Do You Mean What You Say?
Are the enemies of God welcome here at the Bay Shore Mennonite church? Verse 11 of Matthew 5 reads, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” But, seriously, what if the enemies of God (whatever that means) walked into church one Sunday morning screaming obscenities or staging a hunger strike in front of the podium? I seriously doubt the Mennonites would be down. Not to mention, this sign is probably not saying what it means (or meaning what it says for that matter). Does it mean, “Praise and worship the enemies of God” or “The enemies of God are welcome here” or “Praise and worship. The enemies of God, with reference to the Beatitudes. Welcome” ?
Look at this (bathroom poetics No. 3):
I believe that someone in the bathroom stall at Smokin’ Joes was tired after a few beers, a few missed opportunities, too much inhaled smoke. I believe it because it’s a likely scenario. But welcoming the enemies of God into your place of worship is not as likely on a number of levels, the most obvious being that “enemies of God” is the dumbest phrase in the world. Not that I am a realist, by a long shot. I like unlikely scenarios when the writer gives me the freedom (leeway, wiggle room) to not believe them literally.
Do we mean what we say when we write? Or say what we mean? I’m convinced the writing itself makes the meaning, which in turn makes me [just a little more human]. I don’t discover meaning until after the writing is done; otherwise, don’t you just get a dumb church marquee? In her essay “Moving Means, Meaning Moves: Notes on Lyric Destination,” Heather McHugh writes,
This is the curse of a poetic or naive relation to language: you don’t know where it’s going but you’re very susceptible to traveling whatever road it takes you down.
I’d argue that it’s not naivety at all but faith that language will take me where I need to go. If you have half a brain, and you use it to think about the world ever, your writing will reflect that. One doesn’t need to be heavy handed about meaning. No winks and nods, please. Be serious. Be funny. Be wacky. Be. But stop congratulating yourself for all the meaning you can vomit onto the page.