Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon (a poem)

--- by Mel

It’s Sunday, a day of sermons. Tales have it that Rev. Jerry Prevo will be delivering one of his predictable diatribes against homosexuality from his pulpit at the Anchorage Baptist Temple (broadcast live at 11:00 AM on KCFT-TV — cable channel 19, broadcast channel 35). In counterpoint, this week’s sermon at 2:00 PM at MCC Anchorage will be on “Homosexuality, Christianity & the Clobber Scriptures” used by conservative Christian churches (like ABT) to promote anti-gay messages. I heard yesterday that the Rev. Howard Bess, a longtime ally of LGBT Alaskans & author of Pastor, I Am Gay, will be delivering a guest sermon at Immanuel Presbyterian Church.

My own sermon is below — a poem written in December 1992 in response to the hatred & bigotry propounded by Rev. Prevo & like-minded preachers during the 1992-1993 battle inside and outside the Anchorage Assembly chambers over the same issue facing us today: whether lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transfolk in Anchorage will be afforded equal protection under the law from discrimination on the basis of a fundamental part of our fabric as human beings: our sexual orientations and gender identities.

(With thanks to Stephen Mitchell, whose translation of The Book of Job helped me to find the words.)



I take as my text the Book of Job –
for are we not like him, innocent,
suffering, crying out for justice?
are we not like him, each of us
surrounded by these righteous,
these pious friends who so love us,
who console us with false accusations,
who comfort us with lies?

Hear them — Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar –
High in their pulpits they proclaim the good news:

Admit your guilt and repent your sin
the merciful Lord God will welcome you in.

What’s your complaint? you got fired from your job?
The good Lord will cast you to fires of damnation.
Your landlord has served you notice of eviction?
The Lord will evict you from heavens’s salvation.
Beat to death in the street? God signed the death warrant.
Infected with AIDS? The Almighty’s decree.
Discrimination — if it happens, which we won’t admit –
is admonishment of your culpability.
God in his compassion has served you fair warning
and if God’s indisposed, well, we’re God’s grand jury.

But admit your guilt and repent your sin
the merciful Lord God will welcome you in.

We’re a large church, but we’re a friendly church.


Is there anything so innocent
as the child you were at birth?
tiny and wrinkled
from between your mother’s legs
you cried — I am here! I am alive! –
such was your first yell — joy of birth!

Were you a sinner then?
Was it sin to cry for your mother’s breasts?
were you damned by your desire
for the warmth of your father’s arms?

Years grew you.
Your ears heard the lessons
of your elders who taught you
the rules to live by:
how you took them to heart.
How you chastised yourself
when you stepped out of bounds
in body, in mind.
How you took them to heart

as alone in your bed
you lay in the quiet.
You stared at your fear,
your eyes searched the night.
Your mind search your soul –

evidence – why
examination – am I
condemnation – vilify
queer – cry

– such were your tears, pressed into your pillow.
Such were your muffled sobs — grief of damnation


Be honest — which of you chose it?
Which of you when first you learned
you were queer — faggot! lezzie! homo! –
accepted that label with joy — celebration?

Which of you did not deny it?
Which of us did not seek to hide it?
Some hide it still — some are yet there.
Who knows silence better than we?
How we take it to heart.

Searching, seeking the root of our anguish –
how many of our sisters, our brothers
swallowed some pills, or took a mighty leap
to lie broken and crushed on the pavement?
How many of us climbed into a bottle
or crucified ourselves on a needle
or lost ourselves in an endless tangle
with the bodies of others such as we?
ecstasy! of orgasm — but after,
as we lay together side by side
in the tangle of sheets we wrestled amongst –
we wrestled alone with our dread
in the silent prisons of each heart, each head.


But listen: you’ve heard of the patience of Job?
He was not so patient. Nor should we be.

How many of us looked to heaven to plead –
to shout — which of us demanded –

Yo, God!
Who’dja make the bet with this time?
Some bet. A sure thing.

Do you get your omnipotent jollies
from fate — create a creature
who by nature is unable
to adhere to your commands
without lying, without denying
what you created us to be?
I must abandon my integrity
or you abandon me?
Do you laugh to see us wriggle
with predestined misery?
Who then is righteous, who the sinner,
oh Lord God Almighty?

If this be heresy, if I blaspheme,
then teach a clear lesson, Lord God Supreme.
Cut short the suspense. Loose your thunderbolt.
Fry me where I stand and end my revolt.

Till then, this gospel I give:
curse God — and live.


But no — we curse not God,
but this false image of God they’ve made:
a warped, twisted abridgment

stuffed into a book, a Sunday sermon,
their cramped and distorted souls.

Can God be contracted –
compressed — compacted –
and still be God? Can you
hold in the palm of your hand
the width of the cold winter sky? Can you
forge the evening star into a ring
to adorn your little finger? Can you
play the harp of the northern lights? –
each touch of God’s fingers recolors the strings
in hues none of us has imagined.
Can you hide the summer sun
under a bushel basket? — Listen:
blind can lead blind, but the sun will still shine.

God cannot be enclosed in a book
or in the miser’s soul
which portions out justice in dribbles
and rations out love in crumbs,
then wonders why we starve.

God is too wide and vast and long
and knows us for what we are
as is known the sky, the river, the rocks,
as is knows each creature that breathes.

God is too wide, too vast, too long
and knows us as we are.

[December 29, 1992]


Anonymous said...

Thank you Phil. I cried on reading this.

So true "a warped, twisted abridgment/stuffed into a book, a Sunday sermon,/their cramped and distorted souls..."

As an over 50 straight woman,with many LGBTQ friends (and some in my family) I realized some years ago, that I was judging those who called themselves Christians by their attitude toward gays. Unless these churches and individuals embraced all as being made in the infinite beauty and variety of the image of god, to me they are simply 'sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

Never being able to reconcile myself with such hate, I left the Church for the pagan path of the Great Outdoors where one can truly see and appreciate the varied creations of the Great Spirit and each is free to exist exactly as made unrestricted by 'false judgment'.

Thank you again Phil.

Philip Munger said...

anon @ 6:33 am -

The poem is by my friend, Mel Green. I was touched too. I am not a Christian, but once was, so I am struck by Mel's imagery. And I began to know Howard Bess around the time Mel wrote this, so it has historical resonance.

Mel said...

Thanks for words, Anon.

I'm not a Christian either, actually -- raised in the Episcopal Church but stopped considering myself a Christian about high school, mostly over a dispute with Christian "one-wayism" (the belief that anyone who isn't a Christian will go to hell, no matter how good a person they are). But I've retained a fascination with religion, enough so that I got a B.A. in it.

My own self-invented personal religion is sorta like an AA meeting: takes what it likes (of various religions/philosophies) & leaves the rest. The Book of Job (esp. as translated by Stephen Mitchell) is one of the things it likes. :)

-- Mel Green