Sunday, March 29, 2015

Four Problems in Theology, Unsolved as of Finishing Divinity School (Poems)


Humor knows all things
No thought nor truth can escape its watchful eyes
Nor evade a judgment at its hands
It recollects the real reason why
You helped that woman over the ice or returned
To give the man five dollars-- it wasn't so lacking
In self-regard after all; and you know how humor
Sometimes shakes you in shower and snowbank
With gasps of self-delight and shame
By reminding you of the time
You got up in front of the sixth grade class and -- No, no
(Choke, chuckle) not that one again.
And humor forgives all that it knows and turns
Self-punishment into  pa-ha!s of joy – without in the least
Lightening the sentence thereby. Humor
Sees all, judges all, forgives all at the same time,
Ergo I must conclude
That humor is God.

To me it poses a problem
And not a small one
That Jesus -- who weeps much and overturns tables --
Does not also laugh.


“[I]f your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 
Romans 12:20 NRSV

Flattening his feathers then frizzing them out
And moving his head back and forth, forth and back
The minister loosens his throat with a cluck cluck cluck
And bids you to “Open your book-book-book
And turn to Romans 12:20, wherein we’ll read”
Half a line, then stop abruptly
None of that coals business, Cue the organ!
Because the minister, who may be chicken at least
Has noticed that this line is beautiful until
You get to the rest of it, bidding us mercy for the sake of, ahem,
Storing up pressurized hatred (which of all human weapons remains
The most potent chemical agent) and releasing
This coward’s weapon, nerveless nerve gas, on God’s cue –
These are ministers' lies; I have my own
Truths I disguise, they tend to be those
I don’t put in prose, as if splitting in two
Made it un-true, as if A-B-B-A
Made it okay—but I find, ‘spite the rhyme
They don’t –
stay buried –
are –
still scary.


"The [...] sense of futility [...] was still not clear in her mind. It had escaped somewhere inside her like a mine exploding in the depths of the sea, where the sound of the explosion is muffled but the surface of the water is disturbed."
~ George Bernanos, Mouchette (Whitehouse translation)

I would not argue with any description
But I find that if hers is a deep sea charge then mine
Is more like a blaze that won’t go out and melts the handles
On the first floor of a very tall building
And consciousness is a series of loops, each of which
Hooks me for half a day and yanks
Me up one flight of stairs further toward the top
After which I pause for a gasp of relief
Before I am hoist again as before and
Told to keep climbing.
And the only feeling stronger than that of resentment
For the loops hooking and hoisting and dragging me on
Is the terror lest they stop – You can see
How by these means I keep from burning but
Do not exit the building.

"I feel, with an intensity unfathomable by words, my utter nothingness, impotence, and worthlessness, in and for myself[.]"
~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Quoted in Hell and the Victorians by Geoffrey Rowell

It is an irony worthy of this cryptic creature
Whose generic name begins, like our author's, with a "c"
That so soon as he came up with the idea of his own
Absolute depravity and uselessness he was
Rendered thereby the most arrogant of men.
I used to think this was a fluke
Of purblind nature, one of its
Better jokes. But now I see that
The more convinced you are that you are damned
For minor faults – throwing dice, tippling too much –
The more, logically, you think others' flaws, which may be major
Must damn them all the more, and thus
Your self--preened looking-glass version
Of self-hatred -- in fact reflects back only
Your hatred of others
And the stronger it grows the more does that
Self-loathing become self-love
(Believe me, I should know)
And so to finish the paradox
By which Jon Edwards and John Knox
Are finally shut away in a tight little box
With the other forgotten and forgiven bogies, it follows
From the forgoing, that the humblest people are those
Most assured of human goodness.

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