“Half-full of grace”

Dorothy Fortenberry is a playwright and screenwriter. She’s currently a writer and producer on Hulu’s award-winning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 

She’s also a mom and a struggling Catholic — but despite her questions and doubts, she and her family go to Mass every Sunday. In an essay in The Los Angeles Review of Books [June 8, 2017], she explains why.

Being a Hollywood screenwriter, she writes, “is like being on a perpetual second date with everyone you know. You strive to be your most charming, delightful, quirky-but-not-damaged self because you never know what will come of the encounter.” It can be exhausting, she writes, constantly trying to meet the right people and impressing them — and church is the opposite of that.

“I am not special at church, and this is the point. Because (according to the ridiculous, generous, imperfectly applied rules of my religion) we are all equally beloved children of God. We are all exactly the same amount of special. The things that I feel proud of can’t help me here, and the things that I feel embarrassed by are beside the point. I’m a person but, for 60 minutes, I’m not a personality . . . ”

“I have come to sit next to people, well aware of all we don’t have in common, and face together in the same direction. Halfway through church, I turn to the congregants next to me and share the peace. I wish that they experience peace in their lives. That’s it. They wish the same for me. Our words are identical. Our need for peace is infinite. Church is a group of broken individuals united only by our brokenness traveling together to ask to be fixed . . .

“Church isn’t an escape from the world. It’s a continuation of it. My family and I don’t go to church to deny the existence of the darkness. We to go to look so hard at the light that our eyes water.”

And that is the “kingdom of Christ,” the heart of Jesus’ “reign”: a community of real people who gather together, in all their brokenness and struggles, to follow Jesus. We give our time and talent to pick up one another when we stumble; with humility and gratitude, we reach out for one another’s hand. Before God, we stand as brothers and sisters; before God, the distinctions of class and culture that separate us disappear; before God, we are all loved without condition or limit. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats challenges us to see the world in the light of God’s compassion: as a community that is centered in the holiness of God that dwells within every man, woman and child; a community that sees deeper than the externals of race, nationality, culture and language in order to behold the love of God animating the lives of all who draw breath; a community that reflects the compassion and mercy of God in our care for one another.