Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thawing chosen?

I don't know how familiar you are with Protestant denominations, but Presbyterians are often referred to as "the frozen chosen," and their church services feature few, if any, audibles outside of group readings or songs. On the other hand, Charismatics (often, but not only Pentecostals), are known for demonstrative speech and action during services. 
In keeping with those descriptions, I often feel as though I am a Presbyterian with a Charismatic trapped inside; I struggle to find the words to express with intensity and clarity what I am thinking. I let slip the actual and proverbial "Amen!" from time to time when I manage to break free from my frozenness, both literally and literarily. However, all too often I just feel trapped.

It’s one thing to feel like I’m a Charismatic trapped in a Presbyterian’s body. It’s quite another thing to know that I’m a Presbyterian and I’m trapped in a Charismatic church.
            Going to church is something that I do on a regular basis. I was raised in the church, as they say, with my attendance expected at the weekly prayer meeting, Sunday school, and morning and evening services on the Lord’s Day. Our religious exercise was to participate faithfully in the “life of the church.” I was taught the Bible from my earliest days, and my parents practiced what they preached. Sundays were reserved “for the Lord,” and no unnecessary work or leisure was undertaken on that day. 
            As I grew and matured, I took greater pleasure in going to church, but I increasingly felt stifled. My heart soared on the wings of eagles, but visible and physical expression of religious fervor was frowned upon in the Presbyterian church; that kind of behavior was only done by Pentecostals and some Baptists. No raising of hands in worship or saying a hearty “A-men!” for me. No, sir. Just the steady four-four beat of hymns, with silent, stoic faces during the preaching.
            During my college years in the South, I found some freedom. I discovered that some Presbyterians acted more like Pentecostals in worship. They clapped as they sang to the beat of drums, electronic piano and electric guitars. They offered “A-men!” or “Hallelujah!” or “Preach it!” when so moved by the Spirit. The preacher even encouraged such exclamations and on one occasion he acknowledged that some of us might come from church traditions that made this a foreign experience: “I am sure that some of you sit there all quiet on the outside, but on the inside you’re ‘A-menning’ all over the place!”
            With time, I overcame my hesitations and learned to speak up. Timid at first, I was soon hollerin’ with the best of ‘em. Well, it felt like I was hollering. I was probably speaking just above a whisper, but I could tell my inner Charismatic was being unleashed from its Presbyterian shell!
            A number of years later, I was back in my home church, working for a local Christian school as the headmaster. One of my responsibilities was to visit area churches to talk about the school and try to get people to enroll their children there. I had matured a bit from my rambunctiously religious youth, but still considered myself something of a closet Charismatic, the more gracious name given to exuberant congregations in Christendom. In reality, though, I had really become something of a square in public circles, not wanting to offend prospective families by exhibiting pretentious religious airs.
            Several years into my position at the school, I gained entrance to a Charismatic church not far from the school. I knew that an older couple from my home church had been attending evening services there owing to the close proximity to their home and to their increasingly limited mobility. When the wife had passed away, the pastor of the Charismatic church had attended her memorial service, and I had met him there. A couple of families from his church attended the school where I worked, so I was glad to make an official visit on behalf of the school. What I got was an education.
            I sat near the front so that when I was called upon I could make my way to the podium quickly, deliver my presentation, and be a visible reminder of who I was and why I was there. I shouldn’t have. I should have found a place in the back, near the door, where I could monitor my display or pack up and run as soon as necessary.
            Much of the music was unfamiliar to me, though they did manage to sing one or two choruses of something I knew. The Bible passage that was read for the sermon was familiar, too, and I was eager to hear what the preacher would say about it. As he spoke, he quickly became animated and excited. He began to thump the pulpit with his hand, emphasizing the glory of the Lord with each bang. His voice rose in pitch and volume and I began to sense he was reaching his point.
            Suddenly, he called out, “lsmfpaoijopbarllduboarar! Hallelujah!” and shuddered. “Glory be to God on high! Glory be to God on high! Hallelujah!” Right then and there, I knew I had heard a man who believed he was speaking in tongues, which is about as Charismatic as a fellow can get. I felt very Presbyterian from that moment to the end of the service.
            I don’t remember much else from that point on, besides the men and women all around me calling out, “Hallelujah! Thank you, Je-sus! GlorybetoGodonhigh!” and so on. The preacher went on and completed his message, but for the life of me, I don’t know what he said.
            After the service, a friend from the congregation approached me. “So, what did you think of our services? Have you ever heard someone speak in tongues before? I bet that’s a new experience for you!”
            “It, uh, was a nice service. And you’re right, I’ve never heard anyone speak in tongues before.” I’m totally freaked out and ready to get out of here, if you really want to know, but I have a job to do.
            “So, what did you think? You must’ve thought the preacher was going crazy or something.”
            “Uh, no, I kind of figured out what was going on. Um… .” Keep your voice level and don’t betray your concerns for what happened here today.
            “What did you think of it?”
            “Well, to be honest with you, it was a bit unsettling.” That was the understatement of the year. “Unsettling” was right on; “a bit” really should have been “tremendously.” How to say that to this friend, though?
            “I bet it was! I wish I could’ve seen the look on your face at that moment. Ha! I bet they don’t do that at your Presbyterian church, do they?”
            “Yeah, it would’ve been quite a sight, I think. And you’re right, speaking in tongues is not done at Presbyterian churches.” If you do it there, you’d better have an interpreter handy, or you’ll get tossed out on your ear.
            “Why not? Don’t you believe in speaking in tongues?”
            “Well, uh, speaking in tongues is not really part of our worship services because we believe that when a person speaks in tongues publicly someone else needs to interpret it right away. I, uh, was expecting someone to stand up and, uh, interpret what the pastor said this morning. Did you know what he was saying?” I’m ready to pack up my stuff and be on my way.
            “I see. No, I just know he does that sort of thing all the time. You never know when the Spirit’s gonna move, you know. Hey, Pastor! Come on over here! He’s never heard anyone speak in tongues before.”
            “Hello, Pastor. Thank you for inviting me here today.” Is my fake smile fooling you?
            “You’re welcome. Glad to have you with us. I remember meeting you at that funeral last year. So you go to the Presbyterian church, huh? Is it a lot different from ours?”
            Different? Yeah, like a different planet, Pastor. “Eh, you could say that. I mean, we believe the same basics about how to be a Christian and all that, but some practices are different. “ Let’s not have a big theological discussion right now, okay?
            “No speaking in tongues, right? Well, you believe in that ‘once saved, always saved’ stuff, right? Go forward to the altar once and never have to think about obedience to God again?”
            “Nope, no tongues. And we’d really call it the ‘preservation of the saints’, not really ‘once saved, always saved.’ If there’s no evidence that some has repented from sin and turned to Christ then that’s not really ‘saved,’ right? Please, can we stop this theological discussion? It’s a really long road we’re headed down, and I’m becoming less of a Charismatic-trapped-in-a-Presbyterian-body all the time! Oh, good, someone else wants your attention.
            “Well, thanks for coming. You’re doing good work at the school. Keep it up!”
            “Thanks, Pastor. Take care.”

            “You, too. Good-bye.”

A mixed bag

This was part of my assignment this week for class. We were to read some excerpts from "The Poet's Companion, " by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux, and then quote portions of the excerpts, with our comments following. Enjoy. Or don't. 
“Images may be literal: the red kitchen chair in a dim corner of the room; the gritty wet sand under her bare feet.  Or they may be figurative, departing from the actual and stating or implying a comparison: the chair, red and shiny as fingernail polish; the armies of sand grains advancing across the wood floor of the beach house.”

I am grateful to learn that there is a defined difference in images. At the same time, however, I am stretched to the breaking point as I search for words to describe what I see in my mind’s eye—memories and images tensed, ready to explode.  All too often, I cannot find the words I need or want, and I am paralyzed with frustration, sinking into despair to express what fills my soul or overwhelms my mind with a flood of beauty, joy, or sentimentality.

“We all have our favorite sense.  If you ask several people to describe coffee, one person might describe its smell, another its color, another its taste or the sound of beans being ground.  Poets need to keep all five senses—and possibly a few more—on continual alert, ready to translate the world through their bodies, to reinvent it in language.”

I did some stupid things as a kid. Growing up in the country, it was not uncommon to be called upon to bury roadkill in the woods, especially cats and skunks. I did not consider myself to be a hick or bumpkin; no overalls and bare feet for me, although I often chewed on timothy hay. Still, when an especially large relative of Pepe le Pew was the victim of vehicular-assisted suicide on the road near my house one day, my friends and I engaged in a game of dodge-car, daring one another to kneel down by the deceased to sniff it. Boys are known for doing gross things, probing beyond society’s bounds of acceptable behavior. I won the dare; I put my nose on the polecat and caught a full whiff of its ode-de-get-away-from-me. The prize? I received the privilege of carrying the dead creature to the woods with a shovel and giving it a proper send-off, complete with “a few words”. “Good-bye, Stinky, we hardly knew ya. Thanks for not spraying us on the porch the other night when we brought the cat food in.”

“The more you practice with imagery—recording it in as much vivid detail as you can—the more likely it is that your poetry will become an experience for the reader, rather than simply talk about an experience.”

This is the challenge, is it not? This is the brick wall that I hit so frequently, as mentioned above. You want me to be expressive, descriptive, image-invoking? Let me speak! Let me showwant to make you laughI want you to experiencejoy with me. want you to delight in the brilliance of the sun bursting through dark clouds behind me on my morning commute, spilling glorious golden beams over the empty, gray road, onto the violent hues of red and orange of the forests around me, the lush green fields quivering with excitement for the advent of day.  

Man, have I got a lot to learn, or what?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

"Say Anything"

This assignment was to address word choice and the relationship between the writer and the language. I wrote about how word choosing sometimes inhibits expression. Enjoy. Or don't.

Tortuous Delight

Simple pleasures of glorious creation,
Childish giggles and delight.
Ambling articulation
Methodical, pausing, selecting,
Purposeful and intentional,
Bogged, paralyzed, flogged, beaten,
Train derailed.
Amusement garbled, happiness mutilated.
Ramblings expand, frustration explodes,
Grasping, plotting, scheming, grabbing,
Unraveling, chaotic climax!
Inspiration resurrected, confusion forgiven
Excursion resumed, deliverance,

Mission accomplished.

MP UB 9/22/13

The first time I...

This one took much longer to compose. Assigned to provide sensory details to a first-time experience, as well as to reduce wordiness (the toughest part for me!), I began several times, pursuing various ideas. Holding my firstborn, entering a juvenile jail to teach, and fracturing my wrist crashing my bicycle as a boy all fell apart before they really took shape. Instead, my mind grabbed onto an experience more than two decades past. I wrestled to express precisely what was needed, and per the instructions given, I posted it for classmates and professor to consider. Then I revised it with some of their questions and suggestions in mind, though some of the revisions reflected my own dissatisfaction with the original. I share here for your consideration, "You Were Gone".

You Were Gone

You were gone long before the end,

but I knew the day had come.

Your eyes that twinkled at a private joke or scolded when I went too far,

unopened, unseeing.

Your mouth that taught me to sing and kissed away my tears,

hung open, silenced.

Your hair lost, grew curly, but again

 lay straight and limp, stuck to your head in feverish sweat.

The calming scent of your shampoo

overpowered by the stink of disease.

Your arms and hands that nursed, disciplined, comforted me,

locked unfeeling and unmoving.

Teacher, cook! musician, mentor—

lungs feebly rattling with each breath.

Gently I hugged your fragile shoulders, kissed your forehead;

“I love you, Mum.”

Fifty-one too young, seventeen too soon for goodbye,


Eternity arrived. 

MP UB 9/22/13

"Breaking the Sentence"

My professor assigned a list poem, intended to break us of the habit of using complete thoughts and to create free-verse poetry. That is blastedly difficult for me, having been raised to use proper grammar--even delighting in its orderliness--and teaching young people to express themselves appropriately, leaving broken phrases and insufficient clauses in the dustbin of writing. Nonetheless, I must learn and pass the class. Here is "Taking Measurement." Enjoy. Or don't.

Taking Measurement

Glass half empty
Faded paint
Water leaks
Broken sheetrock
Dripping faucet
Stained carpet
Graying linoleum
Peeling trim boards
Flooding basement
Failed electricity
Endless junk
Overabundant toys
Limited storage
Tuneless piano
Addled computer
Childhood mayhem
Adulthood doldrums
Overdue bills
Curtainless windows
Aging automobiles
Persistent mess
Developing children
Loving wife
Faithful friends
Barbershop chorus
Promising work
Bountiful blessings

Glass half full

MP UB 9/15/13

The latest, greatest Moose Petrol

For two years now, I've been substitute teaching at a maximum security juvenile "development center" school. For the first year, subbing was typically sporadic. Starting 13 months ago, however, I've had steady hours, bolstered last fall with a brief stint as a seasonal call center representative for The Boot (not the company's real name, just in case you're confused), and odd jobs here and there, such as substitute church custodian, farmhand, and paint scraper/primer. For three months at the start of 2013 I was "Acting Capacity Teacher for ELA/SS" at the aforementioned facility, but did not qualify for the position permanently. However, the position was closed down, anyway, and I returned to regular subbing responsibilities.

After applying and interviewing for teaching and administrative positions for more schools and locations than I can even recall anymore, I began this month as "Acting Capacity Teacher for GED Prep and Maine/U.S. History" at the aforementioned facility. It is a position that will not be closed down, so I applied for it. This week, I will interview for the permanent position that I am currently temporarily filling. The labors are hard, but not without reward. The commute is lengthy, though not impossibly so. I want it very much.

My social studies certification suffices to procure this job, but in order to properly fill the position, I must gain certification in English for 7-12 and Adults. Therefore, I am in the process of completing 14 credit hours (or slightly more) required by the state's department of education to complete my certifiability completely. (Don't tell my professor about that previous, hideous contraption of a sentence, please.)

As I am such a self-focused lad (though not a young one), I think that I will share with my blog readership of 6 some of the works I am creating this fall in the Intro to Creative Writing course in which I have enrolled online. UMPI gets the credit and I will take the blame. Enjoy. Or don't.

Affectionately yours,