Saturday, November 5, 2016

This complicated, imperfect world

The Handmaid’s Tale, is a dystopian novel written by Margaret Atwood, in which a monotheocracy has replaced the tradition of democracy in the United States following a period of social unrest and declining birthrates.  The country, renamed the Republic of Gilead, enforces a strict system of government control that follows a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis.  A Puritan structure of punishment and state-sanctioned repression is put in place, and each citizen is bound by a strict code of conformity and interaction confined to established gender roles.  For those of you familiar with George Orwell’s book 1984, or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ever popular high school classic The Scarlet Letter, similar questions and commentary arise.

 At times it would seem that we live in our own metaphorical Puritan-type communities, where cohesion and conformity—be it liberal or conservative—are absolute truth.  Stereotypes of one group or another (immigrants, evangelicals, tea party activists, transgender students, Muslims, etc.) become factual identities, rather than challenged assumptions; and legitimate concerns—employment, security, immigration, global warming, etc.—lead to divided opinion.  Fortunately, unlike the citizens in Atwood’s novel, we neither live on that city on the hill, which some would like to return to, nor in the darkened alleyways of Gotham city that some would have us believe. 
Instead we live somewhere in the middle, immersed in the messy and difficult conversations and realities that have become flash points, erupting and boiling over, in nearly every news cycle: Black Lives Matter, the anger directed at police forces, lead tainted water, Standing Rock Reservation, the chant of “Lock her up,” or ISIS inspired terrorist attacks.  We are also immersed though, in subtle reminders of that which is good and holy.  Sometimes, it simply takes an encounter or the reframing of a question for us to change our perspective.  In a 2012 TEDxTalk, Fr. Gregory Bolye, founder and Executive Director of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, remarked: “How can we achieve a certain kind of compassion that stands in awe at what the poor have to carry, rather than in judgement for how they carry it?”  The poor though, could just as easily be replaced by any individual or group which threatens or challenges our idea of who is deserving of dignity, or of whom the Gospel directs us to embrace.

In the midst of this recent presidential campaign, it may seem that society is stitched together as a patchwork of conflicting ideologies and beliefs separated by intolerance, discrimination, righteousness, and hostility.  I myself have been hesitant to venture outside, confined to the rigid knowledge of my own truth.  But I encourage each of us to stand with compassion, and to not hesitate in stepping out into the mud, alive and riveted by this complicated, imperfect world.

This is a complicated world,
              but not for the sake of trying.
But how do we respond?  What is it that I have done?
              Have I tried to lay in the long grass,
              to wake early and see my breath?

When did I last wait to hear,
Not answer, not voice, but a bird,
              the woodpecker’s sharp tap outside the bedroom window.

I don’t remember when I last walked in the rain
              to look up and see the downpour.
Am I afraid of getting wet, of tracking mud?
How quickly I forget my coat, a pair of boots
              Do I even remember where in the closet they are stored?

I must go out this next time.
I must remember that it is expected of me
              to not remain dry
              to track mud onto the floor boards.
It is expected that I do not remain a stoic philosopher forever.

Good reflection never came from sitting at the altar.
Unless I propose to be a monk,
              but even the monk must laugh
              and he does look up into the rain.

This is a complicated world
              but made less so because I am not a monk
              however much I would like to be.
And although not a religious
              I will still pray.
Perhaps I will even pray tonight.
Perhaps my words will carry hints of the sacred.

It is a sacred found in the ordinary;
              Alive and riveted by this complicated, imperfect world.
              Alive and riveted by this complicated, imperfect life.

And my feet have been introduced to mud,
              my hair drips rain.
Maybe I shall yet live
              or at the very least I will try.

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