Toledo Democracy Day Testimony: Focus on Racism, White Supremacy

Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up.  The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.

Democracy Day Testimony

March 5, 2018

Hi, my name is Dan Rutt.  Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.

I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues.  It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like.  Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system.  Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans.  Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites.  Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods.  Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era.  Racism is not receding into the distance.

Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society.  At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole.  And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes.  The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.

Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison.  As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared.  The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice.  The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life.  Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man?  Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men?  Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces.  He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses.  This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo.  Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?

I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.

A view from the top may be most illustrative.  During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color.  This included our former mayor and our new mayor.  The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst.  There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions.  And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.

All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society.  I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism.  I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice.  Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group.  I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.

I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city.  Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.

Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail.  I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money.  This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money.  We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism.  This is the $100 million question of the day.  Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.

To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system.  THANK YOU.

ANTI-FASCISM POEM: In Efface of Creeping Fascism

He was a custom
Too accept
That creep
Of fascism
Without a furor
Picking wons
Posedly agin
And agin
Sow frayed
Peering opposed
Laws and orders
As just
Be for
It’s too late
In efface of populations abashed
In habiting legions of apprehensions
With all
Act right
A weigh
Even as if
On won soul

got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThis anti-fascism poem was inspired by some recent situations in my life and my reflection on the endemic response of many to use the rubric of “picking one’s fights” to avoid pushing back against creeping fascism.  My most recent experience with creeping fascism was on a long bus trip when a U.S. Border Patrol agent boarded the bus during a layover at a station in the middle of the night.  The agent asked some riders “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  First, this was odd because we were in Rochester, New York, several hours from the Canadian border (a known backdoor for alien entry); and the bus had been in the Buffalo station, which is much closer to the Canadian border.  I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONThe Border Patrol agent was profiling passengers and he never asked me, a white guy, anything.  The agent also did not ask for identification or “papers,” so he was not very rigorous in this fishing expedition.  Perhaps this was a tip of the hat to the honest-faced people he was profiling, but I strongly suspect that the primary purpose was actually to make people afraid rather than nab aliens or criminals.  QUESTION AUTHORITY Before It Questions You POLITICAL BUTTONAs this agent was questioning passengers, I was pondering what to say if he asked me the loaded question: “Do you mind telling me your country of origin?”  Of course, I minded.  Refusing to answer the question was my first preference.  I could answer honestly, that I was born in Haiti.  Perhaps I could reveal to him that I am a convicted felon.  Maybe I could let him know that I detest creeping fascists.  But, alas, I didn’t fit his middle-of-the-night profile.  Perhaps us hippies are going to have to work harder to make the list.

A Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTONI was somewhat surprised and very much creeped out by this incident, but it has increased my resolve to push back against creeping fascism at every opportunity.  As luck would have it, I arrived back in Toledo early morning Tuesday, in time for our weekly Trump Tuesday protest outside Sen. Rob Portman’s office and his aid happened to be available that day to speak with a group of us.  So, I was able to share this story of the Border Patrol agent on the bus.  Plus, us Trump Tuesday protesters had been experiencing ongoing creeping fascism in the form of building security arbitrarily limiting only four of us in the lobby at any one time to fill out comment sheets for Sen. Portman.  While there was an alleged policy regarding this, I suspect it never existed, nor could it hold up to constitutional muster.  One Nation Under Surveillance POLITICAL BUTTONThis alleged policy apparently applied to an identifiable group of people peaceably assembling, not, for instance to a dozen apparently random people in the lobby.  The lobby security guard didn’t like us, and he spoke demeaningly, especially to the women protesters.  Most of the protesters complied with this arbitrary restriction by herding only four people at a time into the lobby.  However, I made a point of filling out a comment sheet only if I could be a fifth person.  I never got any hassle for doing this, but if I had, I would of insisted on seeing a written policy.  For whatever reason, there was a new security guard in the lobby.  The new security guard didn’t care how many of us came into the lobby.  As five of us entered, I declared the new reality, “We now have 25% more democracy!”

Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere POLITICAL BUTTONBeside directly oppressing target groups, creeping fascism has the nefarious side benefit of training others to tolerate little creeps of fascism that may seem uncivil to resist.  I find this a good example of how our quest for propriety can interfere with simple, and small, moral actions.  Perhaps ironically, resisting these little creeps may bring about disproportionately large consequences.  I contend that this disproportionality is the best evidence for an unjust situation and social control through intimidation.  Unfortunately, the risk of disproportional consequences is the very reason that people often cite for not resisting, and in solemn pronouncements of practicality state, “You have to pick your battles.”  Of course, you do.  Though I prefer to call them opportunities.

Feel free, to browse my anti-fascism designs.

POEM: This Is Knot Poetry — When Red Allowed

Waiving his red pen
He made his mute point
That spoken word is knot poetry
Like meting
Meter and anti-meter
And the invariable deconstruction of awe
As if
Employing free
The hire mind
For awe
That its worth
Save in alliteral weigh
Bringing too bare
Undisciplined obscenities uddering
As opposed to the ladder
As any won
May eye
Make this suggestive
Perhaps you’s
An unpronounceable cymbal farmerly no’in as prints
Pulling weeds
Of biblical pro portion
Fore whatever
It maybe worth
There is know space
Between poetry and knot poetry
Between amateurs and prose
Knot that which isn’t
Nor which is
The wurst
I ever metaphor
Call me
I am
An outspoken unspoken word artist
Unspellbound in my crappy weighs
And should upon
In the coming daze
Sow called poets anon meet
As shepherds to sheep affix
Due the write thing
Feel free
To shut the flock up

This poem was inspired by a blog article that a friend shared, entitled, “Spoken Word Is Not Poetry.”  My immediate response was simple: “I find it helpful to see everything as poetry.”  Of course, this is the gloriously useless mode of perception I aspire to use awe the time.  However, this poem represents a more detailed critique of the assertion that spoken word is not poetry. The author of this article pined that many readers at open mics are not trained poets and typically use free verse or prose poetry.  I must confess: I am an untrained poet, except by my tutelage under various muses.  Further, the often quick use of vulgarities offended the author’s parently higher sensibilities.  I strongly suspect that the work of any poet or poets is never complete as truth in word, as opposed to doing the deed in life, because life is F’ing ineffable.  Claiming that spoken word is performance art, which it is, seemed to be a means to taint spoken word artists as something other than poets. I certainly don’t mind being seen as more than a poet!  I wonder if the author would consider a novelist not a novelist if they read their work aloud — that would be a novel idea!  I related to the author’s point that an important part of poetry is the relationship of the reader to the written word without being nailed down by a verbal representation (or layering upon it performance art).  Most of my poems are best read silently, to allow for the multiple interpretations and meanings to brew within the reader; this process is at the heart of my poetry.  I find it difficult to read many of my poems out loud because I must pick one way to read the poem which inevitably shortchanges the beauty of dancing multiple meanings.  I must admit that when it comes to my poetry I am conveniently an anarchist, formally rejecting socially constructed boundaries of form. I do not doubt that the many fine forms of poetry developed over centuries are worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, I consider deflating pretensions as fodder for my poetic vocations.  If this itself seems pretentious, please feel free to take a meta view of my sow-called poems as self-parody.  At the end of my daze, I want parity for awe.

POEM: Promedica My Ass — Owed To Branding

Logos used
Too mean
Know ledge
Like that age owed ad vice
Would you jump off a bridge
If every won ails did
As in sayin’
Bye your good will
As money oozes from the non-prophet, health care (sic) system
The sores of philandering philanthropy
Well, come to PR medica
An unholy owned subsidiary
Of Tourette’s Industries
You will swear
Buy them
Weather you want to or not
Their marketing deportment is
As good as goaled
As black as poets inc
Greasing their wills
Stuck with irresistible pitch
As verbally contracted
Not worth the pay per
Printed upon
Yet this awe
Will in deed
Make it passable to live
As resistance is feudal
And being
Is what poets due
Sow branded
As live stock
For tolled
Too get a rise
The Tao jones
Working in our flavor
Over and over and over
Un-till bank rolled
In a dark ally
Buy and buy
Hour justifiable salivation
Attending too in trap meant anon
Agin and agin and agin
Fore the yoke is on-us
Awe the more
Fore the fire brand
Not with standing
In a flesh of genius
Is incensed
As won red scent
Becomes too
Until udderly crying out
In an unherd-of steer
I love the smell
Of nay palm
In the mourning
High noon
And too fly by night
Sullen this, sullen that
Soully worried
How irate
In some won ails size
Butt, its my skin in the game
Lonely hoping
Knot to be found
Within and without
My pants around my knees
As its only
My panties in a bunch
Awe that madders
Poetic license
And corporate patronage
Some body
Has to
Pay the piper
To keep your roost ere plumbed
As upright as it comes
Why cant you
Say “uncle”
You know
Like that rich uncle
Who wants you
To sit on his lap
And tell you
Bed time
That will mark you for life
Butt kept mysteriously in a family weigh
As long
As in your genes
As in c’est la vie
Or sow, I’ve herd
As if
We are posed to be prod
Of being cattle
Scarred I’ll go
All Gandhi on you as
BE the beef
Awe the wile beating a different conundrum
Refraining that whole eat me thing
The mark of the best (sic)
Or rather sic sic sic’s
Sow fresh and hoary unholy revelations
Indulging vain wishes for dead presidents
And CEOs
Men of letters posterior to autograft
In playing defense
At my offense
With such propriety, proprietary and property
For my own good, posedly
Their mirror deflection
But, but, but, but, but
Except two a t
And so
I’m bare assed
And without
They’re money
You’re nothing butt
A bum
And the rush
Too be just

I am not a big fan of branding, whether it is of livestock or in corporate public relations. I was inspired to write this poem because at a regular monthly poetry reading they secured a small amount of funding to pay invited featured poets. Will Work For Universal Health Care POLITICAL BUTTONThe source of funding included local community foundations plus the nearly ubiquitous ProMedica, the largest health system within the Toledo region.  I have come to call Promedica, “PR Medica,” because of its often over-sized logo and branding in Toledo, aka ProMedica-ville, is nearly omnipresent in venues big and small.  I found its intrusion into the local poetry scene offensive, particularly because I am an iconoclastic, anti-commercial poet who specializes in addressing social justice issues.  This was a little too close to home for me.  I announced before my open mic reading that I did not want to be considered as an invited poet.  I suggested that to de-commercialize this reading, sending back the portion payed for by ProMedica, along with a strongly worded letter (might I suggest F and U), would be in order.

This is not the first time that I have unleashed my poetic visions against ProMedica.  The first time I devoted a poem to ProMedica was when they sponsored a state-wide poetry contest on the topic of anti-hunger with an honorarium to the winning poet that would befit and maintain the status of starving artist.  My unsubmitting, unremitting poem: Speaking With Spoken Sword: Owed To Hungering Fore Anew ProMedica.

Health Care is a Right Not a Privilege - PUBLIC HEALTH BUTTONSingle-Payer Health Care - Everybody In, Nobody Out POLITICAL BUTTONProMedica, if you want to combat hunger, pay all of your employees a living wage.  ProMedica, if you want to fulfill your mission and redeem your non-prophet status, devote 0.01% of your revenue toward advocating for universal health care, everybody in, nobody out.  Until then, you can bye this poet all you want.

A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

Bee Sting Allergic Reaction Health Care Experience Number Three

On Monday, July 17, 2017, I was stung by a yellow jacket. I am allergic to bee stings and the like. This is the third time I had been stung by a bee since I found out that I was allergic to bee stings [see here for account and poem about previous bee sting]. If untreated, a bee sting would cause anaphylactic shock and probably death. The first line of treatment for bee stings in people who are allergic to bee stings is an injection of epinephrine. This can prevent the onset of anaphylactic shock.

Fortunately, I had an epinephrine autoinjector. Unfortunately, this autoinjector had been expired for two years. I had not refilled a prescription for a new epinephrine autoinjector, since the most common brand, Epipen, which has 95% of the United States market, has in recent years been price gouging consumers who rely on such a life-saving device and insurance companies who may pay for it. I could not bring myself to be held hostage to a price gouging pharmaceutical company, even though my insurance would pay 100% of the cost. Since acquiring the company that manufactured EpiPens, the new company (Mylan) kept raising the price until it was 600% more than the original price. Such entrepreneurial genius was rewarded even more by granting the CEO of the new company a 700% pay increase. Not being a complete fool, I had researched if expired epinephrine autoinjectors retained their effectiveness past their expiration date. I found that given reasonable storage temperatures, the bulk of their effectiveness was maintained even years past the expiration date. Thus, I decided to wait until alternative products were available or until the offending price gouging company made their price reasonable.

So, back to the story. After being stung, I looked quickly in the neighbors driveways to see if a car was there and somebody might be home who might be able to drive me to the emergency room. No such luck. So, I injected myself with the epinephrine autoinjector. Since I don’t have a car, I rode my bike to the emergency room at St. Vincent Hospital about a mile and a third from my home where I was stung. It was a nice sunny day in the low 80s. I rode there vigorously on my bike. I was feeling pretty well and had no welts blooming like in my two previous bee sting occurrences.

When I walked into the emergency room, there were two people at the desk and one clerk. After waiting a few seconds after receiving no greeting or acknowledgement of my presence, I asked if somebody was available to provide medical triage for me. I indicated that I had been stung by a bee, that I was allergic, and that I was in danger of going into anaphylactic shock. The clerk called for another person. This person turned out to be another billing clerk. This person took my personal and health insurance information and asked no information about my current emergency. This person walked me through two big double doors into a hallway where I was told to sit on a gurney and wait for help. I was left unsupervised. I was in partial line of sight of the emergency room nurses station. After sitting there for a few minutes, a man in scrubs moved into my view. I asked him if I could get some help, and asked him somewhat facetiously if this was an “emergency” room. He very nonchalantly said that he would see if somebody could assist me. Some minutes later, someone came to ask me questions. They took me into an emergency room examining room. This was about 10 minutes after I had walked through the front door.

They immediately hooked me up to many of the usual devices, such as a finger oxygen monitor, a blood pressure monitor, and EKG leads. Eventually, they gave me an IV. Apparently, my heart was racing, not too surprising since I was having a serious allergic reaction, had an epinephrine injection and a vigorous bike ride. However, the EKG showed abnormalities, which they diagnosed as atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is where the upper chambers of the heart send signals sporadically so smooth, coordinated, regular blood flow is impaired. My heart rate was moving back and forth from about 80 or 90 up to about 160, which is my maximal heart rate. To my knowledge, I had never previously experienced atrial fibrillation. They were concerned that this may be an underlying condition, triggered by the stress of the sting allergic reaction, and/or the epinephrine, possibly in conjunction with vigorous exercise. I indicated to the nurse that if I should die that they should throw my dead body on the lawn of the corporate headquarters of the pharmaceutical company practicing price gouging for epinephrine autoinjectors, i.e., EpiPen made by Mylan pharmaceuticals.

While they were monitoring the atrial fibrillation situation, they asked if I wanted an ice pack for the bee sting site on the back of my hand which was red and swollen. I said “sure.” They brought in an elongated icepack about 3 inches wide and 15 inches long. Oddly, the covering seem to be somewhat insulated so the cold didn’t seem very cold. The physician noted that this device was meant for another purpose — though she did not indicate what purpose. My hand wasn’t suffering too badly so I didn’t worry about it much. It just struck me oddly that’s some ice in a plastic bag would have done nicely at probably a thousandth of the cost.

At about 50 minutes after arriving in the emergency room, I was given prednisone, a steroid to keep the swelling down and fight back the allergic reaction. Fortunately, I was not blooming in welts as in my two earlier experiences with bee sting reactions, both of which were not initially treated immediately with epinephrine.

Their primary concern seemed to be the atrial fibrillation, which they continued to monitor. I half-jokingly submitted that the atrial fibrillation may simply be due to my broken heart over the Senate Republican health care bill. The doctor did not disagree. The supervising physician first recommended that I’d be admitted for further testing and observation. After some questioning about the nature of this, I pushed back somewhat, partially based on my two previous experiences at the same ER and hospital where I was hospitalized for further testing and observation and my experience proved that this was not useful and perhaps even hampered by treatment and recovery. I have recorded one of these bee sting experiences elsewhere in my blog.

Eventually, after the atrial fibrillation did not resolve on its own, they gave me some heart medicine, and within five minutes or so, my heart settled down. While this atrial fibrillation event lasted for quite a while, perhaps an hour and a half or so, I was feeling pretty well physically and mentally, with only one five or 10 second bout of heart racing where I felt moderately distressed — but, then again, I don’t get distressed too easily.

The doctor indicated that my thyroid stimulating hormone test was high normal, that is, 4.75 in a normal range of 0.5 to 5.0. They thought that this might be a possible indicator for low thyroid activity which could contribute to an atrial fibrillation condition. They asked that I be retested in three months. They were encouraged by the fact that I had no other risk factors and was in excellent general health.

They ended up discharging me without any additional request for my hospitalization. This pleased me. I was glad to be saved a day locked up in a hospital. I was glad to have likely saved the health care system another few thousand dollars. Plus, I was planning to attend a health-care protest the following day at noon, where I had planned to read a poem I composed specifically for that event, dedicated to our own Sen. Rob Portman, who has been equivocating over how many millions of Americans losing their health insurance is acceptable.

In the discharge process, I requested a refill prescription of my epinephrine autoinjector, given that it was a generic or less expensive competitor than from the EpiPen manufacturers. I indicated that I had done some research on this before, and that if they wrote the prescription more generically such as epinephrine autoinjector rather than by a brand name, then a less expensive version may be available. They researched this and discovered that only one local pharmacy chain carried a less expensive version. This wasn’t my usual pharmacy, but it was about the same distance from my home. The less expensive version was $109 versus the up to $600 for the EpiPen.

I am very grateful that this bee sting occurrence ended up being less serious as far as the allergic reaction than in my two previous occurrences.  Apparently, my two-year expired epinephrine autoinjector worked just fine. I’ll have to wait and see if this atrial fibrillation occurrence is due to an underlying condition or simply brought on by the very stressful conditions of an allergic reaction, epinephrine and vigorous exercise. I am still aghast that in none of the three times I’ve gone to this same emergency room have I received prompt medical triage. It seems to me that without prompt medical triage, it is somewhat difficult to actually consider your emergency room an actual “emergency” room. Sadly, they are quite efficient at getting your billing information promptly, but it as to dealing quickly with whatever emergency you are presenting with, that is another and another and another story.

Democracy Day : 5 Minutes of Democracy

Free Speech Zone POLITICAL BUTTONToday is Democracy Day, mandated by a people’s resolution to Toledo City Council, spearheaded by Toledo Move To Amend, declaring that corporations are not people and money is not free speech.  Today’s forum in Toledo City Council chambers, albeit with only a small fraction of City Council members, gave voice to a sampling of Toledo’s own citizens.  Here is the satirical testimony that I delivered for my five sacred minutes:

Five Minutes of Democracy

Greetings rulers and subjects, the subject today is democracy.  My name is Dan Rutt.  Though, I am considering selling my naming rights to either Jeep or ProMedica, because seriously, who is Dan Rutt?!  Don't Explain Your Philosophy, Embody It POLITICAL BUTTONAnd, unfortunately, a shadowy group of local lobbyists secured the rights to “Krogering.”  So expect plenty more “Krogering”…but not from me.

Of course, plenty of naming rights are still in play.  In deference to those from that progressive demographic who love hyphenated names I might prefer selling my naming rights to Davis-Besse.  Plus, I could get a bonus for catering to the regional governance and nuclear family demographics.  But alas, Davis-Besse may very well be decommissioned.  Apparently, that whole “too cheap to meter” thing turned out to be a lie, after all these decades.  And in this era of tight budgets, there is only enough political capital to afford one last billion dollar bailout to bury this mistake.  But sleep tight fellow citizens and helpless ratepayers!  Rest assured that there will be a special glow for you and a thousand generations from the heart of this beloved nuclear reactor…But I digress…keep your eye on…well…pretty much anything else.

Welcome to Democracy Day — presided over by the finest government money can buy.  Of course, our fine government might be different than those “other” governments.  Today, I am asking that we keep an open mind that our government might not actually be the best that money can buy.

Democracy: Some Assembly Required - POLITICAL BUTTONSo, what does democracy look like?  I have a long view of democracy, that looks something like making decisions based on how it affects people seven generations from now, that noble concept brought to us by fine native peoples who we so conveniently committed genocide against to occupy this land.  But I have been charged to ask “What does five minutes of democracy look like?”  This brief view is something more of a commercial.  So, if any of you need to go to the bathroom or need a snack, now would be a good time for that.

Besides dreaming of bigger cages and longer chains, I have three proposals:

Proposal 1:  I am asking City Council to commission a study to determine how much money it would take to get money out of politics.

Might I suggest a consultant that is not too cheap, so as to appear unworthy of listening to, or a consultant that is too pricey, so as to appear extravagant.

What do we want?  Another study.  When do we want it?  When we can afford it.

Frankly, I am much more interested in the stuff we can’t afford not to do.

My second proposal is to establish a democracy museum, to preserve whatever vestiges of democracy that remain.  This could be a public-private partnership that would reflect the share of democracy that is controlled by the public and private sectors, say 10% public and 90% private.  To honor the vital 10% of democracy that is publicly controlled, we could have that reflected in the naming rights, which, of course, are necessary to fund such ventures.  For instance, we would not have the 5/3 Democracy Museum, but rather the 4.5/3 Democracy Museum to preserve that sacred public trust.

Democracy: Some Assembly Required--POLITICAL BUTTONThis democracy museum could offer many opportunities to safeguard our notion of democracy.  For instance, we could preserve uncounted provisional ballots, for the posterity that they are worth.  We could display the many rubber stamps used to approve the corporatist agenda.

Being the Glass City, I’d suggest another glass museum.  But, while we may be able to afford to do the same thing over and over again, I suspect that “democracy” might not be able to afford the transparency of a glass museum.  Either way, we should have lots of windows to accommodate all of those beloved window dressings of which our politicians are so fond.

Well, you get the picture…well, OK, in museums you can’t get the actual picture.  But…I trust that there will be a reasonable facsimile available for sale in the gift shop.  And remember, there are only 365 shopping days until next democracy day.  But be patient, very patient in this sick political system.

Oh victims of oligarchy, be patient, I have come to save the day!

Oh victims of corporatocracy, be patient, I have come to save the day!

Oh victims of plutocracy, be patient, I have come to save the day!

Oh victims of kleptocracy, be patient I have come to save the day!

I have come to save the day, I have come to save the day!

Buy saving this day, democracy day, each year for 365 years, we will have saved up enough democracy for a democracy year.  So, based on these patient patients of a sick political system, I offer my third proposal.  I ask City Council, to declare the year 2382, 365 years from now, as democracy year.  Surely, such completely incredible long-term vision will not go unrewarded!

Washington And Wall Street Have All The Money And Power, The Media, The Courts And The Police -- All We Have is 300 Million People -- Do The Math POLITICAL BUTTONBut alas, if there are any spare seconds from my five minutes of democracy, I could ask for a moment of silence, remembering that we have the right to be silent.  But, while we have the right to remain silent, I wouldn’t recommend it.  So, in that mean time, while we wait for our rulers to rule well, let us never forget: We are what democracy looks like  — an assembly of real people, not corporate “persons”.  Power to the people.  Power to real people. THANK YOU!

Exercise the First Amendment - Use It or Lose It - POLITICAL BUTTON

Local, Low-Cost, Publishing Now Offered For Toledo Poets and Authors

Top Pun Publishing - A Lot Local, A Little Loco - Offering Local, Low-cost, Low-run PrintingI am delighted to announce a new service for Toledo area poets and authors to publish their work.  I now offer inexpensive, short-run printing of bound books.  If you are a Toledo area poet or author looking for an inexpensive way to get your poetry or writing published, this new service might work for you.  With a minimum run of only 10 books, you can get started without a big investment, and order only how many you need when you need them.

For years, I have self-published very small runs of my annual poetry collections for family Christmas gifts.  Now, I would like to take advantage of my businesses printing and binding capabilities to help out local poets and authors.  As my publishing mission states, this service is “A lot local, a little loco.”  To serve local authors and save on shipping costs, I only offer pick-up.  While I run an international e-commerce business, shipping everywhere and anywhere, I am increasingly working on living and working local.  The loco part is longstanding and holding steady.  Since I’ve been car-less for the last couple years, my experiment in living local has been kicked into high gear — that would be a bike gear by the way.  I look forward to partnering with Toledo area poets and authors to get their work out there.  Live local!  Live loco!

Pushing Buttons of Intellectual Property

I occasionally run across my graphics on the web, swiped without permission; sometimes even on products for sale.  I have yet to take much action, let alone sue anybody, regarding any such nominally illegal use.  Most of this is because the mission of my busyness is to maximize prophets, and maximizing profits is much less close to my heart.  Plus, I don’t suspect that anyone else is making much money — either —  on such efforts.  If I should incidentally be a job creator, then so be it.  I’m not actually much of a fan of intellectual property, particularly when the primary purpose of that work is the common good.  Insisting on privatizing profit in working for the public good seems like a cumbersome barrier to transmitting work for the public good.  Soul Proprietor -- Too Small to FailThis is part of my being the change I want to see in the world.  If I should find myself working for more than poverty wages, expect a tsunami of free buttons, etc.  Now, like righteousness, expect merely an ever-flowing stream.  As soul proprietor, I take pride in being a terrible businessman in most any traditional sense.

I occasionally get requests to use my graphics for a web site or other purpose.  I have had no objections yet to these requests, though I often ask for a link or some modest recognition of my work.  I suspect for every one of these requests there is a thousand uses of my copyrighted work.  If you are going to copy, copy right!My basic request is declared on my website: “If you are going to copy, copy right!”  Or, as even more congruous with my mission: “All Writes Unreserved!”All Writes Unreserved!  I find great compensation in seeing my work strewn throughout the web, whether used with permission or not.  As the unattributed saying by my favorite author, anonymous, goes: plagiarism is the highest form of flattery.

Yesterday, I got a call from Sela Moser, who was active in the Occupy movement in Kentucky.  She had made a sign (pictured) which reportedly went viral: “I don’t mind you being rich. I mind you BUYING MY government!”  Actually, I’m not a big fan of being rich in a world with so many material needs, so I’ll definitely give her primary ownership of that sentiment.  Of course, what struck a chord for me was the abomination anyone of buying a government intended by the people, for the people, and of the people.  THANKS, Sela!  She proffered some attachment to her intellectual ownership of this slogan, so I offered her 20 buttons with this slogan as recompense.  She gracefully accepted.I Don't Mind You Being Rich, I Mind You Buying My Government - POLITICAL BUTTONI searched my sales records and it looks like I have not sold any buttons with this design.  So, while electronic memes in the virtual world may be become virulent, when incarnated into the real world, incurring a cost greater than a click, they travel much more slowly.  May these first of a kind buttons in the real world stimulate productive thought, discussion, and action — even nowhere near the vicinity of a computer.


UPDATE — February 14, 2017

I had a quote in my peace/anti-war design collection, “War is not healthy for children and other living things” which I attributed to Lorraine Schneider. This quote was popularized in the 1960’s as part of an infamous sunflower graphic created by her [image not shown without permission]. My quote design was simply a solid color background. This illicited the following e-mail:

You sound like a righteous guy and your website is very entertaining. BUT you cannot use Lorraine Schneider’s work. She donated it to Another Mother for Peace and her design and words are trademarked… since the 1960’s. Please stop selling AMP trademarks. Want more info? Let us know, but you have take down everything on your website with our trademarks. Bill Donnelly, AMP Treasurer

So…I had a little fun with it. Here was my response:


After consulting my illegal department, I am delighted to obey your demands regarding the offending quote. As a long-time peace profiteer, the competitive environment surrounding peacemongers is legendary. Providentially, with the mission of my busyness as maximizing prophets, I am notoriously poor, concerning maximizing profits. You may be pleased to no that I have failed completely to transmit the aforementioned graven image on any of my products hawked to confederates. If you further judge that in virtual reality I have perpetrated some additional harm, please let me know how I may dis-harm you. I trust that your intellectual property rights will find more value residing solely in the rich environment of Beverly Hills, CA, as opposed to sojourning via the impecunious Toledo, OH. It has been a pleasure not doing business with you.

In parity,

Dan Rutt, alias “Top Pun” (it’s just, my pun name)
Soul Proprietor & Another Fodder For Peace — Maximizing Prophets

First Place - Noncompetitiveness


Only 666 Shopping Days Left Until Armageddon

POEM: Colloquial He

1. He lived
2. In a particular time
3. In a particular place
And one
Of his many editors
Proferred the generic claim
Putting fourth
That he rote
And to this brand of righting
He gave his highest, a word
And thank you awe
For such an empyreal suggestion
And complimentary red pen

This poem harkens back to a comment I had from an editor of my college newspaper, of which I was a columnist.  She noted that “I wrote colloquially.”  I think that this was meant as a negative critique.  I noted that I like to write colloquially.  How quaint.

One thing I find funny about this exchange is that to in order say that I wrote using regional language or the expressions of a particular time and place, she had to use, what in the vernacular might be said to be a “two-dollar word,” a word like “colloquial.”  I use two-dollar words frequently, and even fashion new priceless words as I seize fits.  Though, for awe of these two-dollar words and priceless locution locution locution, like Forrest Gump observed, I haven’t seen any of that money.

Another thing funny about this exchange was that she made this comment from across the great inland sea known as Lake Michigan, she studying in an off-campus internship in Chicago, and I in Holland, Michigan, on the Hope College campus.  To many of us hackneyed Midwesterners, we can drum up little reverence for the cosmopolitan weighs of metropolitan elites, of which she may have come under their sway.  We inherently trust real people and are casually suspicious of wannabes, who more often than not are going no place better, but much faster.

As a recovering abstract intellectual, I can relate to the quest for universality.  Nonetheless, I have found that this often degrades beautiful local realities and majestically loco characters.  Wherever we live, we live in local circumstances.  Live and Let Live SPIRITUAL BUTTONI seek to live into my singular circumstances without any particular imperial ambitions.  I will not insist that you misunderstand me in a certain way.  Still, I am open to empyreal suggestions…

POEM: Lost And Found

Sum wear
Long the weigh
Countless souls
Their sense of humor
Only too end up
Way to Sirius
Occupying that eternal box
Under the counter
Only willing
To pass it long
To whom sow ever
Claims it for their owin’
And consider it
Awe the more
Than mirror junk
And that unmatched
Like a kid smitten
With another helping
Bringing it awe back
To the whirled of the living

This poem was inspired by a couple of occasions where others had spoken about how they had lost their sense of humor and I thanked them, because I had found it.  Courage to Laugh Master of World as He Ready to Die -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONI find humor nearly everywhere.  Life is endlessly intriguing, stubbornly surreal, and surprisingly funny.  Many may look at my life and might consider it a perfect storm of their worst scenarios.  Nonetheless, I often feel like a kid smitten with that unmatched experience of finding joys in what others consider unwanted junk in the lost and found box.  Valuing what others consider trivial or worth avoiding can be vexing at times, yet there is an expansive freedom in not chasing after and competing for the same stuff most everybody else is.  Some days I feel as though I am literally living in a different world; yet, I sense that I deeply see our shared reality, replete with pain and suffering, countless contradictions, and despair, just as abounding with joy and serendipities, poetic beauty, and profound hope.  Human Race has one really effective weapon: laughter -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONI find that humor abounds amidst odd juxtapositions, playful exaggerations, and a rich appreciation for the possible.  I often use humor to see past cynicism and fixations on the ugliness in life.  Sometimes this may strike overly serious folks as grasping for baubles, but value is largely in the eye of the beholder; and if conventional views snare despair, then it may just be time to discard such views.  Humor may not be everything, but humor can be found nearly anywhere.  If you have lost your sense of humor, I’ll keep an eye out for it.  Trust me, I’ll give it back to you if I find it.

You Laugh at Me Because I'm Different, I Laugh at You Because You're All the Same - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONGot Laughter SPIRITUAL BUTTON

ACTIVIST POEM: With Eyes Fixed — Owed To Shannon Frye

She was tired
Fore sentries of human bondage
Those precious wons
With eyes fixed
On the prize
Forever remanding us
Stay qualm
And carry on

All the darkness in the world could not put out the light of one small candle. Jewish Holocaust victim's epitaph POLITICAL BUTTONThousands of candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened - Happiness never decreases from being shared -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem was inspired by Shannon Frye’s blazing commentary that I recently included in my blog.  Her response to why she delivered this heart-on-fire outpouring was simply “I just got tired.”  May we all get so tired!

This poem is also part of a larger, lifelong project and dream of mine that every person on earth have a poem dedicated to them.  And Shannon Frye, you are poem-worthy!

I have witnessed many candles in the wind, their flame not ensconced within an enduring heart.  I have seen too many young people embrace cynicism, unwell earned, hermetically sealing hope within suffocating rationalizations and fatal truths.  Shannon is a breath of fresh air, awe about inspiration, and connecting the unseen stars for those waiting to exhale.  May the flame in her heart set the world ablaze.

POEM: Owed To Chet Chambers

His exacting integrity
Was seeded only by generosity of heart
He loved
Awe of God’s children
As well
As he kin
He planted seeds
That others would harvest
He worked side by side
Under God’s reign
And the radiance of a singular Son
Today the earth is a little less salty
Yet let our tears renew
Our taste for justice
And peace unearth

Chester “Chet” Chambers died October 4, 2016, at the age of 87.  Chet was a good man; though, like Jesus, Chet may very well have responded to such an assertion with: “Why do you call me good? “No one is good — except God alone.” [Mark 10:18]  His good works were cloaked in humility, yet any person of good will would testify to his deep and abiding faith in God and humanity, God’s precious children.

Chet was a friend, neighbor, fellow activist, and life-long United Methodist.  His life touched so many other lives.  All of our lives are better because of Chet; the fortunate are aware of this.  He will be missed by many.  His life, ministry, and example will echo into eternity.

Here is the obituary for Chester Chambers, as published in The Toledo Blade on Oct. 6, 2016:

Chester Chambers, born December 2, 1928, passed October 4, 2016. He grew up in Luckey, Ohio, where the Methodist church was the central activity of his family. He graduated from Ohio Northern University, where he took a pre-chemical engineering course of study. He was involved with the Ohio Methodist Student Movement, and following his junior year decided on ministry.

He went to Garrett Theological seminary on the campus of Northwestern University in 1949, where he gained a deep understanding of John Wesley’s theology and experience of grace. Following up on ideas and contacts gained through OMSM in undergrad, he became involved in the civil rights movement in the Chicago area.

While working as a student charge at Weston Church in the summer of 1951, he met Donna Fast, then a nurse in the Bowling Green hospital. They married a year later. He served at Mt. Blanchard five years before moving to Toledo in 1962 to pastor two inner-city parishes in the old north end.

In 1969 he was appointed Coordinator of Urban Ministries for the Toledo District of the United Methodist Church (“UMC”). In succeeding years he helped develop an “alphabet soup” of over forty local organizations from the local ACLU to Welfare Task Force, with Fair Housing Center and Personal Rights Organization among the many in between. The Levite asked, 'If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?' The Good Samaritan asked, 'If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?' MLK QUOTE BUTTONHe had particular passions for racial justice, affordable housing, and acceptance of the LGBT community. As a minister and happily married father of five, he lent great credibility to the cause of same-sex oriented persons, at a time when societal attitudes and practices were far more negative and hostile and few spoke out to change that.

Chet made many fact-finding trips in later years. The poverty he witnessed on his first, to Nicaragua in 1989, was life-altering. He would return there, as well as go to Cuba, Brazil, Mexico (maquiladoras) and Venezuela.

He retired at least twice: after serving six years as Superintendent of the Findlay District (UMC) in 1996, and again in 2003 after serving as Associate Pastor of Monroe Street UMC in Toledo. He remained active in many groups and causes long after the “retirements,” including many annual protest trips to the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, GA. He was arrested at least three times over the years, in various locales, for civil disobedience over causes he championed.

Chet was a master card player, and avid camper with his family. He played piano, sang, and rarely missed a Toledo Symphony concert. He was a mentor and role model for many; inclusive, empowering, grass-roots. His biblical and theological knowledge was immense, and undergirded most everything he did and said. He never stopped believing in God and humanity’s capacity for good.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Fred and Audrey Chambers, and is survived by his wife, Donna; children, Mark (Susan), Nathan (Clara), Brian (Debra), Kevin (Susan), Jocelyn (John) Blaufuss, and 12 grandchildren.

A celebration of Chet’s life will take place October 15, 11 a.m. at Monroe St. United Methodist Church.

Contributions may be made to Monroe St. Neighborhood Center, Methodist Federation for Social Action, or any organization helping the most vulnerable or working for social justice.

Rest in peace, friend to all and faithful servant.

MUSE POEM: Awe Mused Up

At the end of the day
He was awe mused up
Know longer able
Too take it
Sow well

This poem was written amidst a streak of short poems when the muse struck.  Sometimes the muse needs to be addressed directly as a subject.  The glorious work as a scribe to a muse is only work in as much as handing off the words become incarnate into human language requires time and some small sacrifice of an alternative activity, say, sleep.  The muse’s musings are worthy of a voice, and even sometimes beyond a voice in my head.  May you on occasion find yourself in good service to a muse.

POEM: Mad Happy

I never
Happy to be mad
Mad too be happy
This might be crazy
That maybe fitting
Ante this and ante that
Given fighting chance
And unbelievable odds
Of uncounted to won
Beat up and up beat
Pleased as punched
As if
To be found in rare form
A sure fire Job
Employing awe
Mourning and knight
A play full
Of blowing people’s mines
Seeing red
And knot blue
Sow far fetched
As inconceivably making merry
Like straight out gay
Tickled pink
In efface of one’s enmity
Having enough
If only
Mad happy
To get with it
Awe the rage

The origin of this poem emanates from a conversation where I found myself declaring an intent to be the happiest angry person and angriest happy person in the world.  The Truth Will Set You Free - But First It Will Piss You Off POLITICAL BUTTONSuch paradoxical conundrums are emblematic of my life experienced internally and presented to the world in awe its parent confusion.  Such a paradox is close kin to my persistent existence as both an intensely serious person and a person practically incapable of being serious.  I feel that I have a fare grasp of the systems of pain in plays in this world.  I also feel a keen sense of the unbearable lightness of being.  In short, perhaps too short, my life is weigh existential.  I have a deepening appreciation for anger, even rage.  I strongly suspect that to be a highly conscious person on this planet might require an intimate relationship with outrage.  	 If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention POLITICAL BUTTONOutrage can be a profoundly humanizing experience, providing energy to respond to palpable injustices.  Also, simply experiencing the anger over loss present in all injustices, whether mourned passively or actively, seems to represent a form of connection, even solidarity, with persons experiencing injustice. May my madness deepen my connection to others and synergize my commitments and capabilities to struggle for justice for all.


POEM: Standing On My Privy Ledge

I am a white, straight, Christian, male
And you see that
I am afraid
Though paying attention
To what is fare
I am more afraid
Of whites than blacks
Of straights than queers
Of Christians than Muslims
Of men than women
Of what is in than out
Of wear it so easy
To be dark, crooked, un-Christian, and un-manly
Standing on my privy ledge
Only names dropping
And eliminating a void
For it’s all in
The taking
That in is capable plunge
Before the plumb it
Takes us
Awe down
Run over by a drain
Holey a bout
In which wee re-side
And set assail
As expect torrent-ly weight
Up on that wayward look out
Going long with dinghy surroundings
Only keeping us on won’s tows
Castles in the err
As hope tangles with whose faltering
If only to feel
The win behind your back
In one fell sloop
Without assemblance of humanity
Ripping that one accord
With know shoot culpable save you
You are precariously throne
As a matter of coarse, bowled over
Un-less first choice
To devote your undivided tension
To what is fare
Forsake of humanity
Either weigh
That first step
Is a due see

This poem is about privilege: the privilege men have over women, the privilege whites have over blacks and other people of color, the privilege Christians have over Muslims, the privilege straight folks have over queer folk.   Privilege Is When You Think Something Is Not A Problem Because It's Not A Problem To You Personally POLITICAL BUTTONEnd Heterosexual Privilege - Rainbow Pride Bar--Gay Pride Rainbow Store BUTTONThis is a first person poem, in that I am such a multi-privileged person.  The unnamed privilege in this poem is the privilege people living in the first-world have over people living in the second- or third-world (or as some say: the two-thirds world).

I have been pondering the reality of privilege most of my life.  I consider my birth into this world in Haiti, but as a son of white, well-educated Americans, as representative of profound tensions within my life in relation to the many human conundrums set up by vast differences in privilege.  My Mennonite heritage, steeped in values of simple living, has been a fortuitous foundation for my drift into economic irrelevancy and semi-voluntary poverty. Live Simply So Others May Simply Live - POLITICAL BUTTONMy training and career in public health has afforded me a perspective rich in dealing with social justice.  My vocation and avocation as a social justice activist has yielded abundant opportunities to stand in solidarity with my human kin, and even reflect upon erudite concepts such as intersectionality.  My short stint in prison plus hanging around more poor folks has helped prompt me to shed some of my middle-class sensibilities.  I am working intentionally to trade many of my first world problems for second- and third-world problems.  Yet, perhaps the greatest testament to my many privileges, is that I still feel like the richest person I know (though I don’t really get out that much).

Recently, my dealing with privilege has been kicked into high gear, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement.  BLACK LIVES MATTER [Black Power Symbol] POLITICAL BUTTONI am deeply grateful to all of the people of color, queer folk, highly conscious feminists, and “others” who have enriched my life beyond belief.  got privilege? POLITICAL BUTTONI hope that the privilege I have at my disposable serves the larger interest of equality for all.  May any privilege we possess not possess us but spur us to break down any inhuman barriers that separate us.

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POEM: Anew Page Delivering

I am
Subject too
The very inquisition
Wanting too a void
Axing the quest in
Who would halve me
The book
In my heart
Anything but stone
Nothing accept
Throwing multifarious dirt
At clay feat
As sum
Call me
A fool
Of epic portions
Too big to swallow
That is, whole
Left only
With unspeakable meanings
In awe weighs wanting
A wisdom that mounts to nothing
Right only
In a captivating holey warship
Without bail
In a nature without nurture
A watered down
Whirled view
That reigns on know won
With nothing too win
Oar lose
In awe awash
The impotent lored
Too even
No udder abandon
Wholly sown
Borne of the wind
Mysteriously yielding
Earthy harvests
Wile holy unaccounted for
As only seer
What ex-specter
Bared without
A shroud
Of evidence
Leaving no witnesses
And subjects unknown
To know a veil
Having awl ready
Punching holes in the heavens
The sores of professorial cosmo-logical blood
Shedding rare light
At least
Too read God’s will
In a towering Babel on
Like stairing into the sun
And skywriting in Braille
Counting on Cain
To objectify truth
Like a bat out of hell
Holy out
Of our census
Destined to be committed too
The most minimal theories passable
In firm in the phase of
Ever unfolding realty
The tome of your life
As if
Sum man you script
Published in determination
As know more than a mirror leaflet
To fig you’re sufficient to cover
Such immaterial shame
And random glory
Whole to pass on
Such immanent domain
That writ largesse
One’s hole life
Fore a single letter
Soul ward
Incomprehensible sentences
Terminally de-composing
The tree of know ledge
Turned too
For just
A taste of a lie berry
A free offering
For every scion ’tis
Too make blue bloods
Turn read
Anew page delivering
Awe that is novel
In the art of hearts

This somewhat epic poem is a playful romp and survey of epistemology, in the philosophical field of study of knowledge and justified belief.  How dreadful the truth can be when there is no hope in the truth. Sophocles quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI am fascinated by the sores and limits of knowledge.  I am a skeptic of skepticism, delver into intuition, and humble admirer of profound inner experience that cannot be fully shared in words (even in poetry). I find the most profound truths to reek more of playfulness than dogmatism.  I find humor both a scrumptious tool and irresistible outcome in hanging out in the neighborhood of truth which is paradox.  If any of your well-worn beliefs or weighs of being feel skewered by my poetry, then welcome to the heart of my unifying theory of sheesh kabob.  May your hopes outpace your skepticism, and may your dreams root for truth.

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Hope Trumps Despair PEACE BUTTONEverything that is done in the world is done by hope -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONGot Dreams SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POEM: Unpain Vocations

There are long aligns
To unpain vocations
Pro-longed wading to a temp
And after awe
Many will
Due what tolled
Unwilling to pay the accost
In baring feudal labor
As unsuitable to be delivered
And forever borne agin
Illiciting that chimerical pro genie
And triumvirate wishes
Only wanting more

This poem is a tribute to those diligently working to carve out vocations that honor their heart and values amidst an economy and workplaces that would just as soon sell out their dreams for not even a song.  They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price -- Kahlil Gibran quote POLITICAL BUTTONPerhaps my signature hippie characteristic is opting out of selling myself for a wage.  Many are held hostage to slave wages, and even if you sell your highest desires for a great price, postponing dreams can be chronically haunting.  In the proverbial stick-up in capitalism, the question of “Money or your life?!” provokes much fretful hesitation.  May you find endless vocations where money is well subordinated to your highest hopes and deepest dreams.  Let the work begin…

TOLEDO POEM: The Glass City Is Refillable

Have empty
Have full
Pundit prognosticating
Weather tea town, big gulp, whine, or throwback
After work
All a buzz
A bout how well suited politicians
Re-billed a city of denim
Putting out hope
In efface of houses emptied
And streets full
Of potholes
Teeming with orange barrels
And every fuel for Toledo
Ever wandering, “Will we be Jeeped or not?”
For what’s frog town without croaking?
That looming will
We be relegated community?
Wholly Toledo, some kind of perfect zoo
And a world class heart museum
Where boosters must incurably cry out
I think not!
This is the biggest little town in America
And those a little too full of it
Head for the Hills
As if
They due butter
When you can’t beat the accost of living
Of those in the no
If have full, drink up
If have empty, just wait a round
The Glass City is refillable

I was hoping to win thirst prize with this Toledo poem, as my singular entry into the 2016 annual Poetry and Fiction contest of the Toledo City Paper: Half Full or Half Empty.  But, alas, I am truly settle for placement in a category called Dishonorable Mention.  This poem, about my beloved Toledo, reflects the self-deprecating, love-hate relationship that many Toledoans have with our esteemed town and occasionally reviled city.  The editor only had one question about my seriously playful, pun-filled wordplay: Was “A bout” my intended spelling.  As most often is the case when someone is confused about how to read my poems, the answer is: “Yes.”  There are many takes on the half-full/half-empty question.  I find that the glass being refillable is the most appropriate and truly hopeful answer.  I consider Toledo as the hidden gem of the Midwest, perhaps of the whole country.  But, please, keep this on the down-low.  We don’t want a bunch of Toledo wannabes cluttering up the city.

POEM: Namaste

Who dares ax
Why I am
Sow meta for
As the spear it in me
Razes up
Too meat the spirit in you poem is an ode to my favorite version of the greeting “namaste:” may the spirit in me rise up to meet the spirit in you.  My poetic version plays with the meeting of the spiritual and physical, the spirit and the flesh.  How do the sublime and the crude coexist?  The short answer is that life is marvelously messy.  Daring to question why I am the way I am can be a precarious project.  Delving into why the great “I AM” is “I AM” can be downright dangerous.  Existence is puzzling; essence more sow.  One of my projects in life is to be in touch with my bastard nature, daring “too meat” the spirit in you.  The churning of my spirit yearns to kiss the whirled of flesh, and perhaps more.  The paradox of “Razes up” speaks to the inextricable cycles of destruction and creation, countless resurrections, risings up from the ashes like a phoenix. Re-born Again and again and again and again SPIRITUAL BUTTON This is a death-defying game: “the spear it in me.”  Still, I like to stir things up.  Things that are settled strike me as dead.  My Karma Ran Over Your Dogma. SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhere there is pretension, expect to be punctuated with vulgarity.  Where there is cynicism, expect to be flooded by my delugings of unabashed hope.  I will hurl sublime poetry over your ahead, but I won’t pick at your soars.  I will lob softballs to hit you out of park, but know one will keep score.  The hallowed and the hollowed will mete.  There are plenty of weepin’s in this life too be had.  How ever, weather I reach hi or lo, behold my arse and all.  Think good that the pun is mightier than the sored!  What ever this life is, it is the most beautiful thing I ever metaphor.  Metaphors Be With You SPIRITUAL BUTTONNamaste.






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