A Spiritual Autobiography

I wrote the below spiritual autobiography a dozen years ago as part of a servant leadership study group.  While it definitely needs updating, it serves well as a brief overview of my spiritual history and development over much of my life, particularly my early years.  Fortuitously, my humor remains righteously irreverent and my faith grows.

RUTTS
by Alex Haley
(that’s just my pun name)

The year was 1961. Preceded by John, a child was conceived, fathered by a closeted gay man, in Bethlehem, on the outskirts of the city of brotherly love. In my mother’s womb, I was transported to Haiti, where my parents, as doctor and nurse, were beginning their service as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee. A dozen (and a half) generations ago my ancestors had fled religious persecution and military conscription in Germany to settle in America. For a new beginning, they were gifted with land from William Penn. This land was some of the most fertile in the world; so fertile, in fact, that even gay men father children there! Though now in Haiti, they were soon to be counted again among the privileged of the world. I was born. And on this journey, Joseph followed. Continuing my heritage as a sojourner in a foreign land, I was born a true child of the 60s.

I have no specific memories of those first couple of years in Haiti. However, only in recent years have I realized my ideal vision of serenity as sleeping without a care late in the morning in a mountain cabin while the rain pounds on the tin roof likely came from memories as a baby (now, if only I can figure out why I have a pleasant association with the smell of skunk!). Also, I am told that I was scared of most white people. Strangely, I am still haunted by white people on occasion.

After a brief stint in Detroit, perhaps explaining my love of urban life, I grew up in a small town in Michigan. The town was Mennonite-free, so I was raised a United Methodist. My childhood was strikingly trauma-free (only striking in retrospect). I knew safety. I knew predictability and caring. Our family always ate meals together, beginning with a prayer too short not to recount here: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food. Amen.” A lot more theology in that prayer than I usually give credit. Our family participated in worship and church functions regularly. Worship was generally boring. One of my few memories was a teenager with a guitar, singing “Blowing in the wind.” I guess that would have been contemporary music, huh? And that was before Bob Dylan was a Christian. I attended Sunday school, vacation Bible school, and youth group. I only vaguely remember confirmation. I remember good times. Except for a desperately poor matching of gifts by placing me in a children’s choir – my first, and really only, experience with “playing hooky.” I loved summer camp. First there were church camps, then Boy Scout camps. My younger brother and I earned Eagle Scout ranking (the highest in Boy Scouts) in record time. Our scoutmaster was easygoing and playful. Perhaps paradoxically, it was easy to achieve in that environment. If “achievement” had been required of me, I probably wouldn’t have done it, or at least wouldn’t have enjoyed it so much. When we later moved and joined another scout troop, which was probably better organized and certainly more rigid, we dropped out after a while.

My understanding of diversity was child-like. I knew that Catholic families were the ones with five or six kids. Good families to play with. My best friend’s dad was Cuban. He also had two older half-siblings. In retrospect, this was the only somewhat non-traditional family I recall; though I don’t recall giving it much thought.

I was baptized at age eleven. Apparently, I was out of the country at the time such events usually occur. Fortunately, my understanding of baptism was still pretty much that of an infant, so it worked out well. I was confirmed a year later. About this same time, I was in little league baseball. In an attempt to deal with performance anxiety, I kept a pocket-sized New Testament in my back pocket. This crude attempt at spiritual osmosis was discovered by my brothers who with little affection labeled me “Bible boy.” I didn’t like this. I remember that my parent rebuked them.

When we moved to Dearborn, Michigan, before my ninth grade, my parents looked for a church nearby, but had little success – “too suburban” I think. Not surprising, considering we lived in a nice home with a pool, only 100 feet from a golf course. They decided to return to their church from earlier years, Central United Methodist Church in downtown Detroit, 20 minutes away. Central is the oldest Protest-ant church in Michigan, and has been called “the conscience of the city.” Always a leader in social justice, their most widely known pastor preached pacifism before, during and after World War II. I was soon to be raised on 45+ minute sermons, truly epic sermons. A turning point happened to me sometime during my high school years when my mom took me to a peace conference at church. My eyes were opened and my heart would soon follow.

I went to Hope College, a small, private, liberal arts school. It was a Christian College, as were most of its staff and students, mostly Reformed and Christian Reformed. However, it was unlikely that I would ever be Reformed; conservatively speaking that is. My college years began with my father lightly warning me of these Calvinists. I didn’t know what he was talking about. My first roommate and I, who were boyhood friends, unknowingly were matched because we were both Methodists – apparently, a rare breed thereabouts. Early on, I must have been an easy target for an overabundance of evangelism. A friend invited me to Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. I went to what turned out to be a practically diversity-free zone; even ALL of the other persons in my small group were named “Kathy” (though probably a diversity of spellings). Later, when I saw out my dorm room window the friend who invited me, I said, “hello.” She asked me what I thought of the meeting. I shouted from the second floor window something to the effect that it was “too religious.” I did like church, and I went willingly. I even went to chapel services three times a week – religiously. I was also on part-time staff of the campus ministry. Though a biology major, I was frequently mistaken for a political science or philosophy major. Apparently, I was succeeding at the liberal arts (or at least the art of being liberal).

I very soon got involved with a small group of students known as the World Hunger Committee. Being a United Methodist, I must have known that there would be a committee for that! This formally launched my work in social justice, and my personal interest in stewardship, vegetarianism and nutrition. That first year, God brought together this son of a Mennonite with a Hope graduate who was a Mennonite (perhaps the only one). I told him that I was concerned about President Carter re-instituting draft registration. He said, “Why don’t you start a peace group?” I said, “Yes.” Fortunately, I didn’t now what I was doing. So, I helped found “Hope for Peace.”

For my own concerns, I hooked up with a Viet Nam war-era draft counselor. To make a long story short, when President Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration, I was identified in the Detroit News as a non-registrant. Being the only publicly-identified non-registrant in Michigan, I garnered much media attention. Eventually, the Reagan ‘get the government off your back’ regime and his Attorney General, Edwin ‘people are only hungry by choice’ Meese III, saw that out of millions of non-registrants, I was number 13 to be prosecuted. In the end, six years later, after heroically losing half a dozen pre-trial motions (with the help of a volunteer team of legal experts), my older brother dying, graduating from college, getting married, having a son, graduating from graduate school, and getting a job, I defended myself before a jury of my peers (though none of them were subject to the law I was defending myself from). I lost. But what did I win? (that is, beside three months room and board at the taxpayers’ expense) I learned to live in good conscience. I learned to refine my beliefs, even amidst great public scrutiny. I learned about civil disobedience, or as A.J. Muste, a great American pacifist and Hope College graduate would have said, “holy obedience” (in my write mind I say, “wholly obedience). I learned that the U.S. government has the absolute authority to draft any citizen regardless of conscientious objection. Any exception to this is due only to “legislative grace.” I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my government. Actually, I presented my case at the Detroit Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, in conjunction with a resolution to support young men’s consciences who were subject to draft registration laws, whether their conscience led them to register or not. The resolution failed. So, I learned to live by God’s grace even when it exceeds the grace of my denomination.

During college, after guest preaching at my home church in Detroit, someone came up afterwards and said, “I didn’t know that you were in seminary.” Nonetheless, I consider myself a theological mutt. I have drawn from many Christian traditions. I have studied Asian religions, and I am drawn to Buddhism. I am an amateur philosopher (that is, until someone pays me) and I am intrigued by the angst of existentialism. I have experienced a spiritual re-awakening in Alanon, which has given me things that my church could not. I believe that “religionism” may be the ultimate “-ism,” preventing us from experiencing the oneness of God. I may be a leading candidate to be voted, “most likely to be heretical,” by the powers that be. This is my orthodoxy. I believe that paradox lives in the neighbor of truth; and we should love our neighbors. In true Zen-like fashion, I find that irreverence is often the highest form of reverence. Among my heresies is my unabashed appreciation of “The Simpsons” (but, as the Hindus would say, “Don’t have a cow.”).

After an intense summer working for Bread for the World as an organizer, and days before my senior year began, my brother John was killed in an avalanche in Western Canada; but only after dropping out of college while on foreign study, wandering, rock-climbing and working (pretty much in that order) for a couple of years in Africa and the Western U.S. His death has given me a much greater sense of mortality and the preciousness of life each day. I actually find funerals as fruitful opportunities for reflection and renewing my sense of “living in the moment.” I have undervalued such opportunities. One of the few regrets in my life was missing three of four funerals of my grandparents.

My paternal grandparents were particularly religious. Only upon the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary (and doing the math) did I realize that my father was a near-bastard child to a teen mom. Years later, when my sister was pregnant and out-of-wedlock at age 19, my grandfather said, “The sins of the grandfather are being visited upon the granddaughter.” My thought: get over it! Well, at least, I can now understand why my gay father was closeted until his parents were either dead or demented. While I didn’t see healing in my grandparents, I saw that having an understanding of God under construction is a good thing, and sometimes demolition work is required.

That brings me to my marriage. To make a long, and usually happy, story short, my marriage of 11+ years ended 10 years ago. Nonetheless, we were blessed with two wonderful children, Joshua and Kathryn. I love being a parent. It may be the closest I’ve been able to experience what God must feel in His/Her unconditional love for us. Kate’s life is an ongoing miracle since she was born with multiple heart defects. She underwent two heart surgeries, and at one point with surgical complications, a doctor, trying to be optimistic, said, she has at least a 50/50 chance of living. A brush with death. There’s that mortality thing again. Not unlike death, I thought I had no problem with divorce – as long as it was happening to other people. Accepting our divorce was the most difficult thing I have ever dealt with.

Being out of a “relationship” for a number of years helped my re-develop my relationship with myself and with God. This came more through Alanon than church. Now, being in a relationship for eight years with a wise and beautiful woman has taught me to appreciate life as it comes, one day at a time – with both of us half single, half single parent; no longer with in-laws but ex’s. I’ve learned that God makes all things new, and often faster than I want. God never gives me what I want; God always gives me something better!

My career. God brought me to a career in public health, as I savored its roots in social justice. God brought me out of public health, re-naming me “Top Pun,” and appointing me as a jester for peace, where the pun is mightier than the sword, and justice is no yoke. My canvasses are buttons, T-shirts, bumper stickers, and the World Wide Web. My business, by definition, is good – that is, maximizing prophets. My business is exactly on schedule; though I don’t know what the schedule is.

God brought me to Central’s neighborhood, and a few hours later, to Central. Centralites were my kind of people. Some happened to be Christians who were gay. Through my social justice work, not my public health work, God brought me to work in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This opened further opportunities to work with persons who happened to be gay. My dad “came out.” My parents divorced. God had prepared me.

I have issues with money. I aspire to live simply, gracefully facilitated by my recent poverty-level earnings. Living with less financial security has inspired me to give today because I may not be able to give later. Whatever old car I’m driving facilitates my prayer life (of course, no “auto”-biography would be complete without a mention of my car).

I am a mystic at heart, journeying as a gifted rationalist, Caucasian, male, father, lover, businessman, American, etc., etc., yada, yada, yada. While embracing the enigmatic, I hope these few words will offer you a clue as to who I am. Hopefully, these few words will offer you a clue as to who we are. One of my favorite poems is from Muhammad Ali: “Me. We.”

In all, God has never left me; except for an instant in 1981, but that’s another story…

HOPE POEM: Why God Invented Dark

God invented dark
As a respite
From high noon
That searing sun
Of which mortal men are made
To see
Sow much more
Innumerable lofty stars
Unseen in mere day dreams
Beyond won’s highest hopes
Awe at once
A mist unbelievably rare life
Thou dust hold together
Awe that matters
When noonday returns

Here is yet another poem about hope, just in case you may need to re-stock, or stock up.  Life is replete with cycles.  Only in the darkness can you see the stars. MLK QUOTE BUTTONDay and night, sleep and wakefulness.  Opposites teem in a paradox packed reality.  Belief and skepticism are life-long dance partners.  Our quest for unity requires acceptance of diversity.  The immeasurable value of life is most evident in the face of death.

Taoists seem to have the keenest awareness of the importance of opposites and their complimentary nature.  That the nature of something is inextricably bound to its opposite, or even comes from its opposite, is mind-boggling.  The mind reaches one of its natural limits when it comes to logical contradictions.  Of course, the Taoists’ purpose is not to jar the mind, but un-jar the mind — and free up the heart.

Hope is the purview of the heart.  Hope may not make cents for those demanding a foolproof return on their investment.  Delving into the vital depths of paradoxes and life’s necessary contradictions is not for the fainthearted.  Wholehearted living demands assent and even gusto in the thralls of uncertainty and unpredictability in order to make the most of life.  Hope is the life-blood of an entrepreneurial life spirit.  The attachment to conventional power — those well-known levers of control — and the insistence on dominion over others, is the nemesis of hope.  Hope arises from a place beyond mere control.  Hope, awash in possibility, is an existential reality ever-present on the threshold of human life.

For many, the contemporary context for this poem is a looming Donald Trump presidency.  Many fear that their existence may be taxed beyond bearing.  This is undoubtedly true for some.  Still, the contrasting values brought forth by the Don’s cartel will as surely offer high relief.  Once Game Over King and Pawn Go Back in Same Box -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONStarker choices can favor moral humans as much or more than amoral or immoral humans.  If you want presumed victory, take the sociopath, limiting the struggle to the well-worn levers of control.  If you want more, let your heart take hope, take time to see the light amidst the darkness, and listen intently to whatever maybe herd for the duration of human game.

POLITICAL POEM: Pick You’re Genocide

Pick
You’re genocide
Won side or the other
Gun to head
Ahead to gun
Aliens pervade our atmosphere
As whirled wore thee
Restless natives no so slight
Wear homieland security rules
Redcoats and bluecoats
Everyday cover ups
Of fuzz overruling
Wile privates everywhere
As wee divine
A bomb in nation
Knot our own
As they get
Our scapegoat
As if too give
Pour excuses
Tired pleas
And huddled asses
Wretchedly refuse
Their teaming shore
Up walls
In efface of stranger contentions
Reproving those
Fresh off the bout
Or slaves too buy gone ways
The wiled West
And marshal law
For sum of the people
OK, corral most of the people
Distantly droning on
Pining a bout boots on the ground
As pay no tension to boots on the neck
Of silenced know bodies
Fueled into thinking
It’s awe we Cain do
As we might be Abel
Too win with a faction of the vote
Seduced by sects
Of phallus choices
And foe alternatives

This poem sticks to my recent theme of radical change needed to the U.S. electoral system posing as democracy.  More specifically, the national or federal elections system needs a complete overhaul.  Ranked choice voting would be revolutionary.  We the people should end money as free speech, with its tsunami of money from the rich and corporate “persons” overwhelming voters and voters’ choice of candidates. The electoral college should graduate finally to something else.  An actual representative congress, akin to many European parliaments, would better assure diversity and fuel true coalition building rather than simple domination of one party over the other.  Still, this poems strikes a deeper and immediate chord.  Voters could benefit much in the long run by refusing to negotiate with terrorists.  The two-party duopoly holds voters hostage to lethal choices for the planet and humanity.  Believe it or not, billions of non-voters around the planet have a stake in the health of American empire — that stake is often through their heart!  Plus, the growing internal inequalities and ghettoizing of America could use some serious care and attention.  It’s time to demand freedom to choose sustainable, life-compatible candidates and political parties.  More directly, voters could exercise power more productively by demonstrating such freedom rather than simply wishing for freedom to be granted to them from above by the powers that be.  How many cycles of abuse do we the people need to endure to muster the courage and fortitude to demand nothing less than fair elections and candidates that both represent and are responsive to the people?  Corporate persons selecting corporate candidates is unacceptable.  But, alas, we teach people how to treat us.  Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you've found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them. Frederick DouglassAs Frederick Douglass so shrewdly pointed out, “Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you’ve found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them.”  Actually, the powers that be don’t really mind if we put on a good show with whiny grievances or articulate analyses, as long as we don’t change our behavior.  In this context, that means our voting behavior and the long, disciplined work of non-electoral political action.  Change takes time.  Healthy behaviors often take years, decades, sometimes generations, to manifest themselves visibly in the body politic.  If we don’t have the patience, the fortitude, the vision, and the faith that we CAN do better, then we will end up with the same old crap over and over again.  This crap may have improved packaging.  This crap may contain 25% more crap.  Butt, in the end, if we take it, it is ours — all for the price of a mortgaged future!  May we vote without fear.  May we vote FOR love.  May we vote with a hope that transcends tried and true naive optimism of the same-old, same-old delivering the same-old, same-old.  Let’s make it so.

REAL POLITICS, REAL CANDIDATE: Jill Stein 2016 Platform

IF you want a progressive presidential candidate that you can get excited about voting FOR, then Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate is worth serious consideration.  Jill Stein has selected her Green Party running mate, Vice President choice, Ajamu Baraka.  Mr. Baraka is an internationally recognized human rights activist, organizer and geo-political analyst with a deeply progressive resume.  Here is their platform:

Jill Stein 2016 Platform

Our Power to the People Plan

Climate Action: Protecting Mother Earth and Humanity

  • Enact an emergency Green New Deal to turn the tide on climate change, revive the economy and make wars for oil obsolete. Initiate a WWII-scale national mobilization to halt climate change, the greatest threat to humanity in our history. Create 20 million jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, conservation and restoration of critical infrastructure, including ecosystems.
  • Implement a Just Transition that empowers those communities and workers most impacted by climate change and the transition to a green economy. Ensure that any worker displaced by the shift away from fossil fuels will receive full income and benefits as they transition to alternative work.
  • Enact energy democracy based on public, community and worker ownership of our energy system. Treat energy as a human right.
  • Redirect research funds from fossil fuels into renewable energy and conservation.  Build a nationwide smart electricity grid that can pool and store power from a diversity of renewable sources, giving the nation clean, democratically-controlled, energy.
  • End destructive energy extraction and associated infrastructure: fracking, tar sands, offshore drilling, oil trains, mountaintop removal, natural gas pipelines, and uranium mines. Halt any investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, including natural gas, and phase out all fossil fuel power plants. Phase out nuclear power and end nuclear subsidies.  End all subsidies for fossil fuels and impose a greenhouse gas fee / tax to charge polluters for the damage they have created.
  • Protect our public lands, water supplies, biological diversity, parks, and pollinators. Ban neonicotinoids and other pesticides that threaten the survival of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.
  • Support a strong enforceable global climate treaty that limits global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and provides just financial compensation to developing countries.
  • Label GMOs, and put a moratorium on GMOs and pesticides until they are proven safe.
  • Support organic and regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and sustainable forestry.
  • Protect the rights of future generations. Adopt the Precautionary Principle. When an activity poses threats of harm to human health or the environment, in the absence of objective scientific consensus that it is safe, precautionary measures should be taken. The proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.
  • Invest in clean air, water, food  and soil for everyone. Clean up America.
  • Enact stronger environmental justice laws and measures to ensure that low-income and communities of color are not disproportionately impacted by harmful pollution and other negative environmental and health effects.
  • Support conversion to sustainable, nontoxic materials and the use of closed-loop, zero waste processes.

 Jobs as a Right, and Key Support for Labor

  • Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Government would be the employer of last resort, and the unemployed would have an enforceable right to make government provide work. Create direct public employment, as the Works Progress Administration did,  in public services and public works for those who can’t find private employment.
  • Advance workers’ rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.
  • Enact the Green Deal full employment program to create 20 million green jobs in sustainable energy, mass transit, sustainable organic agriculture, clean manufacturing and improved infrastructure, as well as social work, teaching, health care, after school and home care, drug rehabilitation and other service jobs.
  • Provide grants and low-interest loans to green businesses and cooperatives, with an emphasis on small, locally-based companies that keep the wealth created by local labor circulating in the community, rather than being drained off to enrich absentee investors.
  • Replace NAFTA and other corporate free trade agreements that export American jobs, depress wages, and undermine the sovereign right of Americans and citizens of other countries to control their own economy and political choices. Enact fair trade laws that benefits local workers and communities.
  • Repeal  the Taft-Hartley Act which banned secondary boycotts and permitted state “right-to-work” laws. Enact a federal just cause law (to prohibit firing without just cause,) and outlaw scabbing on striking workers.

 End Poverty:

  • Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.
  • Establish a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Reform public assistance to be a true safety net that empowers participants and provides a decent standard of living.
  • Free universal child care.

 Health Care as a Right:

  • Establish an improved “Medicare for All” single-payer public health program to provide everyone with quality health care, at huge savings by eliminating the $400 billion annually spent on  the paperwork and bureaucracy of health insurance. No co-pays, premiums or deductibles. Access to all health care services, including mental health, dental, and vision. Include everyone, period. No restrictions based on pre-existing illness, employment, immigration status, age, or any other category.
  • Eliminate the cancer of health insurance, which adds costs while reducing access to health care.
  • End overcharging for prescription drugs by using bulk purchasing negotiations.
  • Eliminate health disparities in communities of color and low-income communities. Ensure easy access to health care in communities of color, including community health centers.
  • Allow full access to contraceptive and reproductive care.
  • Expand women’s access to “morning after” contraception by lifting the Obama Administration’s ban.
  • Avoid chronic diseases by investing in essential community health infrastructure such as local, fresh, organic food systems, pollution-free renewable energy, phasing out toxic chemicals, and active transportation such as bike paths and safe sidewalks that dovetail with public transit.
  • Ensure that consumers have essential information for making informed food choices by expanding product labeling requirements for country of origin, GMO content, toxic chemical ingredients, and fair trade practices.
  • Prioritize preventive health care, including physical activity, healthy nutrition and pollution prevention.

 Education as a Right:

  • Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.
  • Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.
  • Protect our public school systems from privatization.
  • Use restorative justice to address conflicts before they occur, and involve students in the process.
  • Evaluate teacher performance through assessment by fellow professionals. Do not rely on high stakes tests that reflect economic status of the community, and punish teachers working in low income communities of color.
  • Replace Common Core with curriculum developed by educators, not corporations, with input from parents and communities.
  • Stop denying students diplomas based on high stakes tests.
  • Stop using merit pay to punish teachers who work with the most challenging student populations.
  • Restore arts, music and recreation to school curriculums.
  • Ensure racially inclusive, sensitive and relevant curriculums.
  • Use Department of Education powers to offer grants and funding to encourage metropolitan desegregation plans based on socioeconomically balanced schools.
  • Recognize poverty as the key obstacle to learning. Ensure that kids come to school ready to learn: healthy, nourished, secure and free from violence.
  • Increase federal funding of public schools to equalize public school funding.

 A Just Economy:

  • Guarantee a living wage job for all.
  • Set a $15/hour federal minimum wage, with indexing.
  • Break up “too-big-to-fail” banks and democratize the Federal Reserve.
  • Support development of worker and community cooperatives and small businesses.
  • Make Wall Street, big corporations, and the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
  • Create democratically-run public banks and utilities.
  • Provide full protection for workplace rights, including the right to a safe workplace and the right to organize a union without fear of firing or reprisal by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.
  • Ensure equal pay for equal work, ending discrimination based on race, gender, or generation.
  • Enact paid sick leave and family leave, strong overtime protections.
  • Take action against wage theft.
  • Oppose two-tier wage systems (e.g., for young people and individuals with disabilities).

 Freedom and Equality:

  • Expand women’s rights, including equal pay and reproductive freedom. Pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment).
  • Protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination.
  • Defend indigenous rights,  lands and treaties.
  • Support immigrants’ rights. Create a welcoming path to citizenship for immigrants.
  • Halt deportations and detentions of law-abiding undocumented immigrants, including the shameful practice of night raids being used to terrorize refugee families.
  • Improve economic and social conditions abroad to reduce the flow of immigrant refugees, in part by repealing NAFTA, ending the failed drug wars, and halting CIA and military interventions against democratically elected governments.
  • Demilitarize border crossings throughout North America.
  • Protect the free Internet. Oppose the Online Piracy Act and all other legislation that would undermine freedom and equality on the Internet.

 Criminal Justice Reforms

  • End the failed war on drugs. Replace drug prohibition with harm reduction. Legalize marijuana/hemp. Treat substance abuse as a health problem, not a criminal offense.
  • Release nonviolent drug offenders from prison, removing such offenses from their records, and provide them with both pre- and post-release support.
  • End police brutality, mass incarceration and institutional racism within our justice system. Support the Black Lives Matter Movement.
  • Demilitarize police. End use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids for drugs and serving papers.
  • Repair our communities rather than dump resources into the prison-industrial complex.
  • Establish police review boards so that communities control their police, and not the other way around. Appoint dedicated investigators to investigate every death or serious injury at the hands of police.
  • Enact laws to require independent outside legal representatives to investigate and prosecute any killing or brutality  by the police rather than prosecutors involved in the local criminal justice system.
  • Eliminate harsh  mandatory sentencing requirements which often result in unjustified sentences.

 Justice for All:

  • Enforce the Bill of Rights by protecting the right to free speech and protest, to be secure from unwarranted search and seizure and invasion of privacy, as well as our other Constitutional rights.
  • Terminate unconstitutional surveillance and unwarranted spying, close Guantanamo, and repeal indefinite detention without charge or trial. Repeal the unconstitutional provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act that give the president the power to indefinitely imprison and even assassinate American citizens without due process.
  • America’s youth should not be put in jail for offenses they commit.
  • End discrimination against former offenders who have paid for their crimes and should get a fresh start.
  • Abolish the death penalty.
  • End persecution of government, corporate  and media whistleblowers.
  • Issue an Executive Order prohibiting Federal agencies from conspiring with local police to infringe upon right of assembly and peaceful protest.
  • Repeal the Patriot Act that violates our constitutional right to privacy and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.


Peace and Human Rights:

  • Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, human rights, and nonviolent support for democratic movements around the world.
  • Cut military spending by at least 50% and close the 700+ foreign military bases. Ensure a just transition that replaces reductions in  military jobs with jobs in renewable energy, transportation and green infrastructure development.
  • Stop U.S. financial and military support to human rights abusers. Barring substantial changes in their policies, this would include Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.
  • End the US’ role as the world’s arm supplier.
  • End use of assassination as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, including collaborative assassination through intermediaries.
  • End the destructive US economic and military intervention into the affairs of sovereign nations. Such intervention serve the interests of multinational corporations and  global capitalism over the interests of the vast majority of the citizens of those nations.
  • Freeze the bank accounts of countries that are funding terrorism, including the Saudi royal family.
  • US policy regarding Israel and Palestine must be revised to prioritize international law, peace and human rights for all people, no matter their religion or nationality. End US policies that have supported the worst tendencies of the Israeli government in its treatment of the people of Palestine.
  • Restore the National Guard as the centerpiece of our defense.
  • Ban use of drone aircraft for assassination, bombing, and other offensive purposes.
  • End the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, withdrawing troops and military contractors.
  • Join 159 other nations in signing the Ottawa treaty banning the use of anti-personnel land mines.
  • Lead on global nuclear disarmament:
  • Rejoin the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the US dropped out of in 2002 when it installed missiles and missile bases in Turkey, Romania, and Poland.
  • Agree to Russia’s proposal to jointly reduce US and Russian nuclear arsenals to 1,000 nuclear weapons each. Also call for all countries to the table to negotiate a treaty for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Remove US nuclear weapons in Germany, Belgium, Turkey, Italy and the Netherlands.
  •  Support Russia and China’s joint effort to open negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space.
  •  Pledge to end any further laboratory or sub-critical nuclear tests at the Nevada and Novaya Zemlya test sites, and end all nuclear weapons research, design, and modernization at the weapons laboratories.
  • The US must take the lead in nuclear disarmament by itself starting to disarm. We should create a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East region and require all nations in the area to join.

Empower the People: Fix our Broken Elections with Real Democracy

  • Eliminate the doctrine of corporate personhood that among other things has been used to justify unlimited corporate spending in elections with a constitutional amendment to clarify that only human beings have constitutional rights.
  • Enact electoral reforms that break the big money stranglehold and create truly representative democracy: full public election financing, ranked-choice voting, proportional representation, and open debates.
  • Protect voters’ rights by enforcing and expanding the constitutional right to vote (including a new amendment if necessary). Enact the full Voter’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing each person’s right to vote, the right to have our votes counted on hand-marked paper ballots, and the right to vote within systems that give each vote meaning. Make voter registration the responsibility of government, not a voluntary opt-in for citizens.
  • Restore Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance by the Attorney General or federal district court of DC to election law changes in areas previously found to limit voting rights.
  • Abolish the Electoral College and directly elect the President using a national popular vote with ranked-choice voting..
  • Restore the right to run for office and eliminate unopposed races by removing ballot access barriers.
  • Guarantee equal access to the debates to all ballot-qualified candidates.
  • Provide equal and free access to the airways for all ballot-qualified candidates, not just those with big campaign war chests.
  • Eliminate “winner take all / first past the post” elections in which the “winner” may not have the support of most of the voters. Replace that system with ranked choice voting and proportional representation.
  • Enact statehood for the District of Columbia to ensure the region has full representation in Congress, and full powers of democratic self-rule.
  • Restore voting rights to offenders, including while in prison.
  • Replace partisan oversight of elections with non-partisan election commissions.
  • Reduce barriers to voting by making Election Day a national holiday.
  • Enact simplified, safe same-day voter registration to the nation so that no qualified voter is barred from the polls.
  • Protect local democracy by making clear that acts of Congress establish a floor, and not a ceiling, on laws relating to economic regulation, workers’ rights, human rights, and the environment.

A Humane Federal Budget with Fair Taxes

  • Increase government revenues for social needs by restoring full employment, cutting the bloated, dangerous military budget, and cutting private health insurance waste.
  • Require full disclosure of corporate subsidies in the budget and stop hiding subsidies in complicated tax code.
  • Rewrite the entire tax code to be truly progressive with tax cuts for working families, the poor and middle class, and higher taxes for the richest Americans.
  • Strengthen rather than cut Medicare and Social Security. Remove the cap on social security taxes above a certain level of income.
  • Maintain and upgrade our nation’s essential public infrastructure, including highways, railways, electrical grids, water systems, schools, libraries, and the Internet, resisting privatization or policy manipulation by for-profit interests.

Financial Reform

  • Establish federal, state, and municipal publicly-owned banks that function as non-profit utilities and focus on helping people, not enriching themselves.
  • Create a Corporation for Economic Democracy, a new federal corporation (like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) to provide publicity, training, education, and direct financing for cooperative development and for democratic reforms to make government agencies, private associations, and business enterprises more participatory.
  • Democratize monetary policy to bring about public control of the money supply and credit creation. This means nationalizing the private bank-dominated Federal Reserve Banks and placing them under a Federal Monetary Authority within the Treasury Department.   Prohibit private banks from creating money, thus restoring government’s Constitutional authority.
  • Manage pension funds by boards controlled by workers, not corporate managers.
  • Regulate all financial derivatives and require them to be traded on open exchanges.
  • Restore the Glass-Steagall separation of depository commercial banks from speculative investment banks.

Housing   

  • Impose an immediate moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.
  • Offer capital grants to non-profit developers of affordable housing until all people can obtain decent housing at no more than 25% of their income.
  • Create a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgages, and either restructure the mortgages to affordable levels, or if the occupants cannot afford a mortgage, rent homes to the occupants.
  • Expand rental and home ownership assistance and increase funding for public housing.
  • Use Department of Housing and Urban Development authority to grant or withhold funds in order to encourage state and local governments to take positive steps to desegregate housing, including ending zoning laws that effectively prohibit multi-family housing, prohibiting landlords from refusing to accept Section 8 vouchers, increasing Section 8 voucher amounts so that poor people can move into middle income neighborhoods, prohibiting the use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits to increase low income housing in already segregated neighborhoods, and building new public housing in middle income communities that is high quality and mixed income.

We can build a better future together.

POEM: They Knot His and Her — Owed To Gender Fluidity

They cross that strait
When they get two it
As engender queer
In mirrorly two be
Or knot too be

This poem is an ode to gender fluidity, to anyone who looks in the mirror and sees a different gender than at first glance, or seize more than one gender.  Fight Transphobia TRANSGENDER BUTTONGender, as a complicated amalgam of biological and social constructs, should be expected to manifest itself in a myriad of ways.  The simplistic binary of male/female is abridge too far for many folks.  Life is as often as knot incredibly nuanced or calling us to weighs of being that no mirror man or woman has gone before.  To be pronoun challenged is that splendiferous juncture wear he/she and us/them simply becomes they and we.  To coin an old phrase, E Pluribus Unum, “from many, one.”

In the U.S., transgender issues have taken the forefront since the gay marriage equality issue is largely resolved. Trans-fabulous! TRANSGENDER BUTTONLike many social justice issues, transgender equality will be brandished about, weaponized by reactionary bigots where it may still win political points amidst a rapidly changing status quo.  I strongly suspect history has a distinct direction in this struggle, and it will resemble the future more than the past.  June is gay pride month, or perhaps better named LGBTQQIA Pride Month.  Hopefully, this time of special celebration will help people relish their own gender identity and the gender identity of others.  May our diversity enrich us all.

I'm Trigender. I Tried One Gender, And Now I'm Trying Another One. --Ranae Cole quote TRANSGENDER BUTTON

 

POEM: Forging Another Plan It

Politics
Is just
Another plan it
Plutocracy
The best
Money can bye

Hey Corporations, It's 'BY The People' Not 'BUY' The People POLITICAL BUTTONThis short poem is about money in politics, the ultimate manifestation of which is plutocracy.  When money is king, you can say good buy to democracy.  Do you feel like you are living on some different planet: planet Plutocracy?  The plan it is from rich folks, the 1%.  Invest in America. Buy a Congressman! POLITICAL BUTTONYou can call it oligarchy, kleptocracy, or corporatacracy, but, in our synonym-spiced political system, money trumps people, and corporate persons trump human persons.  There is little comfort in having the best political system that money can buy.  As presidential election season rolls around, the aristocracy steamrolls what’s left of democracy in a rigged system, offering only the illusion of choice.  This bankrupt system, not surprisingly, produces a billionaire megalomaniac where authoritarianism is the default and all of our problems are somebody else’s fault, and a Wall Street abettor with imperial ambitions. 	 This is the Only Bill Unanimously Passed in Congress (100 Dollar Bill) - POLITICAL BUTTON Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, represent the surreal diversity of aristocrats.  Señor Trump will build a wall and the Mexicans will pay for it — because they love him!  Commander-in-chief Hillary Clinton will put the finishing touches on the Death Star by providing its minions and minionettes paid maternity leave and affordable debt sentences.  I’m sure the winner will be whichever cult can round up and sacrifice the most chickens running around with their heads cut off.  As for me, I’m going to vote for the candidate favored by our great, great, great, grandchildren.

POEM: A Royal Buzzkill

Bee
The change
That you wish
In the whirled
Too see
O Mother Earth
Undertaking
Men o’ pause
In-fertility rite
As nature fecund wanes
A roil buzzkill
Soon with death teeming
Wear is thy sting
Extincting that human race
Soully certifiable reproductions
Unfit as a specious
Forerunners to know end
Yet today, this solitary caged bird sings
Like a canary
In a cold mine
With its deadly presents
Colorless and odious executioner
The lynch pin of anonymous hoods
Haunting all
That which is called “natural”
Sow fumes miasma
Till hour last breath

This poem is another mournful environmental poem, with the steady decline of bees as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for the deathly threat to the ecology of the earth.  Of course, the stoic denial and fatalism of human-induced climate change through fossil fuel consumption reaps a Mother Earth whose only defense may be to open a Pandora’s box capable of “naturally” selecting the human race from an internal combustion race to a mere foot race, where humans are no longer large enough scale to crash the entire planet’s ecological system.  If we don’t change course and evolve into an ecologically-sustainable species, we will be devolved into a much less dominant species.  Whether this would represent an evolution or devolution would have to be reflected upon by many fewer homo sapiens.

While we as a species are still living high on the fumes of burning fossil fuels, the buzzkill of bee genocide may lead the way to the end of agriculture as we know it, and the end of human culture as we know it.  Our unchecked industrialism, fueled by the burning of carbon-based energy forms, may very well lead to our checking out as the predominant species on earth.  Could this bee the end of the world? as so aptly asked in an article of the same title (with a now extinct link!):

Albert Einstein once said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Einstein wasn’t an insect expert but he had a point. The humble honeybee is an integral part of the global ecosystem. Honey is just one aspect of what this entomological wonder does. As a pollinator it ensures crops reproduce, so although a world without honey would be a poorer place, man would survive. But without plants, we’d become extinct.

…On a global scale, it is estimated a third of the food we eat is pollinated by bees…

…The introduction to the 2010 UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] report into global bee colony disorders puts the insects’ plight in context. It states, “Current evidence demonstrates that a sixth major extinction of biological diversity event is under way. The Earth is losing between 1 and 10 per cent of biodiversity per decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pest invasion, pollution, over-harvesting and disease.” It asked, “Has a ‘pollinator crisis’ really been occurring during recent decades, or are these concerns just another sign of global biodiversity decline?”

Unchecked domination is not the nature of nature.  Either homo sapiens will learn to live in harmony with nature as a whole, or our ability to dominate will be cut down to scale.  As throughout countless generations, we are faced with choosing harmony or destruction.  Nature has patiently endured our penchant for destruction.  Nature cannot be violated forever.  Nature’s feedback is gentle and generous.  Only fools destroy the hand that feeds them.  Will we be fools in the largesse weigh?

POEM: Synctretised Swimming

Synctretised Swimming

Unearth as it is in heaven
Land and see
The evolution
Of God’s creation
And learn
Who or what
Our teachers be
In theology schooled
Like fish in water
Expounding on thirst
All the wile
Shitting where they drink
Considering it a symphony
When just one movement
And by miracle
Pinching loaves and fishes
Feeding scores
Still
Some live on bread crumbs
And what will follow

This is one of those poems that came to me in the middle of the night, and a few lines quickly grew into a full poem.  The poem’s title, “Syncretised Swimming,” is most apparently a pun of “synchronized swimming.”  Probably less obvious, is the reference “syncretised” which refers to syncretism.  “Syncretism is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.”  Religious purists view syncretism as some form of error or heresy.  This poem speaks against such religious purism.

So, why the “synchronized swimming” reference?  Schools of fish swim in perfect synchronization, moving the same way instantly, in a way that science cannot explain.  This mystery is used as a parody reference to the three seminal lines: In theology schooled/Like fish in water/Expounding on thirst.  Trained theologians, awash in mystery, manage to move in surprisingly similar ways, apt to expound on a set of similar abstract truths that may engender blank looks like when trying to explain thirst to fish in water.  Theology undertakes the humbling enterprise of trying to make mystery a science.  Of course, mystery cannot be fully explained by science — that’s why it’s mystery.  To try to reduce mystery to a science would deny and kill mystery by pretending to banish it.  My objection to religious purists and the issue of syncretism is that ultimately there are things that we cannot know, in principle!  Philosophers and theologians call the discipline of what we can and cannot know, epistemology.  The heart of theology is ultimately unknowable in any modern scientific sense.  This rubric of theology builds in an irreducible amount of hubris for any absolute claim.  This is why I see a necessary foundation for spirituality is openness, especially if one is looking for a living God that moves.

The reference to evolution evokes a popular conflict between scientists and some religious people, most heated between those scientists who don’t understand epistemology and religious folks who don’t understand science.  I don’t think that there is a conflict between religion and science.  Rather I view religion and science as complementary fields which need to give proper due to one another.  I intend the analogy of evolution more specifically as a context for my mixed metaphors.  Most poignantly, the line “Shitting where they drink.”  For humans, generally understood to be more advanced than fish, “shitting where you drink (eat),” is an obvious and palpable example of short-sighted and self-destructive behavior.  For fish, not so much.  The difference is context.  I think that religious purists tend to view syncretism in a limited context, perhaps not worthy of the unfathomable depth and diversity of God’s creation.  As a biologist, I look at human culture as analogous to ecosystems.  There are countless possible configurations of thriving ecosystems.  I see human culture as similarly adaptive; though human’s seem to have an accelerated trajectory of epic successes and epic fails.  What this ultimately means is appropriately a theological question.  Nonetheless, I have perhaps a more synchronous view of religion and science, whereby they are both judged by their fruits; what is produced, what works, what follows.  Of course, the most intriguing questions are not about mere utility and manipulation, but what constitutes a good end or state of affairs.  In this case, theology trumps science.  Which is fine in my book, as long as it doesn’t thump science.

I get a chuckle out of how God can take our impure, zigzagged paths and sanctify them. I get somewhat less of a chuckle out of how we humans can seem to take credit for this through our various programs of sanctification, none of which are very pure.  As a former United Methodist, I chuckle that John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement never envisioned as separate denomination but desired only to be an Anglican – of which he lived, breathed and died.  Of course, the Anglicans, the Church of England, is a sooty descendant of the Roman Catholic church which had irreconcilable differences with a King over divorce.  Even further, Christianity, at times claimed solely by the Roman Catholic church, is founded upon Jesus, a Jew who never wanted to be anything other than a Jew.  Yep, Christianity is a Jewish sect.  Thank God for syncretism, holding it all together amidst our unholy messes!

Homosexual Agenda

Homosexual Agenda – Spend Time with Family – Be Treated Equally – Buy Milk

Homosexual Agenda - Spend Time with Family - Be Treated Equally - Buy Milk--Gay Pride Rainbow Store FUNNY BUTTON


Homosexual Agenda – Spend Time with Family – Be Treated Equally – Buy Milk–Gay
Pride Rainbow Store FUNNY BUTTON


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


View more
Gay Civil Rights Buttons
.

This gay civil rights design is a parody of the right-wing fixation on some nefarious homosexual agenda.  If you want to get right-wing religious conservatives all hyped up, talk about homosexuality.  Somehow, the idea that LGBTQA persons are normal people who desire the same civil rights as everyone else is a foreign concept to them.  This long-standing religious bigotry is hugely disproportional even if you were to buy the Scriptural reasoning by religious conservatives.  Homosexuality is one of those touchstone issues that acts as a lightning rod for many darker aspects of religious conservatism.  Of course, they are plenty of issues with sexuality itself.  Role in issues of controlling moralism and imperial exclusivism, and the oppression train is ready to roll!  While you may hear language about welcoming and loving the sinner not the sin from the more moderate bigots, the bottom line is always that homosexuality is always viewed as wrong and deviant.  So much for that grand diversity.  The Bible talks very little about homosexuality, though, granted, what it would seem to say about homosexuality is not very good.  This strikes me as eerily similar to the biblical basis for racism.  Back to the issue of disproportionality. When religious folks overwhelm and overlook other obviously more important issues like poverty and violence with less clear issues, I don’t think this represents some kind of cutting-edge discernment; rather, an honest reading of church history, shows that this is people hanging onto an age-old bigotry not some eternal truth.  While racism is present in the Church, just like it is present in most institutions to some degree, the Church has at least agreed that racism is wrong.  While there is much of the Christian church that does not view women as equals, most prominently, the Roman Catholic Church, the overall social norm has tipped to female equality.  If you think that the Roman Catholic Church is that they hold out, just speak to a lot of Catholics; but times are changing.  I believe that homosexuality is in the inevitable queue for growing awarenesses around age-old bigotries that will fall when true religion is manifest.  Our sexuality, including sexual orientation, is a gift from God.  This should be celebrated, not despised.

The other thing I really like about this design is that it focuses on the normality of gay aspirations.  Of course LGBTQA people want to be treated equally – duh!  But this equality is a prerequisite for going about living a normal life.  I will pray and work for the day when discrimination against LGBTQA persons is only a subject in the history books that baffles people why it ever happened in the first place.  Let’s make it so!

Silence Will Not Protect You

Your Silence Will Not Protect You – Pink Triangle–Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

Your Silence Will Not Protect You - Pink Triangle--Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

Your Silence Will Not Protect You – Pink Triangle–Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

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

View more Gay Political Buttons.

This gay pride design is a classic that was popularized during the gay community’s struggle to combat HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.  There is a mode of being that is very common in life that if we just quietly get along everything will be alright.  This may work much of the time.  This definitely does not work all the time.

While this design is specifically geared to the gay community, with its issues of coming out, speaking out, and dealing with all the crap that comes with that, this design and saying is universal for all of humanity.  You might even say that breaking out of that common mode of just quietly getting along hoping that everything will be all right is what it means to be queer!  And one queer reality is that we are all queer in one way or another.  What I mean by this is that we are all minorities in one way or another.  We are all disenfranchised in one way or another.  We were all put down in one way or another, for who we are.  It is out of this universal queer experience that speaking out becomes necessary.

Silence is not enough.  We need to communicate and assert who we are to others, particularly when who we are is different from others.  Otherwise, who we are will never be adequately taken into account by others, that is by the majority or so-called norm for any social group.  How could we expect otherwise?  This is just the groundwork and footwork that needs to be done for us to live in community, which is inherently diverse, no matter how much we may try to homogenize things.  Communicating who we are with one another is the only way that we can live together in a way that truly honors one another.  Otherwise, while we may be technically living together, we are just in the same vicinity, living in our own little realities.  Doing the hard work of speaking out and communicating with one another leads to a lot of disillusionment, that process of shedding our illusions.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we have a choice in this matter.  Living authentically, that is, in consonance with reality, demands that we learn about the reality of others and communicate our own reality to others.  The difficulty in this is rooted in the fact that in those areas of our life where we experience fitting into the dominant norm, we have little built-in incentive to do the work of learning about minorities, those ways that others are queer.  Thus, the incentive, or burden, falls to those who are in the minority, the queers.  This will always be an uphill battle, with the less powerful doing their duty to inform the more powerful.  Fortunately, acting in consonance with reality is ultimately the most powerful way of being.  In this case, the less powerful are doing double duty by serving their own palpable interest and the less recognizable but equally important interests of those in a particular dominant norm.  If this seems somehow unfair, please remember, again, that we all have areas in our life where we are living into the dominant norm, and we all have areas in our life where we are living into a queer norm.  Thus, by recognizing this, there is a solid basis for compassion toward one another and ourselves.  In this sense, we are all in the same boat.  Normal is not normal.  We are all queer.  The seeming paradox of a queer norm is only paradoxical if we don’t recognize that we all experience one or another queer norm.  It’s just a matter of doing the hard work of sorting out our experiences of difference, and truly appreciating that difference, diversity, is as valuable as it is inescapable.  I do not believe that reality is cruel.  There is a beneficence to reality that favors the beneficent.  May we heed this reality and live into it joyfully whoever we may be.  Let the process of self and other discovery continue!