Notes from the Dickinson Class

I’m currently taking another online poetry class. This one is about Emily Dickinson. One of the discussion topics was whether her choice not to publish and have a clear authoritative version of her poems empowered or disempowered her. Here is my comment on that.

Disintermediating the Editor

The choice by Dickinson to not have her poems published, to not have an authoritative final version and to use uncommon punctuation and capitalization empowers her as a poet communicating directly with the reader. All poems are interpreted by the reader and in intermediary steps by editors or teachers. By not empowering the editor, Dickson empowers the relationship between the poet and the reader.

This empowerment is further amplified now that the sources are online and even a somewhat casual reader can look at different versions, in her hand writing, as well as different attempts at editing to create their own opinions.

We also read “Bring me the sunset in a cup” which had a bit of a discussion going on about what the “little Alban house” was and how the poem ends up. Here are my comments on that.

One of the comments talks about googling Alban, but doesn’t go a lot into who St. Alban was. Another person spends a lot of time asserting that the little Alban house is the grave, but without explanation why they say that. And one other person ties some of this together by talking about resurrection.

For those who do know the story of St. Alban, “he is venerated as the first recorded British Christian martyr” who offered himself up in lieu of a priest he had been sheltering. With this in mind, the “little Alban house” becomes more than just a grave. It carries connotations of sheltering, sacrificing and being a martyr. Viewed this way, the question of “Whoʹll let me out some gala day” would logically seem to be a reference to the resurrection at the end of time, “with implements to fly away”. Just a resurrection would clearly pass pomposity.

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The Unknown Guest

I saw him again today, the unknown guest
riding in a blue van down Main Street,
a homeless man I’ve offered words of hope to.

I don’t know his story,
if he is a descendant of the good Samaritan
a relative of St. Alban
or an angel in disguise.

Perhaps, he’s a character in some poem
or in some story I’m reading
or even a part of an unremembered dream.

Does he have a special message for me?
Would I be able to hear it, if he does?

Do we all have special messages for one another
that get lost in the transactions of daily life?

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Easter 2015

The ice recedes, the old snow melts
the flowers soon appear.
In the little pond the ducks return
and taunt the barking dog.

The yard’s a mess, the scars of winter
mar the family lawn.
Yet the sun’s warmth and the peeping frogs
foretell spring’s coming dawn.

The rolling toll of distant bells
proclaim that Lent is done.
The Risen Lord revealed today
that victory is won.

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The Wedding at The Castro

At church on Maundy Thursday evening, we washed one another’s feet. Our seminarian shared a homily about Jesus upending power structures as he commanded all of us to love one another. My mind wandered to Indiana. Would Jesus refuse to serve gay people at a restaurant? It doesn’t fit with my reading of the Gospel. More likely, he would have sat down with them and shared a pizza and Gov. Pense and the Republican legislators would ask him, “Why do you eat and drink with gay people and sinners?” (Luke 5:30).

Of course, the bigger issue in Indiana, and other states, is same-sex marriage. Certain Evangelical Christians feel that marriage is a sacrament reserved for one man and one woman. Because of this, they cannot, in good conscience cater a gay wedding.

The story that jumps out here is the wedding at Cana. What if that wedding had been in The Castro District of San Francisco in the early 80s? Would Jesus have gone? Would he have turned water into wine? Would he have healed those with AIDS?

All of these thoughts swirl in my mind as I see the headline, Poll: Gay People More Popular Than Evangelicals.

It brings to mind the quote from John Lennon

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that; I'm right and I'll be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first—rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.

There was quite a backlash to this, even though there was a lot of truth to those words and it makes me wonder what the reaction to the poll will be.

The title of the article is disturbing to me, not because gays are more popular than evangelical Christians, but because it sets up a false dichotomy. The article mentions in passing, towards the very end, that 45% of evangelical Christians ages 18-29 favor same-sex marriages. Those who define the church in terms of social issues that exclude large groups of people are the ones that seem to be doing the most damage to Christianity.

Tomorrow morning, churches will be filled with people in their Easter finest. Will they hear the message of a risen Lord who heals the sick, washes his disciples’ feet and loves those that the leaders of the day reject, or will they hear a message of self-righteousness that seems to me to deny the very reason for the crucifixion and resurrection.

Good Friday Fog

We know the science behind fog
when the water vapor begins to condense.
We know the poetry behind fog
on little cat feet.
We know confusion of fog,
the fog of war or a foggy mind.

This evening, I drove to church in a fog.
Snow, melting on a warm day
and condensing on a cool night.
The family cat died earlier this week.
My wife and daughter have been sick
and I’m going to church
to contemplate
the mystery
of
Good Friday.

I know the story,
I’ve heard it year after year,
but like the fog
there is still a beautiful mystery.

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