Today I was Brave

Returning to high school teaching after a season as a stay-home-dad, David Sretenovic bit the bullet and jumped in the deep end. Hear the account of his first day, where he spontaneously performed a poem, with heart-hitting effect on his teenage audience.

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Today, I was brave. For the twenty-five minute trip to work, where I was returning to high school teaching for the first time in over two years, my creative impulse was running amok. I found myself internally preparing a spoken-word poem (rap). As an English teacher, I have this nerve-inducing inertia to red-line and stretch myself: why just read a poem if you can perform it? Rather than simply defining the elements of effective communication, deliver a speech to model them (impromptu if necessary). Fear and adrenaline flood my veins every time I find myself thinking, “Just do it, Dave.” This occasion was no exception: I’d never composed a rap in my mind, on the go, and performed it immediately without putting it to paper or practicing it.

It was a day of relief teaching (an early morning “call-up” to cover for a sick teacher), so my students were bound to be strangers to me, neither did I have any idea which subjects I would be covering. But having a poem which reflected my own personality and modelled the kind of personal expression I see at the heart of education, I felt inspired and ready to be genuine, effective and creative in whatever classroom I landed. But God lined up my ducks today: six lessons of English plus a Drama lesson – very much in my element.

Logistically speaking, the day started poorly and proceeded downhill! I found myself struggling to find resources, and the technology clearly hadn’t had its coffee. With this drain on my conscious energies, every attempt to recall the poem drew blanks. In complete scorn of these obstacles, the kamikaze in me took over and before I knew it I had added to my opening remarks, “…so I prepared a poem on the way to school, which I’d like to share with you.” Man, in moments like those, the nerves kick in – but boy do you feel alive.

Sure, this whole idea was a little unorthodox, but I saw it as a fitting way to introduce myself and my philosophy of teaching (English in particular). For the probing pedagogues pondering this pitch, the pedagogical rationale behind it is to begin soaking the students into a transformational experience; I am priming them for nothing less as they approach their own composition. So, prefacing my performance, I gave a few thoughts: English is not so much about grammar and spelling, it’s about the most important thing in the world: YOU! You have an amazing, truly unique story and perspective on life, and it’s our privilege to hear it! English is about bringing out that story and your personality, as well as enabling you to be inspired by others as hearts and minds connect.

I shared the poem in an act of raw, lived-out modelling of what I see them doing in my lessons, that is, being honest, open-hearted, and ready to explore the world of ideas with the others in the room. That is my idea of an atomic classroom: hearts and creative personalities facing challenges with passion. In sharing the poem, I endeavoured to be the first in the room to step into the chasm of self-challenge. The students got it. And followed (at least this time they did!).

It was amazing to see what some what some students composed throughout the lesson. Some very unguarded, heartfelt narratives emerged. It was exactly the pleasure I have always aspired to in the classroom: helping students smile in a moment of communicative vulnerability, and nurturing a community of peers who recognise the bravery of expression and validate individuals regardless of standards of achievement.

It’s only a short poem, but I think it had enough kick to communicate something real to the students who heard it. Here’s a link to the poem, if you want to hear it :-).

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

“The ultimate in unconditional, gospel love… at least that’s my goal.” In this spoken-word poem, David Sretenovic expresses his vision and faith for life and life after death: hope for all, bar NONE. (Video and lyrics only)

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

By David Sretenovic — November, 2016

You are free to reject this; That’s what makes it the gospel; I won’t use coercion, pure and simple; There can be no threat, if agape is in use; and risk can’t exist if omniscience and love fuse; To me the gospel’s simple: it’s unconditional love; selfless and pure, guaranteed from Above; And here’s the kicker: there’s no catch to it; You can give Christ the finger; And tell God to shove it; You’re free to curse Him; You’re free to hate; go ahead and murder Him; I’ve done worse to date; And you’re free to oppose me; You’re free to prove me wrong; if enemies abuse me, gospel love echoes-on; Attack the church; join a cult; change your gender; what’s the result?; Nothing changes from God’s POV; The gospel embraces every single body; Because God sees it coming; And technically you can’t bother; The king on his throne; Who’s got your back like a brother//

For me the Good News is that heaven is for all; Otherwise, it can’t be heaven at all; That’s the beauty of the Christian game; We all came from love and our destination is the same; If God is truly able to do as He desires; Couldn’t he choose to quench Hell’s fires?; Sure I’m not God, I can’t see beyond the grave; but I’m just not inspired unless all are saved//

Think for a moment what has captured the human mind; the most divine images your heart can find; The purity of a child; The nurture of a mother; a wild west sunset; The climax of a lover; Reading that love letter; tasting a vintage wine; memories from that picture; a symphony sublime; The love of a dog; or a campfire moment; finding a galaxy; oooh that perfume scent; Perfect geometry; sculptures of Rodin; surfing Oahu’s wave; holding her hand; Your head on his shoulder; dancing slow; That desert rose; the orchid in the snow; These are all a taste of a heaven guarantee; our souls are meant for a garden of ecstasy; This is the hope I have to share; the gospel of Christ takes us all there; And you’re free to reject it; That’s what makes it the gospel; who needs coercion? Not Christ in the Bible; The truth is that love is everywhere and nothing is at stake for a perfect God of care

Expletive Dirty Gospel (a poem by David Sretenovic)

“Expletive Dirty Gospel” — a poem expressing David Sretenovic’s take on good and evil. [Video and lyrics only].

The gospel is the best thing I know, full stop. It inspires art because art has that divine quality which allows us to convey the spiritual realities we experience via faith. Here’s a poem which explains my way of making sense of this crazy world, and the optimism which Christ has birthed in me. It’s called Expletive Dirty Gospel [Video link and lyrics below].

Peace

David Sretenovic

Expletive Dirty Gospel (a poem)

I could use an expletive to portray my emotion; And you can bet your ass I will on the right occasion; It’s really not my style but I do sense the freedom; in my cut-loose religion of personal validation; Not the type of faith that is sans the supernatural; just a set of righteous rules, plus a heavy hymnal; Of course that’s cool if you worship that way; But let me shine a little light on how my gospel brothers pray; Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; And now we art on earth because artistry is your game

I’ve discovered the craft of prayer; no longer asking “Which craft?”; since sailing to safety on my prayer-life raft; It’s the crafting of stillness; where you become the clay; which cannot tell the potter how to mold it today; It’s the craft of learning who and what we are; those two raw elements, earth and water; No wonder I sometimes get bogged in the miry clay; I’m formed from mud and will return one day; It’s a murky mess which mirrors my soul; a soily personality part good part evil

When God shaped man from the dust of the earth; he was the very first potter at work; And this divine artist truly knew his trade; a creature capable of care and corruption he made; Good and evil, water and sand; why oh why – I didn’t understand; Until I stopped, and took his hand; And he opened my eyes to what he had planned; “Dust and water,” He said, “You are”; “so both good and evil you will discover, But only one will win in the end; no angel or man can stop what I intend; All will be as I planned it would; Otherwise I lied when I said ‘It is good.’”

—By David Sretenovic, November 2016