Monday, February 15, 2010

Poetic thoughts from prison

Personally I don't really think poetry is all that cool. I read some in English courses in college, but normally just thought the writer was insane because none of his words made sense without a commentary from a slightly less insane critic. In high school, when we'd have to write poetry for some standardized unit, I'd find the shortest one or the shallowest one and choose that one to write a paper on.

They were normally written by some tortured soul who suffered from depression and were therefore seen as artists. I thought it was such a con. You can just throw a bunch of words with little syntax, grammar, or sense in them and people would think you were cool and brilliant artists, just because the readers really had no idea what was being said, but didn't want to appear ignorant or unsophisticated.

It wasn't until I found out that Tupac used to write poems that I got intrigued slightly. In fact it was really just the fact that they were normally about sensitive stuff like rainbows and flowers and lovey-dovey stuff that I felt compelled to read more about his life. All his raps were about gunnin' down rival gang members and actin' a fool. But his poems from earlier exposed such a different side of things. Essentially, he was D'Angelo Barksdale, drug slinger on the outside, but poetic softy literature critic inside his prison cell. I think that's a compelling story line. Even most brilliant people and our biggest heroes are insecure people with their own vices, Jekyl and Hyde-ing their way through life.

I just started reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who resisted Hitler in the 30's and 40's and was ultimately killed for his speaking/acting out against the Nazi regime. His thoughts have been so interesting to me as I imagine the implications of a Christian nation gone wrong and how I would react to cultural compromises that tempt me to grab power and release my grasp on the cross of Jesus.

He speaks and writes in the Introduction of his constantly paradoxical nature and wonders aloud "Who am I?" He wrote this excerpt as part of a larger poem from prison describing his internal dilemna of personal self-unawareness:


Who am I? This of the Other?

Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

and before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army

fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of


Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!


Depressing, self-torment like this is hard to accept from a man who ultimately laid down his life for the freedom of his flock and Germans as a people. I cycle through these questions about every 7 hours one at a time. Self-doubt and humility seem to be intertwined throughout life as a Christian and at times, can be indecipherable, though they are clearly enemies of one another.

I guess the lesson to be taken away here is that we might not ever overcome our personal disorderly, fleeing army inside us, but I can still be used to bring liberty to the captive, to bring life to the barely-hanging-on, to defeat the powers of lingering sin and death in our lives because of the fact that I am God's.

But also it's important to note that God can use us in spite of our conflicting selves. We can remain "his workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared before hand that we might walk in them" and still be in-process, figuring out what we are, standing firm, yet all the while just wanting to give in to our fleeing armies.

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