POEM: Universe So Vast

I once asked God
Why did you make the universe so vast?
What were you possibly thinking?
And God said
I was kind of hoping
To have enough room
For all of the poetry yet to be written

This is a poet’s poem, in case you didn’t know it.  The universe is vast, mind-bogglingly vast.  There seems to be so much empty space, and so little to fill it.  The overwhelming majority of this space is cold, near absolute zero; and the warmth of life seems too sparse to not ask some hard questions.  The anthropic principle, “that observations of the physical universe must be compatible with the conscious life that observes it,” also suggests in its vast mathematical underpinnings that these vast amounts of space may be necessary for life to exist.  Also, humans, and human consciousness, is fittingly right in the middle of the logarithmic scale of the universe, between  the scale of subatomic “particles” and astronomical distances measured in light years.  Surely, this is an ideal perch for poets, equidistant from the mysterious veil of quantum wonders uncertain and the ponderous views of an apparently infinite universe.  And at the heart of it all, “get a job!”  And what a job the poets have: to fill the universe with poetry!

POEM: Slow Boat to China

Some days
I feel like
I’m on
A slow boat
To China
Then it hits me
More like
Being water boarded
In America

My life is generally at a pretty relaxed pace, and with this I have no complaints.  However, when I look at the state of the world, it seems that we are amidst an excruciatingly long process characterized by a big dose of denial and a shockingly resilient lack of self-awareness on the way to a place I’m sure that not very many people actually want to go.  I like the China reference in the slow boat to China phrase, because the conventional wisdom seems to be that the Chinese culture and economy is a juggernaut, not a particularly desirable one, but probably one that has to be emulated in the race to the bottom.  And, as they say: “If you keep going the same direction, you’ll end up where you’re headed.”  In the battle to maintain a positive consciousness in what seems to be a herd of lemmings heading toward a cliff, occasionally this experience fits the old war adage: hours of boredom punctuated by sheer terror.  However, when the terror and torture hits, it is increasingly in the states, both blue and red (also states of mind), as opposed to overseas.  For what we send out into the world eventually comes home to roost.  Unfortunately, terror is a brother to fascism (though I am not sure which one is the big brother).  So, how does one cope when waterboarding comes to America?  I’m guessing that the answer involves more than just surfing the internet…

Criminal Trespass: Killer Drones OR Protesting Killer Drones?

In order to welcome Vice President Joe Biden to the University of Toledo campus on the morning of October 23, 2012, for a campaign stop, I placed numerous sets of small label stickers saying, “STOP DRONE KILLINGS”, STOP WAR”, “DRONE KILLINGS PERPETUATE TERRORISM” on poles, and several [STOP] WAR stickers on STOP signs in the vicinity of the UT student union where he will be speaking.  An alert UT student, complaining of such grievous offenses, called the authorities.  No, he did not call President Obama or the Defense Department, to complain about drone killings; but rather, he called the campus police.  I was greeted by not one, not two, but three patrol cars.  I could see a certain eagerness in the UT policemen’s eyes; however, I misjudged this at first, as them largely wanting to thank me as a job creator, as I had clearly created so much work for them.  After about a half hour typing stuff into their computer, consulting with their supervisor, and writing stuff down, I was awarded a citation for trespass.  Now, this is the first citation I have received from a prestigious university, so I thought that it may merit going on my resume.  Unfortunately, it is actually only a warning, banning me from all UT campuses, including their medical center.  Apparently, this ban is for life, either of me, the University of Toledo, or the time-space continuum [editor’s note: this may actually be better termed “banned for anti-death”].  Further, upon closer inspection, if and when I violate their campus, I will be guilty of a fourth degree misdemeanor.  So, in the end, I failed to even trigger the third degree from the campus cops.  I asked the UT officer if they had any particular protocol or details related to the vice president’s visit.  The answer was “No” — but, hey, the Secret Service sure are sticklers for details, not so much details for sticklers.  Fortunately, the UT campus police did serve up a diet high in irony; which brings us to the question of the day:

Is violating the sovereignty of an ally nation, such as Pakistan, who has specifically instructed us not to trespass on their territory with unmanned killer drones, a case of criminal trespass?  Many believe it is!  Nonetheless, what legal actions have United States of America been subject to for such a case of criminal trespass?  That remains fuzzy.  However, what is now entirely clear, is that a citizen of the United States of America who protests the launching of these killer drones by placing small paper stickers on light poles and stop signs constitutes criminal trespass.  Hopefully, someday the rule of law will cover the big-ticket items as well.  Perhaps the real question for the day is: how many everyday people will need to be arrested before the big crooks of this world see justice?  I, for one, intend to find out.

P.S. In case you are keeping score — International War Crimes Tribunal: 0; Littering: 1.

If you are interesting in doing your own stickering, here is a great place to get inexpensive, bulk stickers.

POEM: I am

The other day I got kicked out
Of an atheist’s club
Told in no uncertain terms
There is science
And no other!
And I am left
To wonder
Wow, where did that come from?!
I was raised
A Christian
A long story (some may say tall)
Which makes some short
Red chapters
Heavenly verse
To love
One, an other
To bless
Not curse
A Palestinian Jew
Named Jesus
We could do much worse!
I once heard a Muslim
Of five pillars he spoke
Coming down to One
And as a Muslim
I woke
Then along came Buddha
Who said: “Don’t follow me,
Experience it first!”
Which made me want to follow
This unslakable thirst
To find compassion and justice
A home
Here on this suffering Earth
A little man
Named Gandhi
To kingdoms united
He spoke
I am
A Hindu
A Christian
A Muslim
A Jew
And undoubtedly a Sikh he
So many will accuse
Well
Me too!

I have considered myself a theological mutt as long as I can remember.  While I have never found a home in atheism, I have a deep appreciation for those who have rejected theism when they experience theistic followers as extremely unwelcoming and exclusive.  Probably one of my most basic theological beliefs is that God is love, and that God’s love is unconditional.  I find it difficult to imagine such a “condition” that is any more inclusive!  This wreaks havoc on virtually every conventional way of thinking.  This is one of the major reasons why I consider spirituality as countercultural.  A healthy spirituality is constantly turning up statist views of reality and human conditions.  I see spirituality as basically a struggle of life over death.  How does one enliven, incarnate, the inanimate matter that is the object of science (there is no subject in science!)?  I don’t see differences of opinion around spirituality primarily as theists versus atheist, but rather as fundamentalists versus welcoming dynamicists.      In the myriad world of either/or propositions, the dynamicists welcome the answer of “YES!”, as opposed to “this, “that,” or “yes, but.”  Or, more simply put, does it enhance living?  Unfortunately, living in this both/and world can be quite disconcerting for those demanding hard endpoints or absolute certainty — which are dangerous to coming to healthy terms with the irreducible uncertainties of life.  In theological terms, this would probably be called process theology, where: “it is an essential attribute of God to be fully involved in and affected by temporal processes, an idea that conflicts with traditional forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal, immutable, and impassible, but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.”  But enough theology, suffice it to say that I believe that fundamentalism is a death knell for healthy spirituality and a living religion.  Perhaps ironically, I don’t see that atheism has done any better of a job than theism of minimizing fundamentalism.  I don’t see much difference between militant atheists and fundamentalist religionists.

But, alas, such debate has being going on for millennia, and with much dissatisfaction; so I would propose that the dividing line can be summed up by the attitudes represented in one’s response to this statement by Albert Einstein: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  Or, to frame it somewhat differently, when Einstein was asked what the most important question that a human being could ask is, he answered: “Is the universe friendly?”  I don’t know if this question is answerable in some ultimate, final sense, but I do know that I can vote for the universe being friendly, and make the universe a little more friendly, by practicing kindness.  And the gratitude manifest by seeing everything as a miracle helps empower me to behave kindly.  But, you be the judge…or not.

POEM: Entitled to be Untitled

Your life is a work of art
Entitled to be untitled

Your life is beautiful.  Your life is a work of art.  Your life cannot be reduced to a thing; it is irreducibly mysterious.  Any label is inadequate.  I have an ever-growing appreciation that people are eccentric, a unique and eclectic collection of gloriously contradictory characteristics. If you don’t believe that someone is eccentric, then you probably don’t know them well enough!  So, whatever you call me…don’t call me late for dinner!

POEM: A Taste for Happiness

Dining with Kings and Queens
Courtly balls
Knightly duels
And priestly indulgences
You can avoid it all
If only you are happy
Eating beans

This short poem goes out to all of those people who feel conflicted about all the contradictions in politics, especially during election season; contradictions about power and so-called “lesser evils.”  I find great comfort and happiness in the project of simplifying my life.  When it comes to politics and doing the right thing, I believe that the complexity of Western civilization offers a vast array of temptations to disorder our collective lives by mis-ordering our values.  In this regard, I see the value of simplification as keeping in proper order and priority a relatively few core values, and not letting these values be undercut by however tempting sophistication, pomp, and circumstance.  On a more practical note, I believe that leading a simple lifestyle materially is a great aid in minimizing the myriad of temptations to introduce personal bias into issues of power and control.  The simple fact is that the less we require materially, the less that our spiritual resources and spiritual center will be challenged by material needs.

This poem was inspired by a Sufi story of Nasrudin who is eating a poor man’s diet of chickpeas and bread.  His neighbor, who also claimed to be a wise man, was living in a grand house and dining on sumptuous meals provided by the Emperor himself.  His neighbor told Nasrudin, “if only you would learn to flatter the Emperor and be subservient like I do, you would not have to live on chickpeas and bread.”  Nasrudin replied, “and if only you would learn to live on chickpeas and bread, like I do, you would not have to flatter and live subservient to the Emperor.”

Maybe you don’t think this story is worth beans.  Maybe this poem, my two cents, seems irrelevant.  But, I am in good company:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’ ” (Mark 12:41-44, NIV)

Do not be deceived: wealth and poverty, power and politics, is not about money and its many denominations; it’s about something much deeper, much richer.

POEM: Spiritual Economy

The other day I went to my spiritual economist
She had already been in receipt of my stack of papers
I spoke at some length and detail
She noted that I have much that I can not afford
She advised that I do the things that I can’t afford not to do
Perhaps I’ll make a note of that

The world has a glut of financial advisors.  And most of the field of financial advising is awash in the stale conventional wisdom of materialism.  This short poem alludes to going to a somewhat different type of advisor.  Though not necessarily the life coaches of the day that can only be afforded by the wealthy.  Instead, in addressing one’s spiritual economy, the adviser shifts the focus from those things which one cannot afford to those things which one can’t afford not to do.  Given the busy lives that most of us leave, the urgent favors the important. Of course, the most important things in our lives are those that if we don’t do them, then we would either experience substantial harm or miss out on substantial benefit.  What exactly those things are can be very personal — not usually something related to making a buck, or something that requires a lot of money.  It may be writing that poetry that you always wanted to write.  It may be looking up an old friend and reconnecting. It’s a question that you alone can answer.  And there are precious few people who get paid to even ask such questions, let alone answer them.  But, if you’re fortunate enough to identify some of the things you can’t afford not to do, and these things bring a smile of anticipation, you are definitely on the right track.

POEM: Bull Shit

There are two things I know for sure
One, I am way too old for this bull shit
Two, I am way too young for this bull shit
Okay, it’s more
Like one thing

In my college freshman english class, I wrote an essay where I quoted Ernest Hemingway, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector.”  In a weird twist of irony, my professor thought that I made this up, that it was bull shit. Even more ironic, running into people who see the truth as bull shit seems to be as common of an impediment in life as encountering people who see bull shit as the truth.  There seems to be a large supply of denial available for coping with inconvenient truths.  Also, it seems that cognitive dissonance plays a large role in people sticking to bull shit beliefs even when facing fairly accessible truths.  It seems that the economy of the mind finds it much more efficient to jettison inconvenient truths if accepting them requires a substantial amount of reworking one’s own thinking.  I suspect that most of us are old enough to be capable to see through most of the bull shit flying about.  Hopefully, most of us are young enough to reject the lazy ease of settling for a world where bull shit is often the foundation of our reality.

POEM: No Longer on Speaking Terms with God

I am no longer on speaking terms with God
She keeps pouring drink into my cup overflowing
And I no longer have the heart to say when
Only ever with a rye smile
Would she say to me “eat me”
She is so much better bred than that
She is the host for me
And not often best served en masse

Words and rituals will always fall short of the true glory of God.  However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t experience God in a rich and robust way.  With tongue-in-cheek, God “rudely” keeps heaping blessings upon me, in such a way that if I fully take it in, then I will likely appear as a babbling drunk in most any conventional setting.  I’m not sure what more to say, except that I am eager for my next visit to God’s speakeasy!

POEM: Text Message From Rumi

I got a text message from Rumi:
big screen tv died
whole world looks like 3D
brb
That was over a thousand years ago

Real life is infinitely more fascinating than virtual life.  It’s like trying to compare 3D to 2D: there aren’t really words adequate for it.  Rumi’s timeless message is embedded in a short story encompassing modern times.  The instant text messaging and big screen televisions may draw us into their world.  Nevertheless, the whole world will eventually have its day; and if it’s a good day, it can last a thousand years – even given the worst of intentions.

FREE POSTER: Throwing Baby Out With Bathwater

This free poster is my commentary on tonight’s first Presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.  I’m guessing that this may be the best we can expect.  And yes, I am an optimist!  Just saying…

Throwing baby Out with Bathwater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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