POEM: Liberal Mined Violent

Some liberal mined violent
Call up on pacifists
To condemn a brand of violence
To wit
They object
Ultimately subjected
To accost
Without benefit analysis
Coming efface to efface
With realty
And a sorted loved wons
Unwilling to accede where others have flailed
The brand they hide
Singularly fingered
Buy pacifists
Calling a tension two
A third weigh
Of the largesse possible
An unwelcome piece
When wanting more than have
Of everything fourth with
Ironying details
Ever beyond that which is a greed
How to saddle for less
Than being cowed
And truth be tolled
The violent
As a madder of practice
Get their weigh
A tempting feudal steer
Milking it for all a veil
In udder disbelief
As much as we can
Due better
Keeping nothing bottled up
Unleashing everything even remotely herd
Know longer listening
Too the artless
Like sum stock ticker
An engine only for the vain
Abase symbol for awe to hear
As the lover of awe kinds
Relinquishes the bully pulpit
In respect to those assembling
Not dissembling

Pacifists such as myself are sometimes called upon by those who are selectively violent to roundly and reliably condemn some violence that is repugnant to their preferred modes of violence.  PACIFIST - Someone With The Nutty Idea That Killing People Is Bad PEACE BUTTONThis convenient opportunism by “liberal mined” violent can hopefully serve as an opportunity for pacifist to draw connections and expose biased interests in enterprises that vainly wish to promote some kinds of violence and condemn other forms of violence, yet miraculously divorce means and ends and somehow produce a nonviolent state.  The situation that came to mind for me in this poem harkens back to the early 1980’s as a peacemongering student at Hope College.  I was asked by a conservative political science professor to serve as an expert witness in the campus’ mock United Nations proceedings.  Specifically, he was asking me to address violence by Palestinians against Israelis.  Much to his chagrin, I spoke about violence in the Israeli occupation of Palestine proportional to the violence present, that is, overwhelmingly committed by Israel and backed by the political and financial patronage of the United States.

Probably the largest complaint that apologists for violence have against pacifists is that they are “passivists,” complicit and enabling of injustices, specifically, and perhaps presumptuously, injustices that seem only solvable through violence, or at least the right “kind” of violence.  Complicity to violence and injustice is a profoundly true charge to both pacifists and apologists for violence.  Pacifism sets the bar high and regularly fails at fully fulfilling its high calling.  Feel free to contrast this limit of idealism (and its harms?) with the cynical acceptance (realism?) that killing others is necessary for justice (usually just us). If the notion and practice of necessary evil doesn’t make your head explode, it will quite assuredly shrink your heart, particularly if aspiring to follow a God of love.  I see Gandhi’s simple taxonomy of roles in the necessarily epic struggles for justice as insightful. Gandhi spoke of nonviolent “warriors,” violent warriors, and cowards.  I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE BUTTONHe saw these ordered in terms of moral achievement; the pacifist activist, then soldiers, and lastly, cowards. Of course, poorly performing pacifists can fall into the pit of fear and cowardice, unsuccessfully bridging the gap between talking the talk and walking the walk.  Soldiers have an inherent advantage in that a significant proportion can be expected to face death in combat situations.  This engenders a palpable sense of courage for facing such situations, whether, in fact, these situations are just or not.  Willingly facing being killed or severely harmed is the definition of courage. We can learn a lot from soldiers (not the least of which is that the most vehement anti-war activists are often veterans of military combat, sometimes simply slaughter). Courage is commendable.  Having skin in the game is the necessary good.  Any pacifist worth their salt will embody courage and skin in the game.  Evil, and its even uglier companion, necessary evil, can only thrive amidst cowardice and not having skin in the game.  Without courage, cowardice will rule the day (and night).  Without skin in the game, the privileged will continue to keep their foot on the neck of the disenfranchised, usually through a complex system of subcontracting not requiring their actual foot to do the dirty work.  A cowardly, distracted and narcotized public will earn an assist in maintaining their somewhat more advantageous state in the hierarchy of privilege and disenfranchisement.

Of course, the difference between a pacifist and a soldier is not the willingness to die for a cause, but the (un)willingness to kill for a cause.  The willingness to kill is the preeminent prerequisite of a soldier.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His -- General George Patton ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONIn regard to willingly dying and willingly killing, perhaps the infamous WWII General George Patton said it best, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.”  Further, in the calculus of soldiering, we must remember that in modern times (the last 100+ years), military combat has frighteningly consistently killed over ten noncombatants/civilians for every soldier killed.  By what stretch of imagination do “realists” consider this courageous and honorable?  The cowardice inherent in the proposition of necessary evil is the root of much evil in this world.  The fantasy of necessary evil is nothing short of an abnegation of responsibility, an idol worship of something other than the free will and moral agency of which we are endowed.

As a spiritual practice, I find pacifism, ruling out the killing of others, as a profoundly creative practice.  You may be surprised at the depths of creativity accessible by dispatching the human perversion called necessary evil and the barbaric practice of killing others.  Without presupposing limits on human goodness, you can unleash new experiments, pioneer new ground (sometimes observed as common ground), raise the heights to which humans may aspire, and make the world friendlier to love.  Nonviolence is Organized Love -- Joan Baez PEACE QUOTEAs Joan Baez so elegantly and succinctly said, “That’s all nonviolence is — organized love.”  Of course, my paraphrase would be: nonviolence is just, organized love…

 

POEM: Flagging Defeat

He had enough
Privilege
To ignore
The increasingly grave mound
Of white lies
Worshiping some cruel over lode
Surveying all that was once
Theirs
A teetering tower of babble
Atop spinning
Helled up only buy its careening whirled
Mything the point
All together
Now
Clandestined
Putting on
Unthinking caps
And underhanded false hoods
As lynch
Pin
Heads for defeat
Know madder
How much strange fruit barren
When one states rights
As truth is strangers are friction
Aspersing crowds
For their own good
Libel too change things
Such hyper bully
Spreading tall tails
In their own rapaciousness
Selling specious whoppers
Sow roil fast fooled
Culumny-ating
In counter revolutions
And when hearing the music
Appropriating Supremes
To court continuing prophets
Of the status quo
Inebriated by fomenting hip hops
Staying the sway
Of flag in defeat
All white like
Its shadowy cross
And comforting gray
Relegated to daze of ode
Lying their
As soldiers do
In the by and by
As civil war
(or any wore for that madder)
Can only be one
Surrendering to
That which is
Equal to its humanity

PROTEST Is When I Say I Don't Like Something, RESISTANCE Is When I Put A Stop To ItThis poem is a tribute to recent events leading to the taking down of the confederate flag at several southern state capitols.  Special props go to Bree Newsome who unequivocally demonstrated direct democracy by taking down the confederate flag on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in the aftermath of the racist Charleston massacre.

Sad as it is to still be fighting the civil war 150 years after its official end, the tide is turning.  While a flag may only be symbolic, flags are powerful landmarks in American culture.  Around the world, the American flag represents a nationalism tainted by an imperialism exceeding that of the Roman Empire, waging perpetual war on people of color, non-Christians, and anyone else who resides in the way of national economic interest, such as living in an oil-rich region.  Domestically, the “rebel” flag of the confederacy has held its place for generations as a racist symbol from a failed treason in trying to form a slavery-filled nation-state.

RACISM - If One Of Your Proudest Achievements Is Being White, That Says A Lot About What You Have Done With Your LifeWhite privilege, and its sister, white denial, are alive and, well, dominate the American landscape.  Like water to fish, most whites most of the time don’t see it.  Institutional racism is the elephant in the room of America that few dare speak of openly and publicly.  Beside degrading the lives and humanity of African-Americans, their positive culture and creativity are regularly appropriated for the profit of mainstream — read “white” — America.  The confederate flag has been one of the most persistent and visible signs of continuing white dominance and supremacy.  To get confederate flags out of public places is mind-bogglingly and heart-breakingly overdue, and this process will hopefully mightily speed dialogue and awareness of the perniciousness of racism.

SLAVERY Is The Legal Fiction That A Person Is Property - CORPORATE PERSONHOOD Is The Legal Fiction That Property Is A PersonRacism is one of many forms of dominance that continue to plague humanity.  Today, corporate personhood is trumping the legal rights of actual persons.  The legal fiction of a person being property, known as slavery, may be formally over, but the legal fiction of property as a person, a corporate person with constitutional rights on par with actual persons, is running roughshod over America and the globe.  Corporate personhood is eroding, perhaps even already stolen, democracy as typically conceived in America.  Wage slavery and corporate rule are the weapons of choice these days to enslave the body politic.  Getting money out of politics may dry-dock the fishiest elements of political elites.  Our lives and the future of humanity may very well depend on it.  People will only fare better than money when we value people — all people — more than money.  May it be so…

 

POEM: Meet Me Their

Meet me
Wear the sky
Kisses the ocean
Where the day’s heat
Meets the cool of eve
Where a child’s cry
Meets his mother’s loving ears
And a full groan man
Brought to his knees
Now stands
Before his new home
Meet me
Their
Where the mountain rises to our feat
And our souls bound
To that which cannot die
Yet awe the more
Touched
By life
All meet
You there
Where mourning brakes
As just us
Kisses peace

This poem arose from a hybrid of inspirations, from a phrase from the musical South Pacific (about the ocean and sky meeting) and from a poem read at today’s Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) demonstration outside Toledo’s federal courthouse to end racial profiling by police and the border patrol.  This poem is grounded in a hybrid of sorts, the daily beauty of the earth and a mother’s love combined with the longing-filled work of living for social justice.  Of course, these ongoing works bring joy and peace in both the present and the future.  Hope is well fed both by places near home and far away.  May you be well fed AND hunger for justice.

POEM: Bell of the Bawl: Owed To Gaia

An ocean of salty water rises
From the cries unheard
Submerging from the wounds of the body politic
Stupefied in the face of enduring smarts
Delugings egressing from a tsunami of 100% proof
And in the offing
Will we sea
A plan it unreckoned
A monumental reporting for doody
And an epic title wave
As if
Ridden in code
Our winter of dis content
Enough
Too roil Dicks
And a voiding watery epitaphs
How long for remediation
Four sea hoarse men
Of the epoch lips
A further fresh water solution in a pickle
Thirsting for sustainable heirs a bout them
In short order to be like fish out of water
As mo’ be whaling S.O.B.’s
As fat cats wading for their last supper
And blubbering like some baby
Seal their fete with country clubs swinging
As sow many leagues under the see
As polar bares
Their paws just warming up
As care free
As just having
A terrestrial bawl
Spurned on buy
Another species argument
And another round of desert
A butting such dry humor
As the dead panned
Hitherto buy too
Into the arc of just us
So bent
And unto awe reins
Those divining the rapturous
Belles wringing
Wet
Until sonar us
In due coarse
Anchor age becomes Atlantis
Unless Abel to question
For whom does the bell troll
Weight for it
It trolls for you

Ah yes, yet another poem about climate change and climate change deniers.  It seems that more and more reports of ongoing and impending climate disasters impel me to puke up another poem in awe of Mother earth and disdain for climate change deniers and other such fools.  The image of a deluge of tears flooding Mother Earth struck me as a poetic metaphor for the actual flooding due to climate change.  Of course, the tears are an unenviable result of our all-too-casual destruction of Mother Earth and all of the concomitant suicidal implications.  Weather these are human tears or Mother Earth’s tears, the S.O.B.s are real.  May we embrace the threats and challenges of climate instability with bold stewardship of our only planet and lucid actions to hold humanity accountable for any disrespecting of our Momma.

PUCO Testimony – FirstEnergy Robbery of Ratepayers

Below is my testimony at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) hearing regarding the proposed corporate welfare for FirstEnergy.  There was an impressive show of force by the anti-nuclear and pro-environmental folks from the region.  There was a show of farce by the usual parade of brown-nosers whose employment is closely related to Davis-Besse nuclear plant operations.  Still, the greatest number of testifiers were opposed to the above-market rate hike to subsidize FirstEnergy’s uncompetitive and dangerous energy generation.  In an unusual move, PUCO literally made every testifier swear.  So, legally, this testimony is “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  May PUCO deny FirstEnergy’s application to rip off ratepayers for private profit.

Testimony at PUCO Public Hearing
Re: First Energy Robbery of Ratepayers
January 15, 2015

My name is Dan Rutt. I am a citizen of Toledo and this great planet. I have a B.S. in biology. I have a masters degree in public health. I am a breather of polluted air from coal-fired electric generators. I share with you a planet that is threatened by global climate instability, due to pollution from carbon dioxide and co-called “natural” gas, more accurately described as methane. I live in the deathly shadow of Davis-Besse, the aging nuclear power plant with the worst safety record in the U.S., thanks to a couple of nuclear plants which have been wisely closed recently for safety and economic reasons. It’s Davis-Besse’s turn — hopefully to be decommissioned, not blow up. To you who live outside the region, welcome to Davis-Besse’s kill zone.

I will take my precious few minutes to plead with PUCO, charged with protecting public health and economic sanity. Do not allow the building of a pipeline from the First Energy corporate board room to the public purse. The boondoggle that is the Davis-Besse nuclear plant drives this issue. Davis-Besse is a poor investment economically, a perilous venture environmentally, and a catastrophic threat to human life along the Great Lakes. The federal government already indemnifies the nuclear industry from accountability for catastrophic events. PUCO should not further this lack of accountability by forcing the public to invest in nuclear plants. If anything we should disinvest from nuclear power.

First Energy has lobbied to prop up coal and nuclear, the way of the past. We need change, not infrastructure and rate plans which will lock us into an unsustainable future. Still worse, First Energy has lobbied to block the transition to renewable energy, the way of the future. If First Energy is allowed to pass on most or all of the risk of its increasingly risky ventures to the public — that is, ratepayers and biological entities susceptible to lethal radiation catastrophes — then I suspect that this could trigger a rush of entrepreneurial types wanting to PUCO all over Ohio.

The energy industry is quite adept at playing the hodgepodge of regulatory agencies for its own profit. They are experts at leveraging the narrowness of regulatory agencies’ perspectives and authority, which, given time limitations here, may be summed up as: “It’s not my job” and “I’m only doing my job.” Ironically, this may leave us with somebody’s job, even a so-called “good” job, but no livable world. If your work leads to the destruction of the planet, then it is not a good job. Job one must be protecting the planet. This includes accountability for those who would “invest” (sic) in the destruction of our planet for profit.

There is little doubt that we are being gamed. And if we don’t get wise to this, there are likely to be many losers, and few winners. I wonder if perhaps this issue might be better served by a change of venue. Perhaps we should add to the mix oversight by the Lottery Commission or Casino Control Commission; it might be more honest. Perhaps we could turn that ole Besse into a cash cow. Convert it from a white elephant into a casino. We could call it “Chernobyl on the Lake — an Eerie Adventure.” We could feature Russian Roulette. Unfortunately, we, the public, are already subject to a game of Russian Roulette, playing with nuclear catastrophe and the steamroller of climate instability. Free us from this deadly game. Help us pave the way to a new and sustainable future. Disapprove this proposed rate plan, the robbery of the many to enrich the few, and a dangerous course for all. Thank you.

[Note: I didn’t read this poem at the hearing, but included it in my written testimony]

Good Job
by Dan Rutt, alias “Top Pun” (it’s just, my pun name)

It was early Monday mourning
When the Davis-Besse nuclear plant
Finally ruptured
At the base of Lake Eerie
Weeping poison
From the once-great lakes
Now a watery grave for both sellers
And consumers
Of atomic drivel
For what human remains
The event became known
Simply as “The rupture”
Leaving sleepy millions
In its wake
Sucked into a glowing sky
For who knows watt
Feudal to press release
Fore their heavenly reword
A paradise rolled
Entranced buy snake eyes
In charge of all that meters
Relegating us to hoarse power
Silent partners
Dealt a roil flush
In a conniving casino
Pain only in skullduggery
Forging height reason
And absolute faith in stonewall
As a bet
A dark wager
Echoing in the empty halls
Of unions and congress
“Good job”

POEM: What If Everybody Did That?

Such sophistry
Firmly on the bench
But
What if
Everybody did that
Judging propriety
Smudging property
An intolerable act
My conscience
He decreed
Must fall
Into line
With Kant
Where every reason
Reduced to rant
It’s the leash they can do
In such a fine whirled
Of ethical confinement
And duly deputized
Might be right
As I thought
With unparalleled infection
Of making love to my wife
Only to arrest my life
At the notion
What if
Every body did that
And the orgy in suing
As just us
Endures a courtly rendition
Sow evident
Out of the question
As signs everywhere
Of legal violation

This poem was inspired by my encounter this mourning with a Toledo Municipal Court judge.  I appeared in court to address putting address labels on light poles.  The labels called for justice for Danny Brown, a local man who has endured 32 years of legal violation, including 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit [see Justice for Danny Brown].  Also not having committed that crime, I feel as a kindred spirit to Danny.  Putting labels on light poles incited a criminal mischief charge, a third degree misdemeanor.  I was definitely more guilty than Danny Brown for this crime.  I made a statement that whatever cost may be associated with label residue on poles, it pales in comparison to the outstanding injustice Danny brown endures.  In simply monetary terms, compensation for his wrongful imprisonment would be over $900,000.  Interest alone, at 3%, would be $27,000 each year.  However, since Lucas County Persecutor Julia Bates continues to hold Danny on a person of interest list, linking him to an “active” (sic) case, he cannot apply for due compensation.  Danny is living in this legal, yet immoral, limbo indefinitely.  I consider my stickering a simple act of civic responsibility, working for justice for Danny brown as a person of interest in this case.

In a stunningly predictable statement, the judge asked the rhetorical question, “What if everybody did what you did?”  My poem is one answer to this question.  I can sleep well at night meditating on the question: what if everybody took risks for one another in working to ensure justice for all?

The judge’s Kant do attitude, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is a reference to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s best known contribution, that of the moral imperative, of universalizing a proposition to see what would happen, and making a judgment informed by that perspective.  Of course, if everybody fined me for a low level misdemeanor, then I would be in financial ruin — hardly proportional to the so-called crime.  I am not mocking Kant so much as the poor application of such logic by the judge.  In any case, and there will probably be more, while the judge is firmly on the bench dispensing with justice, I’ll be in the streets addressing justice for Danny Brown.

P.S. the reference to “my wife” represents poetic license, not a marriage license.  My sweetheart of 17 years is still my official muse, though unofficial “wife.”

ELECTION POEM: We De-serve More Than One Date a Year

Even with
The sorry lack
He in the capitol arena
He refuse
To beg for change
As riddled with ballots
From a stone throne
Presumed in a sense
As the free mark it
To mock a difference
In hour damn nation
Weather staying qualm
Or carrying on
As beheading
The wrong direction
Right
That’s going to work
Like pulling jobs
Out of a hat
Railroaded
And Rand over
Take
You’re choice
Taking liberties
Wear ever
Whatever
Left
Dying
With boots on
Won’s neck
And arms flailing
In the heir
Violins playing
US again
And masses cry
Weight
For some guardian angle
Following-lite
30 seconds and never the goaled
Promising silver ballots
For the monster knock off of your choice
The leaser of two evils
Billed on platforms not worth one read assent
Rhetorical quests in
Skirting half the populace
Out flanking the body politic
And the only deliverance
Is backwards male junk
Ridden on drossy stationary
Acceding Stepford lives
Androids answering robo calls
Buy passing any hire power
Rebutting humanity
Like sum tally whacker
Awl to govern us
Violating our hides
Out ranking privates
Another poll taken
As nations pawned
And questions razed
From the dread
The answer
Lies
Before us
And incite us
The time is now
To re-wind
These vane choices
Truly bearing
As wee
Vote with our feat
And in-F-able arts
De-serving
More than one date a year
Arrest of our daze
Courting flaccid elections
Feudal proposals
And tickets beyond won’s means
Soully to forge more candid dates
And over power
Our faux
Never miss lead

It’s election day!  This election poem captures the perennially popular cynicism concerning politics, particularly electoral politics, and issues a call for a more encompassing path to redress our collective grievances and embody our shared hopes.  In short, this entails year-round civic engagement where citizens vote regularly by putting some skin in the game and pouring their hearts into public life.  This sort of direct democracy leads by representing ourselves boldly and honestly to one another, backed up by whatever integrity we have in our lives.  We get the democracy we deserve.  Or, in this case, we get the democracy we de-serve.  We stop serving power structures and start serving one another.   This saps the top-down power so fraught with abuse and alluring to those more interested in governing others than governing themselves.  There is no patchwork of half-truths that can stand without the consent of the governed.  Elections are largely contrived of narrow choices pandering to the powers that be and offering mere styles of the status quo.  If we settle for a democracy that only works a day or two a year, and barely that, then we should adjust our expectations commensurately.  Though this is not the only choice: hemmed and hawed candidates or non-participation, not voting.  Whether you vote or not — and I think you should make such a modest investment of time — the body politic is not formed in a day or two.  What we do the rest of our days is decisive.  Work, shop, consume, die may be one way to go, but what price do we pay for our “free” time.  Free people live and give freely.  Free people are the freedom the want to see in the world; they are not waiting for license from others.  I like the saying: activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet.  I occupy this planet first, am a member of the human race second, and a citizen of a particular political jurisdiction/shopping zone thirdly.  If we unabashedly order our lives according to our deepest values and priorities, the sheer existential force of our lives will champion our planet, give rise to a cherished humanity, and even create a firewall against bullshit politics mistaken for a fertile common-wealth.  Of course, like they say, freedom isn’t free.  Being change in the world will exact a price.  And while you may only get what you pay for, there are untolled pleasant surprises along the way.  The only real question is how much are you willing to pay, and how much are you willing to play?

POEM: Democracy – as seen on TV

Wherever I land
In the electoral whirled
Politicians ceremoniously execute
The will of the people
In doctored fashion
Yet an other sort of capitol punishment
Delegated to the coroner
Turning voting off
In a Pyrrhic victory
So hollowed by those bored of elections
As a so low survivor
Left to re-collect
In suing came pain
Promises unfulfilled
A small prize to pay
For virtual democracy
Only calling to mine
Survivor
As democracy
In reality
Only on TV

Here is a poem for election time. While citizens have been cynical about politicians for eons, politicians are digging new versions of low at record rates. For decades, America has had one of the lowest rates of voting of any so-called advanced democracies. This poem does take its titular metaphor from the television age and the more recent reality (sic) television. Run-of-the-mill electoral politics is so bad, like “reality” TV, that most of it is not even worth watching, a palpable waste of one’s precious life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not against voting. For most non-voting citizens, voting oneself off the island is hardly a very productive way of bringing about participatory democracy. In the pantheon of inane activities competing for our attention, and often winning, voting is still worthy of the modest effort required. Still, I doubt that electoral politics is anywhere sufficient to save the planet or humanity. Most of electoral politics is reactionary, cynically triangulating competing interests without much internal compass. Though politicians are regularly without distinguishable rudders, they can be quite adept at blowing whichever way the wind blows — everything is for sail! So, if not too disgusting, do yourself a flavor and vote for a politician closest to your taste. But don’t let voting get in the way of creating the winds of change necessary to redeem electoral politics. Participatory democracy requires ongoing civic engagement. The quality of our democracy will be directly rooted in the degree by which we are the change we want to see in the world, how we treat our neighbors (friends, strangers, and enemies) and how well we speak truth to power, translating our own lives into vital and vibrant community. May it be so.

POEM: Owed to Racism – That Whole In Our Soul

Owed to Racism: That Whole In Our Soul

Our life is
A thin line between
Loving hate
And hope filled madness
Dark mournings
And over joy
In this may hem together
To suture self
And community bound
For wince they came
Through painful needlings
Both sides
Right
And left
In stitches
Where it hurts to laugh
At such a heeling surgin’
Please
Do not real
At my site
Unless you are willing too
In counter me
Phase to phase
Offering me
More than mirror change
Wear wee are all scarred
Leaving behind
Broken images
In its place
Bad luck
And idol
Hands speaking
In victory clenched
Lifting up
The signs of the times
I am a man
And woo man
Never the less
Hearts beaten
As won
An incite job
Game to be fixed
Equal to awe before us
That whole in our soul
Onto grievous grounds spilling
Not simply in vein
As sometimes made pale
Sometimes colored
Weave all skin in the game
In this work of heart
For as it is read
Sow shall it be ridden
Free dumb
Of oppressor and oppressed alike
No longer sullen one another
Undertaking and overtaken
In the passed
To marrow
Never for gotten
Bidding us
To not be under souled
In the ours before us
Wresting in peace
So called
Beyond words
And belief
In action
To gather
With won voice
And undivided tension
Of won accord
Hand in hand
So becoming
Full circle
Un-brake-able

This anti-racism poem came out of my recent experience with a combating racism dialogue group, as part of a larger anti-racism initiative in Toledo.  This poem reflects both the devastation and intractability of racism and group members’ deep commitment and hope for a world free of racism.  The poem calls for united action to reclaim the wholeness of our community.  The level of denial of racism by white folks in America is staggering.  Confronting white privilege often makes even dialogue difficult.  Truly joining in solidarity to combat racism with concrete actions is often seen as unduly threatening to privileged whites.  I am grateful that Toledo has the wisdom and fortitude to operate these dialogue to change anti-racism groups.  May these groups unleash a juggernaut of positive social change for Toledo and the world!

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

I would rather
Be Job
Less than
Renounce
A living wager
And know place to lie
My head
My heart
Made homeless
In loo of
A fast fooled nation
For going
The beast
Wee
Can due
Hitched to number one
Number too
As on the line
For given debts
In place of
Solemn assemblies
And last riots
As wreck we him
For the masses
Left too
Starve
As a full groan man
Eschewing
A distended belly
And infantile grimace
Dis gorging
To which I object
A single finger
And vomiting
A sour second
Relative to the toil it evacuates
As vying a bowel inconsonance
And those who are but in
Fringe benefits over doo
Be rated by privilege takers
Of a hollowed hire power
Pro claim
There is no Black day for employment
The unanswered trump it
As if
Falling flat to some honky
Reveres discrimination
As dark daze per severe
The fecund material bound
Now a mushrooming clerical class
Beaten too
A bully pulp it    
Copious crumbs and the blest whines
Offering salivation
Like no me
Biblically
Throwing the book at me
Showing me the works
As if in some fooled court
Taking out
On me
Sum type
Of contract
Know labor
No food
Nor time travel to
’79 sense
For every dollared earn
Or as a payday loan
Cash here
Slipping through my fingers
Each day
For another till
My dreams standing still
Idoling money changers
On short order
Cooking the books
Serving as sum batterer
Or fry guy
Who is just
Greased
At the end of the day
Pain
You less
Than what
You learned
With respect to
Meat grate people
Seriously toying
“Be the happy meal”
As if
I whir
To halve a cow
And go to town
Drug by sum ferry tale
A bout
Worshipping some magic beings
Stalking skyward
As some giant rumble
To expose my hide
Wont to grind my bones
For their bred
My blood smelt
As iron away
From their golden cuffs
Razing my shackles once again
I will only ax once
As you know not jack
Weather the heavens fall
Either I am
Udderly fed up
Or my last words herd
Eat me
As I will only be
Food once
It’s just
Awe in a daze work

I wrote this poem today, all in a days work!  This poem was triggered by my experience last night at a community meeting, “Faith Conversations on Income Inequality.”  I was somewhat disappointed that of the two hours, less than 15 minutes was conversation.  The meeting was mostly didactic, with two detailed presentations, a short film well documenting the existence of actual poor working people in our very state of Ohio, and a short small group exercise (where some conversation occurred).

The kicker for the evening was after the meeting when conversing with a woman who I had never met proclaimed the disproportionately too-often cited and familiar, “If a person doesn’t work, then they don’t deserve to eat” (see 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Of course, the key word and concept in this passage is an unwillingness to work.  I might add dignified and humane work.  Either way, it certainly doesn’t apply to people who can’t find work.  Further, in the previous verse, the apostles speaking about their own self-support when visiting the Thessalonians, say, “We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.  This seems to state that they did claim a right to such help (food), but were modeling an additional value of not being a burden on others.  If the apostles accepted help, when they were able to pay their own way, and this caused a burden to another, then they shouldn’t take such a necessary resource from another.  The higher way modeled by the apostles seems more apt as a critique of people unjustly benefiting from paying poverty wages, thus causing a burden to others, than as a critique of food as a human right.  Perhaps a less sophisticated yet more easily understood response to worrying about hungry people getting too much food is Uggghhh!

I had really hoped for an opportunity to share personal experiences and perspectives on faith and poverty, or income inequality.  For better or worse, I’ve thought about such things my whole life.  Still, I am actually eager to learn more, as I continue on my journey.  The story of dealing with poverty seems to me to be full of good news-bad news.  In my case, the bad news is that technically, I have lived in poverty most of the last decade — technically, meaning that my average income has been under the federal poverty guidelines.  The good news is that I am the wealthiest person I know — of course, I don’t get out much!  Such a conundrum has provided much experience and raw material upon which to meditate regarding what is true wealth.

One main point that I believe could help bring a more balanced perspective in our dealing with poverty is this: from a spiritual perspective, we must give equal time to spiritual poverty.  This is perhaps most succinctly captured by Mother Teresa, “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”  I see Jesus as quite clearly spelling out the dividing line: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)  And, of course, serving God is inextricably linked with serving our neighbors: ” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

A corollary of this spiritual view of poverty is that we must not stigmatize the poor, or dishonor God’s special relationship with them.  I half-jokingly put this under the moniker of: “You say poverty like it’s a bad thing!”  A couple of generations ago, Latin American theologians developed the concept of God’s “preferential option for the poor.”  In part, this refers to the special relationship that the poor, disenfranchised, and marginalized have with God.  Their vulnerability manifest by oppression in the world creates an openness to God’s way.  This openness fosters a greater intimacy, deeper understanding, and easier access to living in harmony with God’s laws (ultimate reality).  Of course, harmony with God’s laws is counter-cultural to the status quo and the powers that be.  Intriguingly though, the oppressed already stare down the brutal realities of the powers that be every day; so, being counter-cultural is much less of a leap “of faith” than those who benefit from the status quo.  This is perhaps the most simple reason why top down change rarely, if ever, benefits the poor more than the rich.  Thus, the poor are already primed to adopt God’s ways, as the world’s ways sure as hell aren’t working for them.  Jesus is a striking example of acting in accordance with this reality.  Jesus spent the vast majority of his time with the dispossessed, and “regular” folks, the 99% if you will.  In a stroke of spiritual genius, Jesus planted his message among people who were both most open to God’s message and had their material interests aligned to move in a direction parallel to God’s ways, including, of course, justice.  No doubt, Jesus played a prophetic role, in directly confronting the powers that be, whether religious, political, or economic elites.  Such confrontations were likely inevitable.  Even so, Jesus brought an unwavering dignity, intimacy, and authority (street cred) to such encounters.  Jesus did not shy from his fully humanizing ways, even in the face of dehumanizing forces.  This was a palpable measure of how Jesus loved his enemies.  This is God’s ways manifest.  The poor have fewer barriers to accessing such ways. Let’s learn from the poor!

I have lived among affluent people of faith most of my life.  For the affluent, the vast majority of us in the so-called developed world, I am convinced that voluntary poverty and simplicity is the most powerful tool to transform our world, God’s creation, into ways friendly to abundant life.  I have drawn this conclusion from my profound failure to convince rich westerners to truly care about the world’s poorest.  I am a formidable debater, both informed and with heart.  Still, the misery of my failure to convince others with words is exceeded only, and greatly, by the misery of the world’s poorest.  I cannot escape the weight of my experience that the affluence of westerners, including myself, and the material conflicts of interest we are embedded in, is the single most important factor preventing such a conversion.  Better aligning our material interests with the poor, through voluntary poverty and simplicity, can unleash a cascading journey where the soul’s force begins to flow more freely, as water invites gravity to do its work — and the most grave law unbroken, that of love.  This poem of mine alludes to the freedom gained by simple living:

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

Probably the greatest illusion humans face is seeing wealth (and its companions, status and power) as an answer to all of their problems.  Surely, people have material needs, and those needs going unmet is a tragedy.  However, once one’s basic material needs are met, wealth becomes a disability to the individual and a disease to society.  There is a great body of psychological and sociological evidence that increasing wealth makes us less compassionate and less generous.  In short, wealth serves as a wedge between people and God.  Science confirms the truth of not being able to serve two masters.  People can, and do, argue about the role of material scarcity in the problems of poverty — just witness political wranglings about budget-busting social programs in the richest nation the world has ever known.  Nonetheless, there is one pervasive and undeniable fact: there is, and has been for at least centuries, enough physical resources to more than meet the material needs of every human on the planet.  In this light, spiritual poverty is exposed.  We can solve material want; we choose not.  It is not a close call!

Poverty worldwide is endemic.  Billions of people live on $2 per day or less.  Those most likely to be the poorest are women and children — so much for family values.  People of color are also at much greater risk.  Those most likely to go hungry are those who grow food, our farmers.  The only way this can happen is to literally steal food from their hands.  The rich claim a hugely disproportional share of the world’s resources, including the productive labors of billions.  All the wile, pawning sham scarcity as an excuse for their hoarding and ravenous ways.  Gandhi captured it well when asked what he thought of Western civilization.  He responded, “I think it would be a great idea.”  I concur.

With untrammeled globalization, poverty can only be adequately viewed as a global problem.  The causes of poverty cannot be isolated within one country.  We, as a world, are in the same boat — though, undoubtedly, there is an increasing chasm between the accommodations of first and third class.  Debt, just as in biblical times, is used to enslave people.  We are told that the world is in great debt, accepting it as gospel truth.  Yet, to whom exactly are we are in debt?  Pay no attention to the money changers behind the curtain.  Exploitation and robbing of natural resources unjustly enriches the wealthier.  Such profitable cleverness is called business.  Meanwhile, non-prophet organizations stand by impotent to counter this unseemly necessity.  And governments suffer from electile dysfunction. The good news is that the cancerous idol of endless economic “growth” may not destroy creation, with such abundance and ingenuity.  Praise be to God!  If only, God forbid, the dream of a worldwide “middle class” can be averted.  Work.  Buy.  Consume.  Die.

Less poetically put, the “powers that be” work on a global scale.  This juggernaut of globalization reduces humans to economic beings in a consumer culture.  People become means to ends, not being of sacred worth and inherent dignity.  To enforce this state of affairs, wars are waged as “needed.”  These wars, unsurprisingly, do not serve the interests of the dispossessed.  This global reality is rooted in a distinct worldview: poverty is not the problem; poverty is the solution.  While a tsunami of rhetoric speaks of jobs, unemployment serves to lower wages, not just of the unfortunate unskilled, but of skilled labor too.  More unemployment is good for (someone else’s) business.  And if you missed that memo, perhaps the desperation of unemployment and wage slavery has you occupied.  Such desperation can serve as a distraction and thwart a healthy, functioning civil society (see electile dysfunction).

There is an African proverb which says: where there is no wealth there is no poverty.  This ancient wisdom emanates from the experience of humans over many generations and cultures that concentrated wealth creates poverty, that is, depends on poverty. There is a powerful illusion that wealth brings wisdom, that the rich must really know something that we don’t.  Well, if they do, it’s most likely occult or a cult.  I cite the incisive lyrics of “If I were a rich man” from the play, Fiddler on the Roof:

Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!

The truth is much simpler, and more stark: the rich need the poor; the poor don’t need the rich.  For those who might cite the droll biblical retort, “the poor will always be with us,” have you pondered this: if you think the poor are hard to get rid of, try the rich!

The diseased worldview of consumerism and capitalism has at least on Achilles’ heel.  This rests on the utter inability to answer a fundamental question in life: how much is enough?  Capitalism thrives on convincing you that you never have enough, you are perpetually lacking something (which we happen to be selling), and by extension: you are lacking.  This turns the Gospel’s worldview upside down.  The good news is that you are enough; God made you that way.  Return to this truth, and capitalism recedes to a perfunctory process describing the nominal exchange of goods — and the goods are actually good!

The meeting on faith conversations about income inequality focused on the United States.  While poverty extends far beyond, and is rooted in, the larger world, the U.S. can serve as an enlightening case study.  The U.S. just recently observed the 50th anniversary of the “war on poverty” as declared in 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson.  [For poetic versions of lessons learned from the “war on poverty,” see my poems, Hungering for Answers, and War on Poverty]  The “war on poverty” is about the same age as me.  During my lifetime, the U.S. has grown about three times wealthier in material wealth.  Nevertheless, more Americans work, and they work longer hours.  Some gains were made in reducing poverty in the early years.  However, the overall trend since the late 1970’s has been stagnating or declining wages, especially when compared to skyrocketing worker productivity.  Income inequality is higher now in America than in the last hundred years.

For those with biblical commitments, we are long overdue for a Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee is a Sabbath of Sabbaths.  It prescribed forgiveness of debt every seven years.  In the fiftieth year — after seven cycles of seven years, not only was all debt forgiven, but all slaves were freed and all land returned to its original owners land.  This is the biblical prescription for preventing large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude through debt.  Let’s make it so!