Customer Service POEM: On Hold

Holed for service
A fool 40 minutes
Before it curse to me
Awe this while
Writing a verse
And now
Awe is write with the whirled
And still
Feeling somewhat loopy
With Muzak
As the soundtrack of my life
A borrowed cell
To get my net back
As technically
I have no phone
Without it
Beating this conundrum again
Buy perpetually wading
Virtually forever
A least weigh
Passed an hour
As much after
Out to lunch
Liable too due the same
In need of stomaching something else
…and halve an our later
I’m done
With out to lunch
Buckeye CableSystem you suck
The poetry write out of me

I wrote this poem while on hold with Buckeye CableSystem after my internet went out. Unfortunately, my phone runs off of the internet, so I can’t use my phone to call service. I have a landline, no cell phone. I borrowed my neighbor’s cell phone. After 90+ minutes on hold, I decided to hang up and dial again. Fortunately, they answered this time, after about 15 minutes. They had the internet up and running after a few hours. Unfortunately, my phone still doesn’t work, 13 days later, as my telephone provider, Pioneer Telephone, concluded after a week that whatever change Buckeye CableSystem made to the network was blocking the phone service. Perhaps typically, the phone technical service folks didn’t bother to tell me what they had concluded; I just got an e-mail that the ticket was closed. I sent an e-mail copied to both service providers asking them to get together and work this out. I haven’t heard anything yet. Perhaps they tried to call me!! I have been pondering stepping up my media sabbaticals. As I will soon enter week three without phone service, I suppose that I should be careful what I pray for.

POEM: Promedica My Ass — Owed To Branding

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

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

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

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

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

MUST READ POEM: Incarcerated Truth

But for the slip of the tongue
There could be
Having
Been given
The slip of paper
With a key
Too incarcerated truth
Knot to be
Read aloud
There is know God

Many of the simplest and most profound truths in life are best experienced in silence, where anything spoken would only detract from the experience.  If this poem is read out loud, it communicates the opposite meaning of that in silence: “There is no God” versus “There is know God.”  The reference to God sets up the conundrum of trying to communicate spiritual matters when words necessarily get in the way, often turning them into spiritual madders.  This poem is a big tip of the hat to the Tao Te Ching’s opening line: “The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao.”  I have longingly loved this opening paradox which offers the poetic challenge of improving on silence.

Truth may very well lie in the manor in which it is spoken or knot.  Free of words, we may experience the hole truth, going down that place from which hares split.  Down, down, down — nothing softer, nor closer to foul.  Sublime temptations beg the ineffable won, only to be housed in feat of clay.  Any peep would be, as if, to bring the roof roof down, that within ear shot of any eavesdropper.  Even the most dogged ear tome would knot avail the rabid homme, the whole as nothing, but hollowed ground.  To no end, as soil one self.  Making me, want to pop eye: I AM, what I AM?!

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: Hell In A Handbasket

I would rather live…
In a trailer
That proverbial mobile homme
Seeing stars when roofs are razed
And nothing but realty at my back
As awe of creation is present
As I am
Looked down upon
Wading patiently fore that noonday star
When every real Job calls it a day
…Than exist
In a fool length feature
That mansion of a handbasket
With mirror interior decorating
Magnificent all the same
In funhouse pleasures
Overlooking up
In efface of the bottom of men’s soles
Knowing not what frees us

Foolishness and wisdom look different and produce different results.  Better to have a life well spent than merely saved.  Conventional wisdom often mistakes comfort for happiness, a grand foolishness.  High success and high status are virtually indistinguishable.  As the addled adage goes: winning is everything.  Wise souls are far too ardent and awe encompassing to abide only within the rules defined by one culture and one generation, one place and time.  Faith Trumps Skepticism PEACE BUTTONWisdom is necessarily counterculture, precisely because it seeks to move that culture, any culture, to a greater wisdom.  Acting within such a greater wisdom, not yet carrying the day, perhaps even amid night, often appears foolish.  Acting “as if” something is true is an existential conundrum we all face if we want to be more than what we are now, if we want the world and the rules by which it acts to be more than what they are at any given time.  Suspending disbelief is part and parcel for acting to perform its human artistry, and all of the world is a stage.  There are great truths in stories that never happened.  There are great truths in lives whose stories are bigger than one soul can live.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONAbout now, the postmodern brain must choose between serving only that within its reach or venturing to awe that the heart compasses.  Fools are conventionally portrayed as having an addled brain, which is infinitely better than having an addled heart.  This poem compares wholehearted living with merely existing — whatever the sum of our daze.  A willingness to be viewed as a fool by the conventionally wise may very well be the difference between heaven and hell.  Fools invite others into a better possible world, however improbable, not a theater of the absurd.  Typically, others are busy doing something else, absurdly similar to those around them.

In contemporary times, live theater has largely been replaced by movies [dead theater?].  This poem compares living, in a movie trailer, to merely existing “In a fool length feature.”  And as we all know, movie trailers are quite reliably better than the full-length feature.

FAITH is greater than FEAR SPIRITUAL BUTTONOne of the great dramas on life’s sufferings, unfulfilled longings, and doubt versus suspending disbelief is the story of Job in the Bible.  As the ever-hopeful person that I am, I was reminded of Job 11:17 “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.”  Such poetry!  Here is the whole chapter, as the lineup of doubters mock Job’s enduring faith:

Are all these words to go unanswered?
   Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
   Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
   and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
   that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
   for true wisdom has two sides.
   Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
   Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above — what can you do?
   They are deeper than the depths below — what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
   and wider than the sea.
If he comes along and confines you in prison
   and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Surely he recognizes deceivers;
   and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
But the witless can no more become wise
   than a wild donkey’s colt can be born tame.
Yet if you devote your heart to him
   and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your handYou will not enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another. Muhammad quote PEACE BUTTON
   and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
   you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
   recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
   and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
   you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
   and many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
   and escape will elude them;
   their hope will become a dying gasp.

May we awe find, life during whatever daze might be present.

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: Peppered With Violence

Bland and tasteless souls
Often pepper with violence
The salt of the earth
Writing a vicious cycle
In rehashed seasonings
Winners of discontent
The Fall’s harvest
Yet even sow
Hope springing eternal
And summers of love
As have know choice
In what sow ever fallowing

Spring is a season of hope.  It may very well be no accident that the Easter season coincides with Spring.  Spring is a profoundly palpable metaphor for resurrection in nature and inhuman experience a cross human history.  That Spring follows Winter with perennial reliability seeds hope amidst the fallow seasons of human life and those cold spells witch bedevil the human heart from claiming its natural endowment of patience, hope, and love.  Awe of the seasons of human life must navigate the epic realities of violence, proffered as both the cause and solution to all of our problems.  Violence Will Not Silence Us POLITICAL BUTTONLife coexists with death and death coexists with life in the undulating pulse of human experience.  The fear, even hatred, of death presence us too hour rationalization of lethal violence as the irreconcilable solution to an inescapable dilemma.  Unfortunately, such fear and hatred, blithely beating the conundrum of war and repression, is incongruous with the true pulse of life.  Winter happens.  And sow does Spring.  The eternal question posed is weather we cast our lot with Spring or Winter.  To wear due wee target our lives?  Untoward the tender shoot, or effacing bearing lives?  Either weigh, Spring shows up.  Due we poor our lives in too the riches of this earth, even if not living to seed what happens, daring that life will cede us?  The quest in is up to us.  Will we lift more than a single finger to the won-ness of humanity?  I, for one, will root for all of my tender buds to emerge from winter.

POEM: Halving No Interest

Wile a capital idea to sum
I halve no interest
In how you make a living
Rather
That which
Makes you
Come alive

I would dare say that most of life lost is in the chasm between making a living and doing that which makes you come alive.  I would even dare say that being distant from having to worry about basic needs — “having it made” — is a greater threat to coming alive than what life palpitates within us when we are connected to struggling for basic human needs.  This narrative runs counter to the liberal, artsy dream of not having to worry about money so you can be free to pursue “more important things,” presumably art as luxury rather than art as necessity.

The art of living is essentially doing that which makes you come alive.  This is where art is a necessary reflection of our overflowing aliveness, or, in less flowery language, art is a basic human need.  Art lives coequal with our basic material needs of food, shelter, health care, an environment free of violence and full of affection, and the long litany of human rights inalienable to humanity.  Art flowers in our connection to others and creation.  Revolutionary art serves as a critique of alienation and destruction, which often comes at the hands of money first — sometimes driving a cruel bargain for our humanity; more often offering a seductively easy price for our humanity.

Personally, my art is rooted in both the privileged experience of a first world nation and the surrounding larger reality of vast material deprivation more common than not on this planet we share.  I was literally born into this conundrum.  As a helpless baby, I was not helpless.  While I was born in Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, I was not fated to live a life anything like the countless babies born within a stones throw.  I was born to well-educated, white Americans — a doctor and a nurse.  As a toddler, I would fly off in an airplane, already then cementing myself solidly within the experience of less than 1/20th of the world’s inhabitants.  My rant above is perhaps one of privileged hope.  I may never know for sure.  However, as I grow in my art of living, I find it much wiser and productive to root for humanity, not money.  The truth of any above assertions is probably best demonstrated by the fact that Haiti has the largest concentration of artists, predominantly painters, of any nation on earth.  Perhaps art is a necessity, not a luxury.

 

 

POEM: Signs of The Tines

At the White House speak easy
Blah blah blah blah blah blah
The media drinks it up
At a mine-blowingly vapid clip
In the mean time
On the plantation
Grounds to a halt
Surrounded by offense
In arose guardin’
At least since 1984
Black sheep a massing
Estate clearly
As to klan destined premises
And as such a tract
An overwhelming farce
Met with all arm
As privates in public places
And wile mill or tarry
As eventuality
Weather picked up for loitering
Or trashing national security
Hour constitutional is put down
And though wee are like
A communal terrain
Pigs offer another forum of public transportation
A signing
This won in the can
Matching our zeal to the maxim
In another banner day
For homeland security
Or whatever it scald
As free speech grows smolder
And another die cast
For the prints of darkness
Wielding a pitchfork for the signs of the tines
A tail never to be told

This is a poem about police and/or military — sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference these days — putting down a protest at the White House.  Typically, the corporate media give little coverage to such democracy taken into the hands of ruly citizens, and what coverage they give is often superficial and dismissive.  The demonstration in this poem has overtones of a Black Lives Matter protest, making it contemporary, but it could very well be most any protest in modern times at the White House.  The title of this poem, Signs of The Tines, has what may be an easily missed pun, referencing the tines of the devil’s pitchfork casting signs into a bonfire, which might very well be the preeminent renewable energy source in America.  Protest politics and direct nonviolent resistance has always forced America to confront a legal and political conundrum of law enforcement routinely violating constitutional rights, often under the pretext of national security.  Most any perceived threat to the state triggers an overreaction, even an existential crisis, from most any nationalist from right to left.  Exposing the naked sovereignty of the state, particularly when in moral bankruptcy, is one of the most useful effects resistance offers.  The veneer of civilization can be quickly peeled back to witness the assertion of brute force in the religion of nationalism and state sovereignty.  And for those of you who may dare to believe that we are a nation under God, think again.  I confronted this directly in my legal challenge to draft registration.  As a motion to dismiss based on draft registration offering no opportunity to indicate conscientious objector status, the federal judge rejected the motion citing a Supreme Court case from the 1930’s which stated that the federal government has the absolute power to conscript anyone in the United States, regardless of conscience or anything else.  Conscientious objector status is merely a historical and political concession which was literally referred to as “legislative grace.”  I must admit, in this decade-long resistance to forced military participation in Team America, this was the only thing that truly surprised me.  I, for one, am unwilling to concede absolute authority to any government.  I actually wasn’t even very excited about this motion for dismissal, but my pro bono lawyers wanted to test this legal argument.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have registered even had there been a way to meaningfully indicate conscientious objection.  I think I registered my objection quite meaningfully without their approval or feigned “grace.”  You might want to pay attention to the wizard behind the gracefully flowing curtain, dutifully colored, red, white, and blue…

POEM: How Ever Dumb Dumb Dumb Dumb

In his rock
Solid doubt
Thomas
Had herd rumors
Of unflailing love
Abuzz of hope so high
If only
To find himself
Quite
In the dark
Wear time stops
To the ever sow gentle
Beating
To a singular conundrum
As sound as it gets
In the artlessness of won’s
Perpetual searching
Where awe is aloud
And know license kneaded
Yet so long
Due
Over
Come
Warming to the extremity
In a hospitality of patients
Still
Not sure
What he thaw
He’s frozen code
Hesitatingly lust
Pulling out
Aplomb
The surest proof
Of assurance
Yet knot enough too
Drink the Kool-Aid™
Turning to whine
Taken in
Bred of skepticism
Only willing
To live on
Crumbs
That will
Surly re-seed
In annoys
Of the daze
The quest in
For gotten
How ever dumb dumb dumb dumb

This is another poem on a familiar theme of skepticism of skepticism.  In this poem, skepticism is juxtaposed with a simple and profound reality at the center of each human life: your heartbeat.  In fast-paced, postmodern society, we live in a precarious and constricted mental and spiritual territory.  We are, well, maladapted to ask “What have you done for me lately” a-long-side routine strings of epic fails to live in the moment.  In a triumph of evolution, we walk a mathematically constructed line that every mathematician knows doesn’t exist except as a mental construct.  And then we complain about God’s ethereal nature — with a periodicity much less regular than a heartbeat, in between ignoring God’s good creation.  I can’t help but note that the bulk head of such complaining seems more fitting on bar stools than in poem or song.  Of course, I don’t recommend sobriety when it comes to being drunk on poetry.  In the book, The Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, the main character tells two stories: one hauntingly mesmerizing and another as a police report.  When asking another character which story they prefer, not surprisingly, they choose the captivating story; to which the main character replies, “and so it is with God.”  I, for one, would much rather be captivated by a good story than limit my reading — and living — to police reports (though many good stories include police reports).  I strongly suspect that God wants us to make epic stories of our lives, for our hearts to beat captivating rhythms, to grow bigger and fuller today than we were yesterday.  For this to happen, at some point, we have to make stuff up as we go along.  This process can be analogous to scientific discovery, proposing stuff that we are not quite sure are true and then testing them out with out lives.  Not surprisingly, scientific-minded folks are greatly disturbed when religion hypothesizes great truths and then fails to adequately test them in the here and now.  Not all shit is worth making up.  Fortunately, most any shit can be used as fertilizer.  Even cautionary tales are indispensable.  Nonetheless, as Native Americans traditionally began their storytelling, “This may not have happened, but it is true.”  Or, as I might put it: God is the coolest being I ever metaphor.

But back to the even more palpable.  Your heartbeat serves as a metaphor, gentle reminder, and literal lifeline to, well, life.  The heartbeat is both a shared human reality and intensely intimate and personal tether to life.  In astounding irony, the common ground of a heartbeat at the center of each human life seems to be easily taken for granite, that is, common ground.  There may be a fine lying between common ground and complicated dirt, but I suspect that the road less travailed makes awe the difference.  Akin to breathing, our heartbeat is a great center for meditation, that is, simply centering our life (see my poems, Breathing and The World’s Shortest Meditation).  I find the persistence, reliability, unobtrusiveness, and effectiveness of both breathing and our heartbeat as a wellspring of metaphors and insights into the deepest nature of life.  Still, may your life take definition by those moments which take your breath away and that which makes your heart to skip a beat.

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: In What Seams Faultless

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

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

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

POEM: 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: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

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: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

From oasis to oasis
Straw men
Hiring suckers
Living under
Dissembled bridges
Until it’s over
Troubled waters
What’s the hold-up
Living for weak ends
And long vocations
Until
Down
Under
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
A hexing feat
A plod
Bought and paid for
Buy decisions made years a go
Putting off family
For eternal wrest
Friends only gathering in your wake
A bout time
Spent
Pourly
Until
Can’t take it
With them
Passing on
An assuming manor
And a partiality
For a stylized life
And conspicuous consumption
Wear cleanliness is next to gaudiness
Awe made passable
By a peacocky overcompensation
Surpassing one’s station
In life
A haven untaxed
In death
A surety
As won might
Have guest it
A regretful time share
As when the first homme isn’t enough
Always returning
Too more earnest dwellings
Harping on
The good old daze
Not even
For a second
Helping
But for the hole shebang
In unremitting a morality
A temporary re-treat
From the fire down below
Feeling the heat
Strokes of genius
Clever ruses billed
On foundations of sand
Offering slim hope
For the porous
As liquid assets evaporating
In a desert temp
An oasis scarcely better
Then a mirage
For those sitting on the parch
A weigh station
To check their baggage
Perhaps pick up some more
Souvenirs
For the trip
Over their own feat
Plunging an unquenchable thirst
Skewering with spit
Sweating bullets
In humid climbs
Yet like fish out of water
No matter how hard
They dry
Flailing to inspire
In any such reckoning
And knot on your life
Will they settle
For sum thing less
And weather they come
Ergo
For the wrest of US
Their goes
The neighborhood

This poem is an ode to so-called living from oasis to oasis rather than living sustainably in one oasis.  I find that the so-called “carrot” of getting to the next oasis is actually more of a “stick” to nature and our humanity.  Americans have suffered from a frontier mentality for centuries, ratcheting up suffering in increasingly exponential ways.  Instead of doing the work of learning about and living within natural limits, humans race toward extinction, with a lengthy prologue and rate of over a hundred species a day.  Living in harmony, sustainably within our natural environment, may very well be the most important lesson humans need to learn within the next few generations.  There is little reason why we shouldn’t be able to learn this lesson, but whether we will avail ourselves of the benefits of learning this lesson is unclear.  There is a classic, somewhat cynical exposition from the character Agent Smith in the movie, The Matrix, which gives one perspective on the human race and human nature:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

I find this description accurate.  However, this history leaves unanswered how we will respond in the future.  The relevant conundrum that I see in human nature is that the unprecedented capability humans have in making choices undetermined by nature is a serious double-edged sword.  This very capability to stretch nature, even human nature, can lead to large, unsustainable ventures which bound over natural limits in which other living entities would be much more “naturally” restrained or contained.  Perhaps paradoxically, this very same capability leaves open the potential to adapt quickly and recover a sustainable balance.  I find hope in our ability to adapt.  Still, humans have a long history of only doing the right thing after exhausting most every other possibility.  The stakes are high, and realizing the high stakes may be the necessary impetus for humans to make necessary adjustments.  Hopefully, we can restore a level of sanity and balance in time to avoid a catastrophic collapse of civilization and/or the environment.  Either way, living in harmony with nature is a better choice.  We can vote with our lives and lifestyles.  May we embrace our evolution, even revolution, to avoid devolution or extinction.

POEM: Mental Health Café

In the mental health café
Most of us just order the usual
The anxiety du jour
A small mixed salad of worries
With a little resentment on the side

For many, anxiety is the norm.  Anxiety seems to propel life forward, a basic energy in life.  This may be true to an extent, but it is likely rooted in fear avoidance.  I have heard it said that anxiety is the truest form of atheism.  If it’s all up to me and I have no reliable authority from which to gird my accountability for my actions, where oughts are arbitrary, then existential anxiety must be the norm (see John Paul Sartre in various conundrums of being condemned to be free).  If God is love, and love casts out fear, then we can let go of our anxieties and live freely into any passion which is in accord with love.  The difference between love and fear may be as subtle as the difference between creating as a process and gaining as an outcome.  If creating is de-linked from personal gain, then gain happens for all.  If our creating is enmeshed in personal gain or loss avoidance, the goodness doesn’t grow, and, at best, it is merely maintained.  The seed metaphor is perhaps the most apt in grasping this process in that a seed must die to its current state of existence to grow into something more, some potential in the seed actualized, a crop yielding many-fold.  Greed and selfishness leads us to consume our seed, or even better for the selfish, to consume others’ seed.  The worst fruit of such selfish behavior is tempting others to pay undue attention to merely protecting what they have versus creating anew.  Let us not be overly wrought with the selfishness of others and continue following our good passions yielding good fruits for all.

POEM: A Ghastly Alchemy

For just
Some
Dam
Weepin’s permit
I protect and serve
Up my enemies
Like
Cold
Turkey
Shoot
Only to rifle
But growing ode
In a ghastly alchemy
Silver bullets turning to lead
Down the wrong path
Instantly poisoned
Hearts and minds
In the cruelest democracy
Community going
For broke
The simplest solution
Drunk
With wons
Britches down
In a flash
A bad moon rising
Eclipsing gumption
In the forced
And bye-ways
Camouflaging knights
And daze
Seeing evil
Through darkness
And narrow sites
Seeing in for red
Aimed for more heat than light
As mirror man
Shutters a mist
The in side out
As awe the rage
For their own
Good
I mean
Bad

Here is yet another poem against gun violence.  When it comes to ballads not bullets, I have plenty of ammunition.  Besides just being cruel, violence is inherently anti-democratic.  There are inescapable conundrums in eliminating, or threatening to eliminate, other people as a form of building community.  Of coarse, many people are willing to sacrifice another than do the hard work of making high ideals manifest.  Even the concept of “self” defense razes issues of human rights, inclusiveness, and the sacredness of life.  There is little doubt that practicing nonviolence takes great discipline and sacrifice.  This is in sharp contrast to the so-called “last-resort” of violence that so lazily creeps up to number one.

At what price do we give up our freedom to practice nonviolence?  The Faustian bargain of violence offers an escape from the rigors of morality and authentic community by claiming, “They made me do it,” a convenient denial of one’s freedom — and another’s!  Of course, the enforcement of might makes right extracts the bulk of the price from others, the opposite of self-discipline and sacrifice.  Creating community is costly, just as destroying community is costly.  The real question is: Who pays the cost and who reaps the benefits (in the case of destruction, of what remains)?  As in the dysfunction of capitalism, where greed and selfishness are raised up as virtues necessary to “progress”, violence is about getting the most benefit for oneself (and one’s kin) at the lowest cost to oneself.  Not surprisingly, when the lowest common denominator is oneself, and greed is a virtue, community, which prospers on the common good, suffers. The fundamental problem is that the destruction of violence extracts a cost from the whole (community) that can only be rationalized in piecemeal, selfish fashion.  Violence is an attempt to shift a cost to others.  This works in part when you force others to experience loss due to your violence, and the cost of this is disproportionately shared by your victims.  However, there is no substitute for your own moral agency.  Your responsibility cannot be “cost shifted” to others (only the effects of your irresponsibility can).  This is the irrevocable loss of moral failings. Morality is simply exercising your freedom in a responsible way.  Saying you don’t have a choice, e.g, “They made me do it,” is a cop out.  Morality isn’t easy; if it was, everybody would be doing it!  In short, wielding lethal weapons is perhaps the worst way to demonstrate personal responsibility.  Guns are the lowest form of community.  Even if guns are the last resort, this is not a resort in which I want to live.

POEM: More Than, a Nester — Owed to Seán Nestor, in honor of his 29th birthday

More Than, a Nester
Owed to Seán Nestor
in honor of his 29th birthday

In the beginning
There was a good egg
In compassed
By a paltry brood
A restless nativity
And ageless questions
Of what thirst
And what last
Ordinally his number
Enigmatically leading and following
Both a head of the pack
And singing his song inquire
Weather alone
Or getting it all together
From elementary schooling
To places high
And lo
Receiving the third degree
And more than a hunch
That there has to be
More to IT than this
To each day beat a different conundrum
To get with the program
AND run
Taking a ballot from behind
And still quixotically facing
The con jury of the democratic machine
Putting on a show
Exposing posterity for all
A worthy forerunner
For when hell frees us
And that blue moon
At once kicks off
Such a buff juncture
Of renewed politics
And transparent patronage
Of native sun
Seán on, dazzling brother!
As we cast our ballads for you
Thinking outside the box
Oar these daze, IT is something else
Perhaps a bout
Not mirrorly pick up sticks
To be a big hit
Rather solemn assemblies
And parties making US green
With envy
Only of what is done together
One for awe
And awe for won
And in earnest
We are paid
Surpassing fine feathered friends
Roosts no longer our rulers
Measured by our passions
Sized up by our compassion
Know longer having
Only to trust
As one under 30
Soon enough
Getting over one self
Whys beyond your ears
A fly guy
Making home wherever
You are
More than, a nester

One of my many life-long dreams is for everyone on the planet to have a poem written for them.  This furthers that dream.  THANKS, Seán!  Happy birthday!!   “May you live all the days of your life” — Will Rogers

You can download this poem here: Sean Nestor Poem

POEM: We Won’t Be Food Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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