Joshua Bennett "The Skeptic goes to Sunday School"

Uploaded by TheStriversRow on 06.08.2012

The first time I imagined
what being in hell would feel like
I was six years old.
In an attempt to scold me for my disobedience at home
my aunt quotes the book of Exodus, Chapter 20, Verse 12.
Honor thy father and mother, so that thy days may be long, in the land.
She says it as a threat.
An attempt to curb my habit of letting the tongue run wild.
Lest it lead me right to death's door.
It wasn't the words themselves.
But the ashes in her teeth when she said them.
How the scripture wrapped itself like a blanket of knives
around my tiny body.
I was so small then.
Barely a coffee stain on the backseat of my mother's Toyota Camry.
She drives a silver Volvo now.
It looks like one of God's nickels gone missing.
I sometimes feel the same way.
As if something wonderful in me
has evacuated its throne.
I’ve wanted to be a pastor ever since I was in kindergarten.
Would run up and down the stairs of my home
preaching sermons that I had made up on the spot.
I’d be lying,
if I could tell you that I remember exactly what I preached about back then.
But what I do recall,
is the electricity in my parent's faces.
How they hung their hopes on every single word.
The world's smallest congregation
gathered in our family dining room to hear their son
expound upon the nature of joy.
Using words like faith and super-strength interchangeably.
I spend most nights failing to pray
that that boy is not dead yet.
That there is still something my mother would still call holy about these hands.
Though I have come to trust them
So much more than the words that used to shepherd my steps.
The scripture
that would flow like a news ticker across my mind’s eye.
Sometimes, it feels like i’m in a battle royale
with a room full of younger, more devout Joshuas
and it’s not that I don't have the will to win,
but that my eyes are too full of tears to see where i’m swinging.
The day before what would have been my first sermon
I wrote a one page email to the pastor of my church,
saying that I would not be showing up.
Saying, I’m sorry for sending this so late.
But I cannot proclaim what I no longer know to be true.
I have forgotten the shape of my Lord’s face.
The hardest part about starting graduate school is not the work.
It was the realization that my faith had made me into some sort of zoo exhibit.
The day one of my white male colleagues saw a pocket-sized bible in my backpack
and laughed in my face.
The Ten Commandment jokes
thrown like flawless javelins across the room
hitting no one but me.
I remember
calling my friend Ashon in tears
how everything changed,
when he told me,
They will always try something
but do not let them send you home.
They have not earned that right.
Two months ago
My three year old nephew looks in the sky
and asks
How come when I pray
God doesn't speak back?
I wanted to say,
of course He does Miles
just look at your mother's face.
Gaze into her frozen lake eyes
and lose yourself in all that glow.
There is so much that we simply do not know.
So much beauty to be found
in the depths of an honest question.
I am done with running.
Finished with feeding the feeling that my parents' religion
is an electric fence with everlasting arms
that there was only one way to live
to love
to see
what is invisible to the eye
but readily apparent to the voice inside
my grandmother's prayers
are a suit of armor
that I will wear
until the day that these bones break free.
I just want my life to be a light.
a megaphone
blaring Agha Shahid Ali
open your gates
a refugee from belief seeks a cell tonight.
These are not poems anymore
This is me
trying to build a diorama of heaven for the people I love
May all fear be expelled tonight.