It was a first, apparently! The response to a poem I read at the Poetry Club on Saturday was met with something more animated than a round of applause.
The previous week, my first joining-in experience, there were a lot of church people. I had read a couple of easy-on-the-ear-and-brain ones. One was slightly autobiographical recounting my time in a Roman Catholic convent – the orphanage side of things. Another one was a poem I had read at my brother's funeral. Things seemed to be going well, and, as I said, they were mostly church people, so I tossed in a couple of Christian poems. They were well received.
So I tried it again. I had a mixture of poems, some less spiritual than others. Easter is a matter of weeks away so I read an Easter poem based on Jesus’ words on the cross “Why have you forsaken me?” It was written from the standpoint of God. How much it must have cost God to turn aside from his Son.
Someone sitting next to me didn’t like to poem. It’s OK not to like my poems. Sometimes I don’t like my poems.
He said he was a Christian and he used to be a church minister. He had gone to university or college to do a degree. He had been confronted with so much evidence that made it difficult to maintain his faith. Science proves that the opening chapters of the book of Genesis are not true. He talked about the big bang and how science had proved it all. He went on specifically to say that he could not respect a god who had sacrificed his son. Punishing Jesus for sins He never committed? What kind of God was that? Not a loving and beneficent God, that’s for sure. He moved on to talk about natural disasters and said that if God was really powerful and really loving He would intervene.
I’ve heard the arguments before. The rest of the Christian contingent had also heard the arguments before. It erupted into a free for all – a chance to dig out the Bible verses in the head and other stuff. Sometimes these arguments were flung like grenades across the room. I’ve heard all of those arguments before too. I am not always convinced by them either!
The man had suggested that to be a person of faith one must surrender reason and intelligence. He wasn’t prepared to do that. Under normal circumstances I would agree with him in the sense that faith cannot always be reasoned out. I have known many Christians who are very suspicious of knowledge and intelligence. They say that you can have too much of it and it’s dangerous. I believe it’s not what you know or how much of it you know but whether you lay it down before Christ and are prepared to surrender it.
There was a pause in the discussion.
God doesn’t make it easy for Himself, does He? It seems to me that not only does the devil get all the best music but he also gets the lion share of reasonable arguments. It is more reasonable NOT to believe in God and when you look at the state of the world and God’s apparent absence from it – it can be a challenge.
I stepped into the pause.
God did not send Jesus to die on a cross, I said. The trinity is a tricky thing to untangle. God and Jesus are not two unrelated beings. God took on human flesh. That human flesh was called Jesus. God didn’t send Jesus anywhere. God went, in the flesh, as Jesus, to the cross. He took on our sin, as an act of love, to release us from a slavery we could not free ourselves from.
The man looked at me. This was new to him. He hadn’t thought of things in quite that way. He nodded a little and agreed that it had its appeal.
And as for natural disasters, I went on, I am not sure that many of them are that natural. The human race has created many of the conditions under which tsunamis, flood and droughts happen. The way that we have abused the earth, cutting down forests and over farming have led to places becoming deserts where crops cannot grow.
We touched briefly on free will and whether the freedom we had was worth it.
Had the conversation happened twenty years ago I would have been churning out the tried and tested answers that I had been drilled in. I can remember role play activities in our home groups pretending to witness to a non-believer. We practiced what to say. In those days I was one for winning an argument, but frequently lost the person.
It mattered this time that I didn’t lose the person. I wanted an answer that would make sense, a gracious answer that leaves the hearer free to take it or not.
On discovering it was a first, I was careful to ask later whether it was best to avoid bringing overtly Christian poems.
If poetry doesn’t stir a response in the hearer, it’s not good poetry I was told. When you read a poem, you launch it into the world and it ceases to be yours. Other people take ownership of it. They hear what they hear which might not be what you thought you wrote. It becomes something other than what it was when you wrote it.
Bottom line – keep sharing