POEM: Megabus Late

The loco bus
Was barely running
Trafficking in creep after creep
At Lake & Michigan
It was sink or swim
Facing too soon departed
To be won or lost
By foot
Right, left, right, left, right, left, right
Miraculously walking on Water St.
Run
Run forced
Run
Will it be
Decided by a minute minute
No bus in site
Faded to stay
In Chicago another day
Only then realizing
The line I had crossed
As pre-sumptuously late
Other poor soles
As per usual waiting
Fore the Toledo Megabus
Mega-late

This poem emanates from my trip earlier this summer out to Iowa.  This poem is from the last of four legs of a Megabus trip.  As it turns out, two of the four buses broke down and had to replaced with regular tour buses.  This poem is about the serendipity of things not always working out as planned.  Oddly, it never occurred to me that the bus I was racing to on foot would be late.  While the bus ended up being two hours late, this was much better than missing the bus by mere minutes!  What a beautiful thing that a bus being two hours late is a cause for celebration!  I am a big fan of serendipity.  As a recovering professional planner, I have spent much of my life planning to “make things happen.”  Fortunately,  I have witnessed so many times in my life that my plans not turning out as I liked turned out even better.  As I have been known to say: God never gives me what I want; God gives me something much better!  My daughter now parrots back to me the saying: If you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans.  More recently, you might find me repeating the Niels Bohr quip: “Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.”  Life is what happens while your making other plans. John Lennon quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONThough perhaps John Lennon said it best: “Life is what happens while you are making other plans.”  May your life be overflowing with wonderful surprises.

POEM: Birth Day Present

On my birthday
I was given
As were you
A time machine
A way faring
By lusty seconds
And so moving
Fates billed
To hour credit
Surpassing daze
And weaks
A sort of colander
For casting generations
And spirited characters
Of a future entranced
Passing sentries
With unguarded lives
Vaulting destiny
By wreckless leaps
And bounds
Unleashed
Of those who might
Steel the future
Or simply junket
Never poor tending
Anything except their raze
In rapturing time itself
Never coming second
When every one
Is of won accord
Awe due
To the present
Unpassed

This poem goes out to all of you who have a birthday this year!  The present is ever present. Like they say: there’s no gift like the present.  The future is born of the present, and the future captures much of our attention.  Nonetheless, we live our whole life in the present.  The practice of mindfulness recognizes that NOW needs your full attention  Of course, you can reflect on the future or the past NOW, in the present.  The point is that conscious awareness is a huge part of what it means to be human and to live fully.  Paying attention to our life, whatever that is at any given moment, is the stuff of life.  As John Lennon so famously observed, “Life is what happens while your busy doing other things.”  May the moments that you live each day make every day a birth day.  As Will Rogers said, “May you live all the days of your life.”

POEM: Forgiving Justice

Forgiveness can no more refute
The demands of justice
And its claim reguarding the lost
Than justice can outflank
The necessity of forgiveness
To open the door for peace
A heart rendering choice
The difference being
Securing one’s house
Or living in a precarious home

Being a lifelong peacenik, I have happened across numerous conversations along the lines of: which comes first, justice or peace.  It’s not quite a fair question, but my heart tells me that like produces like.  Justice produces justice.  Peace produces peace.  Like many questions posed as either/or, the truest answer more resembles both/and.  The question is really about forgiveness and grace.  Everybody at sometime wants forgiveness or grace when they have behaved badly.  If justice were sufficient, then forgiveness should be denied.  But we want more.  We want peace.  If you feel that justice is sufficient, and that you are willing to forgo peace, then I suspect you may have some unresolved anger issues.  Of course, anger can be a great driver of working for justice.  This anger can be a good thing.  Equally true, anger is a poor foundation for forgiveness and grace.  Peace comes from a place rooted in hope and possibility.  Peace cannot be guaranteed, but it can be denied.  Peace is a gamble.  Peace requires taking a chance.  As John Lennon said, “Give peace a chance.”  As Gandhi said, “Peace is possible.”  Peace is not simply a theoretical possibility.  Peace is also rooted in the direct experience of forgiveness, grace, and love.  The sheer gratitude of having a life present that was given to us without our doing often gets eclipsed by the dreadful threats of loss of that life, by whole or piecemeal.  The gift of life makes possible all else in our life.  If our life is taken from us, have we lost more than we have been given?  Dare I ask: how can this even be unfair?  As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  I sense that this question has been answered in the reality that it is a rare person who would believe that it would have been better to never have been born at all.  It may be equally rare to find folks who can persistently focus on this primary grace making all things possible in our life rather than dealing with the actual or feared losses in our lives of things that we have built or gained at least partially due to our doing.  The latter is the makings of justice-seeking.  The former is the makings of peace-seeking.  Justice-seeking and peace-seeking are not mutually exclusive.  However, achieving peace requires a perspective rooted in the grace of life, which is fragile and uncertain.  In fact, the very fragility and uncertainty of life makes it all the more precious!  I do see peace-seeking as a higher function, encompassing and fulfilling justice-seeking.  Peace-seeking is rooted in gratitude, the expression of recognizing grace.  I think of it this way:  To truly believe in justice, you must believe in justice for all.  Believing in justice and fairness only for myself or some in-group (which I happen to belong to) is not justice.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently and simply put, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”  With widespread injustice, which no sane person would deny, to seek justice for all means balancing, risking securing justice for yourself and your own in order to achieve widespread justice.  Such a bold undertaking can only be embarked upon with a measure of grace and forgiveness in your heart.  It is the promise of hope — real possibility — rooted in the experience of grace and forgiveness, that is an inescapable element of fulfilling justice.  There must be a peace in our heart, based on this real possibility, that foreshadows the peace and justice that we hope for.  So, what is my answer to the question: which comes first, justice or peace?  My answer: gratitude, and, of course, the corollary of gratitude, which is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is an expression of fairness, even justice, that others should be afforded the same infinite and sacred respect for life that life itself deserves.  We have already “won” by being alive.  The rest of life just needs to be lubricated generously with such a gratitude-filled awareness.  So be aware, life is good!

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.

POLITICAL CARTOON: Country Club Jesus – Blessed are those who exclude others for economic reasons

Country Club Jesus Speaks!

Jesus Cartoon: Country Club Jesus - Blessed are Those who Exclude Others Economic Reasons

Welcome to Country Club Jesus!  This is the latest installment the Top Pun series of comics that run on Sundays, featuring CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, Country Club Jesus, General Jesus, Comedian Jesus, and who knows what other incarnations!

This is the first appearance of Country Club Jesus, but he will undoubtedly return again!  Country Club Jesus has finally got some balls, a bucket full of them as a matter of fact.  You have to wonder with Jesus being so special why he waited so long for this exclusive members only thing!  But, he’s finally caught up with his church that seems to focus more on guarding its exclusive member benefits than actually growing the circle of members, or God forbid, actually living out its mission to set the oppressed free.

A lot of things in life cost a lot of money.  The world tends to focus on what it can’t afford and the infinite versions of trying to use money to meet needs that money cannot fill.  Like John Lennon says “All you need is love.”  Right, that and a Cadillac will get you a Cadillac, others say.  I can certainly relate to how complicated it is trying to sort through all of our basic needs and meet them, and certainly money has a role in that process.  Nonetheless, I find it much more useful to frame our most basic needs in terms of what I can’t afford not to do.  This hones in on those relatively few, yet most important, values that get roughshod on a daily basis.  This helps foster a more conscientious approach to that which is important but not necessarily urgent.  It is essential to be able to define what the good life is.  If money is the lowest common denominator in this definition, then you can expect that your life will not rise much above this lowest common denominator.  I return often to the classic and profound dichotomy that Jesus laid out:  you can serve either God or money, but not both.  This is a basic choice that cascades into the rest of our life every day, every month, every season, every year, every decade, every generation.  If we screw up that basic choice between God and money, our life will necessarily be disordered.  First things first.  Seek ye first the realm of God and all else will follow.  The screwed up worldly version of this is: no money, no mission.  If you can’t tell the difference between these two versions, then it’s time to get back to the basics.  Oh, and by the way, it probably doesn’t include beating up others with your exclusive club!

So, until next Sunday, with the next edition of CEO Jesus, Free Market Jesus, etc., talk amongst yourselves or let me know what you think.

POEM: Getting Your Ducks in a Row

I once put all my ducks in a row
Only then realizing
What am I doing with all these ducks?!

Getting one’s ducks in a row is an idiom or metaphor that most people are familiar with, meaning that we should get our business in order.  The twist in this poem is a reversal of the typical order that my poetry takes.  In this short poem, I take a common phrase that is not intended to be taken literally, and then take it literally.  Predictably, this leads to absurdity, and the ensuing absurd question of what am I doing with all of these ducks.  Of course, the absurd question is actually a question intended to jar one into a realization that getting one’s business in order is not always the most important thing in the world, though it often seems so.

Perhaps ironically, the pervasive idea of getting one’s ducks in a row, getting one’s business in order, can be a stagnant or deadening proposition that actually kills a higher order in our lives.  Life is messy.  Like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when we’re busy doing other things.”

The question here is not whether one is for order or against order.  The question here is one for a higher order or a lower order.  Increasingly, my experiences in life lead me to believe that one of the most fundamental issues is achieving some clarity about following a higher order over a lower order.  Again, this does not negate the value of lower order stuff, it simply puts it in its proper place, puts it in its proper perspective.  Given that lower order stuff is typically more clear, concrete, and easy to see, it is little surprise that we give an inordinate focus to such things – they capture our attention (and us).  After experiencing many dis-orders in my life, I have come to the realization that the best way to reorder my life around those things which are most important, those higher order things, is to practice simplicity.  What I mean by this is that I need to be aware of those relatively few things in life that are most important to me.  Combined with an actual commitment to these things, then I can use these few important things to better order the many lower things.  More simply put, the higher should lower the order, and a few more important things should order the many less important things.

Another major reason that I see lesser things getting a disproportionate amount of attention versus greater things, is a common confusion regarding what is urgent versus what is important.  Our culture value busyness.  Busyness is seen as an indicator of productivity.  Also, busyness is a way to avoid being seen as engaging in a cardinal sin of our culture, which is laziness.  I think this confusion leads to a systematic bias that often runs over truly important things in our lives.  Given the attachment to busyness, busyness actually becomes a surrogate for urgency.  Thus, the confusion between urgency and importance.

Now, actually, there are many things in life that are both urgent and important.  These are the most important things to which we should attend.  However, there are many, many things that seem urgent that are not really that important.  Likewise, there are many things that are very important but do not seem very urgent.  I believe it is in these very important things that do not seem very urgent that we get lost.  The Achilles heel here is that attention to these most important things that don’t seem very urgent, requires a more relaxed perspective, a broader perspective in relation to time.  Most great things in life require a substantial investment of time.  Also, most things worthwhile require some effort on our part.  But let me deal first with the time issue (the most important thing here).  This gets back to the laziness issue.  Our culture reinforces the notion that relaxing our views about urgency is somehow lazy.  If you are not dealing with the commonly accepted stuff that is seen is urgent, then you are viewed as lazy.  This is not necessarily true.  Now, while truly lazy people don’t deal with what’s in front of them, whether it is urgent or not, important or not, to deal with the important but not urgent things requires some way of being that is neither characterized by mere busyness nor laziness.  This is the difficult counter-cultural work of dealing with the most important and often most overlooked stuff in our lives.  It takes a great amount of discipline and work to slough off the avalanche of seemingly urgent stuff in our life in order to attend to the most important things.  In fact, it is this lack of developing such discipline and boundary setting that is the more important and urgent form of laziness to address.

Laziness is definitely an issue.  This gets back to the issue that most things worthwhile in our life require effort on our part.  Being fully human requires a lot of effort.  This reality requires that we overcome a certain lazy inertia in our lives.  The status quo, the way things are, has a certain stability, momentum and inertia to it.

If we keep going the direction we are headed in, we will probably end up where we are going.  However, equally true, the past is the best predictor of the future, but if you use the past to predict the future, you will always be wrong.  Or more eloquently put, by Yogi Berra, “Prediction is very hard, especially when about the future.”  This is because people are not billiard balls.  People are not simply determined being.  People possess freedom.  People are subjects, not objects.  Certainly, as long as people are involved, predicting the future with complete accuracy will be impossible (actually, this is true for so-called “things” as well; this involves a discussion of the inherent probabilities necessary to understand quantum physics, which I will gracefully save for another day).  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  This is not chaos; this is simply uncertainty.  This is the way the universe is ordered.  This is a higher order, not to be subjected to a lower order.  This takes us full circle, back to our zealous clinging to stuff that is more concrete, seemingly certain.  Our felt need to substitute certainty for uncertainty plays neatly into the hands of confusing the urgent and the important.  Life is uncertain.  If life were not uncertain, it would not be life.  If life were not uncertain, then life would simply be a quest of learning everything and then being ordered (notice the use of the passive voice, and the same language that we reject often from the bosses in our lives) by the ultimately determinable (that which can be reduced to certainty).  This would inescapably lead us to our endgame of being all-knowing and totally impotent (not free).  If this strikes you as a concept of God that is rejected by the vast majority of humanity on this planet, then you must be paying attention.  This so-called God that so many people legitimately reject, is not God, but the vain and enslaving-ourselves project of trying to be God ourselves.  Neither can God be reduced to simply “everything.”  God is more than “everything.”  This concept arises out of the paradox of subjectivity and objectivity, the difference between subject and object.  In this case, the difference between people and things, and between God and “everything.”  I hope that I’m not getting too far off course by getting straight to the heart of the matter.  If you want some additional commentary on these matters, and subjects, I would suggest browsing scientific reductionism.

So, now that I have put all of my ducks in order, I can get beyond the whole “duck” thing. In the end, for all this to work well, this means having our lives ordered in a way that is consistent with what we consider to be the most important, then we must actually know what is the most important stuff in our lives.  Do you know what the most important things in your life are?  If so, I would suggest that you make a list of such things, and while doing this may be of the utmost importance, I would recommend that you take your time to get it right.

Now, if you really want to blow your mind, and perhaps blow the lid off your heart, I recommend meditating upon this poem from the Sufi poet Rumi:

A good gauge of spiritual health is to write down
the three things you want most.
If they in any way differ
you are in trouble.