Perhaps we live in troubled times, and perhaps things are just as they’ve always been and I’m just noticing more. I don’t know which is the case, but I do know that most days I find myself baffled, bewildered, beat down, bedraggled, and overwhelmed with sorrow at all that I see in the news and in the world around me. The violence and sadness that top the news feed, as well as the loss of incredible musicians in the past two weeks, and so many more this past year, combined with the loss of dear friends to depression, disease, and simply old age and bodies wearing out, have me often considering the point of this mortal coil. Musicians and poets can give words to our emotions when we have none to give. As a musician myself, I have found that sometimes only music can suffice when feelings are raw and there is no way to describe what is welling up inside of me. Bruce Cockburn is one of my most favorite singer/songwriters. He has a way of weaving poetry, music, and a powerful message into beautiful soundscapes that easily capture me and draw me in. The title of this post, as well as the subtitle of this blog, are both taken from titles of Bruce songs. His song “Pacing The Cage” (song and lyrics below) adequately describe where I find myself of late; pensive and wondering how to bring light into such darkness.
My wife and I have recently been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu; an adaption of the excellent and haunting novel by Margaret Atwood. With each episode I am struck by how disturbed my soul becomes, not at what I’m watching, necessarily, but more so by the thought that I can see this dystopian near future as a real possibility here, if certain ideologies and misguided zealots were to actually find themselves in places of great power. In fact, it has already happened in our past here in the United States, and in other cultures and countries under other names. It is puritanical religious legalism lived out in the real world. It is the result of a “pious” and ultra-fundamentalist religious misogyny. What disturbs me more is that I now see this very trend in many Christian circles, including in Eastern Orthodoxy where I am a member. There seems to be a growing fascination with so-called “ultra-traditionalist” teachings and an alarming trend towards returning to a puritanical religion. This includes the notion that women occupy a lesser “place” and simply serve a “biological purpose” and “proper role” in the context of Christian marriage and “life in Christ.” I cannot think of any more acrimonious religious bullshit. This is not Christianity…it is at best misguided piety and misunderstood scripture, and at worst an ideology of hatred for the divine feminine that leads to imbalance and lopsided living. This is not spirituality…it is religious excrement; skewed and dangerous theology, that when truly lived out, can easily become the reality that is The Handmaid’s Tale. If you have not read the novel or watched the show, I strongly recommend it. It is powerful in that it conveys a very uncomfortable truth, that most people of faith do not wish to discuss; that misogyny and male chauvinism are alive and well, and often doled out under the guise of “following scripture” and “living piously.”
I am the very fortunate Godfather to 14 children, all of whom I love as if they were my own. While my wife and I only had one child of our own, who we lost 12 weeks into pregnancy, we have always been grateful for the kids that have come into our lives over the years, especially those whose parents entrusted us to fill the role of Godparents to their own children. All of our Godchildren are unique, distinct, and unrepeatable, and they all bring joy into our lives. In all the work Janna and I have done together as Godparents and foster parents, one of the things that has always personally been important to us is to ensure that every one of our Godchildren knows at least 5 things above all else. These are as follows:
You are important.
You are smart.
You are strong.
You are beautiful.
You are loved.
I originally read this quote on my friend Stan’s porch. It was written by a homeless person on a wall in Albuquerque, NM, and the author and Franciscan friar, Richard Rohr, thought it profound and prophetic, and wrote it down to share in one of his daily meditations. Stan keeps it on his porch in a frame as a reminder and a means of meditation on what truly matters and what it is that we do with our lives. In that vein, I have a birthday coming up soon, and so as most people are wont to do, I find myself reflecting on my journey and another year down.
This past year has been one of great change. Career, family, death, life, politics, elections, empires rising and falling, and on and on. Life. It moves on whether we wish it to or not. As I thought about the past year, and the work we’ve been doing in our neighborhood and with our friends and neighbors on the street, I found myself coming back again and again to this quote above, and thinking seriously about the things that I guard and hold on to, and how many times those things really amount to nothing. Possessions, power, prestige, position, perception, politics, etc. So much of what we say, do and guard in this life amounts to shadows and dust, and is instead used to create the illusion of safety and comfort. It becomes all about us, and in our attempt to numb ourselves from the knowledge that life is fragile, we overlook those who remind us of that fact. The friends I have met this past year continue to teach me that everything can change in an instant, and we can find ourselves in places we never imagined. For those who have hit rock bottom, it becomes easier to see the fallacy of both the easy pleasures of this life and the emptiness of a cheap rhetoric about a loving God who will save you from hell if only you clean yourself up and follow the rules of the tribe. These things are meaningless if you’re already in hell, isolated from the tribe, and the very people preaching about this God and his heaven are the same ones putting locks on the doors to keep you out. If God is real and God is perfect love offered freely to all, then truly that God must be hated in a place that is all about image, acquisition, conformity, and self-preservation.