Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Amy Petrie Shaw—Speaking for Me

Rev. Amy Petrie Shaw.

There are some poems that your heart leaps to embrace because they say exactly what you want to say, but better than you can.  Poems like that do not even have to be technically good—although it helps immeasurably if they are.  The danger, of course, is that you may simply be reinforcing your own bias, entering once again the modern echo chamber from which there is sometimes no escape.  That Tea Party zealot or Trump fanatic might well read some raging rhyme  and shout Amen! sure that its irrefutable truth with beat the devil. At least, hopefully, we can recognize the trap and avoid its deepest pitfalls.
Last week a poem by Amy Petrie Shaw, the Minister of the Lake Country Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, Wisconsin became as viral as is possible for a wordy post with no cute graphic meme in the small world of UU’s.  I guess it spoke to a lot of us.  Poet ministers or ministers who sometimes write verse—there is a difference in self-conception and intent—can be adept at this kind effort.  Think of it as economical sermonizing.  In gifted hands, and Rev. Shaw from the evidence of this poem seems to have them, it by-passes self-righteous hectoring or dry didactics

Shaw's congregation, the Lake County Unitarian Universalist Church in Hartland, Wisconsin.
Rev. Shaw is a Northern Kentucky University graduate in English, with a minor in Women’s Studies and an Area of Concentration in Psychology. She earned her Master of Divinity degree from Meadville Lombard Theological School in May of 2013, and was the winner of the 2013 Roberta Nelson Prize in Religious Education.
She and her husband, Brian, live in Hartland—surely a town in a pivotal ideological battleground state with the most symbolic name possible.  They share a house with their cats, Dippy and Nike. They love the sense of community and warmth they have found there.
Shaw came to ministry after a career as a college professor and nurse executive, specializing in facility restructuring and crisis management. She is a gifted preacher, with special skills working with children and young adults.
In her spare time, Shaw is an artist and writer. She plays the guitar, builds dollhouses, and has been even engaged in (competitive tomahawk throwing. She is fascinated by computers and digital literacy, and is a power-user of programs ranging from Adobe Photoshop CS5 to Movie Maker and Microsoft Publisher.
Amy and Brian have two grown children and three grandchildren, all of whom live near London, England.

The poem which drew my attention was untitled on the internet.  We’ll just call it by its first line.
If I Ask You to Tell Me About Your Faith
If I ask you to tell me about your faith,
and you tell me who it required you to harm today,
I don’t want to know any more.

If you are proud that today your god
called you to make sure that this couple did not have a wedding cake.
And that 14 year old trans-boy couldn’t use any bathroom safely,
I don’t want to know any more.

If you worked hard so
that people knew that your god found this one foul
and that one unacceptable,
if you spent your day judging the sins
of everyone that you met
so that you could list all the reasons that your god wanted you
to turn them away,
(don’t dare to tell me the pain you caused will save them)
I don’t want to know anymore.

If you made sure to vote so that
the full time minimum wage worker couldn’t support her family
and that none of your tax money went to feed
the dad with 8 children and no job,
if you worked hard so that Muslims and Sikhs
and even Buddhists were afraid to practice their own religion
in your country which is also their country,
if you declared that is was only right to turn away
who didn’t have the right papers
or the right language,
to pass by on the other side of the road
and to look away from their pain and their blood,
I don’t want to know anymore.

I don’t want to know about a god so small that it rejoices
in pain.

If I ask you about your god, and you cannot tell me
one person
that you fed today,
one person that you clothed
one person that you helped to find a way forward
out of darkness into light,
one person who can never repay you
but you did it anyway—I don’t want to know anymore.

I will know you by what you have done for the least of us all.

So tell me. Can you tell me about your faith?

—Amy Petrie Shaw

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