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The Ballad Of The Debtors And Trespassors - Poem by Adam Hoagland

There are old country chapels set back from the times
whose quaintness enlivens the heart
and inspires the cadence of old country rhymes
or the light in that old country art.

Though the pews may all creak and the carpets may shed,
renovation is never pursued,
and the sheep in the flock may be very few head
but their faith cannot be misconstrued.

In these parts, they worship with time-honored praise,
the creedo passed down and well-known,
and though they’re aware that there are other ways,
those ways ought best keep to their own.

‘Twas in one such church on one fresh Sunday morn’
when, with hymns sung and pittance plates passed,
and the Lord’s prayer begun, that the standoff was born,
when the debtors and trespassers clashed.

It was sparked by an innocent rift in renditions,
(though most conflicts start this way, true ;)
with worshipers from two tangential traditions
hard-pressed to know quite what to do.

For the good book is printed with some variation,
with nuances subtle and meek,
and many a meaning gets tweaked in translation
from Latin or Hebrew or Greek.

In the words that Christ gave, once obeisance is wrought,
and dominion incarnate is laid,
and nutrition requested, forgiveness is sought,
and a syntax choice needs to be made.

With the disputed simile breeched
and the group recitation mish-mashed,
their beseeching soon ebbed to sheer absence of speech,
when the debtors and trespassers clashed.

In that vacuous silence, a throat-clearing noise,
a pious and virtuous “a-hem, ”
was more about protest without breaking poise
than about any movement of phlegm.

The discomfort passed, the service proceeded
to the message of guilt and redemption,
and seemingly, both of the factions receded
and gave it their fullest attention.

But ‘neath that veneer of devotion unbroken
each faithful church-goer was fraught
with confusion at why the whole flock had not spoken
their wording, as everyone ought.

For the words on the tongues of the holy are more
than just evangelic panache;
and statements of faith soon became acts of war
when the debtors and trespassers clashed.

After the service, the factions vacated
like minutemen marching to battle,
and, in the vestibule, soon separated
like two herds of distempered cattle.

Divided so, they then proceeded to brood
on the word and the law and the letter,
with their, “Shouldn’t we…, ” “Didn’t they…, ” “Wasn’t that rude, ..”
and “My goodness, don’t they know better? ”

Then, since the gospel commands us to mission
and set true the ways of the heathen,
each sent an envoy to their competition
reminding them what they believed in.

But each side’s appeal to reason soon ended
in imminent mutual backlash
for debt unforgiven was trespass offended
when debtors and trespassers clashed.

An unspoken truce then softened hurt prides,
for ham dinners longed to be eaten;
but though they went home, each of the sides
was convinced that they hadn’t been beaten.

And sure enough, the very next week,
when the same intersection was crossed,
humble pronouncement soon grew into shriek
and clamor to prove who was boss.

A bystander there uninformed of the sooth
would never know how the prayer ended,
bowled over by back and forth uproarious proof
of egos not actually mended.

The shouted chants of each side’s chosen harangue
left the poor Reverend whiplashed
as his church took the air of a homecoming game,
when debtors and trespassers clashed.

Doffed in Sunday attire, they took it outside
where they heightened the stakes up a notch,
and went to great pains to posture their pride
for anyone who cared to watch.

The debtors hung out giant signs declaring
“No Trespassing Here – This Means You! ”
The trespassers sent all the debtors quite long, glaring
notices of payment due.

And the second ignored the posts of the first,
and the first sent the second no cash,
and composure was strained ‘til the bubble was burst
when the debtors and trespassers clashed.

It’s hard to know when the established cold war
grew into an all-out crusade,
but tensions ignited and pots boiled o’er
and at some point, the first strike was made.

And the good Christian folk of that parish so small,
with their chosen phrase flying before,
took up their arms and answered the call
to vanquish the Christians next door.

They formed up in ranks; two armies so humble
they would’ve made Gideon nervous,
but each side convinced that at this point, to fumble
would do the Lord’s prayer a disservice.

To their credit, both sides showed unwavering conviction
and faced off the foe unabashed
as the battle began for discretion of diction
when debtors and trespassers clashed.

When the smoke finally cleared, in the light of the day
it was hard to declare who did win;
for the last of the trespassers had passed away,
and the last of the debtors cashed in.

Oh, up in that endless Elysian field,
past the gates where St. Peter presides,
the pious bow down to the glory revealed,
and the contrite and faithful reside.

But the newest recruits to the heavenly host
had one last Earthly burden to shed;
As a body, they thundered past pearly gatepost
with a drive unbefitting the dead.

They sought the one man who could settle their plight,
who could sort out the wheat from the chaff,
who could shine through the haze with His God-given light
when the debtors and trespassers clashed.

At His father’s right hand, they discovered Him sitting,
and begged Him to offer recount
of the exact wording that He’d been transmitting
that glorious day on the mount.

He considered the factions, so fervidly split,
each expecting a full vindication,
He thought back for a moment, then shrugged just a bit,
and offered up this revelation:

“I don’t really recall; it was so long ago,
and I had such a sermon to give;
But though I’ve forgotten, one thing I do know
is I quite clearly said to forgive.”

Lord, grant us the sight to know when our disputes
are truly so much balderdash,
and let us not tread down that dangerous route
where the debtors and trespassers clashed.

(ARH 4/15/10)


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