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.

RUTTS
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…

ELECTION POEM: Won Thing In Common

We had
Won thing in common
We were consumers
Of the evil of two lessers
As if
Only just
At last
Defeat the enemy
Within
Hour strangled democracy
Won wring
Too rule them all
Sending US too
Our eternal reward
That second coming
Over
And over

Countless millions only wish for it all to be over on the impending dawn of won of the greatest daze in American democracy.  The passive-aggressive cycle of non-election years and election years strikes me as absurdly dysfunctional.  CAPITOL PUNISHMENT: Those Without The Capitol Get The Punishment [capitol building] POLITICAL BUTTONThis absurdity is heightened in presidential election years (or is that non-presidential?).  In a numbing normality, worker alienation, blind consumerism, and inane entertainment maintain a trifecta of blessed passivity and hegemonic conformity punctuated by learned helplessness.  That’s the non-presidential years.  In presidential election years, our absurdity is traded up to the mirrorly surreal.  More like reality (sic) television than democracy, viewers — formerly known as citizens — are granted the high tech, virtual reality illusion that their voting for the winners, and decidedly losers, of American Monarch, is a sacred choice worthy of our waning humanity.  What we want, we want so desperately to be over.  Elect Satan - Why Pick The Lesser Of Two Evils - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONLittle do we realize that the unending cycle of fomented yearnings met with chronically new and improved unmet needs is perfectly consonant with our lifetime of socialization and domestication as consumers.  Work, buy, consume, die.  That we are literally consuming the planet should come as no surprise.  That in exchange for this we accept a few good jobs and a lot of crappy jobs (though 2 or 3 apiece), should be met with outright rebellion.  When winning ultimately feels like losing, and it only feels better when it stops, it may be a good time to stop drinking the Kool-Aid™.  It’s time to raze the bar.

ACTIVIST POEM: Our Ayes Will Have It

She had
Enough
Of half-baked politicians
She kneaded democracy
Here and now
As the yeast she could do
Sounding off
To those who might
Listen
Wee choir not
A grand stand
To lift every voice and sing
Wringing well
The harmonies of liberty
However aloud the rolling sees
Our ayes will have it

This poem is a tribute to the enduring importance of movement politics as the truest driving force for social and political change, working for justice for all.Justice: Some Assembly Required -- POLITICAL BUTTON  This poem is a tribute to political activists who do most of their work outside formal electoral politics.  Such action is centered out of the direct lived experiences of broken hearts and broken lives as opposed to white papers and think tanks.

Most people of privilege and power will roll their eyes when hope dares rise from despairing circumstances to demand justice, aka “too much.”  “They just don’t get it” the condescension goes, as if people on the short end of power don’t know how the world works.  “Not getting it” may be true inasmuch as the powers that be have “it” and don’t give anything but a shit.  Mainstream politics is almost by definition reactionary.  The first duty of society is justice. Alexander Hamilton quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe fear of losing “it” at best and organized greed at worst, short-circuits justice in our so-called democracy for countless minorities (disenfranchised folks of every stripe), which deeply ironically comprise a majority of our nation.  If the 1% are masters of anything, they are masters of dividing an overwhelming majority of the populace against each other to assure that none of their many legitimate grievances are fully redressed.  Human progress is neither automatic or inevitable...Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle. MLK QUOTE BUTTONFear of losing whatever one has sides with frightening regularity with the increasingly routinely vain hope of “upward” mobility, aligning itself with organized greed, all to avoid earnestly casting one’s lot with the poor and disenfranchised.

All of this breaks my heart — not my will or hope. This poem alludes to the rousing song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem.” This song beautifully embodies and honors in music and lyric the undying hope and ultimate commitments arising like a phoenix out of countless inhumanities and death itself to keep our eyes unwaveringly on the prize: justice for all.  This song was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1899 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954) in 1900, the lyrics of which are:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest, our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

May our native land, and every native land, be blessed with the spirit of this song.

Feel at liberty to browse my justice designs:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONKnow Justice, Know Peace with African American Flag colors POLITICAL BUTTONIf you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -- Desmond Tutu quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Globalize THIS - JUSTICE [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONMarch For Justice - and every other month -- PEACE BUTTONPower at its best is love implementing the demands of justice -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTON

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONJustice Is Less Expensive Than Injustice POLITICAL BUTTONConscience is the Chamber of Justice--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

	 Liberty and Justice for White Rich and Connected (LIBERTY BELL) POLITICAL BUTTONJustice Is No Yoke - Isaiah 58:6-PEACE BUTTONJustice for ALL POLITICAL BUTTON

Justice NOW POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Technicolored Jesus

Is it time for one of those
Come to Jesus moments
Wear there is skin in the game
Beyond black and white
Word
And what surrounds
Words
Becoming flesh
Another flood
In a see of
Red between the lyin’s
More than throwing the book
At smacking
Of the full lips of won’s savor
A forgiving fodder
All the wile preying too
Knowing not what due
Holy discriminating
No the color of blood
Know more
Technicolored Jesus
A mine blowing Palestinian Jew
Borne and razed
As soul
Property of another religion
Slaves to shedding
That which is
Indistinguishable from their own
Pooring into the world
Seedlings multifariously soiled
Converted to a cross
Saved fore Christ
Only knot
Apprehending
With due convictions
Buy red letter Christians
Drinking from rose colored glasses
As white as know
Giving him hail
King of the Jews
As a sign of the tines
In tongues speaking
Reportedly above cross
As fallower remains
Intent disciples
Paving the highway to hell
Trod by poor soles
Back in black
And who
Suspects
In America
As when roamin’ umpire
If a man is hung from a tree
He’s black
N conceivably
Some thing other

This poem is about a Jesus for all, black and white, boringly straight and fabulously technicolor.  This poem is about the violence and racism present in American Christianity.  If Christians must be black and white, the evidence points more to a Black Jesus than a White Jesus.  A nation built on slavery still undergirds contemporary lynching, parently paling in comparison in present-day whitewashed White supremacy.  Of course, America has ambitious rule beyond its boarders.  The imperial American rule of the world and its concomitant violence has been condoned, even blessed, by American Christianity.  A Palestinian Jew is inconceivable to most.  Perhaps this explains the prevalence of virgin birth doctrine.  We are all pink inside, and for some strange reason, the fruit of this seems to only be conceive Abel by shedding won an other’s blood.  May we reach a stage of enlightenment where we can live together as one humanity, or at least not use the crucifixion of one as rationale for the crucifixion of an other.

POEM: The Iconoclassism of Godliness

She was in
A class by her self
Staring at her teacher
In a too room school hows
By two mirror subjects taut
Assure as three
Bound by know
Student lones
Only that body
Of know ledge
From the school of hard knocks
And missing class

This is a poem about the necessarily eccentric and lonely aspect of life in relation to the unique set of experiences we each have and the personal, subjective experiences we each have with the mystery of mysteries sometimes called God.  Each person’s unique place in life bids a certain iconoclastic attitude.  Every class room we are placed in is constricting in some fashion or another.  Any body of knowledge we amass is ever facing a ledged uncertainty.  Staring into the abyss or the eyes of a loving God is subject to doubt.  Learning is a humbling enterprise, requiring perpetual re-righting of our ideology of any given day.  The spaciousness of our souls bids us forward and outward into necessary uncertainty.  This may very well be the built in adventure of life, both exhilarating and exasperating, inspirational and overwhelming, profoundly satisfying and deeply unnerving.  Whatever hope we may have for a common humanity is bound up in each of our unique, irreducibly ineffable, and inescapably iconoclastic take on life.  There is no formula that works for awe.  The joy full life cannot dance mirrorly to an algorithm.

The line in this poem, “Assure as three,” is a somewhat obscure reference to the Christian concept of the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, the counselor and comforter.  The reference is from Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NLT), amidst sacred text extolling the advantages of companionship and the futility of political power: “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”  The Holy Spirit is more resistant to rigid theologies and ideologies than The Father and The Son.  The Holy Spirit is more of a wild card, unpredictably navigating us through the apparent vagaries of life, ever shifting yet creating life anew.  More secular folks may refer to such as conscience, some gestalt of awe that we are, accessing something profound yet palpable to those open to its guidance.  The iconoclastic nature of conscience is informed by the direct experience of our deepest realities, which often doesn’t neatly match where others before us, or society as a whole, happens to be at in any given moment.  I see this as the deepest life force itself, making evolution, and when needed, revolution, possible.  We are in this holy mess together.  I strongly suspect that a deep appreciation for each others’ iconoclasm and eccentricities is a necessary foundation for a good life which grows awe the better.

May you find a lucid relationship with that small, still voice, your conscience open to the deepest rhythms of life.  May you find blessed companionship in your sojourn through this holy mess.

POEM: A Re-View of a Plunk Rock Band, Tossing Watery Graves

I want it awe
Yet what do you no
What measures
Must we take
From emanate ripples
He helled the earth in his hand
Of what intimated
Of know consequence
A dinky mount
To sky ward heavin’
Hoping only to rock the whirled
Impelled to sea
In escapable gravity
Never in visioning
That there is
None boulder
In his pond-erous
And Sisyphean weigh
Casting all he once held dear
As flippin’ grovel
Into an unbroken mirror
As just
Hanging in
Con centric circles
Learning too a bridge lessen
As a bait
Waving less and less
To say good buy
As their reach is their largesse
Only to leave us
With an eerie qualm
And little
If any thing
To take
To the bank
Shoring up any pausible hope
Un-availed by the human I
Wither or not
As poetry
Reduced to pros
As awe things reckon
As precisely quota’d
A praising every angle
Bent on wane
Every thing
That is
Having fits
The scale
Leaving us
The lit-less
And immeasurable whoppers
The won with abacuses and slyed rule
Counting upon the inevitable apple
Fallen from trees on shore
Given too fruity beaches
With nothing
Better to do
A Newtonian uni-verse
As if
Dispatching
A lagoon squad
In sum kind of egression analysis
In a bounty us pool of data
Free from water
Fishing
In err
With out-land-ish loch
On learning
Of fall-ibility
Grounded in certitude
Agitated a bout
Tsunamis of certainty
And faintest freedom
Fueled agin
Too buy too
An arc
Reliant up on
Being largely stoned
And heading south
All the faster
To murky depths
Still
In this abyssal life
Wear there is
Every thing but
Life re-sides
In a soul place
For awe
As be-wilder-ed
Knot mirrorly a void
A stones throw aweigh
As be guiled
Cursory-ing like a sailor
Skimming the mirror surface
A mist watery solutions
Crying out
Over an abyss
All armed a bout
Drowning in what
We are trying
Too divine
What you can count on
Ripple™
In hitting one’s bottom
Throne down a well
As per cent
100 proof
Making a wish
Of scientific rigor
Sow rarefied
As iron out
Of awe that is mist
Worshipping statutes
That no copper can enforce
Nailing the truth to dead wood
Caskets and buckets
Lowered
Hung out too dry
Bailing out
Awe that is well
A tempting
Sow perverse
Amiss under stood
Plunk rock band
Billowing out
In con sequential
To sum
So poor tending
The easily fluttered
And shirking
That beneath us
Or sow a peer
Do be us
As it may seam
Take me littoral
And fathom deeply
The coast of freedom
Fore who knows
More of that which swells
Those who lead
Unfetid lives
Learning their keep
In this
Life unearth
Or those who undertake
Properly measured lives
In a dogma eat dogma whirled
Vainly exacting an incalculable prize
On each and every won
For in
The sweet by and by
It is
Better to be
Taken in
Than taking out
Rulers
And measuring cups
In the see of life

This poem goes out to my friend, Toby, who in a conversation a couple of evenings ago inspired and quasi-commissioned a poem (and blog entry) around the metaphor of fathoming the ripples from a stone being thrown in a body of water.  In our conversation this was about measuring the effects of our actions, specifically social justice actions, as to the effect they have on the world and its inhabitants.  The hope was to better harness this knowledge in order to parlay it into more effective actions.

This poem tackles a familiar theme of mine: how a fixation on scientific-reductionistic methods weigh too often rob us of access to deeper meanings.  So, here goes:

Most of my life, my working assumption has been that if other folks just knew what I knew that they would act congruently with me.  I don’t put much stock in this assumption anymore.  Hell, much of the time, I don’t even act congruently with the knowledge with which I have been blessed.  I have spent many moments and years projecting my sense of rationality onto others.  I have spent many moments and years projecting my favored modes of rationalization onto others.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe that reality is deeply ordered and that this order is accessible, even more so than we usually think.  I am still cursed with the double-edged sword of an abundance of right opinion.  Still, I have come to more deeply appreciate that we act more out of our emotional sensibilities, which are profoundly molded by our self-interest, whether that interest is privileged or disenfranchised.  I view our emotional sensibilities and the sum total in our life of our various privileges and disenfranchisements as the primary drivers of our actions, over and above our routine thinkings.  In fact, motivational and behavioral research shows that the primary causal direction of changed attitudes is from behavior, not knowledge.  In other words, our attitudes change more from changing behaviors than changing knowledge.  This is caught up in a matrix of cognitive dissonance, where we have a powerful need to make sense of our lives as it is at any given moment, and rationalizations supporting any given status quo are favored.  Changing what we do, voluntarily or involuntarily, shifts our attitudes much more robustly than even large changes in knowledge.  This undergirds the suggestion of “fake it til you make it,” recognizing the power of cognitive dissonance to drive our attitudes and thinking to match our behavior.  While this may seem inauthentic to some degree, simply compare it to the endemic hypocrisies represented by vastly incongruous knowledge and beliefs with our behavior.  This also gives a tip of the hat to the classical liberal paradigm of the importance of environmental conditions.  Our own personal collections of privileges and disenfranchisements, either personally or socially, are weigh more important to making sense of our behavior than cataloging, or even changing, our knowledge and beliefs. In sum, knowledge is routinely over-weighed in behavior change and social change.

My view is that plumbing the nature of our own privilege and disenfranchisement is a much firmer foundation upon which to build a life-affirming world.  This self-knowledge can generate powerful insights into others and is a prerequisite to empathy.  Reflecting on both grace (unmerited privilege) and unjust relationships (disenfranchisement) can leverage the attitudinal changes necessary for a better world for all.  Mustering the courage to let go of unmerited privilege when it perpetuates unjust relationships, and change our behavior accordingly, even if it feels uncomfortable and scary, will align our lives at a deeper level of comfort and peace.  Knowledge will follow.  Knowledge will catch up to our passions.  Life-affirming knowledge is wisdom.  All other knowledge is unnecessary clutter, actually confounding the manifestation of wisdom.  Where a whole heart rules, all is well.  Living in won’s head can foster a perversely dangerous idealism, disconnected from the world of the living.  If this strikes you as in any weigh anti-intellectual, you may want to delve into my blog — I speak from experience.

May you find a weigh in life that lifts up both yourself and others.

 

POEM: In What Seams Faultless

At certain moments
I am left
In a world
Beyond
That which is
My own
Speechless
In what seams faultless
Only to be
Hereafter
Unleashed
After awe
Unforked tongue
Speaking freely
To anyone who can
Here
Experiencing such presence
Unfrayed of whoever’s might
Raze doubts
Without distinction
Of those naked to the world
And wholly close off
To any conception
Of consummate being
Unfucked
And irreproducible
Sow what
They attest
Ribbing such hipness
I deal
With it
As holy inconceivable
Awe that is receivable
Soully redeemable
Oar simply unspeakable

This poem is an ode to the wondrous nature of life and the blessed certainty of certain experiences that expose us to truths that cannot be accessed by the mere triangulation of facts.  Also, this poem is a tribute to the conundrum faced by poets and prophets everywhere where the most deeply experienced truths leave us speechless and yet call us out to speak freely about that beyond that which can be bought.  The gossamer armor of poets and prophets is easily pierced by those prone to cynical pokings.  Cynics and sadists get perverse pleasure in crying out, “I don’t buy it.”  To which poets and prophets can only respond “exactly.”  Skepticism is so much more easily packaged and neatly priced — for those who proffer such things — than the freely given intimacy of a singular truth.

I find myself drawn to the phrase, “I was struck,” as a way to describe this immediate and direct experience of truth, free of the “means” inherent in the commerce of daily life.  Being struck implies something palpable, perhaps even enough to get the attention of someone who usually requires getting hit on a bit to get them to pay attention.  Still, the shared truth is more wooing than getting hit upon.  The unspeakable force of this truth is manifest simply by paying attention.  The palpability is more akin to breathing or a heart beating, the present necessity of life finding its way into the world but neglected, taken for granite in a more concrete whirled.  The familiarity of this world of steal leaves us petrified and orphaned in a world parently without much forbearance.  The ostensibly passive voice of “being struck” intimates another actor, another subject, tendering an offer so tender that its import counters boarders difficult to cross.  The nourishment is present to those who can fiord to see.  Nonetheless, in loo of moral fiber, many constipating skeptics promptly pooh-pooh any such experience; and to their wonderment are unimpressed by what remains.  Mean wile, scorn points at the quiet telling, at what is dumb founded.  The inescapable forest of logic is stumped. The prize paid is too ironically fined that missing peace in their puzzlement.  Re-covering truth is a threadbare undertaking.  Aww, to be borne again!  Awe natural is the only propriety birth day suits.  Veracity is no wear to be found.  Perhaps the best we can do is to strike a pose and hope that there is more to come than leaving them in stitches.  There is sow much more than making an offer, that one scant refuse.

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

POEM: God Gets a Bad Wrap

God gets a bad wrap
As do men
Gloom
Over
Rite and wrong
Babies borne of bathwater
Throne buy themselves
Like clay
Giving rise
To the pitter potter of little feats
And inconceivable images
Speaking out laud
In a class by themselves
Bastards won and all
In celestial relationships
With awe thumbs up
Too given the slip
Sow fatefully fired
Knot from above
Hardened arts of ode
And stone code making cooler heads
Commandments all deca-ed out
Can you digit
For what remains
Won in the mettle
No’ing only gods enflesh
And bones picking
Wons fecund knows
As dead pan humors
And how to think themselves
Outside the box
And portending wake
Only breaking
That awkward silence
And bound curiosity
Ex-splaying stuff
A coffin in drag
Employed in the coroner office
As doody-full janitors
So disposed
In a sweeping universe
Taken out
Behind the would should
Wile hearts still
Beating
Out standing in there feeled
Straw men ghostly flailing
Which came first
The bunny or the egg?
An ironic inquisition
Unable to eat crow
So far a field
Full of crop
Making hay
Of men
Which can’t be bailed
As so determined
Only Abel to must-er
Barren stock aid
A vestigial humanity
Remains incalculable
Even as calculating
Blinded by the blight
Reckoning slight unseen
Nothing sound to be hold
No peeps to be herd
In this objective a praise
Un-re-lie-able reports
Of being touched
During wholly observances
Untraceable soles
Save those who follow
A fare hearing too steep
Know inviting savor to a t
Angles abandoning
No read scent to be found
Not to be
Incensed by fragrant violations of logic
Having bin burned before
And thinking it novel
Sticking to non-friction
Yet a tribute to nothing a tract
Easily excepting gravity
And perhaps animal magnetism
In a random house
A glorious reproduction
Fit to survive
In terminable halls of tomes
Covering smiles from end to end
Atlas, holding the whirled
And shrugging
As passé
Ages of old
Quipped with a thesaurus
In countering the unspeakable
Super seeding doubt
Calling out
Awe hail
Too the faithful
As libel to slander
Of rites unridden
And xenophobic farces
Poorly versed
Caricatures
With drawing
From think wells
Drying too hard
Distasteful to unknown palettes
A vapid likeness
Running lapse
Around good taste
For bitter or worse
Never winning
The grace
Unfounded
Even though profits speaking
Assure us
From the freely given
We make the most sense
Only from blessed assumption
Are we
Infer the right of our life
Or in ability
To take our hunch back
And so stoop id
Egos on and on
Un-till
We are
Super
With unassuming cape-ability
There is all ways won more
Last sup pose
Surrounded by friends
Or enemies
So tight
God sheds tears
In a wrap so taut
A hide sew made
Pelted by the dead
The cruelest of stoles
Witnessed ever
Only
Escaping such a cloak
From beyond assent
As leapers never heeled
By any crowning bluff
Transcending any convictions
Illiciting something knew
Surpassing the bounds of a head
A risqué gambol
When all that you are
Goes for bust
Never able to hold its own
In the public square
Spilling the truth
On all who will here
Should their eyes beam
And motes be crossed
To take a hike to knew places
Where nothing will be left
Wanting more
Even when full
Groan

This poem is a long elaboration of a familiar theme of mine: the transcendent bigness of God and the cramped quarters built by man’s hubris.  The poles of this theme are occupied by scientifically unverifiable but glorious experience of life and the denial of God, often on the grounds that any mental packaging of God is necessarily inadequate, a too messy foundation for some.  The mystical reality that no description of God can do God justice is fodder for both believers and skeptics.  Those anywhere on the spectrum from belief/openness to skepticism/denial are doomed to at least some measure of failure trying to give God any wrap in human terms.  Believing in an open-ended God that cannot be put in a box strikes me as a rather predictable characteristic of the creator of life — life being a dynamic and messy endeavor.  To continue maturation beyond a certain point as a human, belief is necessary — necessarily messy.  Those who are agnostic strike me as trying to avoid confronting this juncture between the transcendent and the mundane.  I think this can leave one developmentally disabled or delayed.  Deniers strike me as having more hubris than tenuous believers because they must assert certainty to disqualify the question as a legitimate question.  Of course, the is a seductive simplicity to addressing the nature of transcendence by simply saying it doesn’t exist.  But, like Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

Disagreements about God probably have little meaning as an abstract intellectual argument.  God is definitely too big to fit in your head!  Our conceptions related to the God question are ultimately questions of power.  There seems to be a universal tendency in humans to not be lorded over by others.  This part of our nature can serve both skepticism and belief.  Questioning authority is a natural process when ultimate authority is open-ended and messy.  Belief in such a higher power, one that doesn’t want submission but rather co-creative participation, frees us rather than enslaves us.  Reality is bigger than our self.  In at least one inescapable sense, we’ve gotta serve somebody or something (for those more comfortable with the impersonal).  Bob Dylan captured this sense well in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody:

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

In life, as in tennis, even before the first serve, there is never zero, only love.  It is only our need to score points that obscures this primal reality.

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Davis-Besse Nuclear Disaster – “Good Job”

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”

This poem is inspired the chronic reality of having lived in the kill zone (50-mile radius) of nuclear reactors most of my life.  Currently, Toledo is smack dab between two nuclear power plants with very poor safety records, that is, Davis-Besse and Fermi 2.  A nuclear disaster at either of these nuclear reactors on Lake Erie would be catastrophic for both human populations and the entire ecosystem of the Great Lakes region.  For the oft cited improbability of such disasters, I publish this poem around the 3-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear reactors melting down, and still melting down with no good end in sight.

The specific theme of this anti-nuclear poem is triggered by multiple disturbing experiences at public hearings on these nuclear reactors.  At such hearings, there is typically a parade of power plant union workers — think Homer Simpson — and fawning public officials — think Mayor Quimby.  Their well-orchestrated homilies extol well-paying jobs and how magnificently the plant has overcome past safety failures.  Local political cronies typically wax on about how great corporate citizens these huge and hugely irresponsible energy companies are for their patronized communities.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is a willing conspirator and ringmaster to this surreal circus of blessed assurance.  I am particularly disturbed by how enthusiastically workers, and specifically labor unions, are willing to worship any job, however “well-paying,” that endangers humanity and Mother Earth.  Though, if you’re going to destroy the planet, I suppose it seems better to get well-paid along the way.

The farcical facade of nuclear safety has been exposed in three not-so-easy steps: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.  I, for one, am not waiting for a twelve step program to shutter the drunken gait of the nuclear industry.

POEM: Balms Around Every Corner

Truth lives at peace with facts
Facts war with truth
As an orderly
Gone astray
In an awe in compassing hospitality
Scurrying from one stat to the next
Drunk on 100% proof
And in all probability
Will perpetually pass attest
With no lack of patients
Ever-presently over-looking
Medicine beyond
Preyer or medication
Still interrupted
Buy balms around every corner
Wear all is qualm
Where residents may not be drug
Round after round
Caching bullet points
For the heeling of others
A pour trade for lush living
In truth
Many facts cannot pay
They’re fair
In a cosmos a-washed with excellence
As truth is tolled
One piece
Is not as good
As what fallows
Or even Quickens®
In know way pandering
Anything other
That which they see
The whole in their soul
Wonting more than a void

This poem addresses a very common theme in my poetry, the relationship of scientific certainties and metaphysical realities: facts and truth.  The relationship between our mind and our heart has a profound affect on how we order our lives and how we experience the world.  Like facts and truth, the mind and heart are not contradictory, in the same way that science and religion (physics and metaphysics) are not contradictory; e.g., “Truth lives at peace with facts.”  Nevertheless, conflicts arise dependent on our view of the whole (“The whole in their soul”).  Metaphysics, a necessary element of spirituality, is a transcendent, awe-encompassing view of Truth.  Physics, the world of facts, is also a necessary part of human reality, but a necessarily incomplete view of many truths/facts.  Physics is the foundation of everyday living, providing a highly predictable platform for a coherent life, the rationale making life feasible.  Metaphysics enlightens physics, shedding light on higher, more complete realities.  Metaphysics imbues physics with meaning, the reason to live.

The fundamental problem that I see in modern life, especially Western civilization, is an undue fixation of “certain” aspects of reality, e.g., “Drunk on 100% proof.”  This addiction to focusing only on the lesser robs us of meaning, in a barren self-fulfilling prophecy — which makes sense, it just sucks!  I think that such a partially blinded view of reality is wrapped up in fear.  Whether fear leads to such a worldview or such a worldview leads to fear is a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg type of argument.  Regardless, they are self-reinforcing.  So, why is such a worldview so popular?  I suspect because the force of certainty is a great selling point in trying to come up with a comprehensive view of reality.  If you are a certainty addict, the line you draw around reality is highly predictable, exactly parallel to that diaphanous line where our five senses stare into the nebulous abyss of metaphysics, the world of feral uncertainty and unpredictable freedom.  This place of metaphysics is messy, at least at first glance; and many find it much easier to look away.  The strangely beautiful thing is that the world of metaphysics is as highly ordered as the physical world, even more elegantly so!  The crux of the issue is a willingness to venture beyond the comfortable certainty of reductionistic science, bringing things down to familiar level, where things are easily coherent.

The train to increasing scientific understanding certainly has many hubs, branches of science, but train stops typically end at the last station before metaphysics.  And going beyond one’s station is scientific heresy.  Nonetheless, such a limit is arbitrary.  First, even in the most orthodox science, there are unprovable assumptions (see Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem or my crazy poem, Wading for Gödel).  In short, the mathematician Gödel proved (yes, proved) that any mathematical or logical system will always have truths that lie outside the ability of that system to prove them.  Second, from our assumptions, highly ordered worldviews mysteriously arise.  This is true for both reductionistic science and metaphysics.  Reductionist science makes the most fundamental mistake possible, violating its most orthodox — dare I say sacred — premise, by blindly accepting that it is assumptionless, the most blessed assumption, making scientists merry.  Science can rightly test hypotheses, but not assumptions.  Science cannot answer the question of where coherency comes from, or even whether coherency is better than coherency!  I vote for coherency being better, but I can’t prove it!  In fact, science cannot even speak to better or worse, only what is (at least at the time of the experiment), and with high probability: IF this happens, THEN that will follow.  Even with science’s well accepted foundational assumption that coherence is better than coherence, the elaborate worldview which unfolds logically and through rigorous observation cannot account for meaning!  It can catalog, categorize, compare and contrast the many ways that people behave within posited systems of meaning, but science must stand silent in declaring any one system Truth.  This is the truth of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem.

Unfortunately, this inherent limitation in logical systems brought to light by Gödel receives little appreciation.  Plus, instead of going forward with this understanding, recognizing its implications for further advances, we continue down a proven illogical, scientifically heretical, path of some type of pseudo-logical imperialism.  We must transcend this dead-end.  There is not much surprise that the scientific revolution during the so-called enlightenment led to an atrophy of metaphysical literacy.  Any pondering of anything metaphysical, let alone “God,” appears that it necessarily must be degraded.  And we are left with an amputated worldview, reduced to science’s presumptuous and incomplete reach.  Meaning escapes our grasp.  Alienation grows.  In fact, the imperialism of objectivity cannot account for subjectivity at all!  In this bizarro world, you, as a subjective being, don’t even exist — or at least you shouldn’t exist!  Is it any wonder we have created a world unfriendly to humans?  At best you are just one more “thing” to deal with, and likely with your unpredictability, formerly known as freedom, you will find yourself less favored than inanimate things and virtual reality mimicking what we truly long for.  The ancient alchemists’ scientific dream of led to goaled has been sorely unachieved.  Without going the next step, embracing metaphysics, we are doomed, “Scurrying from one stat to the next.”  For millennia, humans have asked and earnestly tried to answer the great questions of life.  Taking on the tried and true methods of science — hypothesis generation and rigorous observation — schools of thought, competing theologies, and myriads of human experiments, have resulted in a rich body of metaphysical understanding converging on eternal truths endowing humanity with a wealth unfathomable by perhaps most post-Enlightenment worldviews that have been posited.  Still, gaining from such wealth requires an entrepreneurial spirit.

God is the greatest balm to go off in history.  God is the pinnacle of metaphysical ponderings and wanderings.  Embracing our own subjectivity and the tantalizing possibility of other subjectivies, most commonly recognized as humans, and less well recognized as God, enriches our universe beyond measure.  Exploring our inner life, our own subjectivity, with the same disciplined observation of science, yields new truths, beyond mere science.  Exploring the subjective realities of others and how they resonate or react with us, opens progressively wider and deeper possibilities.  Experiencing God can help center our subjective experiences around a unity in reality that transcends and transforms our being and functioning in the world.  Of course, speaking about God is even far less productive than speaking about food and expecting delightful tastes and bodily nourishment.  Nonetheless, human language, can be a launching point triggering hunger which presages satiation.  Experiencing God is a new birth that is best communicated by our transformed lives.  For me, trying to speak about experiences of God is the birth of poetry.  For me, writing poetry is the mind and heart making love.  Even then, the occasional offspring are less reliably joyful than the love-making.

As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  May you find wholeness and hospitality in your most excellent journey.

POEM: Unemployable

I am unemployable
Partly because no one can afford what I’m worth
Partly because I prefer to give it away

This short poem harkens to a more organic way of relating to one another than contractual relationships.  What if people did what they love in life and gave freely?  I suspect that the world would be much better off.  Love unleashed is much more powerful, and synchronous with the deepest reality, than any personal profit or “earning.”  Giving freely is an invitation to escape the binds of the quid pro quo of contracts.  Contractual relationships are bound by a reciprocity that is defined by a limited payback.  The best that a contractual relationship can offer is an equal, reciprocal exchange or payback that ends when the direct participants/contractors get what they bargained for — it’s largely a closed system.  Of course, many would be quite satisfied with such a fair exchange.  I am not.  I yearn for an open system of unending streams of acts of kindness where little time and effort is spent on trying to guarantee that the giver gets back a commensurate, proportional return in a specific way. How about paying it forward?  Many will cry out, “Life is not fair; if you act that way, then you will get shortchanged.”  My answer: you are right, life is not fair — life is excellent!  My life is a gift that I can never repay, except in kind!  What is fair in life is that what we sow is what we reap.  The means produce the ends.  And the kinds produce new beginnings.  As Gandhi, a man well accustomed to the darker and lighter sides of humanity, proclaimed, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” People convinced that mutual exchange negotiated by two parties is the best we can do, will likely not do much better.  I, for one, would like to participate in a much bigger party!  And like John Lennon said, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live as one.”

Us dreamers don’t deny that people can treat you badly, worse than you treat them.  What dreamers don’t deny, but affirm, and live into, is that people can treat each other better than they are treated.  Within this blessed inequality is a sacred space where forgiveness, grace, and gratitude flourish.  I view this as the most fundamental and appropriate response to the existential reality that I did nothing to deserve my life; or, as John Paul Sartre and Paul Johannes Tillich would join in saying, “We are not the ground of our own being.”

The fright of giving freely is easily identified, and it is commonplace.  Interestingly though, perhaps more illustrative is the odd reality that receiving freely is also very difficult and scary for many people.  The fright that binds these two conditions is not the fear of not getting enough, but rather the fear of not earning one’s way.  If I receive freely, then I might owe someone or something.  This may trigger an even deeper fear of being controlled, having this debt being used against you.

I suspect that this fear of being controlled, having a debt being used against you, may be the most basic fear contained within false religion, that is, religion which controls rather than sets free.  Perhaps ironically, this fear of having a debt that one cannot repay may be a frightening undergirder of atheism (a rejection of a giver?).  The modern scientific atheist betrays this worldview by a singular focus on scientific reductionism, the world of causality where each individual party has a proper accounting (hmmm…sounds a bit like a religion).  In this world of causality, that paradoxically is proclaimed to exist without a cause (“it just is” — like God?), there is no room for generosity or forgiveness, only ever finer engineering and accounting.  Mystery becomes simply ignorance, a hubris-ridden assumption about what lies beyond the veil.  Humility and hubris seem as one.  Is it any wonder that scientific atheists may find their attitudes vacillating from extreme causality and exacting control to impenetrable absurdity.

Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.”  Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce.  Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life.  Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way.  We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “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)   Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!

There are few things in modern American politics that will piss people off more than confronting “a sense of entitlement.”  Conservatives more typically take offense at a “sense of entitlement.”  Liberals more typically work to protect “entitlements.”  I think that this liberal desire to protect “entitlements” springs from a sense of human rights which transcend market valuations.  Unfortunately, the debates about “entitlements” pays too much homage to economic worthiness than sacred worthiness.  I view conservatives’ objections to “entitlements” as springing from this worldview that holds “earning” as sacrosanct.  Such a worldview rejects both “giving freely” and “receiving freely.”  Conservative religious rhetoric aside, the dubious conservatives’ claim that giving should be done freely (without government involvement) is perhaps best debunked simply by their giving behavior.  Feeble claims that government robs them of enough resources to give is easily countered by the fact that the more people have the less they give proportionally (whether conservative or liberal).  The urge to give must spring from some place different than having a lot of stuff to give.  If this sacred place from which giving arises is to become incarnate in this world, then we must behave congruously with the reality that each human is more valuable than any employer can pay, and we must prefer giving over earning.

May you resist the temptation to monetize your humanity, or anyone else’s, and may you give freely, centered in that sacred space where what is most valuable is experienced.

POEM: Efficiency Expert

The efficiency expert asked me
How many poems can I write
Per hour
Well, if I only
Had but one hour
I would guess a singular poem

Western civilization seems obsessed with efficiency.  Of course, high efficiency is no guarantee of high effectiveness.  You can be very efficient at doing the wrong thing, and it will get you nowhere fast; or worse yet, actually farther away from what is desirable.  Western civilization’s desire to quantify every thing can become a distraction by leading us to ignore those things that are difficult to quantify.  I would posit that the most important things in life are difficult to quantify, and at some point trying to quantify them will likely do more harm than good.  What would be a unit of love, friendliness, hope, trust, courage, integrity, or humor?  Yep, sometimes dissecting something kills it!

I must admit that I am a big fan of blessed inefficiency!  The best things in life — a good meal, making love, a good joke, or all three — are not good subjects for efficiency.  Time wasted that is enjoyed is not wasted.  I like the variously attributed quote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  Joy is a singularly better marker for guiding success than any quantitative measure.  So, how many units of joy have you experienced today?

In this poem, there is a stark contrast between quantity and quality.  The efficiency expert inquires with numbers in mind, typically assuming that more is better.  The poet takes one hour, but one hour, as all that they have; and such a profound limitation can provide clarity and depth of which an efficiency expert may not even dream.  The answer: a singular poem OR one poem per hour. Is not the answer clear?

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die discover that I had not lived.”  — Henry David Thoreau, from Walden (a read I would highly recommend as an antidote to frenetic modern civilization)

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

Here is a portion of a document that I drafted a couple of years ago while I was a board member of Toledo Area Ministries (TAM).  It was never adopted in any form, but I put a lot of work into, so I wanted to make this work available to others. If you are interested in a Christian perspective on justice, try this one on for size:

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

All power and glory is God’s.  Power originates in God’s sovereignty.  From God’s sovereignty, comes TAM’s core value of the Church as “the most powerful certainty on the planet.”  God will work God’s will in God’s own way:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 We are called to exercise power responsibly, and not lord over one another:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you.’” (Judges 8:23)

Whatever power we possess is a gift from God.  However, with power comes the temptation to use it for our own purposes instead of God’s purposes.

Responsibility and accountability are proportional to the amount of power possessed:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Power and power differentials are an inescapable fact of human life.  Power and power differentials exist within families.  Power and power differentials exist within community and governmental organizations.  Power and power differentials exist within faith communities.  Power and power differentials exist between nations.  Power and power differentials exist between all of these.  In fact, power and power differentials exist within any form of community.

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, King James 21st Century Version)

God in Christ, shares power and authority with us through authentic community:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Truth and Accountability

Injustice is rooted in evading accountability to God and one another.  “What is truth?” (John 18:38)  This rhetorical question as posed by Pilate to Jesus is the classical evasion of accountability made by the “powers that be.”  Of course, this evasiveness is not restricted to powerful political leaders.  Cain, while his brother’s blood cries to God from the ground, attempts to evade God’s accountability by saying, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10).  Nor is evasiveness of accountability restricted to murderers.  An expert in religious law, in testing Jesus, himself confirmed that loving your neighbor as one’s self is necessary to inherit eternal life: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29). Of course, this leads to the parable of the good Samaritan, where the hated enemy is judged righteous because he took effort and risk to help one in need.

“Distracting and conquering” is the conventional first line of defense in evading accountability.  What these three Biblical accounts have in common, besides a big dose of simple denial, are questions implying doubt that the truth can ascertained.  In attempts to deflect accountability, we have all encountered many versions of, “I don’t know.  Who can really say?  It’s all so complicated.” or “This is so important that we should study it (to no end).”  The key problem this raises when dealing with power differentials, is that this takes the “powers that be” off the hook, so they can maintain their power without being called into accountability, and injustice can reign.

“Distracting and conquering” results from being trapped within a misunderstanding of Truth.  As already noted, the evasive “What is truth?” question by Pilate was used to evade accountability to the Truth incarnate right in front of him.  The assumption implied in this question is rooted in the belief that ultimate truth cannot be determined by objectively studying all the facts in the world — which is a fact, though not the truth.  Believing this state of affairs to be the ultimate truth is relativism.  Unfortunately, relativism is only half of the dualistic confusion called materialism, brought about by worshipping creation rather than the Creator.  In fact, many secularists believe that you can determine ultimate truth from the many facts of the scientific world.  This form of idolatry employs the vain hope that if we only look at all the facts, Truth will be determined.  This is the conundrum of modern science without God.  In fact, secularists inevitably must vacillate between these two facets of materialism simply because each is inadequate to answer life’s deepest and most important questions.  Not surprisingly, when this confused world view can’t bring peace, violence is employed.  Ironically, this conundrum leads to both Pilate’s “tolerance” of Jesus and the brutal Pax Romana he ruled within.

The living God offers a way out of the dualistic confusion of materialism:

“For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

and Jesus’ words eliciting Pilate’s evasion: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

“Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8, NIV Reader’s Version)

“Objectively” studying all the facts from all of the different views of the world cannot reveal the One Subject, the great “I am.”  There is more than Nature, the created world.  There is a Creator.  God reveals truth to us through the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ, Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and peoples’ experiences.  Reason confirms these means of grace, but cannot access life’s deepest truths alone.  Conventional wisdom is not enough:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

The living God offers a way to out of life taking a beating with a “dead” philosophy where “the powers that be” can “manage” avoiding accountability to their unjust benefit.  The living God offers a way beyond the false neutrality of the secular world which declares God’s Lordship over all as off-limits, or irrelevant at best.

Of course, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), humans have an innate conscience, inescapable sense of morality, and desire to have a relationship with God.  So, distracting and conquering will eventually reach its limits.

“Dividing and conquering” is the next line of defense in politics in evading accountability. 

When the “powers that be” cannot quell or manage the moral demands made upon them, they turn to what they know best: self-interests.  Welcome to the world of “divide and conquer.”  When you can’t “distract and conquer,” pit the self-interests of individuals and groups against one another.  Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo and the power differentials enjoyed by the “powers that be.”

Pilate’s moral reasoning was reduced to managing self-interests [“…he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)].  Pacifying constituent interests to meet one’s own interests falls far short of accountability to God and one another.  Beyond Pilate’s ill-equipped moral reasoning, Cain and the expert in religious law sought to evade accountability to “my brother” or “my neighbor” by questioning the great commandments to love God and the second, like unto the first, love your neighbor as yourself, from which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matthew 22:37-40).  Beyond obvious self-interest which short-circuits right relationships, in the end, we can no more focus on just our neighbor — to the exclusion of God — than we can focus only on God –to the exclusion of our neighbor.  Neighbor without God results in secular interest-based politics, an endless clashing of unfulfilled interests. God without neighbor results in a vain search for piety unsullied by engagement of worldly politics and transforming “the powers that be.”  

Injustice ultimately rests on violence, the end result of worldly politics, relying on simply conquering when other more “civilized” means fail.

Eventually, God’s justice must be confronted, and violence remains the only option left to maintain or force injustice upon others. This can take brazen forms such as the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus or waging war.  Though simply conquering often takes less brutish forms such as power grabs and punishing of political enemies. 

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

1) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy;

2) competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership; and

3) the total complex of relations between people living in society.

The first definition is “Politics with a capital P.”  The second and third definitions are “politics with a small p.”

God, as the Lord of all, is also the Lord of politics, of all varieties.  This includes legislative and policy issues.  This includes advocacy with community groups, including churches.  Ultimately, this is about how we work out our common life together as God’s children.

Our primary concern is where power differentials exist and the potential for “Lording over” one another is greatest.

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

The “powers that be” has been the subject of study of Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of a seminal trilogy of books addressing the issues of power.  Dr. Wink defines the “powers” as “the impersonal spiritual realities at the center of institutional life” (Wink, p. 28), “… the ‘corporate personality’ or ethos of an institution or epoch…” (Wink, p. 27), and “… the soul of systems…” (Wink, p. 29).  As such, the powers are not necessarily evil.  This “ethos” or “soul” of an institution, system, nation or epoch can move us positively or negatively.  It can motivate us to extraordinary unselfishness and service for good or it can be manipulated in the service of evil.   The powers are at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.  In any institution, we need awareness of its goodness, fallenness and redeemability to discern effective steps towards change.

In working for justice, we often confront the powers as one of the many “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, nationalism, or patriotism.  As Dr. Wink puts it, “This overarching network of Powers is what we are calling the Domination System.  It is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all…from the ancient Near Eastern states to the Pax Romana to feudal Europe to communist state capitalism to modern market capitalism” (Wink, p. 39).

from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998):

Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just occasional expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ time:

“Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum, but his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System.  Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination.  God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

“Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23).  He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.”  Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

Wink notes Jesus’ pivotal call to end economic exploitation and nonviolently overthrow evil:

“Economic inequalities are the basis of domination.  Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth.  Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice.  Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few.  His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice.  It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land.  It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people…An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong.  Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children.  We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“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)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 18-32-34)

Surely, budgets are moral documents revealing where our treasure, and our hearts, are found.

God decreed the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) to prevent large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude.

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

Hierarchy reinforced by “shaming” – false moralism, enslaving us to legalistic categories, using unjust social norms to reinforce an unjust status quo

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

C. Authority versus Control

Jesus ran no formal organization, had little money, and no great worldly titles

In the world closely related to status (which is closely related to money),

“Who is this man who speaks with such authority?  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

In 1 and 2 Kings alone, prophets proclaimed that no less than two dozen kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:6, Solomon; 15:26, Nadab; 15:34, Baasha and Jeroboam;  16:25, Omri;  22:52, Ahaziah;  2 Kings 8:18, Jehoram; 3:2, Joram; 8:27, Ahaziah and Ahaz; 13:2, Jehoahaz; 13:11, Jehoash; 14:24, Amaziah; 15:9, Zechariah;  15:18, Menahem; 15:24, Pekahiah; 15:28, Pekah; 17:2, Hoshea; 21:2, Manasseh; 21:20, Amon; 23:32, Jehoahaz; 23:37, Jehoiakim; 24:9, Jehoichin; 24:19, Zedekiah).  Also, the Bible records judgment on the entire nations of Israel and Judah (e.g., Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 2 Chronicles 29:6, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4 and 1 Kings 14:22).

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ ” (Acts 4:18-20).  And later in Acts, Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)  The daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah pointedly violated the Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:17). Even after he was ordered to be silent, Jeremiah continued to preach that Jerusalem was doomed unless its leaders repented and submitted to the Babylonians.  Jesus broke Sabbath laws (John 5:16-18) and carried out a public witness by cleansing the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13–16) for which the authorities crucified him.

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24).

E. Expecting persecution

Persecution is a natural consequence of challenging the “powers that be” — in fact, it is a sign of success, a blessing!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult youand reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now,  for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-26)

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” (Acts 7:52)

Prophets are invariably infuriating to their own people, and God often turns to outsiders to do God’s work:

“ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” (Luke 4:24-28)

 Jesus was a prophet, killed because he challenged powerful religious and political elites.  The seductive logic of the world is to save our church, our people, our nation — which means giving up Christ:

” ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11:48-50)

 Our church, our people, our nation already have a Savior who has shown us the way:

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 In prophetic witness, we are in good company, a “great cloud of witnesses”:

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Is it any wonder that complicity with the “powers that be,” which offers rewards of money and control, greater status, and ‘security,’ is such a tempting alternative to guaranteed persecution?

The Vision/God’s Dream

The God of all, including the future, holds for us blessings greater than we dare imagine.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah boldly declares this vision:

“ ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:20-25)

God’s vision for his children is real and powerful, calling out to be manifest in the world, to transform the world.

TAM’s Mission

To help the Church meet God’s vision, TAM’s mission encompasses three broad areas: meeting human need, creating community and working for justice.

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

The greatest commandments are hinged by connecting love of neighbor as self with loving God:

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

 Meeting basic human needs is part of loving God and neighbor:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

” ‘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)

 ” ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God’s mercy to us is the model for our behavior toward others.  Relying upon ‘deserving’ is ultimately a denial of God’s basic character, unconditional love.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful.  We are on the short end of this fundamental power differential and God shows us mercy:

“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’  I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)

God reminds us often of where we have been and what God has already done for us, that which we could not do ourselves:

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26;13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 6:21, 7:8, 8:14, 13:10, 20:1: Judges 2:1, 2:12, 6:9; 1 Samuel 10:18, 12:16;  1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:22; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 81:10; Jeremiah 16:14; Daniel 9:15)

Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency.  Expecting God to provide for us and forgive us undeservedly while insisting that only ‘deserving’ neighbors have their human needs met is unjust and denies our complete dependency on God for forgiveness and ‘our daily bread’:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b)

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

Our reconciliation with God makes us new creations, ambassadors of reconciliation to our neighbors:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20a)

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

We can engage in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ.  We can humbly explore the sources of our differences.  We can honor the sacred worth of all persons.  In prayerfully seeking the mind of Christ, we can work out our life together in love.

The way of Jesus is one of radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality is a sacred process of transforming a stranger into a guest, or even family.  It witnesses to the reality that God entered the “world” to reconcile us to God and neighbor.  Jesus was the incarnation of radical hospitality: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

Where radical hospitality is practiced God’s realm flourishes.  Examples of these include:  Abraham receiving the three strangers — angels (Genesis 18), the Midian priest taking in Moses (Exodus 2), Rahab allowing Joshua’s spies to stay with her (Joshua 2), the widow at Zarephath offering Elijah her last bit of food (1 Kings 17:8-24), and the Samaritan woman inviting Jesus the stranger to stay with her community, which he does (John 4).

Where radical hospitality is not practiced, God’s judgment waits:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

Beyond Civility

The golden rule provides guidance in how to live in community with one another: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)  Nonetheless, God requires even more than human love that returns its own:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Jesus did not avoid harsh words for those in positions of authority.  In fact, Jesus saved his harshest words for religious elites who avoided accountability to those they were to serve.  After calling the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29) and “whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v. 33) (see also Luke 11:37-54)  Jesus boldly overturned tables in the temple, declaring “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Matthew 21:13b) in response to an affront of the religious establishment to the Lord’s declaration that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

True worship in authentic community produces justice.  God despises religious practices that do not produce justice:

 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.  Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.  Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them.  Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the music of your harps.  But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:21-24)

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.  (Isaiah 58:6-9)

Calling one another into account with God and one another, i.e., working for justice, is an essential part of creating authentic community.

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

Love leading us to live as a community of equals starkly highlights the many injustices in the world.

Doing Justice

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7)

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.  He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’  So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.  Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?  declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:13-16

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Advocacy, prophetic witness, social witness are all related expressions dealing with working for justice

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-7)

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’  And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Boldness:

[In response to rulers conspiring against Jesus…] “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4: 29)

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:16-17)

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9)

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” ( 2 Tim 1:7)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Leadership requires a balanced view of the “powers that be” as being at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

Our Biblical values manifest themselves in the world in many ways; many of these issues are encompassed by these categories:

1.  Being stewards of the natural world that sustains life on earth.

2.  Building up families and our nurturing communities, which underlie the

potential for each to live into the fullness of their humanity.

3.  Support our social communities and human rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes.

4.  Upholding an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread.”

5.  Engaging the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society.

6.  Recognizing the oneness of God’s world and world community and seeking our particular role in it.

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

The status quo is.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Money.  Status.  Control.  These are the ways of the world.  Falling back into these ways offers many temptations, for the world rewards these ways, and punishes those who challenge these ways.

God judges us as nations according to how we treat “the least of these.”

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

In what areas do I depend upon the mercy of God and others?

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

From a spiritual perspective, we are all indigent.  We cannot be made whole by ourselves.  We depend upon God and others for our very life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Offering all to God:

God makes us whole.  God works through our areas of giftedness and advantage and our areas of vulnerability

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Recommended reading:

The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink, Doubleday, 4/98, ISBN: 0-385-48740-1

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

How significant is the impact on human need, justice, and authentic community? (importance test)

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

Will people be deprived of meeting a human need that will directly and significantly harm individuals or families (human suffering test)

Does the issue impact creating community?

Is a partner organization or local faith community involved and/or affected? (good neighbor test).

Does an issue affect our local community (the local test)

Do many Christian faith traditions have statements supporting such advocacy and/or very few, if any, faith traditions have statements that may contradict such advocacy? (tradition test).

Does dealing positively with a controversial issue offers an opportunity to model a Biblical alternative of authentic community to worldly politics (Biblical alternative test).

Are families and/or our nurturing communities undercut in a way that threatens community members in living into the fullness of their humanity (nurturing communities test).

Is “civility’ violated and/or opponents are demonized and offering a faith-based perspective could be of substantial benefit (civility test)

Is the common good threatened or diminished, where short term gain creates long term loss (seven generations test)

Does the issue impact working for justice?

Does an issue threaten the poor and vulnerable (“least of these” test)

Does an issue weaken an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread” (shared benefits test)

Does an issue threaten human rights/civil rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes (children of God test)

Does an issue threaten the ability of people to engage the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society (fair representation test).

Does an issue threaten public safety, peace and non-violence (non-violence test)

Are power differentials so large that it precludes a fair hearing of the issues (fair hearing test)

Does an issue threaten stewardship of God’s creation (creation stewardship test)

Does an issue deny the oneness of God’s world and world community (one world test).

Is there no other local faith body addressing an issue of Biblical justice (voice in the wilderness test)

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POEM: Shooting Star

You are a shooting star
Enjoy it while you can
And may others look up
And see your light

The short poem focuses on the theme that life is short, yet it can be glorious.  The first order of business is to enjoy life while you can.  Following this, others may be blessed to look up and see the light of your life.  I like the imagery of a night sky.  The night sky is largely dark but becomes glorious with the many tiny sparkling lights strewn across the night sky.   Of course, there is a strange partnership in that the great darkness makes the tiny lights shine all the more.  However, even though the night sky may occupy much of our potential field of vision, it is often overlooked.  In some way, this makes the beauty that is present all the more beautiful, considering the blessed few who are able to take advantage of such beauty.  Perhaps ironically, these tiny distant lights in the night sky are actually huge stars, massive nuclear furnaces burning for billions of years.  You’d think that might get our attention!  Nonetheless, we seem to acclimate to such enduring glories.  The irony is that tiny, short-lived lights in a motion, that is, shooting stars, are much more likely to grab our attention.  So may your  life be poetry in motion, capturing the attention of those who can appreciate it.  And if not, may you at least be able to enjoy the burn!

POLITICAL CARTOON: Dr. Jesus – Blessed Insurance

Doctor Jesus Goes on Rounds

Jesus Cartoon: DOCTOR Jesus -  Blessed Insurance

Dr. Jesus, a teacher as well, works at a teaching hospital.  Dr. Jesus takes every opportunity possible to share his love of medicine with others.  Of course, working at a prestigious teaching hospital doesn’t come cheap!  So, Dr. Jesus first asks his followers to join him in and a round of the hymn, “Blessed Insurance.”  Dr. Jesus knows who puts hummus on his pita bread!  Also, it proved to be eminently more practical than Dr. Jesus’ original health care plan, “Health Care for Awe.”  Even with Dr. Jesus’ new-found practicality, he still remains suspect for his whole “health care for a song” business.

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of Doctor Jesus, CEO Jesus, Comedian Jesus, General Jesus, Country Club Jesus, etc., let me know what you think.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Jesus Quote–BUTTON

Blessed Are the Peacemakers--BUTTON

Blessed Are the Peacemakers – Matthew 5:9 – Jesus–BUTTON

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View more Peace Quote Buttons.

This quote from Jesus from Matthew 5:9 is probably one of the most famous and well-known Jesus quotes from the Bible.  Though, however common the phrase blessed are the peacemakers is, you’d be hard-pressed to figure that Christians took this seriously, given how many Christians are in the military, in many a nation (often opposing nations), and how much counsel and comfort is given to those manning, and occasionally womaning, military enterprises.  Of course, many Christians would argue that war-making is a form of peacemaking.  I think that this was a popular argument in 1984.  Or, well, it’s a real job creator for theologians to figure a way out of loving our enemies, and allowing us to kill those that we hate.  This is one of those areas where I find that Christianity gets seriously in the way of following Jesus.  Many people do not realize that in the early Christian church, pacifism was the prevailing norm.  Refusing military conscription was a common form of martyrdom in the early Christian church.  Of course, later, when Christianity cozied up to the state, particularly in the fourth century when Constantine made Christianity the state religion, Christianity mysteriously came up with new ways to justify warring on its enemies.  This co-option into the ways of the world is as common as it is unjustified.  Just reflect on Jesus’ words for a moment.  Really, what blessings do we see reaped by the peacemakers?  In worldly wisdom, these so-called blessings are secondhand fodder for the weak, the lowly pacifist.  I don’t think that it was a mistake that Jesus’ words recorded here as part of the beatitudes, added for emphasis that peacemakers would be called the children of God!  he was trying to make a point!  This is a title reserved for the blessed peacemakers in Jesus’ list of who is blessed.  Most people stop reading the beatitudes soon after this because they are insane enough to suggest that those who are persecuted for righteousness sake are also blessed.  I also like to Luke version which mentions as one of the woes as all people speaking well of you, for this is what our ancestors did in speaking of the false prophets.  It seems that a common thread of the many rationalizations I believe stray from Jesus true message concerns avoiding a cost for our actions.  Some days I just wish that we had a courageous Messiah that spoke boldly and prophetically to the powers that be in this world, and they wouldn’t back down, even to the point of death by the cruelest means.  I can tell you one thing: they didn’t need to torture Jesus to get the truth from him.  However, the fact that Jesus was willing to put some skin in the game, all of his skin, speaks truth deeply.  Like they say, talk is cheap.  What would you be willing to sacrifice for peace?  And what blessings would you reap from this?

POLITICAL CARTOON: Country Club Jesus – Blessed are those who exclude others for economic reasons

Country Club Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: Country Club Jesus - Blessed are Those who Exclude Others Economic Reasons

Welcome to Country Club Jesus!  This is the latest installment the Top Pun series of comics that run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This is the first appearance of Country Club Jesus, but he will undoubtedly return again!  Country Club Jesus has finally got some balls, a bucket full of them as a matter of fact.  You have to wonder with Jesus being so special why he waited so long for this exclusive members only thing!  But, he’s finally caught up with his church that seems to focus more on guarding its exclusive member benefits than actually growing the circle of members, or God forbid, actually living out its mission to set the oppressed free.

A lot of things in life cost a lot of money.  The world tends to focus on what it can’t afford and the infinite versions of trying to use money to meet needs that money cannot fill.  Like John Lennon says “All you need is love.”  Right, that and a Cadillac will get you a Cadillac, others say.  I can certainly relate to how complicated it is trying to sort through all of our basic needs and meet them, and certainly money has a role in that process.  Nonetheless, I find it much more useful to frame our most basic needs in terms of what I can’t afford not to do.  This hones in on those relatively few, yet most important, values that get roughshod on a daily basis.  This helps foster a more conscientious approach to that which is important but not necessarily urgent.  It is essential to be able to define what the good life is.  If money is the lowest common denominator in this definition, then you can expect that your life will not rise much above this lowest common denominator.  I return often to the classic and profound dichotomy that Jesus laid out:  you can serve either God or money, but not both.  This is a basic choice that cascades into the rest of our life every day, every month, every season, every year, every decade, every generation.  If we screw up that basic choice between God and money, our life will necessarily be disordered.  First things first.  Seek ye first the realm of God and all else will follow.  The screwed up worldly version of this is: no money, no mission.  If you can’t tell the difference between these two versions, then it’s time to get back to the basics.  Oh, and by the way, it probably doesn’t include beating up others with your exclusive club!

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, etc., talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

POLITICAL CARTOON: General Jesus – Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

General Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: General Jesus - Blessed Are Those Who Kill People Who Kill People

Welcome to Gen. Jesus!  This is the third installment a new Top Pun series of comics that will run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This week’s Gen. Jesus is an over-the-top parody of the pacifist Jesus.  As you can see, Jesus is quite at home in his oil-rich desert that we know as the Middle East.  This is a top assignment which he probably garnered by being able to speak both English and Aramaic.  Notice that Jesus’ cap is slightly askew, as a tip of the hat to the little people, and perhaps a subtle clue to his truly radical nature hidden behind an unstoppable war machine.  As he humbly points to his “killing people” medals, he is quick to point out that he did not actually do the killing, but he has people who do this for him; it is simply his great leadership and command of billions of dollars of killing technology that justifies such colorful, ostentatious displays.

General Jesus’ lesson for today is a kick ass, shock and awe moral principle: killing people is a very effective way of showing people that killing people is wrong.  If this moral lesson seems somewhat screwed up to you, it must be because you are unable to grasp the many subtleties that spring forth from the moral pillars of brute force and impersonal killing that drone on and on.  Of course, General Jesus knows certain things that we don’t.  Perhaps this is why we are asked to trust him.

The longer version of this moral lesson is that killing people who kill people shows people that killing people is bad, and this is a sure guarantee that we will never get out of the job of killing people.  Remember, it’s all about jobs: snow jobs, con jobs, and the occasional sweatshop job (somebody has to make all that crap).

On a more serious note, it is interesting to note that Jesus was a powerful opponent of Roman imperialism, which played well with the masses since he was part of one of the many groups that were put down by Roman imperialism.  In fact, the book of Revelation in the Bible is considered an allegory speaking against imperial Rome.  Apparently, sometimes you need to couch what you say in terms that your intended audience will understand, but not so obvious that the powers that be will come and take you away.  However, Jesus apparently did not master this ability completely, as he was taken away and executed by Rome and its complicit cronies.   Those of us who are into the power of humor will appreciate that many of Jesus’ titles are actually intended to mock the worldly and political powers of the day.  Calling someone “Lord” in the Roman Empire would be seen as an infringement upon Caesar’s god-given rights.  This would be similar to calling Jesus “Commander-in-Chief” in modern-day United States.  Not surprisingly, religion and the state often do battle over claims to ultimate allegiance.  This is the way it should be, or perhaps, must be.  How these particular battles turn out probably depend upon your view of ultimate power.  If you think that fear, control, and domination are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side with the state.  However, if you think that love, solidarity, and service to one another are the most deciding factors in human life, then I would say side in a higher power, sometimes in the guise of religion.  In the end, it seems to come down to voting with one’s feet, voting with the existential force that is our life.  I choose to vote for love, solidarity, and service to one another.  What say you?