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Slam poet ‘preaches’ truth


Louisville man spreads message to Presbyterian Center staff at chapel service

By Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service | Photos by Tammy Warren

Lance G. Newman II says that when he renamed himself Mr. SpreadLove, people started coming to his monthly slam poetry events in Louisville.

LOUISVILLE — “When King David wrote Psalm 23, did he somehow know that it would help my dad help me become a prophet?” asked the guest “preacher.”

With that, Louisville’s Lance G. Newman II, aka Mr. SpreadLove, began his slam poetry performance for worshipers at Wednesday’s chapel service at the Presbyterian Center.

In his whimsical poem, Newman played with gospel truth, revealing details of his life growing up in a Baptist church, where he had trouble staying awake during the sermons. One time his father, a Marine, woke him and said, “Find Psalm 23. And by the end of the sermon it had better be memorized.”

“So, the Lord is my shepherd, he knows I want to sleep,” Newman began.

Then Newman got to the heart of the matter, saying that he chose to not always follow the pastor’s views.

“I’m not saying the prophets were wrong, but who’s to say they didn’t attach their own intentions to God’s will?” he said, finishing his poem this way:

Maybe you made me memorize King David’s poem because you somehow knew Scripture would one day spill from my transgressions. You are truly a man of God, because he masters blessings in your punishments.

And I finally realized you weren’t trying to prove to me that the prophets didn’t attach their own intentions to God’s will; you were just helping me attach mine.

The Rev. Samuel Son invited Newman to the chapel service titled “Isaiah: The First Slam Poet.” When Son began to read Isaiah’s words as slam poetry, he says he found a new power in the words.

As the founder of SpreadLovEnterprise, Newman has been conducting poetry and creative workshops in schools, detentions and community centers in Louisville and abroad. He also hosts monthly slam poetry events. 

After attending the last two events, the Rev. Samuel Son, the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s manager of diversity and reconciliation, invited Newman to Wednesday’s chapel service, titled “Isaiah: The First Slam Poet.”

“What I found is a community created by the words of poets who often spoke of justice, that was intimately connected to their life and experience,” Son said. “They were trying to be as truthful as possible; not necessarily factual, but truthful.”

Some of the poems reminded Son of the prophets he’d read, particularly Isaiah. Son was also reminded that theologian Walter Brueggemann wanted to call the prophets poets, straight up.

Lance Newman performed two poems at Wednesday’s chapel service.

“Poets as prophets actually lets us see that they weren’t trying to warn us of danger but change us through the power of metaphors spoken publicly,” Son said.

Both Son and Newman believe that poets as prophets are always political because they voice the concerns of the marginalized and speak out for people of God, giving them a voice.

“We internalize what our people are internalizing,” Newman said.

The second poem he performed, “The Light,” is an example of that. In it, he addresses social inequities:

They put them at the lowest tier of education. Challenge less and suspend more. Make them check black at the beginning, so you know when to use your red pen more. But I switched channels and asked the panel for their opinion, because all I see are reality shows with poor people locked in a prison, as if black is not a color in the prism.

He also addresses the rising number of murders on Louisville’s west side:

I’ve been messed up about it. You can say I’ve been twisted like the tornado hit, but doubled that death toll in this district, where is our federal relief when it’s a storm in these streets? … These kids are out here carrying hammers.

Son believes that prophets are more likely to be found at slam poetry events than in pulpits. And that makes sense to Newman, because, he says, “they were outside of the church, shouting ‘No.’ ”

For Son, the key to understanding the prophets is to read their poems aloud. That’s what he did after he came home from the slam poetry events, reading passages such as Isaiah 11:6, about the wolf and lamb lying together.

“There was a power in those words I’d never felt before,” he said, “which was unleashed in the performing.”

So he read and performed these familiar words in the chapel, only it didn’t feel like he was reading them, and it wasn’t as familiar.

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him… He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance.  He will not be swayed by hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and give justice to the exploited. The earth will tremble at the wind of his word… In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together.

“It’s kind of like elephants and donkeys,” Newman said, as Son finished.  

Newman admits that when he was younger, he might have tried to stir the pot with his poems. But as he matures, he hopes that his poetry, and poems by others in Louisville, will honestly address the struggles in life for all of us.

“Louisville is the fourth most segregated city in the U.S.,” he said. “I want to give other people spoons to help mend the community that has been separated. White kids from very affluent families have seen some terrible things, too.”

Because he sees that more clearly now, Newman wants to be a representative — first for the city, and then for the demographics in his community.

The last line to “The Light” sums up his mission well:

I grew up looking suspicious, but as you can see, I don’t mind it, because there’s a light inside the darkness.

Paul Seebeck is a communications strategist for the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

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