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.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever. – Psalm 23
How many of you have family members? Spouses? Children? Can you relate to the gut-wrenching grief expressed by the man in the video above? It has been documented that he and his wife were humble olive and wheat farmers, living in a small town with their children and surrounded by their families, trying their best to be true to their faith and to live a life of simplicity and joy. That life was forever altered in an instant. How many of you live or wish to live this same simple life – working hard and surrounded by your family and friends, in peace and prosperity?
With these questions in mind, I must write some hard things. I am truly sorry if I cause you grief or offend you with anything that I say. It is not my intent to hurt or scandalize anyone. I love all to the best of my ability, and I too fail in that love. Please forgive me. I also believe the time for silence is over and not to speak is a greater sin than to stay quiet. And so…