This week I want to offer you two poems. (Well, one’s definitely a poem; the other is debatable, but it’s not not a poem. So I’ll just be calling them “two poems” for short.)
We talked about both of them in the “God, Gender, Power” class I’ve been facilitating at my church for the last few weeks.
Side note: Can we just take a second to ponder how unusual it is to be able to talk about things like patriarchy candidly in a church-based setting? I’m grateful—and yet also recognize that it’s simply the way things should be, much more broadly.
As in, what are we even doing if we’re not talking about these things? If we’re trying to build beloved communities where every person is using their God-given gifts and flourishing, we have to be able to talk about the things that get in the way of that.
Anyhow. The first not-exactly-poem is For Those Who Would Govern, by Muscogee (Creek) poet Joy Harjo (author of Poet Warrior, as well as several others books I haven’t had a chance to read yet). It’s called For Those Who Would Govern. Here’s a link to the text—or here’s Harjo reading it, if you prefer.
I’d invite you to take a second, if you have one, to give both brief poems a read.
What I love about these poems, especially taken together, is that they offer a vision of leadership so different from what we often experience—and from what we may have been socialized to look for.
They offer things to think about, in everything from choosing a church (and its pastor), to voting for local city council members, to watching presidential candidates debate. Not to mention, of course, as we think about the kinds of leaders we ourselves aspire to be—taking the idea of leadership broadly, as I imagine both of these wise women would.
Do our leaders—and do we—govern ourselves (Harjo)? Do we aim to “lead humanity to health, happiness, & sanity” (Walker)? Do we “look for fresh vision to lift all the inhabitants of the land, including animals, plants, elements, all who share this earth” (Harjo)? Are we moved by a “spirit of respect for life & protection of the young to rise & lead” (Walker)?
It’s such a different set of questions from the ones U.S. Americans tend to ask ourselves when we consider political candidates.
We might ask, can I see myself having a beer with this person? This is perhaps a question of perceived likeability, or maybe perceived similarity to ourselves.
We might ask whether the candidate is an impressive public speaker, or what kinds of previous government experience they have, or whether our family and friends think well of them.
We might ask, however subconsciously, whether they are tall or physically attractive—or, in the case of women, how well they navigate the impossible web of conflicting expectations that America Ferrera’s character spelled out so well in the Barbie movie. (Spoiler: the answer is almost always not terribly well—because, well, as Ferrera pointed out, the web is “literally impossible.”)
Alice Walker and Joy Harjo have different qualifications in mind.
As a Christian reading these poems, I would say that though neither writer mentions Jesus, I feel like he modeled the kind of leadership they envision—and invites us to do the same.
I think of Jesus calling us to love God and love people, above all else—which sounds like the best way I can think of to govern ourselves.
I think of Jesus offering a different vision of community, one deeply marked by concern for health, happiness, and sanity. (See: Sermon on the Mount).
I think of Jesus’ fresh visions of how we interact with one another and Earth—for example, learning from the wildflowers.
I think of how Jesus was moved by a profound respect for life and for the young and their leadership. I see this as he healed people of their ailments, multiplied food so that everyone would have enough, and welcomed little children to come to him.
This, I think, is the Grand Mother spirit.
I appreciate how when Alice Walker calls all Grand Mothers, she is calling not only literal mothers and grandmothers but also “every person who possesses the Grand Mother spirit.”
May we embody this spirit, and may we look for it in those who would govern us.