Otis Moss III
Simon & Schuster, 144 pages | Published January 3, 2023
Advocates of social change are often familiar with Old Major, the elderly boar in George Orwell’s Animal Farm. In his waning days, he imparts wisdom to the farm’s oppressed and offers a solution: a rallying call for a revolution to build a beloved community.
Otis Moss III is having an Old Major moment. Dancing in the Darkness: Spiritual Lessons for Thriving in Turbulent Times is a prophetic message of urgent hope to a broken humanity. Moss draws on historical and current events as well as personal stories and scripture to offer a spiritual guide for those prepared to become allies in “(f)ighting for the soul of America to be born.”
Nurtured at the knee of socio-religious giants from the Black spiritual tradition, Moss recalls the voices of his muses — his father, pastor Otis Moss Jr., as well as Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman. Moss writes, “I talk the way I talk and preach the way I preach out of that tradition, that shared history … I was raised with many of the great preachers and political leaders of our time as guests at our family dinner table.” Through this lens, Moss surveys the American landscape and identifies the suppressed fears and anxieties that continue to divide people and groups.
Dancing in the Darkness is a response to the anger, hatred and violence flooding across racial and socioeconomic lines that has dominated the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Moss cites the simmering hatred that drove Dylann Roof’s murderous rampage at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, concluding, “(a)lthough he was the agent of the Charleston church massacre, he was not the deep source of the hatred and harm.” Moss’ remedy is “(t)o address the dark time to help us restore to our house a spiritual foundation of courage, strength, self-reflection, creativity, compassion and faith.”
Not one to give up on King’s beloved community, Moss believes that love and justice are both required to heal human brokenness. One without the other is a superficial response that masks the pain and keeps the woundedness in place. Moss suggests we avoid digging deep to the systemic causes of our divisions because it is unpleasant work. In the chapter “Pardon Our Dust,” he describes humans as construction sites with each of us engaged in “ … the messy process of developing, working, breaking and rebuilding … ” We require a modicum of grace when we uncover each other’s dusty flaws.
This is a challenging read for those in extreme pain who seek immediate relief from social injustice. But Moss implores us to resist settling for pathetic grief that “ … acknowledges our suffering but does nothing to change those forces in the world that give rise to that suffering,” in favor of prophetic grief that “focuses on the systemic forces that damage the soul of the person.”
Dancing in the Darkness is a must-read for seminarians and those working to mediate social injustice. It can pragmatically enable Bible studies and those interested in forming healthy intercultural communities to dig deeper and render powerless roots of bitterness that may arise in relationships.
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