Thursday, June 18, 2009

We must love our enemies.

Squee!

I am nearly positive that today was the first time I even considered typing the word "squee", or making the noise it represents. But, see, this afternoon I got a lovely e-mail from my favorite poet, Julia Kasdorf, in response to a message I sent her this morning. Squee!

I wrote to her for two reasons: one old, and one new. I'd been trying for years to find the words to tell her how she had affected me: how I heard her poetry for the first time when Garrison Keillor's reading of "Mennonites" made me cry, and how the rest of her book Sleeping Preacher affected me similarly. I put all that into this morning's message to her because now I had a request: I wanted to ask if I could use "Mennonites" on this blog.

Ms. Kasdorf's response was thoughtful, kind and gracious. God, I'm such a groupie, but... SQUEE!!

I regret the necessity of beginning this post in such an undignified way. But the point is that I have the author's permission to reprint this beautiful poem.
Mennonites
by Julia Kasdorf

We keep our quilts in closets and do not dance.
We hoe thistles along fence rows for fear
we may not be perfect as our Heavenly Father.
We clean up his disasters. No one has to
call; we just show up in the wake of tornadoes
with hammers, after floods with buckets.
Like Jesus, the servant, we wash each other's feet
twice a year and eat the Lord's Supper,
afraid of sins hidden so deep in our organs
they could damn us unawares,
swallowing this bread, his body, this juice.
Growing up, we love the engravings in Martyrs Mirror:
men drowned like cats in burlap sacks,
the Catholic inquisitors,
the woman who handed a pear to her son,
her tongue screwed to the roof of her mouth
to keep her from singing hymns while she burned.
We love Catherine the Great and the rich tracts
she gave us in the Ukraine, bright green winter wheat,
the Cossacks who torched it, and Stalin,
who starved our cousins while wheat rotted
in granaries. We must love our enemies.
We must forgive as our sins are forgiven,
our great-uncle tells us, showing the chain
and ball in a cage whittled from one block of wood
while he was in prison for refusing to shoulder
a gun. He shows the clipping from 1916:
Mennonites are German milksops, too yellow to fight.
We love those Nazi soldiers who, like Moses,
led the last cattle cars rocking out of the Ukraine,
crammed with our parents—children then—
learning the names of Kansas, Saskatchewan, Paraguay.
This is why we cannot leave the beliefs
or what else would we be? why we eat
'til we're drunk on shoofly and moon pies and borscht.
We do not drink; we sing. Unaccompanied on Sundays,
those hymns in four parts, our voices lift with such force
that we lift, as chaff lifts toward God.
This poem gets me every time because I have a lot of useless anger that I can't seem to get rid of, and when I think of people like Ms. Kasdorf's uncle forgiving his enemies, it makes me feel awash in a pool of emotion of which "humble and small" form only the barest beginning.

I can't think of a better emotional core for this blog than this poem, and it ties into something I realized last week: If I'm telling people that GLBT folks are normal people just like them, then it has to work both ways: I also have to be telling GLBT folks that those who harbor prejudices and discriminate against them are normal people just like them. If circumstances had been different, each might be just like the other. No one is The Other. The Other is us.

Yeah, that one is going to be hard for me too. Believe me.

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