Monday, July 13, 2009

by Jeremy: "Leaving Church"

Leaving Church



It begins, who knows
when it begins or how.

It does not begin
with the tears no one notices,
the ones that well-up
in the middle of the sermon—
not the ones that lead you
down the aisle at altar call,
not the ones that change
from shame to relief—
but the ones that do not
roll down your cheeks,
the ones you hold back
until ensconced in the safety
of your car you sob;
sob until you are as dry
as the Wilderness of Sin—
the barren land
you’ve been condemned
to wander
by no fault of your own.
Even Miriam led God’s people
in song and dance
but there is no place for you.

Something has been said,
the same thing has been said
that has been said
for thirty years,
for forty years,
since your grandmother
was a child sitting silently
in church with a funeral parlor fan,
since the last woman preacher
was silenced
in the fields of Kentucky
or Missouri or Ohio,
sometime back in the 19th Century,
when preachers
like the good Robert Lewis Dabney,
a Presbyterian—then again
so were the Campbells and Stone,
at one time—
and Confederate chaplain—
but we’ve moved so far beyond
slavery and Jim Crow—
proclaimed from the pulpit
and in print that
“women’s preaching was simply pagan.”

No, this was not said;
not this time.
But it has been said.
You were in chapel
when the preacher praised
his corn-fed wife
and then expounded on
slippery slopes
and broken hermeneutic limbs,
before explaining away
the case of Deborah
as exceptio probat regulam,
after all,
did not God use her song
to shame cowardly men.

You’ve heard the Bible boys
whisper such things
among themselves;
you’ve heard their girlfriends
come back from prayer sessions
on white swings
under dogwoods
repeating such things—
but you do not know
if their muttering
is the grateful prayer
of the believer
or the desperate one
of a girl trying to pray
herself into believing
what she’s always been told,
but knows,
knows in her bones,
is not right.

You’ve heard
the mother’s day sermons,
you know that the preacher,
like Lincoln,
owes all he is
and ever hopes to be
to his angel Mother,
and that all you
should ever hope to be
is a silent elder’s wife
and mother to preachers.

The tears began much earlier
than this well-worded
sermon on reconciliation
and forgiveness
that began
with some misogynistic
and racialized joke
downplaying
the fact that a praise team
was sitting mic’d
among the members—
“do not worry,” he said,
“a praise team does not mean
that Janet Reno”—
the embattled and censured,
the ridiculed by sketch
comedy Janet Reno—
“will be here,”
pointing to where he stood,
"in a sequined robe leading
a full Gospel choir.”
Was it what he said…
or the casual manner
in which he tossed
the statement out
before moving
on to his message:
“We are called to live
lives of reconciliation…
to forgive and be forgiven.”?

Indeed, seventy times seven.
You do the math
adding up the countless
elder’s wives whose husbands
were appointed so
that the aura of power
would lure them back
into the pew on Sunday—
God, after all, in infinite wisdom,
knew that man was weaker
than woman in every way,
knew that man was not
as naturally spiritual as woman,
knew that man
has a natural antipathy
to female leadership,
so God appointed man
head of home, church and state—
to those thousands
you add the Sunday school
teachers removed
from their third grade class
because a nine year old boy
got baptized
and you add the wives
and daughters
who never learned to pray
and you add
the number of times
it’s been said
that casseroles and cookies
are the true ministry of women
and you add
and you add
and you add…

How long
must you hear men
daily disown your worth?
How long
will they offer you
the bitter cup
of your trampled gifts
expecting you to drink
from it as if it were
the cup of forgiveness?
How long
before you cross the sea
and dance with Miriam
on the shore
because now you can sing,
sing words written by women
and not have to wonder
why Fanny J Crosby
gets a voice
but not you,
not your sister poet,
not your mother
whose closed-door prayers
have brought you
to the very gates of heaven?

3 comments:

Carolyn said...

This is amazing. Thank you, Jeremy.

Scott said...

"How long
will they offer you
the bitter cup
of your trampled gifts
expecting you to drink
from it as if it were
the cup of forgiveness?"

I think that says it all.

Indie said...

you add the Sunday school
teachers removed
from their third grade class
because a nine year old boy
got baptized
and you add the wives
and daughters
who never learned to pray

These lines spoke to me because I've experienced both of those things.