Worship, Liturgy, and an Introduction to Poet Scott Kinder-Pyle
Scott Kinder-Pyle is a Presbyterian pastor in Spokane, Washington, and the featured poet in Sojourners' July issue. I had an opportunity to interview Scott and also record him reading his poem, "Edict." Below is an excerpt from my interview with Scott Kinder-Pyle. You can listen to the audio of the full interview and reading here.
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Claire Lorentzen: Tell me about your writing process.
Scott Kinder-Pyle: For 20 years I've been writing and preaching sermons, and I recently graduated from Columbia with a doctorate of ministry in gospel and culture. My thesis was "Pastor as a Struggling Poet." What I was trying to do is say that in the mode of leadership for pastors where he or she engages with the language and is okay, friendly, with ambiguity in the language, there is a struggle that takes place, and people have to be patient and be willing to engage in that interpretive process. All that being said, I've come out of the end of the sermon practice, and I really honestly want to work on some poetry. I feel poetry gets at some of the raw data that is out there, whereas the sermon is designed to grow the church or maintain the institution.
How do you engage your poetry with your church?
Through the use of images and metaphor and, again, by trying to ask people to savor language. There's a book that I read by Ian McGilchrist called The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. It was an interesting and fascinating book because he breaks down a lot of science regarding the human brain, but then he comes out at the end talking about the life of the church and poetry and Western religion. And he ends up saying something that I really agree with which is that, "The Western church has in my view been active in undermining itself, it no longer has the confidence to stick to its values but instead joins the chorus of voices contributing material answers to spiritual problems. At the same time the liturgical reform movement has always convinced that religious truth can be literally stated has largely eroded and in some cases completely destroyed the power of metaphorical language and ritual to convey the numinous." So I think that is where I am. We've capitulated to this literalism and let go of the richness of our metaphorical language to address something that's beyond our means to describe completely. So every time we try to systematize it and make God and God's reign into something we can handle and manipulate, we make an idol of it, instead of approaching it with reverence. In the poem that I read, the next to last stanza -- "Then we? broke off communication -- I from my end by preaching a sermon and he from his end by converting?to Dadaism" -- there is a sense where the preaching of a sermon itself can be a breakdown in communication if it is perceived as a monologue. What I want to suggest with "Pastor as a Struggling Poet" is that what we are really about, what each community of faith is about, is a poem of dialogue and hospitality.
Growing up as an Episcopalian, non-liturgical forms of worship were, and still are, somewhat foreign to me. How do you think we can engage in a faith community without liturgy?
There could be a baseline of liturgical use that is married to some spontaneous expressions of creativity. And that is what a lot of the non-denominational churches are about: Let's be real, let's hang loose. Without the liturgy to play off of, it becomes really self-indulgent, and a lot of junk. But the dialogue between the 2,000 year-old liturgy and the contemporary, post-modern experiences -- wow, that's exciting. So, I'm hopeful for that. But, at the same time, there seems like there is an either/or, there is a push to go one way or the other, instead of holding both up. In other words, you could write a liturgical response that would be faithful to your experience of God and your questions that would be put in conversation with St. Augustine, for example, or any number of people, and that would bear lots of fruit, imaginatively.
The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.
-- Czeslaw Milosz, "Ars Poetica?"
I used to smell the wet maples, the leathery
green primers, saturated with cursive drops
of cloudburst, a lesson in penmanship after every
cleansing rain and as that sated sensation
hovered one mid-afternoon between conscious
thought and oblivion an angel approached
barefoot on the windowsill and stood toes
dripping with sap like medicine. He
said the only way to meet them all
is to patch the hole through which the
mosquitoes enter and the only way to
block that entrance is to re-write the edict
that's been degraded by recent radioactive
leaks in Japan. He went on, get your energy
elsewhere, photosynthesis maybe. I
said, I'm a mystery to anyone on that coastline, but
would like to know them if there's time. Then we
broke off communication -- I from my end by preaching
a sermon and he from his end by converting
to Dadaism. Now nothing is ever really moist and
every tree's ambivalent about growth in a downpour
although many might interpret leaves as they fall.
King Cyrus issued the last legal declaration yet
there's no use hearing it unless debris cooperates.
Claire Lorentzen is the online editorial assistant at Sojourners.