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What do Margaret Atwood, Bono, and myself have in common? Namely, the “dog latin” phrase that serves as the title of this blog: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum,” which can be translated as “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” In Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the title character, Offred, finds it inscribed on the inside of her wardrobe. Wikipedia currently describes the book this way:

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, first published by McClelland and Stewart in 1985. The novel explores themes of women in subjugation, and the various means by which they gain agency, against the backdrop of a totalitarian evangelical-Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government in the near future. Sumptuary laws (dress codes) play a key role in imposing social control within the new society.

Bono, on the other hand, uses the phrase in the U2 song Acrobat, the lyrics of which are:

Don’t believe what you hear, don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes you can feel the enemy.
When I first met you girl, you had fire in your soul.
What happened t’your face of melting snow
Now it looks like this!
And you can swallow or you can spit
You can throw it up, or choke on it
And you can dream, so dream out loud
You know that your time is coming round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down.   

No, nothing makes sense, nothing seems to fit.
I know you’d hit out if you only knew who to hit.
And I’d join the movement 
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah, I’d break bread and wine 
If there was a church I could receive in.
‘Cause I need it now.
To take the cup
To fill it up, to drink it slow.
I can’t let you go.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And don’t let the bastards grind you down.

What are we going to do now it’s all been said?
No new ideas in the house, and every book’s been read.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that.
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And you can find your own way out.
And you can build, and I can will
And you can call, I can’t wait until
You can stash and you can seize
In dreams begin responsibilities
And I can love, and I can love
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down.

One interpretation of the song’s meaning can be found here, though looking at Bono’s use of the phrase in tandem with Atwood’s and the larger themes of her book and much of U2’s music, one could, I believe, rightly see Acrobat not only as a lament against marital hypocrisy but also against politico-religious hypocrisy.

I, at least, see it that way, which brings me to me. I suppose I often feel pretty ground down, and have much ire towards the politico-religious powers that be. Like Bono, “I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in. Yeah, I’d break bread and wine If there was a church I could receive in.” Likewise, “I have spoke with the tongue of angels” but fear I am but a clanging cymbal, and though “I believe in the Kingdom come, when all the colors will bleed into one,” I know that in many ways I am “still running.” Furthermore, I can echo Bono’s affirmation: “You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame- oh my shame, you know I believe it.” I do believe it, but “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” God’s kingdom has not come fully in me or in the world I live in every day. This blog, then, chronicles my journey- in spite/because of all of that- as I yet struggle to follow Jesus, dreaming with him his dream for the world and working to bring it about, however poorly I may do so.

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