September 7th, 2011 13:36 EST
Will The Church Finally Acknowledge That Luke Meant What He Said About The Rich?
Some poems are written for the hell of it, often the best poems. Most poems are an intellectual stretch, some immeasurable, some mincing. I`m going for a big one here, for the sheer hell of it.
Here it is. It seems to me our popular attitude towards literature is very like the church`s attitude towards Christianity, a crappy marriage to Mammon, an inherently cynical compact that capitalism is somehow related to compassion and merit, a witting descent into self-deception.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort," says Luke as our anti-Luke Congress proceeds to magnify the comfort of the rich in the conviction that Luke`s blessed poor are Ayn Rand`s losers. Rand over Luke, what a squalid choice.
For most of my 77 years I have believed that a compassionate capitalism could somehow make an accommodation with red-letter Christianity, just as I believed that publishers could and would divert profits made from best-sellers to publish works of greater merit and thereby serve a greater good.
But in my old age it seems no longer possible to believe in such an accommodation. The church has slept too long with Mammon for its own good, but not for Christianity`s. What indeed has today`s church to do with Christianity? It has more to do with the care and feeding of large-mouthed preachers and the maintenance of brick and mortar and institution. It is more concerned with insurance than Christ. When your insurer says you can`t open your doors on a winter`s night to the homeless because it`s an actuarial risk and you assent, you`ve turned red-letter Christianity into black-hearted capitalism, you`ve declared that Christianity is what it is "risky business, and therefore not for you. What is left for you then but hypocrisy?
Yes, I know there are Protestant ministers and Catholic priests who stand four-square with labor, with the poor, and with those red letters that make our hair stand on end no matter how awfully they`re translated. But they`re a minority, a beleaguered and marginalized minority. Since the 60s when they spoke out for justice they have been hounded out of the mainstream, deserted by the parishioners who once applauded their courage.
Perhaps the church is an artifact. Perhaps its time to confront piratical capitalism has come and gone. But if it`s not an artifact, then it seems to me it must speak up now at the cost of its budgets, its insurance bills, its vestments, its wages and benefits, its comforts and status "it must risk its very existence to say clearly, for once and for all, that there is no way to reconcile Luke or anything Jesus did or said with a capitalism that is grinding down the masses. The church must give up its dÃ©tente with meanness and injustice. Just as I persist in thinking I can finally write a decent poem I persist in thinking the church may yet live the gospel instead of silkenly mouthing and interpreting it.
If the inequality growing by the day in America does not move the church out into the streets, nothing will, nor will the church deserve the symbol of the cross. The church did not speak out loud and unequivocally when the Nazis made ready to slaughter innocents. Perhaps that was its last chance at decency. But if there is still a chance to redeem Christianity from the perks and comfort of the institutional church, surely it`s now.
And as for the capitalists, if Mammon and Ayn Rand is their religion, so be it, but those who claim to be Christians or Jews or Muslims must surely see that the moment is overdue to ask themselves how they can be anything but hypocrites. Do they think that by giving to charity, to their churches, temples and mosques they can buy their way out of the central hypocrisy of their lives? What do these churches, temples and mosques do but scatter crumbs to people who would not be poor in Luke`s society? That these benevolences are needed is the measure of how much we have failed the Christian vision.
I`ve seen danger in my life. I`ve been mugged, molested, threatened, bullied, fired, reviled, mocked, rebuffed, but I`ve been electrified by only two things: the red letters of the New Testament and the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud. And every time I return to those words I feel the same exhilaration. When I see those red letters, no matter how much translation I know they have endured, their essential grandeur knocks the breath out of me. Nothing is more demanding, nothing asks more heroism "and that is why from day one the church has been in retreat from them, finding Byzantine ways to dodge their call, to disguise it in exegesis, to warp it to convenient prejudices, to oppress and kill people in its name.
Can the church give up this retreat? This dodge? I never lose hope, any more than I can resist writing another poem, for the hell of it.
Djelloul Marbrook`s first book, Far from Algiers (Kent State University Press, 2008) won the 2007 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize and the 2010 International Book Award in poetry. Artists` Hill, an excerpt from his unpublished novel, Crowds of One, won the 2008 Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction. Artemisia`s Wolf, a novella, was published by Prakash Books of India early in 2011. Alice Miller`s Room, a novella, was published in 1999 by OnlineOriginals.com (UK) as an e-book, and Bliss Plot Press of Woodstock, NY, recently published his novella, Saraceno, as an e-book. Orbis (UK), Smashwords.com, Potomac Review (Maryland) and Prima Materia (New York). His second book of poems is Brushstrokes and Glances (Deerbrook Editions, 2010). Recent poems were published by American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, Oberon, Meadowland Review, The Same, Reed, The Ledge, Poemeleon, Poets Against War, Fledgling Rag, Daylight Burglary, Le Zaporogue, Atticus, Long Island Quarterly, ReDactions, Istanbul Literary Review, Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review, Damazine, Perpetuum Mobile, Attic, and Chronogram. A retired newspaper editor and Navy veteran, he lives in Germantown, NY, with his wife Marilyn, and has lifelong ties to Woodstock.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com