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…

POEM: Answering The Call

He was called
Into the warden’s office
The best cell
In the big house
Next to the judges chamber
Of commerce
Inhumanity
Chain standing in
A stile
Rhyming with orange
The nature of bars and steal
Overtly concrete
Knot no’ing
How to behave
In a cage
Not belonging
As if
Won
Never will
Agin

This is a poem about the inhumanity of prison, the challenge of civil disobedience, and unrepentant freedom even behind bars.  Mischievous young spirits may get called into the principal’s office during their school years.  Civilly disobedient mature souls may get called into the warden’s office during prison sentences when mere cells cannot hold the full humanity of its inmates.  Abolish Prisons POLITICAL BUTTONThis poem harkens the reality that even the best cell — the proverbial warden’s office — in a luxurious society segregating it so-called criminal element is still a cell imprisoning all of us from our full humanity.  As the great Eugene Debs noted, “While there is a lower class, I am in it, while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”  The cruel reality and sophisticated rationalizations for imprisoning others is incomprehensible to the apprehension of full humanity — “rhyming with orange.”  The latter part of this poem poses the conundrum of what a free human should do when put in a cage.  The question is not what am I doing in here?, but what are you doing out there? [prisoner] POLITICAL BUTTONThe fully free human being confronted with their humanity being held hostage can be likened to the classic paradox of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.  There are large forces at work when the prison-industrial complex and the school-to-prison pipeline are met by humans with a firm grasp of humanity.  In deed, this will illicit much civil disobedience.  May prisons be abolished and humanity set free.

POEM: Owed To Chet Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, friend to all and faithful servant.

PROTEST POEM: Round The Public Square

Theirs
Smoked filled plays
Behind closed doors
Where there is no room
In the halls of power
Fore the wrest of us
Relegated to copping democracy
Round the public square

This protest poem deals with the reality that lack of transparency and accountability in government obliges citizens to apply political pressure through protests, demonstrations, and nonviolent civil disobedience.  Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. Frederick Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONSometimes justice demands circling city hall and other halls of power for around whole to fit in a public square.  I am particularly proud of the “copping democracy” phrase subject to double meaning.  Law enforcement is often poorly trained and cops bad attitudes toward nonviolent citizens exercising their first amendment rights and petitioning for redress of grievances.  Protest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is essential to it -- Howard Zinn quote POLITICAL BUTTONJudges and courts are often poorly equipped and acculturated to treating nonviolent protesters as more than common criminals.  Our criminal justice system exacts a disproportionately high cost upon conscientious citizen protesters actively working to right wrongs in our government and communities.  This disproportionately high cost on highly politically engaged activists stymies the vitality of our democracy and reinforces systemic injustices.  May we learn to value the vital role protest and resistance play in actualizing a vital democracy.

Please feel free to browse Top Pun’s designs related to civil disobedience and protest:

PROTEST Is When I Say I Don't Like Something, RESISTANCE Is When I Put A Stop To It POLITICAL BUTTON	 Globalize THIS - RESISTANCE [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONWARNING: Civil Disobedience Causes Increases In Human Rights POLITICAL BUTTON

Resistance is Fertile POLITICAL BUTTONActivism Is My Rent For Living On This Planet -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe Mind Of A Slave Asks Is It Legal, The Mind Of A Free Person Asks Is It Right POLITICAL BUTTON

POEM: Another Martyr Bides The Dust

Another martyr bides the dust
And I was a stray
Beside myself
In the fog
Of yet another mourning
The missed over my heart
Feeling only that ephemeral beaten
The wait on my brain
Fueled into thinking of the dread only
And the little I no
Of what remains
As the truth is bared
In ash holes with names
Temping to soil
Won an other’s life work
Un-till arising from hour grounding
Ready ourselves for a human race
Wear blood is thicker then water
Tearing at our soles
And water thicker than heir
The salt of the earth bides
It’s time
Too clear the weigh
Of what thou dust
Ahead razed for awe
As be holding the sons rays
Bringing a bout of sunshine
An enduring lightness
Out shining
Any faux
How ever clan destine
In efface of such shrouding allowed
In countering any illicit clout
Ever looming
Whatever we’ve
Got together
With standing any in thralling strayin’
Rapping up awe that is frayed
For whatever may seam
Know longer

I wrote this poem a while back, but I’m publishing it now to honor the passing of Father Daniel Berrigan who died over the weekend at age 94.  Father Daniel Berrigan was the first priest arrested for peace and anti-war civil disobedience — or holy obedience.  As recounted in the National Catholic Review:

Berrigan undoubtedly stands among the most influential American Jesuits of the past century…

A literary giant in his own right, Berrigan was best known for his dramatic acts of civil disobedience against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons. He burned draft files with homemade napalm and later hammered on nuclear weapons to enact the Isaiah prophecy to “beat swords into plowshares.” His actions challenged Americans and Catholics to reexamine their relationship with the state and reject militarism. He constantly asked himself and others: What does the Gospel demand of us?

“For me, Father Daniel Berrigan is Jesus as a poet,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote. “If this be heresy, make the most of it.”

“Dorothy Day taught me more than all the theologians,” Berrigan told The Nation in 2008. “She awakened me to connections I had not thought of or been instructed in—the equation of human misery and poverty with warmaking. She had a basic hope that God created the world with enough for everyone, but there was not enough for everyone and warmaking.”

In 1963, Berrigan embarked on a year of travel, spending time in France, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rome, South Africa and the Soviet Union. He encountered despair among French Jesuits related to the situation of Indochina, as the United States ramped up military involvement in Vietnam.

Berrigan returned home in 1964 convinced that the war in Vietnam “could only grow worse.” So he began, he later wrote, “as loudly as I could, to say ‘no’ to the war…. There would be simply no turning back.”

He co-founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship and the interfaith group Clergy and Laity Concerned about Vietnam…

In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1966), Merton described Berrigan as “an altogether winning and warm intelligence and a man who, I think, has more than anyone I have ever met the true wide-ranging and simple heart of the Jesuit: zeal, compassion, understanding, and uninhibited religious freedom. Just seeing him restores one’s hope in the Church.”

A dramatic year of assassinations and protests that shook the conscience of America, 1968 also proved to be a watershed year for Berrigan. In February, he flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, with the historian Howard Zinn and assisted in the release of three captured U.S. pilots. On their first night in Hanoi, they awoke to an air-raid siren and U.S. bombs and had to find shelter.

As the United States continued to escalate the war, Berrigan worried that conventional protests had little chance of influencing government policy. His brother, Philip, then a Josephite priest, had already taken a much greater risk: In October 1967, he broke into a draft board office in Baltimore and poured blood on the draft files.

Undeterred at the looming legal consequences, Philip planned another draft board action and invited his younger brother to join him. Daniel agreed.

On May 17, 1968, the Berrigan brothers joined seven other Catholic peace activists in Catonsville, Md., where they took several hundreds of draft files from the local draft board and set them on fire in a nearby parking lot, using homemade napalm. Napalm is a flammable liquid that was used extensively by the United States in Vietnam.

Daniel said in a statement, “Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.”

Berrigan was tried and convicted for the action. When it came time for sentencing, however, he went underground and evaded the Federal Bureau of Investigation for four months.

“I knew I would be apprehended eventually,” he told America in an interview in 2009, “but I wanted to draw attention for as long as possible to the Vietnam War and to Nixon’s ordering military action in Cambodia.”

The F.B.I. finally apprehended him on Block Island, R.I., at the home of theologian William Stringfellow, in August 1970. He spent 18 months in Danbury federal prison, during which he and Philip appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

The brothers, lifelong recidivists, were far from finished.

Swords Into Plowshares, Isaiah 2:4 PEACE BUTTONOn Sept. 9, 1980, Daniel and Philip joined seven others in busting into the General Electric missile plant in King of Prussia, Pa., where they hammered on an unarmed nuclear weapon—the first Plowshares action. They faced 10 years in prison for the action but were sentenced to time served.

In his courtroom testimony at the Plowshares trial, Berrigan described his daily confrontation with death as he accompanied the dying at St. Rose Cancer Home in New York City. He said the Plowshares action was connected with this ministry of facing death and struggling against it. In 1984, he began working at St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York City, where he ministered to men and women with H.I.V.-AIDS.

“It’s terrible for me to live in a time where I have nothing to say to human beings except, ‘Stop killing,’” he explained at the Plowshares trial. “There are other beautiful things that I would love to be saying to people.”

In 1997 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Berrigan’s later years were devoted to Scripture study, writing, giving retreats, correspondence with friends and admirers, mentorship of young Jesuits and peace activists, and being an uncle to two generations of Berrigans. He published several biblical commentaries that blended scholarship with pastoral reflection and poetic wit.

“Berrigan is evidently incapable of writing a prosaic sentence,” biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann wrote in a review of Berrigan’s Genesis (2006). “He imitates his creator with his generative word that calls forth linkages and incongruities and opens spaces that bewilder and dazzle and summon the reader.”

Even as an octogenarian, Berrigan continued to protest, turning his attention to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the prison in Guantánamo Bay and the Occupy Wall Street movement. Friends remember Berrigan as courageous and creative in love, a person of integrity who was willing to pay the price, a beacon of hope and a sensitive and caring friend.

While technically, Fr. Berrigan is not a martyr, he sacrificed much and lived courageously in the belly of the beast called the United States of America of which he called its militarism and imperialism.

While I wrote this poem with a male character, this may not be truly representative of the martyrs in this world.  Soon after penning this poem, Berta Caceres, whose activism reverberated around the world, was assassinated by a Honduran death squad, shot in her own home.  This poem is dedicated to her as well, a well of hope deeper than any dam corporations.  As recounted from Alternet:

On March 3, assassins entered the home of Berta Caceres, leader of Honduras’ environmental and indigenous movement. They shot her friend Gustavo Castro Soto, the director of Friends of the Earth Mexico. He pretended to be dead, and so is the only witness of what came next. The assassins found Berta Caceres in another room and shot her in the chest, the stomach and the arms. When the assassins left the house, Castro went to Berta Caceres, who died in his arms.

Investigation into the death of Berta Caceres is unlikely to be conducted with seriousness. The Honduran government suggested swiftly that it was likely that Castro had killed Berta Caceres and made false statements about assassins. That he had no motive to kill his friend and political ally seemed irrelevant. Castro has taken refuge in the Mexican embassy in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. He continues to fear for his life.

Berta Caceres led the Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), one of the most important critics of government and corporate power in her country. Most recently, she and COPINH had taken a strong stand against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca community. This dam had occupied her work. It was not merely a fight against an energy company, it was a fight against the entire Honduran elite.

Desarrollos Energeticos, SA (DESA) is owned by the Atala family, whose most famous member is Camilo Atala, who heads Honduras’ largest bank, Banco Ficohsa. By all indications, the Atala family is very close to the government. When the military moved against the democratically elected government of Manuel Zelaya Rosales in 2009, the Atala family, among others, supported the coup with their means. They can cut all the flowers, but they can never stop the spring -- Pablo Neruda quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe Honduran sociologist Leticia Salomon listed this family among others as the enablers of the coup. They backed the conservative National Party, which now holds the reins of power alongside the military. Berta Caceres’ fight against the Agua Zarca dam, then, was not merely a fight against one dam. It was a battle against the entire Honduran oligarchy. Her assassination had, as her family contends, been long overdue.

May we be inspired and encouraged by the fearless lives of those who have gone before us.

POEM: Annoys Pollution

Every wear but hear
Beeping phones
And nobody at home
Impossible to a tone
Even with wringing personally
With poor timing
Watching volumes
A little too lewd
Mindless won
And awe the artless
With every bell and whistle
Ears unplugged
Irking their responsibility
In all do coarse
As a pester chide for
Every imaginable
Impertinent busyness
Craven for unsound practices
In the face
Of boorish applications
Inane games
Of hashtag
One trivial hi
After another
As drug nowhere fast
My only resort
A pun with a silencer
Putting on
Quiet a show
Only now
As if
Stuck up
Harass
Muted
To match
The best of them
Dumb typists
Trans mitting
Techs massages
Ghostily beyond their reach
Inescapably com posing
As virtual monkeys
Only slightly more
Than shake a spear
Pointing fingers
At key boreds
As some incanting spell
And in such easy fancy
Imagine many fates
Worse than deaf

This poem is about one of my pet peeves: noise pollution.  This is some indication of how wonderful my life is, that such a first world problem lingers near the top of my list. The mental and spiritual pollution of unwanted noise and glaring lights captures my attention far too often.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONAs a free range human being, I am cell free (exceptions made for civil disobedience).  The long tentacles of Western civilization purport freedom as being wired without wires, in sum sort of civil religion.  Such annoys pollution is closely related to a leading candidate for the biggest myth of modern progress: that multi-tasking improves our lives.  Multi-tasking may make sense if the point is to make a race of better virtual monkey slaves, but multi-taking is the enema of mindfulness and how trying it is to do too much shit.  Perhaps the most useful definition of Zen that I have ever heard is this: do one thing.  When smart phones are employed as multi-tasking machines, such so-called technological progress is analogous to the infamous anarchist slogan: Bigger Cages, Longer Chains - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON“Bigger cages, longer chains!”  If this is smart, then I prefer dumb — or perhaps, shut the f__k up!

I wrote this poem while on a long bus ride with plenty of multi-tasking smartphone cyborgs.  I was largely spared of such an invasion due to my sage employment of a low-tech solution called earplugs.  Plus, witnessing people trying to do too much shit provided fertile ground for an even lower tech resolution: writing poetry about whatever issues emerge from my life at the moment.  Or, as poets are apt to say. “It happens.”

POEM: Brew Aha

In the mettle of this
Brew aha
Beside myself
I took a stand
In countering
Such ponderous courting
How civil this obedience
Wear black
And white lies
Segregated
Only spotted
As if
Sent out to posture
Presumptuous in a sense
Hankering and pining
For a lessen in manors
A peace of cake
Where there cannot be
Moor to see
From the grate beyond
Beyond boarders
Is it sow untoward
A peace of meet
Only Abel
Too illicit
Just a position
In a neighborly weigh
Only taken in
Buy such con text
The privilege of preaching to a pact crowd
Per chased by background checks
Belting out promissory notes
Not worth a single digit
Nor circling the wagons
In a parent blackface
Falling off
Won’s bluff
Of unending figuring
For a fraction of pi
Her ratio
Of protracted circumference
Over the shortest distance between points
Ever present friend
Over cunning counsel
More than subject
To this hamlet
Their I stood
Quiet a seeing
As others
Might due
The riot thing
For wanton reason
And only if
My silence aloud
My batter judgment
Too get the best of me
Admitted to a transcendent hospitality
As dumb found patients
For which we stand
The qualm before the storm
Overcoming that which is
Fast fooled
Bringing order to the unrule he
Untold smiles to go
For better than even
As they crack me up
Or split my side
I live
For that aha moment
Heart and neck stretching
All the wile
Rapping accord
That can’t be broken
So I’m tolled

This is a poem about white privilege and racism, social justice and civil disobedience, and quite literally, putting some skin into the game.  The brew aha theme offers a lighter, more ethereal tone to the poem.  This poem addresses the immanent dangers of being deeply rooted in both transcendent realities and harsh physical and social realities.  Race is the species argument driving this narrative.  White privilege is the real dope here.  Only such unmerited advantage can inspire such twisted rationalizations for ongoing supremacy and gross injustices.  The challenges are great for both those to renounce unmerited advantage and for those to swim upstream against deep-seated oppression.  Though there is no doubt that the ultimate accountability for justice rests with those who hold unmerited advantage over others.

From a literary point of view, I am quite enamored with the blending of mathematical pi with Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio in:

Falling off
Won’s bluff
Of unending figuring
For a fraction of pi
Her ratio
Of protracted circumference
Over the shortest distance between points
Ever present friend
Over cunning counsel
More than subject
To this hamlet

Amidst the endless, fruitless scheming in Hamlet (Falling off/Won’s bluff/Of unending figuring/For a fraction of pi), Horatio (Her ratio) defines the whole of pie fully in his loyal and unpretentious friendship with Hamlet (Of protracted circumference/Over the shortest distance between points).  And with that last phrase, perhaps I’ve even invented a new poetical form: die a meter.  Of course, Horatio (mathematically) proves his loyalty, offering a true home for Hamlet, more than mere pandering to royalty (Ever present friend/Over cunning counsel/More than subject/To this hamlet).

As recounted elsewhere:

At the end of the play, Horatio proposes to finish off the poisoned drink which was intended for Hamlet, saying that he is ‘more an antique Roman than a Dane’, but the dying prince implores Horatio not to drink from the cup and bids his friend to live and help put things right in Denmark; “If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, / Absent thee from felicity a while, / And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain / To tell my story.” Hamlet, speaking of death as “felicity”, commands Horatio to wait “a while” to tell the story; perhaps Hamlet dies expecting his friend to follow as soon as the complete story has been told.

Perhaps one of the greatest honors we have in life is to witness and re-tell the stories of others.  May we each live lives worth re-telling…

POEM: Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Chapter 58 – Isaiah

Isaiah was a man
A kind of a man
More generous than his wealth
Untouchable by another’s profits
With a frugality beyond any poverty
He was a gentle man
With a purposefulness typically beyond words
Speaking with a clarity too spirited for some
In jail for disturbing the peace
Though he would have said
“I am disturbing the war”
He was a headstrong man
Though less determined than unshakable
His single-mindedness
Exceeded only by a purity of heart
In that instant where mourning breaks
In the face of a rising dawn
Awaking
Following that first night
With an irrepressible smile
On his face
Realizing he is the freest person
He knows
Simply saying
“I really need to get out more”
Fast becoming hungry
Thirst things thirst
In spite of being
Like naked
For I’s guarded
Surrounded by men of this stripe
Wholly innumerable
Ever-present in the passed
His work was before him
A long line of just us
All the same, some lost
Some merely on their way
To share some food with his mates
Then off to work
For there is
No such thing as
Free room and board
From some anonymous uncle
After all the feds
Reckon the rest
As what will follow
When expecting to be herd
As well as something more

This poem is a tribute and extremely loose paraphrase or interpretation of Isaiah 58 in the Bible.  This Old Testament chapter is a classic among lovers of justice.  In this poem, the title alludes to a chapter in the biography of a man.  This modern-day take is inspired by those faithful and devoted workers for justice who commit civil disobedience in the course of their work for social justice.  The setting is a free man who finds himself in prison.  Barring all irony, he is still free!

The only truly obscure reference that I would elucidate springs from the lines: In spite being/Like naked/For I’s guarded.  It’s more easily accessible meaning is a reference to being vulnerable, particularly when at the hands of someone who, like a prison guard, literally oversees your every movement, peering into the bowels of your very being!  The obscurity is in that “Nakedness was taboo in Judaism, and shame fell less on the naked party than on the person viewing or causing the nakedness (Gen 9:20-27).”  In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” The theologian and author Walter Wink explains how Jesus instructed his audience, the poor, how to fight back using creative nonviolence, taking advantage of the cultural fact that viewing nakedness is more shameful than being naked:

“…so the debtor parades his nakedness in prophetic protest against a system that has deliberately rendered him destitute.  Imagine him leaving the court, naked: his friends and neighbors, aghast, inquire what happened.  He explains.  They join his growing procession, which now resembles a victory parade.  The entire system by which debtors are oppressed has been publicly unmasked.  The creditor is revealed to be not a legitimate moneylender but a party to the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness, destitution, and abasement.  This unmasking is not simply punitive, therefore; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause, and to repent.
     The Powers That Be literally stand on their dignity.  Nothing depotentiates them faster than deft lampooning.  By refusing to be awed by their power, the powerless are emboldened to seize the initiative, even where structural change is not immediately possible.  This message, far from being a counsel to perfection unattainable in this life, is a practical, strategic measure for empowering the oppressed, and it is being lived out all over the world today by powerless people ready to take their history into their own hands.
     Jesus provides here a hint of how to take on the entire system by unmasking its essential cruelty and burlesquing its pretensions to justice.  Here is a poor man who will no longer be treated as a sponge to be squeezed dry by the rich.  He accepts the laws as they stand, pushes them to absurdity, and reveals them for what they have become.  He strips naked, walks out before his fellows, and leaves this creditor, and the whole economic edifice which he represents, stark naked.”

I encourage you read the full article by Walter Wink, Beyond Just War and Pacifism: Jesus’ Nonviolent Way, where Dr. Wink outlines three of methods of creative nonviolent disobedience that Jesus taught, from Mathew 5:38-41 (NIV): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.  If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.”  One of the truly magnificent revelations in this article is how it illustrates the extent to which Jesus’ teachings are commonly misunderstood; or perhaps more to the point, often understood as the exact opposite of what Jesus meant!

The spirit of Jesus is manifest in the scripture inspiring this poem, Isaiah 58 (NIV).  It is no accident that Jesus quotes Isaiah to kick off his public ministry!  The heading for this chapter is usually rendered, “True Fasting;”

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

POEM: Not Unlike Hope

Here is a poem about hope, sometimes on the run, sometimes on the lam.  Hope is never lost, and hope often lurks in sometimes unrespectable places. This poem has plenty of puns, hidden jewels, drama, chase scenes, and victorious poetry.  Enjoy!

Not Unlike Hope

Take heart
Breaking news
Hope is believed to be
Residing in an undisclosed location
The authorities have undertaken
To apprehend hope
Dead if need be
Vowing to devote all needed resources
To the hunt
For citizens
Good
Neighbors
Turning in
Suspicious
Character
Turning out
En masse
Lady Justice
Courting
Blindly
Dated
Expects her clues so
Much like a pink panther
Only rarer
Insulated by specious arguments
A trade mark
To protect and serve
Up
The last
Ne’er do well
Un-till
Hope rears
Her ugly head
Once
More
Only aft her
Out laud
In the vicinity of
Lincoln and MLK Way
Where the scufflawless meet
The police force
O Captain! My Captain!
Flailing too
Resolve
Issue
Press
Release
Dashing
Up the poetry
As we cooly add verse
Shelling out what is ode
And the sonnet rises
Not unlike hope

Make Crime Illegal

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Make Crime Illegal – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

This design plays on the absurdities of logic and the confusion of means and ends.  It makes sense to oppose crime in the vast majority of cases.  This is a reasonable foundation for civilization: the rule of law. Of course, there are notable exceptions, namely, unjust laws and the unjust enforcement of laws that cry out for civil disobedience.  No set of laws, no matter how comprehensive or well-thought-out, can fully capture moral or ethical behavior, let alone enforce it.  With a simple proposition of making crime illegal, a simple tautology, being that which crime is commonly understood to be is,in fact, that which is illegal.  The first of my desired effects with this design is to see the foolishness of applying ever-increasing illegality to address crime.  This could be called the fascist solution.  And I want to speak to anti-fascists solutions.  As alluded to earlier with the case of civil disobedience to disobey an unjust law or an unjust application of law, morality and ethics are not equivalent to legality.  Certainly, there are many actions that are legal that are not moral or ethical.  Similarly, there are actions that are moral or ethical which are illegal.  The ultimate difficulty of enforcing moral or ethical behavior through coercion, i.e., law enforcement, forces us to look beyond brute force or even social norms to gain moral or ethical behavior amongst any group of people.  Gandhi button: Be the change you want to see in the worldThus, like many of my designs, the message poses both an answer that may jar some people’s current thinking, as well as a question, a more difficult question, regarding the nature of right behavior and how to create more of it.  One of my favorite quotes along these lines is from Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”  In the end, law enforcement reaches a natural limit in controlling others through physical force, coercion, violence.  If we want moral and ethical behavior then we need to model moral and ethical behavior.  Like Gandhi proposed, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And as he lived, “My life is my message.”

Support the Police, Beat Yourself Up – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Support the Police, Beat Yourself Up – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Support the Police Beat Yourself Up - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

Support the Police Beat Yourself Up – FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTON

This cool design is linked to a button, but other great Top Pun products like T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, caps, key chains, magnets, posters, and sticker sheets can be accessed by scrolling down the product page.

View more Political Buttons.

This is a great political design for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  This is another great design that fits Top Pun’s goal to create serious, funny, and seriously funny designs.

This political design is serious because police brutality is a serious reality.  Police officers are trained and work in an environment where criminality and brute force are concentrated.  Naturally, we would expect that police officers would be trained to deal with violent criminals.  This may be the case, although police brutality is certainly not a rare occurrence in the United States.  Of course, in nonviolent social movements like the occupy movement, the police are confronted with an unusual situation that they are not necessarily particularly well-trained to deal with, and that is very much outside their normal culture.  First, they are often faced with large numbers, which is a little unusual considering that most of the criminal encounters they have are with individuals or very small numbers of people.  Second, though perhaps the most obvious for those of us in the movement, is that the persons they encounter are committed to nonviolence, and often trained in nonviolence.  Given the large numbers, police often overreact with overwhelming physical force.  Thus, police often come with the expectation and equipment for riot control.  This can be an inviting setting for police to overreact to nonviolent demonstrators.  Police may not be well prepared for dealing with political action, direct democracy, and civil disobedience.  Hopefully, they will get the chance to become a lot more experienced in the near future as the occupy movement grows worldwide.

This design is funny because it plays with the idea that nonviolent demonstrators are actually committed to helping society.  While this may involve civil disobedience, civil disobedience is rooted in the commitment of nonviolence, transparency, and taking personal responsibility for one’s actions, meaning accepting the consequences for violating a law that gets in the way of justice.  Actually, this typically involves respecting the police for the role they play in civil order. One can actually support the police while confronting an even opposing that which they see as their job to protect. Of course, asking or expecting a nonviolent demonstrators to beat themselves up is an absurd proposition — that’s why it’s funny, seriously funny!  I think we should leave the beating up of demonstrators to the police.