seniors and children. Even among this even-tempered population voices begin to rise, not in anger, but concern and fear. My words feel inadequate in the face of the monstrous evil forming in the skies above, but somehow they’re enough to restore calm, and even resolution.

I return to the podium and am ordained in short order. The sudden appearance of tangible evil in the real world has, indeed, cast the spectre of doubt upon church teachings that reach back more than 10,000 years. But in a short speech of some five or six minutes, I rally the people, reminding them of the many millennia of peace and prosperity our culture built together, urging us all to continue in that spirit. And though I fully intend to literally lead the charge against evil the second I finish my speech, the congregation takes that leadership out of my hands, heading for the exits with a roar, armed with nothing but their faith, compassion, and goodwill. I follow them into the street, and together we face the darkness.

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