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Malcolm M. Sedam's "Joseph"

Updated on December 4, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Malcolm M. Sedam

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Joseph"

Malcolm M. Sedam's poem "Joseph" from The Man in Motion plays out in fifteen free-verse lines. The speaker poses as the Biblical character of Joseph, husband of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in order to press his misguided opinion that even tough the virgin birth story is likely only a fable, the fact that Joseph actually attended upon the rearing of the child Jesus, Joseph, not God (or god as this speaker prefers), is the real father of Jesus—strangely referred to as "Christ" instead to the more secularized name, which the speaker would seem to prefer.

This speaker's position is likely that of an agnostic, rather than an atheist, even though he appears to enjoy what he deems the task of "myth busting" or iconoclasm. A heaping helping of hubris runs strongly through the veins of such who would myth-bust religious narrations about which they possess so little understanding. But such is the postmodernist mindset, ever a wonder unto itself.

Joseph

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:
A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

Reading of "Joseph"

Commentary

First Movement: Cosmic Drama Prophesied in Earlier Scripture

Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:

The following vitally significant lines from the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:19-20 must be recognized as the reader encounters this poem:

Then Joseph her husband, being a just man not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily.

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

In that same dream, the angel further reminded Joseph that these cosmic events had, indeed, already been revealed in prophecy, and about which Joseph himself had been aware: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son." Thus, Joseph was well aware of his role in the cosmic drama featuring the coming of the messiah, and he acted according to that role.

To the secular, postmodernist mind, the pseudo-science of Darwinian principles led to the inability to appreciate or even understand the spiritual truths explicated in scriptural texts. Materialism's chokehold on the mental processes of the postmodernist mind thus rendered the idea of virgin birth outside the real of "reason."

Not only was the concept of virgin birth therefore considered not subject to debate, but it was however subjected to ridicule and scorn.

Joseph would find such claims attributed to him as preposterous, likely wondering if the one uttering such nonsense could even read. The ancient man of wisdom could never have exclaimed, "Some things were never explained to me," because the angel, in fact, did explain everything to him.

The notion that Joseph believed Mary's condition was divinely ordained because he "chose" to believe it, not because it was true, is also preposterous. Joseph believed the virgin would give birth because an angel had explained the situation to him, and he had already been aware that the cosmic drama had been prophesied in earlier scripture.

Second Movement: Postmodern Misunderstanding of Biblical Lore

A man's biological role is small
but a god's can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth—
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

This self-professed iconoclastic speaker, attempting to pose as Joseph, remains a blind fool led astray by his own testosterone. Thus he makes ludicrous claims that bulge with a false modesty as well as unmitigated prevarication.

The speaker asserts, "A man's biological role is small / but a god's can be no more." If God's role can be no more than a man's, then it is likely that a man created the universe, and rings in the cosmos, and causes the seasons to appear on time, and the sun and moon to move with a regularity that no human being can even begin to understand!. It takes an humongous load of hubris to assert that God and man's influence on creation are the same!

And then the small-minded human secularized mind asserts in the final lines that he was always there: "I who was always there." This "I" who fed him, clothed him, taught him, nurtured his growth constitutes the vanity of inserting himself as the "I, I, I" — up to his final farcical claim, "I was the father of Christ."

Joseph, the wise man of the Bible, would find it laughable, even if in a sad way, that anyone could ever be so blinded by materialism and false science and masculine hormones as to assert such nonsense by characterizing the events of his life in such an absurd fashion.

Biographical Sketch of Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam

The late poet, Malcolm M. Sedam, exemplifies the Socratic command implied in the oft-quoted, "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Fighter Pilot

Malcolm M. Sedam served in World War II as a fighter pilot, flying bombing missions in the Pacific theatre. Then he settled down to a life in business and started a family. His war experience served to enervate him, and he began to question the efficacy of devoting his life solely to making money.

Businessman

Mr. Sedam asked himself, "How many suits can a man wear in one day?" So he decided he had to make his life about more than business and money. He returned to school, and, as William Stafford would say, he revised his life.

Teacher

Mr. Sedam traded in his life as a successful businessman to become a teacher to make his life more meaningful. He taught American history, English, and creative writing at Centerville Senior High School in Centerville, Indiana, from 1962-1964.

After receiving his M. A. degree from Ball State University, he taught at an extension of Miami University at Middletown, Ohio, until his death in 1976. Miami-Middletown offers a Malcolm M. Sedam English scholarship and awards in creative writing named for the beloved professor, the Malcolm M. Sedam Awards.

Poet

But Malcolm Sedam, called Mac by his friends, did not only serve as a teacher; he also wrote poetry and plays. He published three collections of poems: Between Wars, The Man in Motion, and The Eye of the Beholder. His play The Twentieth Mission has been performed at Playhouse in the Park, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and on many college campuses.

"It happened to me"

Mr. Sedam's second collection of poems, The Man in Motion, brings together an eclectic assemblage from the personal "Nostalgia" to the political "For Reasons Unknown." The book was published in 1971 by a small now-defunct Chronicle Press in Franklin, Ohio, but it is a smart, handsome publication, and the poems offer a delightful journey into the life of the man who flew fighter planes in World War II and then later became a teacher and poet.

In the preface, Mr. Sedam claims his poetic experience by stating, "Let me speak for my own poetry that it happened to me that I lived, enjoyed or suffered every scene and that these poems are the essence of these experiences." He was a passionate man, who demanded from himself that he live every moment to the height of its possibility.

Continuing his introduction, Mr. Sedam declares, "Hopefully, for art's sake, the poems will give pleasure and satisfaction both to the critic and the average reader, but in a test of belief, I seek that man, any man (critic or average reader) who values flesh and blood feelings above clever word manipulation." He strove always for the authentic, the genuine, to the best of his ability.

Tribute to Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam

Entering my junior year at Centerville Senior High School in the fall of 1962, I was privileged to study with a teacher, Mr. Malcolm M. Sedam, who employed collegiate pedagogical methods. His teaching style fostered critical thinking in addition to learning the facts about the subject.

The subject was American history. Mr. Sedam had served as a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater in World War II. He attributed his worldview that urged him live each moment to the fullest to his war experience; he wanted to pass that urgency on to students. Thus, he felt that critical thinking was the most important practice that high school students needed.

Conducting the required junior year course in American history as a college course, Mr. Sedam discussed each issue in detail with background information, including additional facts not dealt with in the textbook. He connected the dots, so to speak, and encouraged us to ask questions. He also allowed us to respond and make connections during class discussion. He required outside reading as well, with oral and written reports.

Testing consisted of two parts: short identification of five to seven terms and three essay topics; we were required to write on two of the three. This method required us to organize material and make connections to demonstrate that we understood what happened, how, and why—not merely when.

This method also forced us write complete sentences, instead of just selecting answers from a multiple-choice test or merely fill in blanks, as most high school tests were fashioned. This methodology gave us practice in expository writing that usually had to wait until college.

During that same school year, Mr. Sedam often ended a class session by reading his poetry to our class, and a number of students expressed interest in a creative writing class. Mr. Sedam was able to offer that creative writing class the next year, so as a senior, I again sat for a class with Mr. Sedam.

My specialty was poetry; I had dabbled in poetry writing since my grade-school days at Abington Township Elementary School. I had not really thought of what I wrote as poetry, but having a rôle model in Mr. Sedam awakened in me the aspiration to write real poetry. Mr. Sedam encouraged us to write in the genre that most interested; thus, I began my study of poetry, and I have continued studying it, writing it, and writing about it ever since those high school days.

I had the privilege of studying with Mr. Sedam for only two years in high school from 1962-1964. Mr. Sedam later became professor of English at Miami University at Middletown, OH. The following is a tribute to Professor Sedam from one of his Miami students; it appears on the Miami page titled 10 Reasons We Love Miami:

Professor Malcolm Sedam was an English professor at Miami Middletown. He taught the art of writing from the viewpoint of a life fully lived, and believed true written communication came from the soul rather than from the end of a pen. Whether he was at the head of the classroom or sharing a table in the student break area, Professor Sedam entertained us with his stories of flying P-51 Mustangs in the Pacific during World War II, his childhood experiences growing up in Indiana, and other adventures. My two years in his classroom became a place to express passionate perspectives - a skill that carried me through college, career, and life. – John Atkins '79, Stafford, Va.

It is with great appreciation for Mr. Sedam’s example and encouragement of my writing that I offer this memorial to my former American history and creative writing teacher.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes

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