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Burning out

A decade turns to smoke, leaving unanswered questions for a new year

Burning out

Community members gather at the Monsey, N.Y., home where a machete-wielding man attacked multiple people as they celebrated Hanukkah. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

One of the brightest stars of the night sky is fading, and scientists aren’t sure why. Since October, Betelgeuse—the right shoulder of famous constellation Orion—has continued to dim. It’s possible the star, which goes through cycles of darkening and brightening, is experiencing a particularly dim cycle. But scientists say if it continues, Betelgeuse could burn into a supernova, blazing through the firmament.

Meanwhile, a decade’s blaze into oblivion is obvious for all to see. In the closing days of 2019, many debated the legacy of the preceding 10 years. Conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat argued that the decade was relatively uneventful but “filled with angst and paranoia” as America grew more divided.

Angst shone brightly in the year’s final days in a series of attacks on religious communities, both in the United States and abroad. Several attacks on Jews in the New York area—including a shooting at a grocery store and a stabbing—prompted police to step up patrols in Jewish communities. Then on Dec. 28, a man carried a machete into a rabbi’s home where a group of Hasidic Jews celebrated Hanukkah. He slashed and stabbed five people, one man critically. Would-be victims ran out of the home past the still-lit menorah. But some fought back, throwing furniture at the attacker.

Police arrested him later that night as he fled, covered in his victims’ blood. FBI investigators said they found anti-Semitic journal entries in the man’s home, questioning why “Hebrew Israelites” took power from “ebinoid Israelites,” what may be a reference to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement. His family and attorney say he is mentally ill.

One day later, a hooded attacker shot and killed two men in a worship service at West Freeway Church of Christ near Fort Worth, Texas. A church livestream caught the attack on video and showed congregants ducking under pews as the man fired a shotgun. Two members of the church’s security team shot back and killed him almost immediately. “We lost two great men today, but it could have been a lot worse, and I am thankful that our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves,” senior minister Brit Farmer said later that day.

West Freeway Church of Christ/Courtesy of Law Enforcement via AP

Churchgoers take cover while a congregant armed with a handgun (top left) engages a man who opened fire (near top center) at West Freeway Church of Christ. (West Freeway Church of Christ/Courtesy of Law Enforcement via AP)

Dozens died in Christmas Eve and Christmas Day attacks in Burkina Faso, the latest in the country’s growing trend of attacks from Islamic extremists. And one day after Christmas, Islamic State militants in Nigeria released video of fighters killing 11 Christians. They shot one man, beheaded the other 10, and said the murders were to avenge the death of former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

In the United States, debate over the impeachment of President Donald Trump burned about as hot as a supernova for much of 2019’s final weeks. It hit its hottest point on Dec. 18, when the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against Trump along party lines. But as the year waned, what would happen next was unclear. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hadn’t sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate as of Jan. 1—the first step in the Senate beginning a trial. Democrats and Republicans had not agreed on procedures for the trial, with Pelosi saying she wouldn’t send the articles to the Senate until she knows “what sort of trial the Senate will conduct.”

Patrick Semansky/AP

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacts during the impeachment vote against President Donald Trump. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

A Christianity Today editorial published the day after impeachment illuminated the debate about evangelical Christians’ relationship to Trump. The editorial, hinging on Democrats’ impeachment case, argued Trump should be removed from office. Many media outlets treated the editorial as a sea change for evangelicals. But as commentator Terry Mattingly pointed out days later at the website Get Religion, evangelicals are not monolithic in their view of the president. Nor have they been monolithic at any point in his candidacy and subsequent presidency, despite the claims of the White House and mainstream media.

One thing still burns brightly: the economy. Consumer spending continued to rise (holiday sales rose 3.4 percent over 2018), unemployment remained low (3.5 percent in November), and the economy grew (at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter of 2019). Consumer confidence boosted the stock market to new heights. On Dec. 26, the Nasdaq composite, Dow Jones Industrial Average, and S&P 500 indexes all closed at record levels.

Hollywood is a constant holiday rocket booster for consumer spending, and thanks in part to a new Star Wars film, late 2019 was no exception. The Rise of Skywalker, the final entry in the “Skywalker Saga” that began with George Lucas’ iconic 1977 movie, opened Dec. 20. In its first 10 days Rise of Skywalker hauled in nearly $362 million at the box office, even though critics (including WORLD’s Megan Basham) gave it less-than-stellar reviews.

As the Star Wars series and Betelgeuse both dimmed, Christians on Dec. 25 again remembered when a star guided Wise Men to see the Messiah. Whichever stars darken or battles blaze at the dawn of a new decade, the God who gave “the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night” (Jeremiah 31:35) remains in control.

Michael Reneau

Michael Reneau

Michael Reneau is WORLD’s deputy editor based in East Tennessee. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelReneau.