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…

FREE POSTER: Senator Rob Portman as The High Priest Caiaphas, Starring In That Christian Damn Nation

This free poster takes Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) to church over his brutally un-Christian vacillation over the senate Republican health care bill.  This satirical poster is yet another installation in my “Parity or parody in democracy” series.  Wile Sen. Portman is considering the gutting of Medicaid, costing about $800 billion, he may be bought off with $46 billion in funds to treat opioid addiction, and perhaps a similar amount thrown at, or into, the gaping hole in Medicaid.  This poster uses the lethal logic that the high priest Caiaphas used to justify crucifying Jesus, that is, killing a portion of the nation to save the hole nation.  Here is the scriptural text from the poster (in Republican-ease):

If we let Obamacare go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then democracy will come and take away both our Party and our Christian damn 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 hundreds of thousands die enriching the rich than that the whole Christian damn nation perish.” John 11:48-50 (Republican Jesus inversion)

Let’s stop this damnable vision of so-called health care, a health care bill paid for by poor, sick, and elderly Americans as Republicans mirrorly enrich the richest Americans and powerful corporate campaign donors.

Chris Hedges’ Interviews Noam Chomsky on Precarious State of America

Once again, Chris Hedges nails it in his article, Noam Chomsky Has ‘Never Seen Anything Like This,’ discussing the precarious state of the current American political landscape and bringing to bear Chomsky’s rigorous and insightful analysis over the last several generations:

Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker. He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”

“I listen to talk radio,” Chomsky said. “I don’t want to hear Rush Limbaugh. I want to hear the people calling in. They are like [suicide pilot] Joe Stack. What is happening to me? I have done all the right things. I am a God-fearing Christian. I work hard for my family. I have a gun. I believe in the values of the country and my life is collapsing.”

Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system, in works such as “On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures,” “Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture,” “A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West,” “Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky,” “Manufacturing Consent” and “Letters From Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda.” He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to elevate ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression. And it makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.

Chomsky reserves his fiercest venom for the liberal elite in the press, the universities and the political system who serve as a smoke screen for the cruelty of unchecked capitalism and imperial war. He exposes their moral and intellectual posturing as a fraud. And this is why Chomsky is hated, and perhaps feared, more among liberal elites than among the right wing he also excoriates. When Christopher Hitchens decided to become a windup doll for the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, one of the first things he did was write a vicious article attacking Chomsky. Hitchens, unlike most of those he served, knew which intellectual in America mattered.

“I don’t bother writing about Fox News,” FAUX NEWS - Rich People Paying Rich People To Tell Middle Class People To Blame Poor People (FOX NEWS Parody) - POLITICAL BUTTONChomsky said. “It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”

Chomsky, because he steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies, has been crucial to American discourse for decades, from his work on the Vietnam War to his criticisms of the Obama administration. He stubbornly maintains his position as an iconoclast, one who distrusts power in any form.Stop Terrorism Stop Participating in Terrorism--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

“Most intellectuals have a self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity,” said the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein. “They revel in and admire someone like Vaclav Havel. Chomsky is contemptuous of Havel. Chomsky embraces the Julien Benda view of the world. There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”

“Some of Chomsky’s books will consist of things like analyzing the misrepresentations of the Arias plan in Central America, and he will devote 200 pages to it,” Finkelstein said. “And two years later, who will have heard of Oscar Arias? It causes you to wonder would Chomsky have been wiser to write things on a grander scale, things with a more enduring quality so that you read them forty or sixty years later. This is what Russell did in books like ‘Marriage and Morals.’ Can you even read any longer what Chomsky wrote on Vietnam and Central America? The answer has to often be no. This tells you something about him. He is not writing for ego. If he were writing for ego he would have written in a grand style that would have buttressed his legacy. He is writing because he wants to effect political change. He cares about the lives of people and there the details count. He is trying to refute the daily lies spewed out by the establishment media. He could have devoted his time to writing philosophical treatises that would have endured like Kant or Russell. But he invested in the tiny details which make a difference to win a political battle.”

“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”

Chomsky’s courage to speak on behalf of those, such as the Palestinians, whose suffering is often minimized or ignored in mass culture, holds up the possibility of the moral life. And, perhaps even more than his scholarship, his example of intellectual and moral independence sustains all who defy the cant of the crowd to speak the truth.

“I cannot tell you how many people, myself included, and this is not hyperbole, whose lives were changed by him,” said Finkelstein, who has been driven out of several university posts for his intellectual courage and independence. “Were it not for Chomsky I would have long ago succumbed. I was beaten and battered in my professional life. It was only the knowledge that one of the greatest minds in human history has faith in me that compensates for this constant, relentless and vicious battering. There are many people who are considered nonentities, the so-called little people of this world, who suddenly get an e-mail from Noam Chomsky. It breathes new life into you. Chomsky has stirred many, many people to realize a level of their potential that would forever be lost.”

May we have enough hope and faith in one another to act courageously for a bold new world.

Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism

If you want to make sense of the failure of neoliberalism, as typified by Hillary Clinton, and its vomiting up of proto-fascist leaders like Donald Trump, then author and journalist Chris Hedges nails it again, in this piece, Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal for Fascism:

Americans are not offered major-party candidates who have opposing political ideologies or ideas. We are presented only with manufactured political personalities. We vote for the candidate who makes us “feel” good about him or her. Campaigns are entertainment and commercial vehicles to raise billions in advertising revenue for corporations. The candidate who can provide the best show gets the most coverage. The personal brand is paramount. It takes precedence over ideas, truth, integrity and the common good. This cult of the self, which defines our politics and our culture, contains the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity, self-importance, a need for constant stimulation, a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation, and incapacity for remorse or guilt. Donald Trump has these characteristics. So does Hillary Clinton.

Our system of inverted totalitarianism has within it the seeds of an overt or classical fascism. The more that political discourse becomes exclusively bombastic and a form of spectacle, the more that emotional euphoria is substituted for political thought and the more that violence is the primary form of social control, the more we move toward a Christianized fascism.

Last week’s presidential debate in St. Louis was only a few degrees removed from the Jerry Springer TV show—the angry row of women sexually abused or assaulted by Bill Clinton, the fuming Trump pacing the stage with a threatening posture, the sheeplike and carefully selected audience that provided the thin veneer of a democratic debate while four multimillionaires—Martha Raddatz, Anderson Cooper, Clinton and Trump—squabbled like spoiled schoolchildren.

The Clinton campaign, aware that the policy differences between her and a candidate such as Jeb Bush were minuscule, plotted during the primaries to elevate the fringe Republican candidates—especially Trump. To the Democratic strategists, a match between Clinton and Trump seemed made in heaven. Trump, with his “brain trust” of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, would make Clinton look like a savior.

A memo addressed to the Democratic National Committee under the heading “Our Goals & Strategy” was part of the trove of John Podesta emails released this month by WikiLeaks.

“Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to the majority of the electorate. We have outlined three strategies to obtain our goal …,” it reads.

The memo names Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Ben Carson as candidates, or what the memo calls “Pied Piper” candidates who could push mainstream candidates closer to the positions embraced by the lunatic right. “We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

The elites of the two ruling parties, who have united behind Clinton, are playing a very dangerous game. The intellectual and political vacuum caused by the United States’ species of anti-politics, or what the writer Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics,” leaves candidates, all of whom serve the interests of the corporate state, seeking to exaggerate what Sigmund Freud termed “the narcissism of small differences.”

However, this battle between small differences, largely defined by the culture wars, no longer works with large segments of the population. The insurgencies of Trump and Bernie Sanders are evidence of a breakdown of these forms of social control. There is a vague realization among Americans that we have undergone a corporate coup. People are angry about being lied to and fleeced by the elites. got fascism? POLITICAL BUTTONThey are tired of being impotent. Trump, to many of his most fervent supporters, is a huge middle finger to a corporate establishment that has ruined their lives and the lives of their children. And if Trump, or some other bombastic idiot, is the only vehicle they have to defy the system, they will use him.

The elites, including many in the corporate press, must increasingly give political legitimacy to goons and imbeciles in a desperate battle to salvage their own legitimacy. But the more these elites pillage and loot, and the more they cast citizens aside as human refuse, the more the goons and imbeciles become actual alternatives. The corporate capitalists would prefer the civilized mask of a Hillary Clinton. But they also know that police states and fascist states will not impede their profits; indeed in such a state the capitalists will be more robust in breaking the attempts of the working class to organize for decent wages and working conditions. Citibank, Raytheon and Goldman Sachs will adapt. Capitalism functions very well without democracy.

In the 1990s I watched an impotent, nominally democratic liberal elite in the former Yugoslavia fail to understand and act against the population’s profound economic distress. The fringe demagogues whom the political and educated elites dismissed as buffoons—Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudman—rode an anti-liberal tide to power.

The political elites in Yugoslavia at first thought the nationalist cranks and lunatics, who amassed enough support to be given secondary positions of power, could be contained. This mistake was as misguided as Franz von Papen’s assurances that when the uncouth Austrian Adolf Hitler was appointed the German chancellor in January 1933 the Nazi leader would be easily manipulated. Any system of prolonged political paralysis and failed liberalism vomits up monsters. And the longer we remain in a state of political paralysis—especially as we stumble toward another financial collapse—the more certain it becomes that these monsters will take power.

Fascism, at its core, is an amorphous and incoherent ideology that perpetuates itself by celebrating a grotesque hypermasculinity, elements of which are captured in Trump’s misogyny. It allows disenfranchised people to feel a sense of power and to have their rage sanctified. It takes a politically marginalized and depoliticized population and mobilizes it around a utopian vision of moral renewal and vengeance and an anointed political savior. It is always militaristic, anti-intellectual and contemptuous of democracy and replaces culture with nationalist and patriotic kitsch. It sees those outside the closed circle of the nation-state or the ethnic or religious group as diseased enemies that must be physically purged to restore the health of nation.

Many of these ideological elements are already part of our system of inverted totalitarianism. But inverted totalitarianism, as Sheldon Wolin wrote, disclaims its identity to pay homage to a democracy that in reality has ceased to function. It is characterized by the anonymity of the corporate centers of power. It seeks to keep the population passive and demobilized. I asked Wolin shortly before he died in 2015 that if the two major forms of social control he cited—access to easy and cheap credit and inexpensive, mass-produced consumer products—were no longer available would we see the rise of a more classical form of fascism. He said this would indeed become a possibility.

Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into the Republican Party. He pushed the Republican Party so far to the right it became insane. Hillary Clinton is Mitt Romney in drag. She and the Democratic Party embrace policies—endless war, the security and surveillance state, neoliberalism, austerity, deregulation, new trade agreements and deindustrialization—that are embraced by the Republican elites. Clinton in office will continue the neoliberal assault on the poor and the working poor, and increasingly the middle class, that has defined the corporate state since the Reagan administration. She will do so while speaking in the cloying and hypocritical rhetoric of compassion that masks the cruelty of corporate capitalism.

The Democratic and Republican parties may be able to disappear Trump, but they won’t disappear the phenomena that gave rise to Trump. And unless the downward spiral is reversed—unless the half of the country now living in poverty is lifted out of poverty—the cynical game the elites are playing will backfire. Out of the morass will appear a genuine “Christian” fascist endowed with political skill, intelligence, self-discipline, ruthlessness and charisma. The monster the elites will again unwittingly elevate, as a foil to keep themselves in power, will consume them. There would be some justice in this if we did not all have to pay.

The parent conundrum here is how to create a way out of neoliberalism while dodging the rise of fascism.  Both require a much more politically conscious and politically courageous populace, who on occasion may also be an electorate.

Please feel free to browse more anti-Fascist and anti-authoritarian designs:

This Country Has Been Reformatted to Fit Your Fears--POLITICAL BUTTON I Don't Agree With President Vader's Policies, But I Still Think We Should Support Our Storm Troopers POLITICAL BUTTONWe Have Nothing to Fear But Fearmongers Themselves POLITICAL BUTTON

Make the lie big; make it simple; keep saying it; and eventually they will believe it --Adolph Hitler quote POLITICAL BUTTONOne Party System - Republicrats - POLITICAL BUTTONA Nation of Sheep Soon Beget a Government of Wolves - Edward R. Murrow Quote - POLITICAL BUTTON

You can't underestimate the power of fear. Tricia Nixon quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Standing On My Privy Ledge

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

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

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

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

Feel free to check out LGBT equality designs, Black Lives Matter designs, feminism designs, human rights designs, and anti-hate, anti-discrimination designs.

POEM: A Bout As Helpful

He axed
Are you a Christian?
Sow bound to answer
I am
Though that is a bout
As helpful
As siding the fact
That I am American
When in truth
Such a confining chide
Might only be a parent
As eye more fully scene
As a planetary citizen

The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift, not a right. SPIRITUAL BUTTONGandhi famously said, “I am a Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Jew.”  He understood the ever transcendent claim of religion to that which is beyond, including beyond any single religious tradition.  Being raised in a particular religious tradition is quite assuredly not the primary form of divine providence.  Similarly, the end all and be all of our existence is not simply defined by accidents of birth, whether it be nationality, gender, race, etc.  While the particularities of our life on earth, in this solar system, in this universe, provide the delicious details of our story, our special conditions are not only lessens to be learned, confining us to a shadowy prism in a rainbow of creation.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONThis poem alludes to the childish nature of making life a bout such parochial commitments.  This poem presents a more mature vision of mere nationalism as better scene in the light of awe being passengers on this planetary citizen ship.  There is nothing wrong with celebrating our particularities in life, as long as it is not used as a justification for devolving into egocentrism and tribalism.  Evolution has more to do with than sects.  May we learn to both relax and experience the exhilaration of skydiving into the bigger whole, sow big that it may rightly in compass life and death.

Stop Taking Life Literally--ANTI-WAR BUTTON

POEM: Never Agin

They lived in an ethic
Spacious enough
To ford seven generations
Rooted in time immemorial
And in awe of the presents
Their will yielding
To a vision enduring beyond death
True sojourners of life
Not a cataclysm of transients
Who dis honor from wince they come
Going long with scalping the future
As less than face value
In efface of repulsing toupees
And inescapable reservations
Of ever elusive promise
From ambitious suit her
Utterly redressed for success
Immutably miss led
From all that is goaled
In the alchemy of madders of state
Tres passers for bid
Native peoples beset
Buy this great-great-great-great grand chide
As a ballot too ahead
That fatal ran some
From exhorting pros and cons

This poem is rooted, and rooting, in the ancient wisdom of the indigenous peoples of this land now named America.  Only when the last tree has been felled, the last river poisoned and the last fish caught, man will know, that he cannot eat money. Cree Indian Prophecy quote POLITICAL BUTTONThat ancient wisdom is an ethic whereby decisions are made based on the impact they will have seven generations from now, on our great-great-great-great grand children.  This is practically the opposite of decision-making in modern America.  The short-term, do-anything-for-the-next-quarter American attitude has many folks wondering if they should even bring children into such a whirled.  The native peoples’ long-haul love for humanity and Mother Earth looks like it may be on the wrong genocide of history.  As the chattel of fear, we have been bought and sold down what is left of the river.

The present context for this poem is the latest, perpetually disappointing, decidedly un-presidential, election season up on US.  Specifically, today is the last set of Democratic primaries billed to US buy the presumptuous nominee, Hillary Clinton.  For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil is one striking at the root. Emerson quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe ass-dragging backdrop for this particular episode is the ever portending catastrophe of the un-Christian named Donald, that trumps all other incantations of evil.  As ponder US as could be, few seriously consider what is lost in the frayed.  Today, it may be the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, a candidate of hope.  Running on fear to rule this sphere, it looks like despair of candidates, with the megalomania of Donald trump and statist realism of Hillary Clinton, will captivate US with the two so-called choices possessing the highest negative ratings. The U.S. electorate, left only with the leaser of two evils, will buy evil on the lay away plan, where we will be either liberally or economically screwed, or unthinkably both.

The title of this poem, Never Agin, alludes to leading a life which is unabashedly for, not merely agin.  The means determine the ends.  SHIFT HAPPENS POLITICAL BUTTONIf we make key decisions, over and over again, based on what we are against, we will be doomed to a perpetually reactionary existence.  True freedom will repeatedly elude US.  Just US will be divided and conquered.  My only appeal in this election season is to vote for someone who your really would be delighted to be President.  Consider how your great-great-great-great grand children would have you vote.  Can we brave a path that doesn’t leave a legacy of fear?  For me, I will, without reservation, be voting for Jill Stein for President.  May we all be fearless citizens, and when need be, vote.

A ballot is like a bullet. You don't throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not in reach, keep your ballot in your pocket. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONAll governments suffer a recurring problem - power attracts pathological personalities; it is magnetic to the corruptible -- Frank Herbert, Dune POLITICAL BUTTONIt's Easier To Fool People Than To Convince Them That They Have Been Fooled -- Mark Twain quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Feel free to browse more electoral wisdom designs.

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: Howie Tried And True

Too fine
The word
That was lust to him
As a gossamer knight he
Oh Howie tried
And true
Enough
Wading in silence
Only to peer
Parently from know wear
To meat
His every knead
Too fine
Word
Maid flesh

This is a poem about the role of the muse in writing poetry.  On occasion, I exclaim, “Where does it come from?!”  This is an indirect compliment to awe that the muse does, plus a certain humility on my part for feeling unable to take credit for awe of my work. For me, the creative process often includes the experience of both peak concentration and seeing something come from seemingly out of nowhere, no place for which I can give adequate account or testimony, except perhaps in a completed work.  The creative process often entails both intense flow and an irresistible beguiling that on occasion may be mistaken for work.  There have been more than a few times that I have been gloriously exasperated by the joyful wear of a relentless muse, for which I can only gleefully apologize.  This poem employs a sexual metaphor to better reveal the palpability of the artist-muse relationship.  Also, this poem climaxes with perhaps the most profound aspect of religious theology: incarnation, spirit imbuing flesh.  In Christian sacred text, this is referred to as “The Word became flesh,” from John 1:14.  That which is most ethereal — God, life, light — becomes that which is most palpable to humans on earth.  These juxtaposed metaphors are similar to my description of writing poetry as the head and heart making love — which makes me simile.  May your life be overflowing as your ineffable spirit is enfleshed in this world.

POEM: A Brother Lying

Prey fore the dead
In the name of Jesus
In resurrection of those soully asleep
Getting a phallus rise
Out of Christianity
That is, US
More sow then radical Islam
In violate fundamental lists
Dissembling faith, hope, and love
As our trinity project
Our won God triumph a writ
With a Cain due attitude
Over awe that is Abel
To spill the good word
Buy blood crying out
Too me
From the ground
A brother lying
Knot knowing
The hollowed meaning
Of I am
One’s keeper

I often write about stuff triggered when I hear the news.  I listen faithfully to Democracy Now on weekdays.  It’s not unusual to stop in the middle of a show, or even a news story, to write a poem about something that touched me: a phrase worthy of seeding a poem, an issue baffling human kind, or simply a heartfelt emotion.

The literal life and death issues of war and peace, militarism and pacifism, have been close to my heart my whole adult life.  The latest flavor of this is the unending war on terrorism, which easily commiserates with virulent patriotism, nasty nationalism, presumptive racism, and irreconcilable religious bigotries.  Our unconscious privilege, convenient distance, and well-earned ignorance of world affairs is complicit with any easy alliance of violence as a lazy alternative to costly self-sacrifice as the true weigh of incarnating justice for all.  Nominal Christianity and its state-sponsored sheep, hawk a cheap grace bound only by an unequaled military budget and unquestioned reverence for a mercenary class.

I have a more generous perception of a frightened citizenry in deed resorting to violence in an increasingly secular, postmodern worldview.  Violence seems inevitable, certainly unendurable, without a resilient weigh to measure the sacred worth of an other, a brother human, who peers threatening.  I have a less generous view of normalizing violence by those aspiring to be religious, deeply commuted to any of the major faith-based worldviews represented by the world’s religions.  In the case of the U.S., the purported rock of our moral lives is Christianity.  I assert that an honest appraisal of American Christianity regarding its world military domination is that it is ruggedly cross.  War and Peace - What Would Jesus Do? FUNNY PEACE BUTTONAmerican Christians quiet reliably in efface of violence, instead of bearing the rugged cross, demand the blood sacrifice of “others” as their savior.  To this I can only say, “Jesus Christ!”  Whose image due we bear?!  What about state violence has to do with the heart, life and death of Jesus — other than the fact that it was state violence that executed Jesus.

To add insult to injury, the budget-sized war we christen as terrorism, we blame on Muslims, or worse yet, on the sacred tenets of Islam.  The real competition may be about who has the shallowest understanding of their religion: nominal Muslim terrorists or nominal Christian war apologists.  I strongly suspect that the farces of Christianity have killed more people than the farces of Islam.  Regardless, the age-old story of Cain and Abel, shared in the sacred texts of both Christianity and Islam, plays out over and over: brother kills brother and denies the essential nature of their kin relationship and how family should care for one another.  May people of faith lead the way in ending violence between all peoples.  This goes triple for “People of The Book” (Jews, Christians, and Muslims).

Browse anti-terrorism designs.

Is Killing In The Name Of The Prophet Worse Than Killing In The Name Of Profit? ANTI-WAR BUTTONTerrorism War of Poor War Terrorism of Rich--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONWar Is Terrorism With A Bigger Budget ANTI-WAR BUTTON

 

POLITICAL CARTOON: CEO Jesus Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus: You Had Me At The Retirement Plan

CEO Jesus Retirement PlanAfter a long hiatus, CEO Jesus is back.  This comic was inspired by a poem I wrote recently:

At Jesus, Inc.
I came for the love and mutuality
I stayed for the retirement plan

This poem and political cartoon is a parody of the often namby-pamby, first-world Christianity that passes for following Jesus these days.  I sometimes joke that I wish there was a religion where the founder was a nonviolent rabble-rouser crucified by the state, perhaps even as their fellow clansmen stood complicit.  That’s a leader to which I could relate.   I occasionally wonder what Christianity would look like if we amped it up so that, say, 1% of Christians were killed as a direct result of their radical love challenging the powers that be of this world.  What if Christians seriously risked destitution or death for the cause of love more commonly than building “secure” retirement plans?  These are the kinds of questions that haunt me and in which I find little traction or resonance within the walls of American Christianity.  Ahhh, for a Church that boldly embraces such questions; this is the Church I long for…

Peruse more political cartoons featuring CEO Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, Dr. Jesus, and Palestinian Jew Jesus

FREE CHRISTMAS POSTER: Homeless Refugee Nativity

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…with all of those homeless Middle Eastern families.  This free poster offers my take on the hypocrisy of Christians in a co-called “Christian” nation worshiping xenophobia and fear rather than the radical hospitality and unconditional love that Jesus modeled from his birth.  The widespread and sniveling calls to limit refugee immigration and brand all Muslims as a threat to national security is a national shame and a profound shrinking of our humanity.

Homeless Refugee Nativity Christmas -- FREE POSTERPlease feel free to download and/or share widely this Christmas poster to help launch conversations about what it truly means to have love and compassion for all of our neighbors around the world.  We might want to stop arming and bombing the Middle East for a start…

POEM: God’s Perish

I under stood
God’s might
And might not
And in awe probability
New
That I
Will only
Fooly see
Phase to phase
Until awe of creation
Come prized my parish

This poem is about dying to see the face of God.  This takes two forms: dying when unable to see the face of God and dying if a mere mortal human were to see the face of God.  The first form is the traditional form preached about and at others to point out their deficiencies and need for God.  I find this form fraught with peril as pedantic and fixated on the lack of God’s presence, the very thing it seeks to dispel!  As if God could successfully hide; fortunately, on this account, God is a total loser.  God bursts forth from creation, if not well reflected in humans, then from nature.  Still, God is a total loser because God cannot reveal God’s full face to humans without literally blowing out our mind and being as humans.  There is a protective veil necessary to preserve and maintain human existence.  I am far more intrigued with this second form of dying to see the face of God, the Oneness of awe, worthy of my worship.  My deep faith is roughly matched with deep skepticism for authority.  I want peace and reconciliation in this matter — perhaps even to the point of my matter exploding.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition of dying if one were to see the face of God originates in Exodus 12-23, when Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments from “I am,” the name God chose to reveal to Moses.  This is how the conversation is retold (NIV translation):

Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

In a conversation with one of my former pastors related to seeing the backside of God, I noted that this made perfect sense, that is, a carpenter son would have a plumber for a father.  His irrepressible grin and laugh reflected the joy that is the infallible presence of God.

For as much as God does, God may seem to do little to nail down God’s intentions at the crossroads of our lives — humans seem much more intent on that!  In surpassing logic, God proffers a taught a logical lessen: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  Grate! So God expects me to lead my life based on mercy and compassion coming out literally from God knows where?!  Of course, there is also that whole ten commandments thing, written in stone no less!  In the coarse of life, the Jews expanded this to 613 laws, establishing a firm foundation for eternal arguments.  My whole point is this: it is never enough.  As my one-line poem matriculates: I often find myself stuck in that awkward time between birth and death.  This built in yearning to understand God and God’s creation drives both spiritual enterprises and scientific endeavors.  Learning to live into this fundamental yearning, whether experienced as the mystical union with God or a unified scientific understanding, comprises much of wisdom: Until awe of creation / Come prized my parish.

Awe of this wrests in the shadow of an unwholly dissatisfaction.  I am deeply intrigued by the profound dissatisfaction with spiritual enterprises, most commonly cited as religion, that live in this shadow.  Ironically, in such a critique of religion, this perfectionism and idealism to which religion falls woefully short is precisely that which under-girds religion: the quest for a coherent whole which can bring with it the peace of heart and mind.  This common quest is shattered by fundamentalism, weather buy religious legalists or militant atheists.  I view such fundamentalism as the grate divide in life, not simply the speak easy surrounding theism.

I am fascinated by the contention often put forward by atheists, that God is a projection of human minds.  There is much truth in this.  Psychologically speaking, projection is superimposing the ego’s shadow, or incomplete understanding, onto that outside the ego, thereby purporting or inferring a distorted truth.  We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are. Anais Nin quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONMore simply put: “We don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we are.”  Of course, this is neither proof nor reproof in the master debate over theism.  This is true whether God’s perish or God’s parish.  Nonetheless, projection is a powerful force and critical diagnosis each of us should make to move toward a more robust and healthy relationship with reality.  The diagnosis of projection is a necessary but not sufficient condition, the hallmark of never-ending scientific discovery.

The deeper quest in is how do we best move through inevitable projection and, even more boldly, firmly center our self (ego) in a ground of being that will most reliably guide us to an expanding humanity and more accurate under standing of the deepest realities.  I contend that the spiritual master Jesus best articulated this in the spiritual practice and commandment (a should) by instructing us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONI am unaware of any more powerful and reliable guide to an expanding humanity and more accurate under standing of the deepest realities, whether from a religious or an atheistic perspective.  I cite my own experience and the experience of millions of others in testing out this hypothesis with scientific rigor and skin in the game much greater than most of the most articulate purveyors of scientific discovery.  Most simply put, if you want to put the God hypothesis to the test and dare experience a glimpse of the awe mighty, this may very well be the closest we can get:  “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  This existential treat ease rests on authority emanating from scientific rigor applied to our whole life and God deeply roots for us to experience this phase to phase in hour life.  In the face of a whirled of hurt, may your life reflect the mercy and compassion that comes from God knows wear.

POEM: Awe Full Going On

In oblivious camp
The guard threw shoes at us
My pair was too big to fill
More suited to Tariq
Though mine were newer
Tariq’s were old
And bound to be
A little too snug
Seeing more than a pair
In his eyes
More than a trader
As a Spanish Moor
Don quixotically
His feat covered
In such a broad cast
O Don my don
Won
Never entreating
Me mirrorly
For what
I had
My number coming up
Finding myself only
Equal to death
In life
And awe full
That’s going on

WARNING: This commentary contains spoilers — and/or clues.

This 92-word poem is packed with overlapping and intertwined cultural references.  First, the initial inspiration came from an unexpected source, a source to which I stumbled upon, from a momentary image in the graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, where he chronicles his parents’ experiences as Holocaust survivors; specifically in a short “Making of Maus” presentation by PBS. A character commented on the shoes he was thrown by a concentration camp guard paying no attention whatsoever to matching the shoe with the man.  This struck me as a surreal brandishing of a perversed proverb, “If the show doesn’t fit, wear it.”

Fast forward to today.  Instead of in a concentration camp, the setting is an “oblivious camp,” a self-parody of the horror of genocide.  Given a recipient named Tariq, the implied guard is an Israeli, a Zionist, maybe even a Jew (this is the author speaking).  The apparent irony of Israeli fascism is further multiplied by shoe throwing as an especially insulting gesture to Arabs.  The guard neither knows nor cares.

The story is told in unnamed first-person.  Those who know me, the author, know that I am not Palestinian.  Those who really know me, know that I am Palestinian — at least if weave ever metaphor.  The narrator has a newer, “better” pair compared to his companion shoe receiver, Tariq.  The “too big to fill” as well as “pair” also refer to a man’s balls, i.e., courage.  The hubris of violent retribution may pass for courage, yet, remain “too big to fill.”  Something of a higher spiritual nature is lacking, preventing fulfillment.  Being puffed up with worldly power also leaves us cramped spiritually.  The “too big to fill” is also a reference to “big shoes to fill,” meaning of a challengingly high moral fulfillment — “More suited to Tariq.”  While Tariq’s shoes (and balls) were old, he was “Bound to be,” to exist freely in his being and be bound in his existence.  To the unschooled, “A little too snug” can appear as cramped, naive, even smug. But, alas, “Seeing more than a pair,” there is more to life than mere possessions, or even worldly courage.  “Seeing more than a pair/In his eyes,” is the meeting of souls, through truly looking into the eyes, the windows of the soul, and seeing one another’s humanity.  “More than a pair” alludes to more than a pair of shoes, more than even a pair of companion souls, including and transcending even the oblivious guard, alluding the an ever-mysterious, even awe full third.

Ironically, Tariq means conqueror.  And conquering covers a lot a ground (often with blood).  The Spanish Moor reference deepens the “More than a trader” reference, alluding to more than simply trading tit for tat, more than trading by means of outright conquering, and more than a traitor by alternating roles as oppressor and oppressed in life.  The Moors were African (black), Arab, and Muslim.  They occupied “Spain” for 800 years beginning in 711 AD.  Tariq ibn Ziyad was the conquering Moor general.  They brought literacy and “civilization” to Spain.  The ironies emanating from such history into contemporary life exceed perhaps even that of the most famous Jew, Jesus, a Palestinian Jew, now portrayed as a Christian.  Now, the black Arab, Muslim, Spanish Moor reference turns on Spanish culture with Tariq’s Don status, meaning a lord or gentleman, or even mafia boss; plus, there is the allusion to donning another’s shoes as need be even amidst one’s idealism (Don quixotically).  “His feat covered” alludes to accomplishments lost to history, met with the acceptance and certainty of death.  The inevitable turning of fates does not confound the wise man who sees these as the inexorable breathing in and out of history.

Back to the narrator, “In such a broad cast,” the oblivious dropping of the shoe of history upon us engenders the seeking of redemption in the equanimity of Tariq the conqueror now vanquished of earthly victory.  “O Don my don/Won” is a cry to a Don with a capital D from a don with a lowercase d to move beyond simply donning one set of circumstances after another in a perpetually unfulfilling chase for the ultimate tale — or whatever tale won can muster.  Here lies the reference to “don Won” (Don Juan), history’s most notorious tale chaser, ever confident in youth’s distance from death, ever accessible superficialities, and repentance as procrastination’s crowning achievement in the face of a God sow loving.  What good is clinging to victories when death, the great equalizer, stands over us?

The narrator suspects that Tariq might have an answer.  The narrator’s cry “O Don my don” is a venerable ripoff of Walt Whitman’s, “O Captain, My Captain,” about Abraham Lincoln and his death, reminding us that after even achieving epic victory (e.g., freedom from slavery), our greatest will eventually fall cold and dead, and we will each be left with “mournful tread” as we seek to fulfill our own soul’s purposes without the benefit of particular great souls by our side.  When you are going through hell, keep going -- Winston Churchill quoteThe narrator’s cry to Tariq, all ready as good as dead, confesses his unreciprocated vanity: “Never entreating/Me mirrorly/For what/I had.”  No matter how high we might be able to crank up our number, our number always comes up.  Tariq lives and dies in this essential equality.  Tariq sees beyond the pinings that box us in.  Mysteriously, the challenge becomes clearer when we have little to cling to, and perhaps clearer still, when what we cling to is an unbefitting shoe, freeing us though its tragic comedy.  Know longer cluttered by the stuff of life, the narrator confronts a new reality: “Finding myself only/Equal to death/In life/And awe full/That’s going on.”  As the awful is going on, may you find yourself full of awe, for that’s going on!

 

POEM: Joining That Mystical Union

Having
Evolved
Too keep
Every last won
Of this sophisticated specious
Under opposable thumbs
Like a perch
In a stream of consciousness
Executing my porpoise
The best
I can do
A thwart on the phase of humanity
This avowing
That it is
Just us
And by what means
Can we make a diffidence
Of that a ledge
Too due
Joining the crowded
Signing off
On that
Collective bargain
As wee
All a greed
As far as we reckon
Bunching up
In a scanty throng
Of self-proclaimed wizzes
In the brook of life
Where awe is swill
In our out standing potable potty
In the heat of august
Quenched
Buy the patently falls
That is
Not so
Crappy
Requited in terminally wading
Who gets
The last ward
From what sores then
Only then
Where naught else fallows
To find oneself
In silence
A loan
Yet not feeling solo
In fact
Feeling unrivalled
Caching in
Empyreal cents
Fore that which is
Unfallible
Without rank
Revolting
Caste a side
Even without
Empty congregation
For going
As it is written
Upon stationery
In place of life
Wear awe is won
In a corporeal merger
Of all that is ardor
With all that is light
Enrolled into one
That mystical union
Joining arts
And boundless trades
Uniting awe
In a baptism of matchless flare
Emerging from water
Besting the supposed fin
By no less than two feet
Upright
On wholly ground
Accompanying sound sole
In the rarefied guardin’
Of one constitutional
Heartwarmingly vein to sum
Countless succeeding
With heir to breathe freely
Living in
The hear and now
Beyond what can be herd
No longer weighting
Only to expire
That which is fleeting
Trafficking in exclusion
Flailing to sea
The catch all
Recognizing each
To be won
Of a kind

Here is a poem that plays with themes of the oneness of consciousness, the oneness of humanity, and the merging of the spiritual and physical realms.  Of course, it begins with recognizing the sea of vanity that passes for much of so-called civilized life.  Seeing past this pollution is a necessary precondition to more fully experience life’s ever-present gifts and freely give our unique selves to the world.  This requires mastering letting go more-so than grasping.  Letting go prepares us to receive the perpetual, dare I say eternal, stream of gifts available to us at any given moment.  This process of freely receiving this veritable tsunami of presents is only possible when harmoniously matched with freely giving, letting go, which continues, reflects, and magnifies the true abundance in which we are awash.  The difference between this process and the close-minded, close-hearted clinging and collecting of much of daily life is the difference between heaven and hell — perhaps even heaven and hell!

Giving and receiving is one of the central yin and yang of our lives.  Much of the pain in life can be traced back to the felt need to keep account of all of the giving and receiving that is going on, and then expending precious energy (sometimes called ‘work’) attempting to make sure that the receiving side of our ledger is adequate.  Then, when we have ‘enough,’ we can be gracious on the giving side.  I suspect that how we answer the question with our lives, “how much is enough?” lies at the heart of how well we contribute to our shared humanity and shared reality.  The harmonious yin and yang of giving and taking is often befuddled and turned upside down by a predominant (and ultimately dominating) focus on receiving, aka taking.  This conundrum rests on how we answer the proverbial question of “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” — in this case, giving or taking.  As any practiced Taoist would realize, these yin and yang questions are ultimately incomprehensible without a deep appreciation for balance, or, as the Taoist would say, complementariness.  I think this is also why Buddhists are not big on origin or creation stories (‘egg’ stories); what we have at any given moment is much more important than accounting for where it came from.  The Christian contribution to this dialogue is a focus on grace, that any giving on our part is only made possible by something outside our selves gracing us with anything to give.  In the human experience, grace, and the gratitude that evolves from living in it, quite universally leads to more harmonious (happy) living.  Our natural propensity toward accounting cannot escape the balance shit completely!

There Is No Way to Peace, Peace Is the WayAs a devotee of social justice, the problem of the balance sheet often consumes — or at least dominates — any conception of justice.  I prefer to frame justice as harmony and injustice as disharmony.  Both the way and the goal, the means and the ends, is peace (harmony).  As one of my favorite pacifists, and fellow Hope College alumnus, A.J. Muste proclaimed, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”  I see the chicken and egg argument about which comes first, peace or justice, as the divide between self and other; that is, injustice is typically described as conditions of disharmony outside one’s self, amongst the human community and our shared reality. The role we contribute to bringing justice into the world is one of bringing harmony.  And as most any human would agree: you can’t give what you don’t have!

Activism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quoteIf you are still convinced that justice is fundamentally a balance sheet then ponder this: how can you possibly experience injustice if you came into the world on no account of your own, experience a measure of life, and return to nothing (or at least certainly not something less than something) — how can you ever be in debt?  The only “debt” that we have is the positive reality that we have been given anything and everything we have.  This is well captured by Alice Walker who declared, “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.” I see this debt as the foundation for any ethical system, a shared debt owed with each and every human, setting up solidarity as a fundamental shared human reality. This was eminently stated by Albert Schweitzer: “The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings.”  Injustice can be viewed as some having more than others (earned/unearned more than others?) but any conception of this is still rooted (and must give just due) in the harmonious relationship between giving and receiving.  The first step in the evolution of ethics is a sense of solidarity with other human beings -- Albert Schweitzer quoteTaking away, WAY different than receiving, is dishonoring the mystical ying-yang of giving and receiving, in whatever brand of accounting one might ascribe too.  Any thought that re-framing your account of justice as “giving” justice to others might be well served by meditating on your dependable feeling when others want to give you their justice.  While there are immature forms of resisting others actions “for our own good,” I suspect that resisting others taking our account is rightly and justly rooted (a gift of human nature) in the shared and absolute nature of each and every human being’s life as a sheer gift beyond merit.  Fights about whose debt is bigger are probably best resolved by demonstrating the recognition of our own immeasurable debt.  Albert Schweitzer also infamously said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.”  Be the Change You Want to See in the World - Gandhi quoteThis is a close cousin to my favorite Gandhi quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Hopefully, amidst such ponderings you will find this awe difficult to take!

May you join this mystical union, and whatever dues you may pay, may they be well worth it…

POEM: A We Occupation

I get deeply cared away
Buy you being
On the same side as me
Conveniently not paying
A tension
To the under
Lying fact
That there is but
Won side
Which wee occupy

This short poem addresses a theme that underlies much of my poetry, that, in ultimate reality, we are one.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently stated: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”  The ego, wed to its own independence, over and above interdependence, resists a shared destiny, routinely seeking to carve out its own apparent advantage over larger realities.  After experiencing one’s fair share of unpleasant events, and witnessing the sheer pervasiveness of such events in life, competing to rise above such a fray seems eminently natural — eat or be eaten, kill or be killed.  Only a deep humility and an unbound love for life can transform destruction of selves into self-realization.

Must life feed on life?  Of course, as one, what else could one feed upon?  As a literal example, our food comes from living beings.  Now, some meat-eaters employ this fact as a convenient rationalization that killing is normal, or at least a “necessary” evil, and lazily leap to a mode of thinking (and eating) where killing is of little consequence.  I see enlightenment of living beings gently resting on that thin line between eating and being eaten.  If life must feed on life, is there a way of feeding upon life that enhances life not diminish it?  I believe that life can get bigger or smaller, as a whole, and as a self within the whole.  How big or how small I’m not sure.  Nonetheless, that thin line, our consciousness, is where the expansion or contraction rests.  Is our consciousness, and conscientiousness, confined to our self, our family, our tribe, our species, our planet, or what?  Consciousness may very well be the heart of life itself.  In this case, increasing consciousness increases life and decreasing consciousness decreases life.

One construct of evil would be feeding on death, a level of (un)consciousness that does not recognize or share consciousness with other beings.  Evil consumes consciousness.  In a sense, what evil does share is unconsciousness or contracted consciousness.  Functioning with a shared unconsciousness reduces humans to mere billiard balls, a set, albeit complex set, of cause and effect relationships guided by causes (including others’ wills) outside our self.  In essence, “choosing” unconsciousness or declining to expand consciousness takes us out of the game (the game being enhancing consciousness, life).  Contracted consciousness is a set of relationships (a “contract”) created and maintained by our wills, consciously chosen.  It is these contracts that form the substance and style of our culture, ethical debates, and political fights.  Still, consciousness, and its creative existential force, the will, lies outside any particular set of relationships (material conditions) that can be chosen.  Expanding consciousness will necessarily run into this awareness, that any particular culture, set of social conditions, or ideology, cannot control our conscious free will.  The seemingly obvious exception to this is death, or more specifically, killing, presumably ending conscious free will.  Justified killing is included in most contracts among humans today.  What this often overlooks is that killing particular expressions of conscious free will does not eliminate conscious free will; most bluntly illustrated by the fact that this would require suicide (thus, the fascination of murder-suicide by existentialist writers).  No doubt, killing is a very blunt way of trying to reign in conscious free will.  Of course, many contracted belief systems include an afterlife, the survival of conscious free will.  If this is true, this radically alters the effectiveness of killing.  Unfortunately, sometimes the belief in an afterlife, rather than simply leading to bold living, serves in the rationalization of killing (e.g., “kill them all and let God sort them out”).

Conjoining our consciousnesses seems best served by the most profound precept: love your enemies.  That which is not you — or more aptly put, that which you do not want to be you — must be both transcended and entered into.  Each of us and all of us are best served by manifesting the courage to confront and reconcile both our own inner dark side and the darkness manifest in others.  Back to the eat or be eaten metaphor, the question is begged: what if you were the pray.  The more gently profound precept, have compassion on all living beings, spurs us to walk in another’s shoes and no what it is like for shoeless souls laid bare to the world.  May we all be grounded, and laid to rest, with such compassionate and conscious living.  I deeply appreciate the Zen story of the man encountering another man somewhat boasting in tales about his great relationship and love of animals, to which he interjects, “A fish once saved my life.”  The boaster’s curiosity was peaked to hear such a tale.  To which he was told: “Once I was lost in the woods and perilously hungry.  I found a fish in the stream, and I ate him.”  This signature Zen approach is transcendentally funny and, not coincidentally, enlightening.   He deflated pomposity.  Lauded the fish which saved his life.  Plus, he outflanked even the most compassionate ideology, witnessing to the mystery of mysteries needed to instill life into any chosen ideology.  The Christian take on dietary ideologies is less clever but makes a similar point: “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” (Matthew 15:11)

All great philosophies and the mysticism at the heart of all religions recognizes the irreducible, creative freedom present in humans.  The mystery of creation parallels the making of humans in God’s image as co-creators, romping around the created universe.  Creation focuses on the will, the power present in human consciousness, and presumably God’s consciousness.  However, consciousness is the prerequisite to experience itself, whereby meaning arises, even made possible. Consciousness gives rise to (the experience of) the other, the myriad of things, including our body and mind.  Consciousness, sometimes called “The third eye,” is the seat of all seeing, even able to see our mind from a vantage point other than the mind itself, the true “I.”  Consciousness enlivens existence with experience and we can meaningfully participate in the myriad of things (the created world) through our will.  I strongly suspect that the foundational importance of relationships, sharing, and creation spring out of the nature of God.  As I see it, God consciousness and will give rise (create) to the other so it can share the experience of an other.  Maybe God just got tired of self-consciousness (see my poem: An Answer to the Problem of Evil, which is much more playful than the weighty title might connote).  Giving/creating seems to be the foundational nature of sharing present in enlightened beings, which cements the centrality of relationships among others.  I am struck by the tripartite truth of consciousness of self, the palpable created reality in which we experience, and the irascibly creative will from which we add our own touches.  Granted, I may be touched.  Still, there is a spirit within me that will not rest until our created reality is won size fits awe.

 

POEM: Insane Asylum Patience

Whose violence is worse
They argued
The insane asylum patience
Condemning barbarism
As the strongest barbarians
Write history
And write makes right
Or sow it might
As cartoonish caricatures
Capture humanities
A tension
Leaving those under
Lying causes
Uniformly camouflaged
Amid academic renditions
In citing violence
Abel to question
God and neighbor
And a religion that means
Peace
For know One
Con fronting
The insanity
Of necessary evil

This poem, universally condemning violence, was inspired in the wake of the murders of 12 cartoonists and journalists in France.  The perpetrators of this violence were apparently Islamic extremists, in contrast to other extremists such as those perpetrating violence in a secular, Christian, Hindu, or Jewish variety.  Violence is an evil to be rejected.  Violence should be rejected whether it is a lone assailant or with the official sponsorship of some nation-state or religious sect.  Still, there is a special place in hell reserved for those who sponsor hell-on-earth by heaping violence upon violence in some official capacity.  If you believe that violence is a moral imperative, or in some amoral way necessary, I would suggest exploring a bigger God or worldview.  Perpetrators of violence are self-fulfilling prophets.  If we don’t transcend the notion that violence is necessary, we will be rewarded with the perpetual struggle to dominate one another.  We are all recovering from the effects of violence.  This experience of hurt and loss feeds a reciprocal response with violence.  Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  This is a powerful law of both physics and metaphysics.  This law should not be taken flippantly; just look at the havoc perpetuating itself through the action of this law!  However, while this law has profound ramifications on human life, a palpable sign of the divine order of the created universe, humans are not bound only by this law.  Human free will, moral agency, can choose other options besides tit for tat.  Free will is a supernatural aspect of reality in the sense that it transcends mere physics; it adds stuff to the mix of nature and its rolling out of the cause and effect world.  As Gandhi so profoundly put forth, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  Of course, you don’t “have to” be nonviolent, just as you don’t “have to” be violent.  This may be the most profoundly beautiful aspects of human life, that each of us get to add our chosen reality to the mix of our shared reality.  And these choices will echo in eternity.

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

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.