Slam the Door Open

Slam the Door Open

CCS’s Scott Douglas is also a playwright, and at the United Church General Council last week his play Maybe One?: A Theatrical History of the United Church of Canada was presented by a group of actors from the London area.  (Video from GC42 is available on Youtube.  The play starts around 13 minutes in.)

Maybe One? was first written in the 1990s and updated in 2000 for the UCC’s 75th anniversary, and then updated again in 2015 for the church’s 90th.  One of the pieces added to the newest version is the final scene: a slam poetry duet on the emergence of “intercultural church.”

Slam the Door Open

from Maybe One? by Scott Douglas

slam1I speak with the voice of many,
and any who fail to find the harmony
embedded in the tangled sheets of my verse
need to first wake up their ears and listen,
‘cause here’s what they’re missin’:

There clearly exists in me more than just this thing –
this one face, this one voice, this one personal history.
The mystery of who I am is more than just this you see.
So how can we simplistically say, “This is me,”
when even my ethnicity is a multiplicity?

I embody diversity, and I’ll be the first to say
that next to me the complexity of, say, a university degree in cosmology
is like a game of X’s and O’s to Stephen Hawking.

We’re talking intercultural.
Like a poorly maintained bio-lab fridge,
my cultures slide from petri dish to petri dish.

The rock upon which I build my church
is best likened to a stone gathering moss despite rolling,
‘cause the cost of controlling the interactions of this and that,
of keeping each sample discreet and intact,
is that nothing grows. Everything’s flat.

But that’s only if I dismiss Paul’s epistles
and balk at the call of the Gospels
to take up my cross-pollination and walk.

I am not alone; I live in God’s world.
I am third-person plural.
I’m a boy, I’m a girl,
I am downtown, I’m rural,
I am the gentle curl of smoke rising from sweetgrass.

I am the skirl of bagpipes, the taiko drum beat fast.
The unfurling of hand-printed cloth for a head wrap.
And if “love means not having to see your sari,” I’m sorry, that’s crap.
I am a dizzying swirl of paint on a mural
‘cause flesh comes in more colours that Crayola can cope with,
and my hope is eventually we’ll agree to see diversity
not just as a nice idea, but as reality.

Because reality is awesomely weird.
Like a dozen red roses delivered from a secret admirer to an aspen grove.
You can’t see the florist for the trees.

I am a denomination that does not fit in your wallet.

And call it bad form, but I need to warn you
that I religiously practice safe sects;
‘cause when you pray with me
you pray with everyone I’ve ever prayed with.
And to accentuate my thesis I intentionally praise Jesus
in Cantonese, Mandarin, Armenian, Akan,
Japanese, Taiwanese, Italian, Korean,
Hungarian, German, Swahili, and Spanish,
Lingala and Welsh, and before I Finnish
(that’s Finnish with two N’s), and yes,
je me souviens, I remember
the embers of my song burn even in members who can’t hear it.
Even the deaf praise…

[Sign language: Jesus, Lord, Spirit.]

My voice is a choir.
So why’re we so quick to deny the full spectrum of sound.
We need to pitch the idea that unity’s found in sameness,
and claim this as gospel:

Only in diversity is unity possible.

The only good use of a monolith is scaring the piss out of ape-men
at the beginning of a space odyssey.
But the God I see reflected in each cultural perspective
is like a million pinprick holes in the black velvet oil painting of night.
And when the light collides it explodes
with the brightness of a supernova.
My God is full of stars.

Because we know this Holy One of ours
fell to earth and shattered like stained glass.
And this matters because as time passes our task is to gather the shards
that have scattered far and wide, and bring them back together.

But we’re not a melting pot. We’re not even a mosaic.
As prosaic as it sounds, we can’t be glued down.
And I’ve found that, like a below-average student, I’m proud
of the red C marked on my essay. It attests to the day
I walked through an ocean to freedom.

Now you tell me your stories, I need ‘em.
‘Cause I don’t know what you escaped to belong here,
or the price your ancestors paid to remain here.
But I swear when we share the pains that we bear we are stronger.

The history of your indenture gives teeth
to my calls to end slavery.
And the bravery of all the pacifists who sought distant shores
rather than bloody their fists in some tyrant’s wars
makes me stick to my guns when it comes to peace.
The feasts you serve in times of famine inspire me.
And the minjung concept of han requires me
to ask, not just who shot first but who got hit.
And maybe you have ticket stubs in your pocket
from underground trains, along with the pain
of having again and again to explain where you’re from,
when the only good answer is, “How long have you got?”
I’ve got all day.

And this is just to say
that as third-person plural I may need a referral
because I’ve lost patience with every deferral
of the full recognition of all that we are.

Inclusivity is a door left ajar,
but we can do far better – we can knock out a wall.
We can walk from the margins and barge in and call out
the racist complacency that fails to see every face
as a place-card at the table of grace.

slam2So if everyone around you looks the same as you, fine.
Look farther, squint harder.
Because I won’t have it said that my church is whitebread.
– Though yes, I’ll admit, it seems so from its wrapping
with the bright-coloured balloons not quite overlapping
and the pitch of enrichment with mineral and vitamins.
No wonder everyone’s determined it’s all white within.

But the fight begins now to push past the plastic.
‘Cause inside the wrapping is more than just that which is
familiar and mainstream and bleached and expected;
the loaf of our lives is more than just whitebread,
it’s roti and rye and tortilla and pita,
rice bread and potbrood and bammy and injera.
Don’t panic, there’s bannock.
And let me hear “challah!”

The call of this list is for all of us just to do something drastic.
Unwrap the packaging. Pull back the plastic.
Untangle the twist-ties and look inside.

Let’s misspell “united” until we’re untied.

That all may be one.
But maybe one what?
Maybe one congregation of all my relations;
maybe one inspiration to all of the nations;
maybe one celebration of our variations
without the conflation of full integration
with assimilation and knowing your station;
maybe one indication that imagination
informs our vocation and has the duration
to place in our hearts hope for our transformation.

The vibration you feel in your chest is me.

I would drop the mike, see, but the next person might need it.
So let me repeat:

It is our openness that is our hope in this.

We’ve lasted this long by our longing to expand our song of belonging
and be changed by one another. So I dare you. Widen your circle of care.
“United” starts with you ‘n I.
But it doesn’t stop there.

My voice is a choir igniting a fire of ideas that rival the sun.
How many lightbulbs does it take to change a people?
…Maybe one.

Comments: 5

  1. Peter Oulton says:

    OK perhaps you can tell me why I’m compelled to this.

  2. Ken DeLisle says:

    This is as powerful reading it as it was hearing it at GC42. I get tired eyed at the frustration, and hope, and challenge it presents. I want to shout Alleluia. Thanks so much for this Scott.
    I may use it for World Communion Sunday. Do I have your permission?

  3. Scott Douglas says:

    Hey Ken. Sure you have permission, as long as you do it well. Which I know you will. 🙂

  4. tif mcnaughton says:

    This is gorgeous! Thanks for sharing it for those of us who did not follow GC as closely as they meant to 🙂

  5. Carolynne Bouey Shank says:

    I love Slam Poetry! This poem so expresses where the United Church is at called. Thank you Scott for sharing this

Comments are closed.