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Waiting for the Rapture by Kirby Olson (Persistencia Press, March 2006).

Postmodernism is a term whose definition is hotly debated among academics.  And since I hold no credentials that would make my opinion of any value concerning this philosophy, I will give none.  People spend too much time trying to fit other people into neat  categories.  In my opinion, doing so prevents us from seeing truth in unexpected places and from making friends.

Same with religion.  Christian denominations often separate rather then unite.  And with postmodernism as backdrop, it is no wonder that in Kirby Olson’s first published chapbook of poems is Waiting for the Rapture.  

Olson blogs under the name Lutheran Surrealism.   So I guess that’s what he is:  a Lutheran surrealist.  In his blog entry of Friday, April 30, 2004, Kirby writes, “. . . in this world what is wanted in government is competence, not a party of the faithful.  This is also what we should seek in terms of toilet paper manufacturers and carpenters. Competence, not faith.”

He continues, “Anabaptism, Calvinism, and Marxism are one-kingdom routes to hell.  It is only a handfull (sic) of the Lutheran faithful that are holding the pass at Thermopylae against the one kingdom invaders from the left and from the right. Lutheran surrealism has donned its shield, and is now looking for a helmet big enough to suit its jarhead, determined to defend the narrow path.”

I’m not going there.  These are neither my thoughts nor my philosophy.  They are certainly not my definition of what makes one Christian.  But what is clear from Olson’s chapbook is that he struggles—as a Lutheran in a postmodern world—for life that makes sense. 

The opening poem, “Evening,” sets the tone and makes clear his voice.  “I have nothing to confess to much of anyone. . . .”   No matter how the “days linger” the thoughts of suicide (in his youth), the laughter, and “dogs/ chasing prisoners,”. . .  “I [he] can feel Him coming like shadows in the evening.”

The Christian images (images of hope) continue, alternating with pessimism (labeled by Olson as something else, I am sure).  In “Cities Of Miraculous Stone,” the reader sees believable (Christian) images in “(A foretaste of The City to come.)” and “(Until a white bird shall hover over the waters.),” and in “No question,” the lovely “The Marvelous/ is always in/ The Crucifix.”  

In “Simply Simple,” Olson talks about the people who live in the suburbs, who “roll as imperturbable stones toward Nude Jerusalem.”  He does not feel drawn to them, for “nothing can be done for them.”  In “A New Body,”  he notes that he “could have been a human being until [he] saw [his own] eyes.”   I get the feeling he thinks he is somehow better. 

One particularly disturbing poem is “State of the Union” in which Olson declares, “Protestants once lived/ a life of service,/ but ever since the Sixties/ the service has sucked.”  Note this is an observation, not a confession.  Kirby’s tone sets him apart from the “simple.”  Remember he’s a Lutheran, “defending the narrow path.”

Then suddenly, in “Who’s Counting,” a beautiful image:  A peeled orange reveals thirteen parts, “twelve disciples/ plus/ The Lord.”  But on “Trash Night” he picks up his three-year-old daughter and marvels that his children are still “happy.”  In “Winter,” he thinks with “foreboding,” almost willing “colds & headaches & fevers” upon his children, who are “excited by the snow.”  The “church” as his only “sanctuary.” But whether the “church” is the building or its members is unclear.  The postmodern world is filled with skeptics, and in a world of skeptics how can one live?

Waiting for the Rapture presents a sad portrait of someone waiting for heaven, because he has outgrown belief.   Hope is present, but sadness wins.  Olson’s clean images are overshadowed by his gloom.  He ends his chapbook with only a “nervous prayer.”   Hopefully, Olson was keeping strongly on topic and will address more optimistic aspects of life in his future endeavors.

Meanwhile, I hope Lutheran surrealism fills the God-shaped gap in Kirby Olson’s human life and that he isn’t sorry he sent me his chapbook.  Olson and I see Christianity in very different ways.

The echo of loon-calls disturbs

low-dragging swamp branches.  The man’s canoe

glides into moving crocodile shadows.  Patroller and

bloodhound stir the black water, where the runaway

.

pauses—hiding in tangles of Spanish Moss.

No sugar cane grows here,

and under the water are human bones.

The slave’s heart is racing, but he dares not pant.

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