IMMIGRATION POEM: In A Parent Idiocy

In a parent idiocy
Wee are tolled
The right
Thing to do
Is children
For sake
In wanting
To be a legitimate American
Leave your children behind
A crashing symbol
To not here
As freedom wrings
A bout effacing the music
A band in family values
Trump-it-ing
A minor problem
Into ruin U.S. racket
And those halving hearts crying
Whoa to those without!

This poem goes out to all those whose hearts are breaking because of Prez Donald Trump’s cruel policy of separating children from their parents when refugee families or immigrant families seek refuge in the United States of America. LOVE is a Traditional Family Value PEACE BUTTONHate Is Not A Family Value PEACE BUTTONThe Trump regime’s cruelty is matched only by their cowardice, making the grotesque claim that the law requires them to separate immigrant/refugee families, and even the absurd claim that the Trump policy is the Democrats’ fault. Their capacity to not take responsibility for their actions peers to no no bounds. This clarion cruelty may doom any Republican family values rhetoric for quiet awhile. Let family be a family value! Let’s rise up and end this cruel policy and work for refugee/immigrant polices characterized by compassion and generosity, not fear and xenophobia.

POEM: Owed To Chet Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest in peace, friend to all and faithful servant.

POEM: Flowing Inevitably Threw Us

Our hearts were broke
A cache sow, well, spent
In solvent
In life
Long
Yearnings
Teaming tsunamis of solidarity
Of the largesse kind
Poor
Over us
Torn as under
A heavy wait
Pre-seeding
A compelling yield
As if
Some bank erupt
Reigning
The affluence
Of won another
In tsunamis of serendipity
Having pre-pared us
Seeing in owed daze
As broke
Open
As chambers and vessels
Suited fore rivers of love
Flowing inevitably
Threw us

This poem is about what seems to be a necessary heart-rendering process of our hearts breaking before they can fully pour love out into the world.  I strongly suspect that this is the way our heart of hearts is built.  Much like soil, our hearts are tilled til compassion gives root to patience and grace-filled kindness.  This too fold process is upending to our less mature and superficially romantic fields of dreams.  Real Miracle to Walk on Earth--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONThe hard edges of injustice cleave us as surely as the serendipitous realities of unmerited kindness and generosity.  While the specific injustices and grace that we each experience is unique, our heart of hearts flourishes in solidarity with others.  The companionship and mutual support that flows through those who recognize themselves as being in the same boat binds us in one accord and harmonizes our souls so we can walk together as won people.  Only when our love pours out into the world, not bound and limited to vain vessels of our own, do our hearts function at full — nay overfull! — capacity.  OCCUPY EVERYTHING (Heart) - OCCUPY WALL STREET POLITICAL BUTTONWith love flowing through us, we are never broke; we have become holy, awe together, and udderly teeming with plenty.  In the process, our mortal hearts, like many earthen vessels, are thrown for a loop, only to be torn as under.  And for awe that, our heart of hearts is fashioned for sow much more.  Hearts united beat more than blood could ever dictate.  May our hearts never brake, pouring into the world with awe of our untamed hopes.

POEM: Life As A Breeze

Life peers to me
As a gentle breeze
With fragrant harmonies
In the tenderest victories
Know longer bought a bout by yielding hope
Prospecting in rock
Dead set, vane certainties
Or coarse inclinations
While a sole breath moves through me
Not ever posing
As superior
From above
Securely skeptical
Of won scoffing up
A flunked up humanity
As a praising sneer life experiences
From the cryptic
As a well found cynicism
In the phase of unmerited bounty
On a head of the game
As dead or alive know matter
As inspiring expires
Weather we apprehend or knot
And how ever we reckon our peeps
It is realizable
Still possible
Life sucks
Or with equal viability
Life blows
Seemingly a parent either weigh
A cruel duplicity
Winds of change
Running lapse around you
Leaving won too
Giving no quarter
And only making spare cents
As scorn points
Awe the wile know one wants
Too be still
As the heart beats
Have the time
Know longer wanting
Just deserts
A trial of tears
And fated watering whole
Pooring out
As in is capable
Only too fine life in such delugings
In this tempest of life
Wear wind and water
Meet on earth
In a saucy plan it
Of surf and turf
Wandering whether
Life is fare
A mist such room and bored
With awe of its chinooks and grannies
Ever present ciao time
Reigning in time
And timeless
A mid week prostration
And fateful eras
Wrest a spell
As a right full heir
Fore life is a breeze
Only to be
Bared at see

This poem is about the ethereal nature of human life and the breezy character of the human spirit, where success has more to do with experiencing fragrant harmonies than vane certainties.  Ever Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTONMy skepticism about skepticism partners with my playful heart as hope and willingness trump willful crass pragmatism or cynical “realism.”  Apprehending such tender truths is better realized as believing is seeing more so than seeing is believing.  Hope, gratitude, and unmerited generosity open our hearts to seeing better than through stacks of the thickest and most erudite reams of scientific reports.  A fruitful life of the spirit is a prerequisite for a meaningful and abundant life.  In a paraphrase of the Bob Dylan lyric, “You don’t need a whether vane to know which way the wind blows.”  May you follow the winds of the spirit without overly kneading to no from whence it comes or where it goes…

POEM: A Whole In The Wall

The man
Reproached
With muscles taut
Just as I stood up
With a plank beyond question
A clear-cut match
To the breach in the wall
As an unwanted chink in won’s wooden amor
As if adore rendering useless
In efface of stock aid
An other bull work
Only offering
Stiff generosity
To mortals unlike
As can and able
Mirrorly as allot of frat aside
Thinking knot necessarily evil
Doing the best they clan
As the beam in his I gleaned
He commanded
In some grate atone
For his manly timber back
Or he would forest me into much the sane stand
Or abettor yet a fence of steal
As he was
The executer of my state
And equity would be his
Bye this time I had already gotten board
Having lumbered away
And considered the whole madder
As water under the bridge
That I was building
From a hole in the wall

This poem tells the story of someone taking a wooden plank from a barricade. At first glance, this may appear to be a destructive act. Yet, this singular action links two positive enterprises: creating a hole in a wall that divides and transforming that barrier into a bridge. The threat of “The man,” doubtless backed up by a passel of formal authority and police powers, is rendered irrelevant by the more nimble plank-gleaner and bridge-builder. Could this be a tale of anarchism wagging the dog that is state rule?

This poem also gives a tip of the hat to “The wall,” which has gained iconic status with the Pink Floyd album of the same name. Here is a sampling of lyrics from that iconic album:

All alone, or in two’s,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.

And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.

Banging your heart against the impersonal apparatuses of the powers that be may seem feudal to sum, yet this may be the most humane response-ability given the alternative of simply being banged by an unjust status quo — and banged in places not limited to the heart.

May you in great generosity take advantage of too for one specials that make for a world where one side fits all.

POEM: Kindness 1.618 — Owed To The Goaled In Proportion

A parent
In the relationship
Between to be gotten
The larger to the smaller
The goaled in proportion
Amidst just us
Sum times christened
The divine proportion
And it doesn’t take
A mathematical genus
To divine its kind
Never the less
As if
Sum
Knew specious
And miss conceive
The gold in mean
Barren resemblance to
The sores of our being
An aesthetic
Of beauty
In nature
And human arts
Desserting know one
The hole slew
To gather as won
And when de-part
Leaving soully
Good will
That is
Grasping the incalculable
After math

This is a geek poem about the golden proportion, or golden ratio.   \frac{a+b}{a}=\frac{a}{b} \equiv \varphiIn mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. The Greek letter phi is used to signify this value of 1.618. The golden ration holds a special fascination in mathematics, architecture, and art.  The golden ratio is considered to represent beautiful proportion, often found in nature.

In this poem, the relationship between the larger to the smaller is defined beautifully by kindness.  In computer age parlance Kindness 1.618 — a soft wear if you will.  Social justice issues always involve power differentials, and hard ware is meaningless without soft wear.  Without kindness, social relationships will necessarily be trapped in perpetual struggle, with neither the larger or the smaller experiencing the beauty of peace.  Neither justice nor peace is a finely engineered and calculating existence.  Both justice and peace flourish in generosity and grace.  Oftentimes justice comes through those who have a steady experience of peace that creates sacred spaces enough for the hard work of justice to be performed without resentment, growing hurts. Living out of generosity creates conditions conducive to generosity.  Like produces like, sometimes.  Love produces love, eventually.  Though like is more of a product than love.  Love is the way.  Love loves love.  As life produces life, love produces love.  The seamless reciprocity of love perpetuates itself and invites others to participate in love.  There is necessarily always more room to grow and make the circle wider.  For another geeky poem on this theme, see Wading for Godel, and ode to Kurt Godel and his Incompleteness Theorem which mathematically proves that science, ideologies, and philosophy — that is, anything that is based on any set of propositions — is necessarily incomplete and there are always true propositions which always lie beyond the perspective of any given belief system.   Enough geekiness for one day?  You can always simplify.  As the Dalai Lama most succinctly summarized awe, “Kindness is my religion.”  May you find kindness often in your days, and if there is not kindness, perhaps you are the one to bring it.

POEM: Innocence — An Owed In A Sense

Her innocence
Was immune to their dis ease
As be wilder
And a tempt
However tempered
Only to be
Dis missed
As just
A guile

His innocence
Deified awe bravery
In the face
Of accusations summoned
As subdude
As never a cur to them
Posing the quest in
Guise will
Be guise

Her bosom leaped
Skipping to a beat
As sir passingly chaste
Giving birth in maternal rapture
Nun the lass
Put out
By those racking up
Scorn points
Holy to be allayed

His heart sang
As here the music
Faced
Temporal forces
Craven reseeding
To proper gate the race
Certifiably birthed
In a heil of ballads
Or castrating scores
Of bullet points
Writing
Him off
In tom foolery or gaiety

Sow
There it is
In a sense
Light as it may be
Worth the wait
Up till
Abated breath

This poem, an ode to innocence, addresses the default cynicism and mistrust in contemporary modern culture.  Innocence is suspect.  Original sin has much more effective branding than original blessing. The unguarded are as likely to be blamed for violations as violators.  Plus, passionate living is often viewed as potentially dangerous.  Freely following one’s passions can often be inconvenient or unnerving to others who might prefer a more staid, predictable environment.  Exercising freedom, by definition, limits the predictability available to those who live alongside you.  Exercise freedom enough to challenge the socializing forces of any given culture and you can expect these forces to provide sanctions designed to exorcise your freedom.  Shame and punishment is a poor trade for the inevitable vagaries of free and passionate living.

This poem, with alternating female and male subjects, also confronts gender roles and their over-sexualization, particularly of women.  Hyper-sexualization is a major means of reducing free human beings to controllable objects, for the proper gating of the race.  Viewing others as free subjects in a shared humanity rather than objects in a controlled environment is essential to the evolution of humanity.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of innocence is the shame-free liberation it unleashes.  As a child responds freshly to the world unfolding before them, harmony and positive change become more accessible.  The maturity of experience can bring a disciplined freedom committed to an innocent wildness and natural generosity, even in the face of powerful shaming and sanctions bidding us to sell our freedom for a slice of the take.  May you successfully dance circles around the forces of shaming and punishment, ever inviting others to joyfully join the dance of freedom.

POEM: Nothing New Under The Sun

There is nothing new under the sun
Though in the shadows
The same old same old
Is more mournfully familiar
Settling for reality-lite
Too at home with night
Groping with eyes open
Instead of lightly touched
Even with eyes closed seeing
Age-old must
And vexing knot
A bout
Bitter medicine as won’s savor
Know silence
Too be heard
Where the sun don’t shine
As passing vapor
In stubborn renouncing
Not eye
And such fancy
Still too much
To be taken
In completely
The spell overcast
Eclipsing the census
Of awe that counts
More than won could
Ever bask for

This poem weaves the themes of our everyday blindness to deeper realities, the mystical third eye, and gratitude.  Things are not always as they appear.  Things are more than they appear.  Those who round reality down to mere appearance settle for a more finite and uninspiring perspective on reality.  If it isn’t obvious that life is blisteringly miraculous in the sunshine occupying roughly half of our earthly existence, then there is a deeper, ever-present way of seeing that enlightens awe of reality, more than one could ever bask for.  Sadly, many prefer to manage dwelling in the even more roughly half of our earthly existence, darkness, despite its propensity for inducing fear and despair.  This poem plays with these two interwoven aspects of reality, dark and light, mere appearance and meaning full experience.  These dual, and dueling, aspects of reality are not contradictory; rather, they are different levels of reality, one including yet transcending the other.  The prosaic and miraculous are only divorced if our perspective is committed to irreconcilable differences.  The oneness of reality eternally woos us if wowing us is too transparent for our mode of perception.  Nonetheless, the lure of the manageability of the world of mere appearances is powerful, to those limiting themselves to such parochial power.  Unfortunately, those limiting themselves to the scarcity and paucity of the world of mere appearances will feel compelled to compete, even brutally, for control over this lesser realm.  Security and freedom become mortal enemies and even the asleep don’t sleep well.  Those suffering such blindness and obsession insist upon their powerful incites.  The ensuing fetish with control and manipulation extract a brutal price from anyone actually exercising freedom.  More liberal-minded manipulators will insist that you have all kinds of rights but they will get nervous if you actually exercise them!

My experience informs me that peace and freedom can exist together if gratitude is the uniting reality. This gratitude-powered peace is both an internal peace and external peace.  Gratitude-powered people are the least dangerous people in the world; that is, except to those whose job is to convince others of their lack, especially if linked to selling you a product, service, or idea that will make them gain money or status.  If gratitude unites your world view, then you could say that gratitude is your religion, a religion of “Thank God for thanks!”  As you might guess, my worldview is profoundly influenced by grace, a recognition and respect for undeserved gain that overturns a barren capitalistic view that at best can offer a fair and equal exchange, where generosity is a foolish inefficiency and the bounty of life is jacked up to yield the highest price possibly bearable by humanity (or by “the market” if “humanity” doesn’t compute).  The bounty of life becomes fodder of our folly, as “Wanted — dead or alive,” runs roughshod over life itself.  I strongly suspect that the consuming disease of controlling others is a failure to answer the question of how much is enough.  At the heart of this disease is fear and inescapable greed.  I believe that a responsible freedom, a freedom that is informed by gratitude, can operate amidst fear and greed without distorting its own nature and consonance with life, that comes from who knows where, but, as a dyslexic and a mystic, I find naturally super!

POEM: Needling a Haystack

The stockpiles of human knowledge grow exponentially
And wisdom, like needling a haystack
Says, “What the hay?!”
Finding better questions is where it’s at
Not how fast you can shovel it
Nor how big your pitchfork is
Rather what thread follows
And sew what

This short poem is a tribute to questioning with a purpose.  Unfettered skepticism produces cynicism.  Wisdom recognizes that some questions are better than others.  In fact, what questions you ask determines what answers you get.  This poem cuts through the exponential amassing of knowledge by honing our attention to that which mends our reality together into a meaningful whole.  Without meaning full questions to guide our inquiries, greater access to knowledge simply leads to greater confusion.  The attraction and distraction of a tsunami of available answers to questions, i.e., knowledge, can actually hamper wisdom.  Now, this isn’t some anti-intellectual argument.  This simply recognizes that intellect lacking wisdom is much less fruitful, even dangerous.  The quests for scientific knowledge and wisdom are consonant.  Both seek to integrate knowledge into an ever greater whole.  Knowledge that serves the whole, as opposed to just some part of reality, is a better quality of knowledge.  Knowledge isn’t just about bits and pieces, mere facts; true knowledge is about a deeper understanding of the relationship of these parts to each other, and most importantly, the whole.  Wisdom has a deep respect for the whole, and an even deeper reverence for the fact that the ever greater whole can only be tentatively and incompletely described.  Thus, wisdom is characterized by both humility and curiosity.  Wisdom opposes militant ideologies and apathy.  In fact, militant ideologies are simply ideologies that have lost humility and curiosity and stopped seeking out the ever-elusive, ever-greater whole, which is at least partially represented by those outside a militant ideology.  This fact escapes many trapped in militant ideologies because they mistake totality for unity.  Wisdom is an inoculation against militancy, fascism, and fundamentalism.  This is because the humility and curiosity of wisdom breeds a generous attitude in seeking a harmonious relationship with the whole.  The openness of wisdom is not merely a corollary of the tentativeness of empirical skepticism and scientific reductionism; it is is rooted in the positive appreciation for the value of the “other” which comprise the yet-undiscovered aspects of reality and ineluctable mystery.  This may be your enemy.  This may be God.  It may be both.  A generosity transcending mere openness is made possible by a trust or faith in the whole being more valuable than the parts, even the sum of the parts.  This faith is as essential to healthy scientific investigation as it is to loving human relationships.  This simply assumes, or prefers, science that serves the whole rather than some special interest.  This simply assumes, or prefers, human relationships that don’t reduce humans to things to be manipulated, but beings to be appreciated.  The generosity of wisdom is the mother to its only true child: kindness.  In humility, stripped of arrogance and egocentricity, and equipped with an overpowering curiosity and a transcendent appreciation of the “other,” only kindness remains.  And all good will follow.

POEM: Duckiness

Long the weigh
I miss
Took some clash
Charging another
Once an abject of my affection
Now a worthy suspect
In a lineup
Of numbered whoa’s
Among many
Seedy subjects
On the lam
Yet beyond a shadow
Of doubt
To the maxim
Looking like a duck
Walking like a duck
Quacking like a duck
Then duck!
Turning in
Turning out
To be a quack
Apprehending
I’ve been doctored
Now witnessing
Neither
A ghastly tale
To be chaste
Nor a menacing bill
To be payin’
Strangely just
A beginning
Only under standing
Won mourn
The oblige-ations
Of duckiness
A-mending

This poem is a tribute to the healing process after the break up of a romantic relationship.  This healing process is about moving beyond taking everything personally and gaining some detached perspective regarding how poorly we all often behave under stress and duress.  This process is probably best captured in dealing with the end of an intimate relationship, but it applies widely across life.  Perhaps the greatest blessing of intimate relationships is that it allows us to take things deeply personally, hopefully in a safe manner.  Unfortunately, when an intimate relationship breaks apart, this vulnerability brings great pain.  Since both people in an intimate relationship are vulnerable, with lives meshed and knowing each others buttons, a breakup can be an irresistible invitation to hurt those who have hurt us so deeply.  While this may not be a particularly enlightened or healthy way to cope with loss, hurt people hurting others is perhaps a universal human experience, from both the receiving and dishing it out ends.

In this poem, this predicament and attitude is transcended by a process of “duckiness.”  Ducky simply means likeable or agreeable.  Things aren’t always as they appear.  A generous attitude toward other may very well be the most appropriate default attitude.  Of course, sometimes what looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck is, in fact, a duck.  Nonetheless, even if things are as they appear, our attitude and reaction toward any given situation molds oneself, even defines oneself.  And like they say, honey will get you farther than vinegar.  Our attitudes and behaviors are, well, ours.  What other people do is theirs.  What you do and how you do it does influence other people, but we all have our own choices to make, and can only be held responsible for our own attitudes and behavior.

Of course, the trickiness of relationships is that yours, mine, and ours is easily confused.  This is probably why love, generosity and simple kindness allow relationships to continue and grow.  We all need space to be who we are, without judgment or sanction, that is, to be accepted as the imperfect beings that we are all.  In a wonderful paradox, acceptance is often the greatest medium for bringing about change!  However, if a relationship is strained or at a breaking point, then boundary issues become more urgent, perhaps even a crisis.  People may start behaving in ways one considers unacceptable, or at least greatly dis-likable.  Accepting the other person the way they are, a pretty good working definition of love, does not demand some grand control or manipulation of their defects, but rather a healthy boundary for oneself to avoid harm from another’s toxic attitude or behavior.  No doubt, moving from a deeply personal meshing of one’s lives to a more detached way of relating can be difficult and confusing, especially if one is pondering severing a relationship completely, a relationship that may have provided many good things in each of your lives.  This can be the worst form of loss in life.  While suffering the worst losses in our lives may not bring out the best in us, this is equally true for those around experiencing great loss.  Such trying situations beg for compassion — compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.  There are few situations that kindness will make worse.  Try a little duckiness.  And if kindness doesn’t work, then it’s time to duck out…

POEM: Impartiality

Judge Stamper was renown
For his impartiality
Still thinking
Nothing of
Preferring
Stepping on others
Rather than being stepped upon
A justice so becoming
A courting to a void
Deputizing peons
Siding with minute ordnances
Backed up by deferential canons
Allege paper-thin
Untoward the tramped
His honor
Like a frozen statute
Without peers
A connoisseur of contrived generosity
More accustomed to threat than promise
Of a gavel from above
An arbiter of grievances
A master of small sells
To captive audiences
Gleaning threadbare
Take away messages
A requiem of dis interest
Overseers in black dress
Annunciating your last rights
Offering little chance of success
Unless over
A game of squash

This poem is a reflection on the criminal justice system, which is sometimes criminal.  The alleged impartiality is a convenient notion for those doing the judging.  Though if you look impartially at the effects of such a criminal justice system, you’d be hard pressed to say it is fair.  The poor are the most likely to experience injustice at the hands of the criminal justice system.  The same is true for people of color.  The rich are the most likely to have the criminal justice system protect them, or punish their opponents.  One only need look at who is in prison to see that prejudice is rampant, though noting who isn’t in prison surely cements the case.  White collar criminals are much less likely than “common” criminals to be convicted.  Also, if convicted, they receive much less punishment relative to the harm to society.

Well engineered legalisms often bear little resemblance to the truth.  Biases are institutionalized, blind to the injustice they create.  The veneer of objectivity helps shield unconscionable acts from their true effects.  Innocent until proven guilty is often reduced to he’s probably guilty if he was convicted.  This sad state of affairs seems to fit under the moniker of the banality of evil.  In an impersonal system, where human judgment is minimized and legalisms rule, personal responsibility is easily avoided.  The most palpable confrontation with this reality was during the Nuremberg Trials, following the horrors of Nazi Germany in World War II, which gave rise to a famous principle: It is not an acceptable excuse to say “I was just following my superior’s orders.”

The banality of evil is not limited to war crimes, nor international crimes.  The shifting of personal responsibility to an impersonal system is endemic in modern Western civilization.  This is an everyday experience for many, if not most, people.  Such experiences usually take one of the many forms of “I am just following the rules.” The real question should be: “Am I just, following the rules?”

POEM: Compassion Hoard

I may not have bread
And I can afford justice
My feet may be bare
And still
I have wings unseen
A fly on the wall
Reflecting on wear thou art
I cons
A mass
Pining for eternity
I see boxes full of people
Some with bars
Some with stained glass
Awe waiting
For enough compassion
That whored without end
Saving us
In sum coffer
Every talent bared
Under earth
As in heaven
Nails securing
That final wresting place
Claiming one
Again
And again
A trinity of
Applausible deniability
Crossing into hermetic souls
Wading for the rite time
Over countless venerations
Vespering in our years
To take leave of our census
And idol observances
Of mere images
Where weave a cryptic silence
Marching on
A fortified city
Encyclical motion
While trumpets blare
And walls crumble
De-spite all that is yearned
And our judicious will
Hearts do spill
Into the streets
And hands dirty
Embracing a future unwritten
And the present
No longer passed
Hereafter enough
Like know tomorrow

Religion is often confronted with the impossible task of selling compassion.  Sometimes folks recognize that compassion is incarnated into the world by practicing compassion directly.  This both enriches our own experience and models compassion to others.  Talking about the benefits and virtues of compassion may have some value, though mostly in a more academic sense; but for compassion to become real, it must transcend the eddies of the mind on the longest of journeys: from the head to the heart.  This long journey from the head to the heart typically includes on its itinerary works of the feet and hands.  This is the difference between talking about God and experiencing God.  This is quite literally the meaning of Matthew 25:35-36, 40:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Of course, in this poem, I portray the worst in religion: when compassion is whored for self-enrichment, unjust purposes.  Christian scripture has plenty of rousing and poetical indictments of stinky religion; here is one of my favorites:

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

Much of bad human behavior is rooted in our fear of an uncertain future.  This is the obvious attraction and relative success of securing financial wealth, high status, and powerful positions lording over others.  We want control.  We often want control way beyond what we can control.  Unfortunately, such overreaching creates a host of problems, not the least of which, quite ironically, is a more dangerous and unpredictable world.  Another irony emerges when we realize that grasping for an uncertain, and even unknowable, future we perpetually rob ourselves of the now, the only truly real present within our control. Quite naturally, the present brings forth the future.  Again, plenty of Christian sacred texts are focused on the promise of God responding to our deepest groans and highest dreams by following in God’s way, the way of justice and mercy.  Of course, “following” God is actually “leading” humans because acting in the present without waiting for other humans to follow God is how God’s plan is manifest on earth. Here is one of my favorite scriptural examples of this relationship, or dance, between God’s purposes and human action:

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

Where justice and mercy are present, God’s presence is experienced.  This is true of all the gifts of the spirit, such as joy, faith, generosity, patience, and love.  Such experience resides in a place transcending buying and selling.  The mystery is how deeply we want that which cannot be bought and sold.  Somewhat less mysterious, though perhaps at least as baffling, is how our dominant experience of buying and selling — of both ourselves and stuff — short-circuits or crowds out experiencing much deeper realities.  I may not have bread/And I can afford justice.

POEM: Guarding God

He stoutly guarded God
From an unruly world
An unreveling creation
And in such earnest
He, and millions others, were
Relieved of their doody
Perhaps only a small relief
For God above
Yet for such bellow
Refuse-ing
To be passed so easy
As some foul gag
Unyielding unearth
As unheavin’
A feudal gesture
In such an unholy rupture
Leaving behind
All the crap in religion
Until vomit us

Does God need guards or protectors?  Is God unable to fend for God’s self?  Can God create such a mess so big that even God can’t clean it up?

It seems to me that God and godliness are incarnated by our lives reflecting what is good, as opposed to enforcing precepts or ideas/beliefs.  I view means and ends as inextricably linked.  How else could it be?  Love begets love.  And God is love.  Violence begets violence.  And while many might be skeptical of love, of God, few doubt that “means” lead to “ends.”  It strikes me that the separation from living in the foundational nature of God, that is unconditional love, is the beginning of sin.  Similarly, trying to take  shortcuts to God’s reign by “enforcement” strikes me as the birth of idolatry, wanting to lord over others.  This approach strikes me as feudal!  This approach is futile in the same way that expecting violence will end violence is foolish.  Both our materialist and spiritualist aspects can unite around this necessary order.  Unless your view of reality is wholly absurd, there is lawful order in the universe — certain things lead to other certain things.  Now, not everything is certain.  But uncertainty is not a license to ignore those things which are certain.  For example, you can ignore the law of gravity, but, quite predictably, this will not serve you or others well.  Likewise, you can ignore the laws of love, or violence, but don’t pretend that such lawlessness will bring greater order and harmony in the world.

Back to this poem’s theme of “all the crap in religion.”  Organizing love can be a perilously backwards approach, since love is the prime mover.  Trying to franchise God — that is, franchise love — will fail inasmuch as: 1) love is not what we preach, and 2) we don’t practice what we preach (regardless of what it is that we preach).  The first is being on mark with the purpose of religion.  There is plenty of disagreement here, on what love means.  The second is about authenticity and authority.  Authority is undermined inasmuch as you preach one set of rules and live by another.  This perilous law is where law-giving and law-preaching most commonly fail.  Preaching lawfulness while practicing lawlessness, well, just doesn’t do much for lawfulness.  The Lord of all has authority because God’s nature is unconditional love, manifest in grace, generosity, mercy, patience, and joyful freedom.  In Christianity, Jesus is lifted up because he came as a servant leader.  Jesus is the way inasmuch as Jesus melded the sacred nature of God as unconditional love fully into his way of living.  That’s the kind of leader worth emulating.  And all who stand against this, will fail.  But like gravity, the law of love seems weak and slow, particularly in narrow contexts and short time horizons.  Still, gravity, as love, will work its way, its purpose, in a sure and steady way.  Ignore such laws at your own peril.

POEM: Amateurs and Prose

There are moments
When I feel
Like such an amateur
Then the payments come
So much more
Than I could ever hope for
The only falling short
Is ever thinking
That life
Is fated to be
Any won thing
Except
Well
Spent
Surpassing awe
In deed not
Buy miserly prose
Dying with more
Than a pauper attitude
Lein-ing on the everlasting alms
That train to glory
Bound
Less debt
Eternally

Life is good.  The gift of life offers so many great things and awesome possibilities.  Gratitude strikes me as perhaps the most fundamental human attitude toward life, if reality is seen in a large enough perspective.  Maybe I’m just lucky.  I prefer to view it as grace.  Either way, I have experienced the bounty of serendipity on countless occasions — and I count these occasions as priceless!  Hopefully, such a beautiful predicament engenders paying it back and paying it forward.  I see life as an invitation to more life.  I view vitality as best served by generously overflowing, by joining in and continuing the perpetual cycling of giving.  Miserly attitudes can stunt this wondrous cycling.  Greed is a parasite on plenty.  May gratitude and generosity carry you as a living antidote to miserliness and greed.

POEM: Of Cucumbers and Fences

The punk was going to take
My cucumber
From my fence
So I clutched
My trusty shotgun
And I fired a shot
Way over his head
He scattered like so much buckshot
Having triggered his nerves
Like a fresh kill
Whose life would only ebb
A lessen all-too-familiar to mortals
Missing his heart
By a million miles
Would win me no award
As marksmen
Or neighbor
But sure enough
Would secure
My pride and property
For another day
My generosity unknown
For had he asked
A cucumber I’d have given
In unspeakable modesty
I am the grower of cucumbers
As well as
The builder of fences
And if I can’t have your respect
I’ll settle for your fear
Only growing
Outside my fences

This freshly grown poem sprung from a conversation I had yesterday with a new acquaintance in a coffee shop, perhaps appropriately with a poetry reading occurring across the room.  This poem is based on a story told to me by a self-described spawn of an old hillbilly, now serving as a leader of Libertarians.  Early in the conversation, I was threatened to be taken out back and beaten to a pulp, minus some snot.  This is not the first time I have experienced such a first shot over the bow in a conversation with a new Libertarian acquaintance.  As it was a public place and each of us apparently had some modest respect for the law, we could not compare manhoods directly.  He did confess that his threatening manhood was in fact a joke.  I suspect that there was a small truth to this.

While this poem is written in the first person, much like Adam or Cain and Abel, the story is of his proud hillbilly father.  Those who know me would expect that it wasn’t my own story, except inasmuch as it is all of our’s story.  I find the juxtaposition of a prideful swagger all-too-familiar with violence and a genuine down-home generosity as intriguing as it is commonplace.  The true conflict is between pride and generosity — one of which can be defended with violence.  Both the pride of the gardener, with his fence and shotgun, and the punk who dares steal from another’s labor, begs for something more, a deeper generosity.  Sometimes a punk’s taking is innocent, as from a garden meant for all, that garden of eatin’ of which we have all experienced.  Many times a punk’s taking is a lazy pride asserting that all is theirs for the taking, without regard to their neighbors.  Of course, the gardener’s pride can lead him to mistake himself for the Gardener, the giver of all, who possesses a generosity overwhelming any value-added we may contribute by our labor.  The fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, curses us with a fruit of awareness that competes with an all-encompassing awareness of the Gardener.  That competing awareness is the builder of fences, which both cuts ourselves off from the one garden and cuts others off with our fences.  The birth of private property possesses us.  Scarcity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, yet our profits remain strangely unfulfilling.  We look to grow fears outside our fences faster than thay grow within.  We learn to plunder with ease, not work, generous abundance.  And plucked from the vine such fruit dies.  Many a firstborn son has been planted at the hands of fearful gardeners a tempting to secure puny labors.  Such Abel-bodied young men stand as a testament, a very old testament, to the Cain-do attitude of private profits.  The first fruit is offering your best to God and neighbor.  The only sin: hoarding your first for yourself, and offering only your excess to God and neighbor.  What is it that would steal our hearts?  All fruits, and gardeners for that matter, die; only first fruits are born again and again, turning death into life — an offering Abel to banish fear, and transcend scarcity.  The fence between life and death is only the fence we truly know and fear.  And everyone knows: it takes a thief to know a good fence.  If you should cross a thief, or perhaps two, generously invite them in, or scarce join them.  May there be one fate shared: good for all.

POEM: A Farcical Foundation

A Farcical Foundation

An abundance
Of people
Build
Bank accounts
And resumes
In lieu of a better world
In the face of scarcity
Hoarding ourselves
Leaving our shares as chump change
Our resumes bankrupt
In grate sell deception
Talked into ahead in arrears
Left behind as good as a rite
A pauper wresting place
For a loan and a fraud dwelling
Only in habiting the largesse heart
As a lust resort
Fabricated upon a farcical foundation
Unable to settle what has been billed
Dropping all in loo
Of a better world
Too mulch
To imagine
For those with
The lyin’s share
Only as per jury
Of one’s peers

This poem gets to the heart of the matter.  The great divide in life is between wholehearted living and heartless living, which, of course, is not really living art all.  Choose life, not lifelessness!  As Jesus aptly put it, “You can’t serve both God and money.”  The love of God is the beginning of wisdom.  The love of money is the height of foolishness.  Of course, you only need to worry about this when God and money compete for your allegiance, say, most of the time you are awake! In modern monetized existence, a rather full assessment of what one values can be ascertained by how one spends their money (or not spends as the case may be).  Unfortunately, such an assessment process happens to be accurate precisely because of the great poverty in our lives which focuses on money (not God). A better accounting might include looking at how we spend our time.  Not surprisingly, in a culture which seems only to serve money as its highest value, Western civilization has managed to bastardize the typified 1950’s quest for leisure time by increasing work hours (and decreasing leisure time), even though productivity has grown by multiples.  There is way more money and “stuff” in the world than a few generations ago.  Still, the quality of life for the majority of the world’s population languishes.  As has been true for centuries, if not longer, there has been enough “stuff” to live good lives, except for the stubborn fact that humans have not learned to share well.  When will we accept the sociological and spiritual reality that beyond meeting our basic needs, money contributes little to happiness.  Perhaps more aptly put, if we hoard money for our own use beyond our basic physical needs, we will pay a social, political, and spiritual price for it, which will negate the perceived benefits of hoarding or consuming more.  In choosing disciplined simplicity for ourselves and generosity toward others, we can build more than bank accounts and resumes, and experience the most valuable stuff in life, the stuff that money can’t buy.

POEM: Whimsically Beat

You may beat me physically
But I’ll beat you whimsically

The unbearable lightness of being calls for whimsy, not brute force.  Violence is appealing to persons of low character.  Whimsy is an invitation to the finer things in life.  For instance, humor and generosity are much more powerful forces than terminal seriousness and Scrooge-osity.  The lighter, finer things in life are inviting, wooing others to join in something larger and better.  Brute force is the purview of unimaginative minds and withered spirits.  Of course, the divide between violence and nonviolence is in one’s perspective.  I like the analogy of weak and strong forces in physics and their reach across larger regions.  The “strong” forces like electromagnetism are very powerful over very short distances, but negligible at larger scales.  The “weak” forces such as gravity are negligible at atomic scales, but reign supreme at scales comprising the overwhelming majority of reality.  Humans live at a scale where both of these forces are important.  In this analogy, I view violence as the so-called “strong” force dominating smaller contexts and negligible at greater human scales and beyond.  I view love as the so-called “weak” force, which seems to be helpless in limited contexts, but ultimately rules the fate of the universe!  I seek to harmonize my being more with the fate of the universe than brutish turf wars.  Of course, we could just whip out our perspectives and see which is bigger…

POEM: Unemployable

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the basic theme of this poem, which challenges a worldview dominated by “earners.”  Humans and humanity are too valuable to be monetized for the convenience of more efficient commerce.  Human rights are not for sale, but arise out of the sacred worth of human life.  Perhaps the best illustration of how far we have strayed from this is by the fact that you can substitute “the market” or “the economy” with the word “God” and you would find that it all makes sense, in a strangely perverse way.  We must bow to the false god of Mammon, or worldly wealth and power, but it will never set us “free.” As Jesus adroitly put it, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)   Reflecting on this basic pivot point in life may give rise to a more modern take on truth and freedom: The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off!

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

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