Just days after Obama was elected, I was watching the news when former Indiana Congressman, Andy Jacobs, was interviewed. I don’t recall why he was, but I do remember observing his strong emotions as he described waiting for the election returns and wondering if his personal dream of seeing an African American as President would be realized.
At one point, Jacobs named the source of his inspiration when he referred to the Declaration of Independence. He recited the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Then he said with unabashed conviction, “It’s time for our reality to catch up with our poetry!”
That statement separated itself from all the other comments Jacobs made. It hung suspended by itself, containing a weight and significance I couldn’t ignore. I immediately transposed this thought to experiences in my life when the gap between reality and poetry was too far adrift. One experience pressed forward, its nerve struck by the truth of Jacob’s remark.
Most of my life, I have been involved in vocational Christian ministry in environments where women are excluded from certain roles and types of ministry within the church. As a woman, I have heard the poetry of women being valued and regarded for their contributions—being considered equals to men. But reality often displayed a different truth.
For example, I remember one Sunday morning, sitting in a service where a group was being commissioned for a short-term mission’s trip. The senior pastor introduced the team and then asked all the elders to come forward to lay hands on them and pray for them. I watched as the scene unfolded: a handful of men, and only men, mounted the platform with stately importance.
While the pastor prayed, I kept my eyes open and took in the drama as all male elders gathered around the team, their eyes closed, their faces composed of somber seriousness. They placed their hands on the shoulders of the harbingers—suggesting a transmission of kingly power and authority. I asked God, “Why?” “Why are only men invited to participate in this pastoral act?” The event spoke volumes to me. The subliminal message was clear. Men have a spiritual authority that women don’t have.
The poetry was getting old and beginning to sound sentimental. My heart ached for more than lyrical rhymes. The lines of verse were beautiful and noble, right and hopeful. And those who recited them assumed that I would be satisfied with listening to the poem. But what they failed to realize is that poetry awakens the heart. Mine wanted more than pretty language. I wanted the lines to become piercing, prophetic, and convicting. I wanted reality to catch up with the poetry.
Certainly, all of our lives, including mine, are riddled with gaps: places where what we say and what we do have an embarrassingly large space between them. I admit that I can be satisfied with hearing or speaking poetry but not allowing it to get under my skin and raise my ire toward action. I like the way it sounds but am too lazy and indifferent to work its truth into life.
So, right now, I am letting this statement sit on me so that I feel it's weight. I am praying to see and address the gaps between poetry and reality in my world.