This semester, I’m taking a creative writing course on poetry. We examine a number of poetry genres and forms before trying our hand at writing. Today, we discussed found poetry wherein lines are composed from words and phrases “found” elsewhere. Found poetry often flips a narrative on its head or provides criticism on the source or subject from which the work is derived.
Following is my poor attempt at a Found Poem submitted as part of the writing exercise.
Jesus With a Gun
I asked Jesus into my heart! I was born again! I am saved. A good christian.
Pulse nightclub, Club Q, Thirty-eight transgender people Shot or killed by other violent means; God helps those who help themselves.
Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Rob Elementary, Parkland, More than 338,000 students Have experienced gun violence at school Since Columbine— God works in mysterious ways.
I asked Jesus into my heart! I was born again! I am saved. A good christian.
Slurs are a slurry of swill. Urine and feces Served at wine tastings. Their bottles are fermented. Ours are fertilized. Drink up. It’s poison, And we’re all gonna die.
Forgive all this white noise. It’s just my religion. A holy mission To put women back in the kitchen. Because I need a sandwich in this man’s world. So break out the casseroles, And there better be raisins In that potato salad.
We conquered the world Just to dump its spices into the ocean, Like tea On a balmy Bostonian day. If we can’t handle it, No one gets to have it.
White pride. It’s a precursor to genocide. We’ve shackled dark skinned bodies And forced entire cultures to die. Go ahead, Write it down, it doesn’t matter, We’re burning entire libraries alive— With all the great works still inside.
So drink up— To the new world we’ve civilized. Or, colonized. Shout out to Jesus Christ!
Garry Bredefeld is a Fresno City Councilmember who often echoes the death rattles of hyper-conservative panic. Almost as a means to stay relevant, he takes to social media to opine the decline of Conservative Christian values, and, by extension, the decline of America. Though the connection between his rhetoric and white Christian nationalism are damningly clear to anyone with some understanding of the tense racial history in America, Bredefeld–and those like him–are quick to deny their roles in perpetuating a system of white supremacy. They claim that “bigot” and “racist” labels are unfair and that such accusations are made by those who are intolerant of their interpretation of Christianity and hate America. To be fair, Bredefeld may not speak so plainly, but his social media interaction clearly indicates where he positions himself ideologically.
“Radical left,” “unconstitutional,” “socialism,” and other conservative dog whistles fill the landscape of his Twitter account. Any current story/accusation intended to paint liberal and left leaning voters as American hating monsters–regardless of source reliability–Bredefeld is quick to seize upon. A brief perusal of his social media portrays the image of an individual easily manipulated by fear and conspiracy. In June of 2022, Bredefeld bemoaned the flying of the Pride Flag and the way a religious group, to which he did not belong, prayed to their God as being an attack on Christianity. Despite data showing child sexual abuse, grooming, and molestation as much more likely to take place at church or by family members, Bredefeld has engaged in the hyper-conservative dialogue that accuses Drag Queens (and, by insinuation, the rest of the non-heteronormative community) of being child predators. He has also engaged in other hot topics such as: CRT, pronouns, and Covid hysteria.
Bredefeld is largely ignorant of the topics he engages. From American freedoms to public education to public health to socialism to Christian theology, Bredefeld is a hot mess of misinformation. It isn’t surprising considering the sources he turns to for information. However, it appears that being morally, ethically, or factually correct isn’t the point of his pageantry. His panic and fearmongering play to a base heavy with the anxiety of weakening control. The power structure benefiting his base is disintegrating, they are being called to repent for the damage they have inflicted on everyone around them, and Bredefeld rises to assuage their seared conscience. The dying white supremacist power structure is choosing blind loyalty over intelligence, compromise, or competence, therefore Bredefeld remains in place–representing the interests of a disconnected affluent constituency.
Regardless, his exhausting outbursts appear to be little more than political pageantry. He waves the right flags, uses the right buzzwords, expresses disgust at the right subjects, but it is all a show. While Bredefeld gathered with faith “leaders” to decry LGBTQIA+ rights and representation and has been quick to voice his opposition to everything celebrity Republicans oppose, he has been silent in other areas which might criticize his own voters.
Recently, an advertisement for a “Fresno Aryan Meet and Greet” has been spotted in the wild. A quick check of the advertised website (and a thorough shower) confirms the event. The advertisement has made its way to Bredefeld’s Twitter account by means of an aggressive Fresno GOP parody account. The silence from Bredefeld seems to track as the real Fresno County GOP–with whom Bredefeld associates–has been known to partner with the Proud Boys and 1776’ers (basically “sanitized” reincarnations of the Ku Klux Klan). Where is the moral outrage we’ve seen from Bredefeld? Where is the righteous indignation?
Not just Bredefeld, but also the religious “leaders” he joined to condemn non-heteronormative individuals ought to be noted for their silence. While arguing from silence is a logical fallacy, identifying patterns has a way to give voice to the telling silence. Bredefeld has displayed indignation for just about every grain of sand in the collective undergarment of the hyper-conservative consciousness, but in the face of this gathering of anti-American fascists under the unifying umbrella of racial superiority in his city, he and his own are damningly silent.
For all of Bredefeld’s appeals to the Christian faith as justification for a number of his outbursts, he may be proving the frustrated colloquial true: “there’s no hate like Christian love.”
Cops give a damn about a negro Pull the trigger, kill a n——, he’s a hero Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares? One less hungry mouth on the welfare First ship ’em dope and let ’em deal to brothers Give ’em guns, step back, watch ’em kill each other
Tupac Shakur, “Changes,” 1998
Twenty-five years after the release of Tupac Shakur’s “Changes” and we find ourselves in the same place. The same story told over and over and over again, and still we miss the lesson. Public school, parental and American religious rhetoric, and political discourse insisted racism died with the abolition of slavery in 1865 and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
The fault of racism had been laid at the feet of very distant relatives—to whom none of us were related because our families would never be involved in such a thing—and yet the truth is it was our parents and grandparents and great grandparents perpetuating an evil ideology.
Many millennials have cut off older family members, including parents, as a result of their toxicity. These cut off family members often refused to change, own their faults, and react violently to culpability and consequence. Is it then a wonder that it is largely their generation and their successfully groomed offspring who rail against the social conversation of bigotry and stand in the way of progress meant to create a more humane and equitable world?
We weren’t the only ones to suffer their toxicity.
My genetic provider used to say that America wasn’t ready for a Black or woman president. As I have learned over the last thirty years, the accusations of these toxic people are usually confessions. Despite his feigned sympathy for such racial disparity, it was he—and those like him—who were not ready for a Black or woman president. The proof of such assessment lies in the formation of the Tea Party, the precursor to the far-right MAGA movement that would ultimately take over the Republican party today.
Tupac called it, we need real changes, and we can no longer wait for our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents to die out. They promised to prepare us the future to which we were heirs. They called us, their children, the future—yet they’ve held that future beyond reach. They took an America at its greatest economic and social potential and destroyed it in the name of neoliberalism.
“Make America Great Again,” what does this mean? The generations leading this war cry were entrenched in segregation, unfettered lynchings, and the reinforcement of systemic bias that now hangs from our necks like millstones.
We cannot move forward if we insist the answer lies in the past. I’m sorry Revolutionary and Confederate cosplayer, the answer isn’t embedded in our whitewashed tombs.
Verse by verse. Chapter by chapter. Book by book. –Calvary Chapel
I grew up in a church in rural California. What this means is every Sunday we went to church. We participated in a variety of “ministries” to support the church. I attended youth group Bible study and, later, college Bible study. I helped with worship team set up. My parents made copies of the services on audio tapes and sold shirts on behalf of the church (tape ministry and shirt ministry). For a number of years, we hosted home prayer meetings and Bible studies. We rubbed elbows with various church leaders and influencers. The church was an extension of my family to whom I was to go with every issue and question I had.
I grew up in the church.
It was very important to our community that we all live in a Christ-centered manner with our ears ever pressed upon the murmurs of the Holy Spirit. We asserted, if not so blatantly, that we were one of few truly Bible centered, Christ focused, and biblically sound churches left in the world. We were the Acts church! The church of the New Testament! Christ was our centerpiece, but Moses was our model.
Who we were in reality–in practice–was (and remains) far from any resemblance of a biblically centered or Christ centered church. It was our boast to proclaim that we studied the Bible “verse by verse, chapter by chapter, and book by book” (Calvary Chapel), and we did go through the Bible verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book, but to call it studying is only marginally true. For all our high mindedness of Scripture, we never really gave the bible an opportunity to speak. We were eisegetical in our approach. We read into scripture the things we wanted out of it. We threw out the entire literary approach to the Bible and approached it in the vein of Charles Finney–we approached the text as lawyers reading a law book. As a result, we became legalistic and insistent that our understanding of religious law be made the law of the land in order to save the world for Jesus. We walked with some of the earliest evangelicals to initiate the raging culture wars being fought today.
Our leadership, our pastor and his inner circle, asserted that we held the real and true, Holy Spirit inspired, understanding of the Bible, and as a child, I believed them. Right knowledge of the scriptures along with a prerequisite magical prayer inviting Jesus into one’s heart, assured our place in heaven and our superiority as God’s children on the earth.
Over the next few months, I am going to share my story. I am going to name names. I am going to share how divine intervention rescued me from a cult of personality and led me on a path to deconstruct the lies of my pastor and his church, spend over a decade in deep theological study that was both spiritual and scholarly, and how I came to save myself from becoming what they meant for me to be.
This project will not just be a work of essays but will incorporate various forms of art and media to convey my story. This work will be linked together using the “Valley of Shadows” category and tag.
I don’t expect this project to go smoothly, but after nearly twenty years, it is time to tell my story.