FREE POLITICAL POSTER: CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel Tortuously Testifies – Of Course Torture Works, I Am Looking at a Huge Job Promotion

Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nominee for CIA Director, slunk partially out of the shadows yesterday to testify before Congress and the American people why a torturer should be promoted to director of CIA. She refused to acknowledge that torture is immoral.  Of course, torture has been illegal under international law for generations and illegal in the U.S. since Congress specifically outlawed torture in the wake of revelations of the George W. Bush regime’s torture. Gina Haspel was involved in this torture and its cover up by the destruction of evidence in the face of Congressional investigation of such torture. Sen. John McCain, a survivor of torture, stated that anyone unable to publicly recognize the immorality of torture is not qualified to head the CIA. Of course, the torturous Republican realists in Congress expect that her adherence to morality will properly occur in private, those secret, undisclosed places where morality experiences its finest renditions.

In honor of her tortuous success, I offer up this FREE POLITICAL POSTER: CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel Tortuously Testifies – Of Course Torture Works, I Am Looking at a Huge Job Promotion.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel Tortuously Testifies - Of Course Torture Works, I Am Looking at a Huge Job Promotion

Feel free to browse my anti-security state, anti-surveillance and privacy designs.Governments Lie POLITICAL BUTTONWar is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength [upside down] POLITICAL BUTTONTransparency For The State, Privacy For The Rest Of US POLITICAL BUTTON

FREE POSTER: Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low . . . And Keep Reaching

I am sickened by American evangelical so-called Christians serving as apologists for sexual predation.  There is a seriously dark evil engulfing Christians who profess conservative sexual morality and also serve as the first line of defense of sexual predators, whether this takes the form of not listening to victims of sexual assault or minimizing the endemic trauma women must endure in our rape culture.  This free poster goes out to all Christians who don’t defend women from sexual harassment and sexual assault: Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low…And Keep Reaching.Who Would Jesus Masturbate In Front Of? American Evangelical Apologists for Sexual Predation Reach a New Low And Keep Reaching While this may be the most far out “What Would Jesus Do” design I have done yet, I have a whole collection of WWJD designs from a leftist, social justice perspective:

What Would Jesus Do? Protest War ANTI-WAR BUTTONWho Would Jesus Refuse Health Care To -- SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON with Jesus graphic Who Would Jesus Execute--SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON

What Country Club Would Jesus Join -- FUNNY WWJD SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhat SUV Would Jesus Drive--FUNNY SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTONWhat Mutual Fund Would Jesus Invest In -- FUNNY WWJD SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Who Would Jesus Bail Out SPIRITUAL BUTTONWho Would Jesus Outsource -- SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTONWho Would Jesus Torture SPIRITUAL WWJD BUTTON

POEM: Of Coarseness

Don’t put won over me
F every won
Flunk sexism
Flunk racism
Flunk classism
Flunk nationalism
And sow on
And sow on
In effability
Of coarse
They say
Vulgarity vulgarity
Every ware
I look
In just US
The capital of the whirled
Spinning lies
Wile iniquity runs rampant
Fore public office
As up right
The riotous
Will be herd
If scuff law in order
To re-buff amoral cents
And counting dullards
Drilled simply for being crude
And unrepentantly unrefined
Tolled to keep off the crass
In a tour de farce
As if
In decency
Merely unappetizing crudités
Interrupting
Our place
At the table
Only too be taken away
Be for serving
The entree
To the winners of our discontent

This poem plays on the nominal vulgarity of swear words versus the substantial vulgarities of endemic sexism, racism, classism, amoral capitalism, nationalism and the unlike.  Civilized Nations Have Best Implements for War--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONI am struck by the hugely disproportionate reactions by so-called civilized society to the nominal vulgarities of swear words and the substantial vulgarities of rampant iniquity and inequities.  This reminds me of one of my favorite passages from the Tao Te Ching (chapter 38):

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety

CIVIL WAR - When Oxymorons Run Amok ANTI-WAR BUTTONThis passage captures the devolution of society and politics when propriety is the central reference point and standard for judgments, having devolved from simple morality and core virtues. Of course, even virtue and morality are devolutions of Tao, the ineffable and mysterious source from which life flows and finds its being.  Propriety is a pitiful veneer covering a morally bankrupt society, where unmoored virtue makes alienation the norm, and nothing is sacred.  What could be more coarse than a society where power, privilege and status are self-aggrandizing and injustice is but a chronic inconvenience?

I am proud to have written a poem about vulgarity without directly using verbal vulgarities — though the implied vulgarities may make the poem PG-13.  Vulgarities may not be necessary, but when our concern is over words rather than from the underlying realities which deserve much more attention, we get sucked into dangerous distraction.  My increasingly surreal experience of the gap between popular awareness and underlying injustices seems like a good basis for the full employment by this poet of awe words, vulgar or not.  May we see beyond the superficial proprieties of language to see clearly the grinding injustices which bespeak vulgarities.

POLITICAL POEM: Among Politicians For Sail

In the art of politics
We are the wind
Awe that madders
To those who sea
Among politicians for sail
Transcending them to helm
In their infernal riggings
And whatever weigh
As such politics
Blows
And how ever along winded
Wee will
Prevail
Sow go a head
Win
Be my gust

Q: What can transcend the riggings in the political system?  A: The strong winds of political movements derived from the consent (or resistance) of the people.  Perhaps the most reliable characteristic of politicians is their ability to do most anything to gain power or maintain power.  Politics is often referred to as the art of compromise.  Power Requires Consent POLITICAL BUTTONPolitics is as often at the heart of selling out.  Power requires consent, the consent of the people.  This is the foundation for nonviolent resistance and noncooperation with evils in society.  Fortunately, the malleable morality of politicians can be harnessed by the exercise of power directly by the people, without relying on simply moral appeals.  In the body politic, the moral state of the state is mediated by the people either exercising their values which manifest political realities and shape power, or by the people delegating moral behavior to politicians (sic) and/or relinquishing morality altogether.  The people define the political realities by which politicians must navigate.  The pragmatic malleability of politicians makes them far better suited to follow than lead, to reflect current political realities rather than challenge and change them.  The notion that power is fundamentally derived from political elites is mistaken and not what the founders of the constitution understood of governance as derived from the consent of the people.  Likewise, moral behavior is derived from each person as a moral agent, a responsibility that cannot be relinquished and a privilege that each human shares.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONAuthentic leadership, by being the change you want to see in the world, is often punished by the powers that be of the status quo, whose interest is in maintaining things the way they are, that is, to their own advantage over others.  Your resistance and its equal and opposite force applied by the powers that be is exactly the measure by which your values are valued.  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 Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONMore simply put, your values are values exactly to the extent that you are willing to pay a price for them.  Many good things in life come cheap, either through the work of others or the grace of God.  The luck of the draw in possessing such good things that come to us without us personally paying the full cost is what is often called privilege.  Good things are, well, good.  But, when we haven’t paid the full cost, or worse yet, someone else is involuntarily paying the cost for you, such an imbalance in the balance sheet requires moral action to assure fair treatment of others.  It is exactly such imbalances in the balance sheets that fundamentally amoral ideologies such as capitalism cannot produce balance.  In fact, amoral ideologies such as capitalism act to leverage inequalities and unfairness into further inequalities and unfairness.  In short, it takes moral force, truth force, what Gandhi referred to as satyagraha, to set the world right.  Those experiencing the short end of inequalities and unfairness most fully experience the material conditions suited to such enlightenment.  Those experiencing the long end of inequalities and unfairness find that their the material conditions are rife with easy denial and low-cost rationalizations suited to maintaining their advantage, their advantage over others.  This is another way of describing the “preferential option for the poor” in liberation theology, recognizing that the dispossessed are naturally better positioned to exercise moral leadership since their personal interests and social justice interests are better aligned.  Surely, the poor have their own special set of temptations to choose the low road in morality.  However, the privileged are only required to give up privilege over others for justice’s sake, which is a nominal sacrifice compared to coping well or poorly inside chronic injustices.  This is particularly true since the powers that be exact a price disproportionately higher to the dispossessed than what would represent a fair price for their personal, individual justice.  In other words, the dispossessed must invest in social justice to experience personal justice.   If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -- Desmond Tutu quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe privileged are free of such costs, and worse yet, are personally advantaged by injustice, a cruel incentive to unjust action, or more often than not, inaction.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONAs can be seen through the lenses of power derived through the consent of the people and the material conditions conducive to acting morally in the face of social injustices, the hope for a more just and moral world is founded in actions of solidarity with and among the disenfranchised of the world.  Expecting the privileged to relinquish their privilege — or manage the poor justly (sic) — is a lame substitute for disenfranchised peoples acting in the interest of both themselves and all people.  May we act in solidarity with one another to overturn injustice anywhere.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s designs about social justice and a huge choice of political action issues.

Human Rights are Universal and Inalienable, Interdependent and Indivisible, Equal and Nondiscriminatory

Human Rights Are Not Optional POLITICAL BUTTONHuman rights are inherent to all human beings. PERIOD.

Human rights are universal and inalienable, meaning that such rights cannot be taken away based on what people do.  Human rights are interdependent and indivisible, meaning that they work together as a whole, where the deprivation of anyone’s human right deprives us all, and the enhancement of anyone’s human rights enhances us all.  Human rights are equal and nondiscriminatory, meaning that they apply equally regardless of whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, gender, national or ethnic origin, color, religion, language, or any other status.  Finally, human rights give rise to a fundamental responsibility to protect and promote human rights both for humans and their governments.

Globalize THIS - HUMAN RIGHTS [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONIn 1948, the United Nations passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration had been drafted by representatives from around the world, coming from many different legal and cultural perspectives.  Since then, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has set the world record for the document translated into the most languages: 477.

The declaration has stood up quite well across its eight decades spanning two millennia, though I would better incorporate LGBTQ rights and change the document’s pronouns to gender neutral.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Human Rights NOW POLITICAL BUTTONMay we each individually and collectively cherish our human rights as the foundation from which our humanity is ever more fully manifest.  One humanity.  One planet.  One love.

POEM: Wee Civil Lies: They Brutalize

We are prone
Too civil lies
The most savage saving
Buy brutal lies
As assuredly
As they had
Been stood up
Just the same
For their own
Good
Won morality for us
None for them
Hidden as mirror
Human eyes
Unsettling
The score
One love

Violence - The Cause and Solution to All of Our Problems PEACE BUTTONThis poem is about the violence we unleash in the name of the state and nationalism against stateless violence that is often referred to as terrorism.  War is terrorism with a bigger budget.  War on terrorism is a shock and awe full escalation of violence seeking to end violence with more violence.  This poem is about the profound egocentrism that is scaled up to nationalism and exclusivist patriotism.  When we add our ignorance of “foreign” humans to the crucible of our own fears, we conjure demons.  A nation of partisans is blind to humanity.

The man who speaks of the enemy is the enemy himself. Bertolt Brecht quote PEACE BUTTONWe prefer to believe that humans living in other nations and cultures somehow operate disconnected, even psychotically, from a cause-and-effect world.  “They” are aliens, or more literally, not human.  Their grievous experiences are viewed as illegitimate, or simply self-inflicted (unlike ours).  Justice becomes just US.  We are good; they are evil.  We go long with the whores of war in a costly and feudal tempt to psychologically project our own evil onto distant others and militarily project our own lust for power and, of coarse, its ostensible security.  Our “way of life” is inescapably intertwined with our “way of death.”  This ever-popular though pathetic avoidance of assenting to the oneness of humanity is an epic failure to own up to the costs of love.  Hate and fear are cheaper, like that cheap plastic crap from China.  Why Is It Always US versus Them PEACE BUTTONWithout disposable people, the gears of imperialism and capitalism would grind to a halt in a heart-wrenching imperative to honor every human right.  A so-called civilization built around planned obsolescence and cancerous growth rejects, not surprisingly, the priceless sanctity of every human life which would mandate a firewall to the carnage of war.  Human rights would go one better than human wrongs.  But at what accost?  Probably much less than war, but the distribution of pain would be much different.  By attending to our own shadow side, we preempt extracting the cost of our own evil from others.  Anything War Can Do Peace Can Do Better PEACE BUTTONOf course, this costs us — please note that morality is incurring a cost of one’s own, thereby demarcating what we value.  Further, a healthy human being replete with love goes even further to absorb some of humanity’s cost from less healthy humans, thereby incarnating the example of love.  This is the opposite of war, and, ultimately, the only scoring that matters.  Love perpetually extends humanity to each and every human, not amputating human rights to those who don’t happen to be at hand.  For badder or worse, love will piss off virtually every in-group of which you are a part.  In-group members reliably err on their own privilege over out-group members.  Human equality is necessarily revolutionary.  	 If we were willing to pay the same price for peace that we pay for war, we'd have peace today PEACE BUTTONLove and justice kiss when we sacrifice in-group privilege toward securing human rights for all.

May we know the score that is love, demolishing war-making.

POEM: Loving Your Enemas

The legal lists
Were longing
With who hurt
And who not heard
Attesting too
How much they love
They’re enemas
Only wading
For sue a side
As eminent just us
And inevitably knot
Passing the smell test

Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONThis is a poem about the intractable mess of trying to love your enemies and kill them as well.  American Christianity generally considers pacifism a quaint way of life, tolerable in direct proportion to its relegation from the halls of power in church and state.  American Christianity has bought rather wholesale into war as a practical necessity — the necessity of evil, that is.  Wince again, the necessity defense is the greatest offense.  Is the oneness of humanity to be cleaved by the body of Christ?  For badder or worse, the inconvenient truth of dying for one’s enemy reliably leaves American Christians more than cross.  Object of War Not to Die for Your Country But Make Other Bastard Die for His--ANTI-WAR QUOTE BUTTONAt best, nationalism, and at its worst, imperialism, become the legal ism for such a knotty morality.  And if any prophets may bedevil such an undertaking, their fate is bound in the hands of a certain high priest, possessed buy inescapable logic: “You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:51)  Yep, to gain the world and halve the whole world parish.  American Christians all to often worship a bastard son, pax Americana, a modern day roamin’ umpire, overruling with just US, and as per fuming so extravagantly that we don’t even realize we fail the smell test.

May awe of US unearth humility enough to execute amorality, in a creation fit for all — for Christ’s sake!

 	 I'm not a pacifist. I'm not that brave. Phil Donahue quote PEACE T-SHIRTPeace - Won for All - Peace Dove-PEACE BUTTON

Check out more pacifism designs.

POEM: Love Is Scored

He did
Not necessarily
Believe
In evil
Though he found it
Much easier
To commit
Than endure
And hear in lies
Won lessen
As love is scored

The man who speaks of the enemy is the enemy himself. Bertolt Brecht quote PEACE BUTTONThis poem is a tribute to apologists for evil everywhere.  The lesser of two evils rationalization is perhaps the all-time most popular moral shortcut.  Unfortunately, when evil is embraced, morality is cut loose.  The “necessity” defense is actually an abnegation of moral agency altogether, pretending that no choice exists.  Of course, where there is no choice, there is no morality, or perhaps more conveniently, no immorality.  So much for freedom marching on!  For you can’t have freedom without its twin: responsibility, that bully big brother.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONUltimately, one’s own responsibility is morphed out of existence into an other’s accountability.  He “made me” do it.  As we become an impersonal — and amoral — force for precious accountability, we polish a veneer of morality, all the wile avoiding personal responsibility for our own actions.  Most simply put, we become mirrorly a consequence of evil, our moral agency be dammed! We become an effect of evil rather than a cause for good.  Morality necessarily involves restraint, the project of limiting our choices, hopefully to good choices, among all possible choices.  The key point is that it focuses on self-restraint, not other-restraint.  It's hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. Sally Kempton quote PEACE BUTTONThis shift of focus on accountability of others, presumably punishing evil, is classical psychological projection of one’s own shadow, dark side, evil onto an other.  No doubt, evil happens.  No doubt, evil costs dearly.  Projecting all responsibility onto others serves the convenient purpose of shifting the cost away from our own costly choices.  No doubt, morality is costly — just as evil is.  Enduring these costs is the stuff of a moral life.  This is the price of true freedom.  Evil runs over the good for evil ends, for its own sake.  Good revels in the good for its own sake, and somewhat paradoxically, lifts up, invites true freedom for others’ sake as well   If No Enemy Within Enemy Without Cannot Harm--PEACE QUOTE BUTTONHalf of the moral life is the willingness to live into what we know to be good.  Half of the moral life is enduring the inescapable effects of evil, what we no to be evil.  Only God knows the half-life of evil.  While it may be a truism that we do not get out of this life alive, we can live more than a half-life.  May you live fully!  Moral choices may be unclear.  Moral choices may be extraordinarily difficult.  Still, moral choices are always a choice.  To deny this is the paltry heights of amorality and a brutal equivalency of evil with good.

May you find wide-open love stronger than shadowy hate in your life.

Who is a hero? He who turns his enemy into a friend. The Talmud quote PEACE BUTTONTransforming hatred of the enemy into compassion lies at the core of all religions. Sister Helen Prejean quote PEACE BUTTONOur enemies opinion of us comes closer to the truth than our own. Francois La Rochefoucauld quote PEACE BUTTONPEACE QUOTE: Met Enemy He Is Us PEACE SIGN BUTTONIn the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher. Dalai Lama quote PEACE BUTTON

POEM: Fore Awe That Can Be Souled

He lived buy
The law of the jungle
Except for that whole jungle thing
And law
Fore that madder
Welcome too
Living bye
A-morality
A-weigh of living
A-lien from nature
As not giving
One ascent
Fore awe that can be
Souled

The so-called law of the jungle is largely disrespectful of nature and law.  The presumed law of the jungle is typically a rationalization for amoral behavior.  Buying such low living is not becoming to humanity.  Greedy, fear-filled, and violent people swear by the notion of a “dog eat dog” world, even if they have never seen a dog eat a dog.  And if one has witnessed firsthand a dog eat a dog, it is a near certainty that this resulted from the instigation and/or training by a human.  Contrary to popular mythology, the overwhelming majority (95+%) of living beings on this planet live and die without being eaten.  Live and Let Live SPIRITUAL BUTTONLive and let live is a far better characterization of the nature of nature than some arena of death thrust upon us to bedevil us to our untimely end.  So, this poem is about respecting the higher harmonies of nature, including human nature — the nature of the soul, if you will — as we experience the gift of life.  Such higher harmonies lean into the predominant reality of life as a gift rather than a curse.  It is a destructive lie to characterize nature, or our nature, as a taker rather than a giver.  The jungle is a wild and beautiful place, but the awe and wander of its presents inspires its true companions to revel in reverence rather than dreadful competition or wanton violence.  A Savage Is Not The One Who Lives In The Forest, But The One Who Destroys It POLITICAL BUTTONMay you find that the wild places in your life bring you life-affirming inspiration and render you a lousy accomplice to greedy and guarded weighs.

POEM: Awe The Deference In The Whirled

He said
She said
You seem full of yourself
Or full of something
As I would
Decidedly be
Rather mistaken
As too much for sum
Than sow scarcely perceived
In convenient lacking
A peace meal
Leaving hungry
Or crocodile tears
Without hankering
Putting oneself out
With friendly fire
And faux alike
Sew much
Wee must take in
The unconsuming whole
Hemmed in
The bind leading the bind
For if we were to a peer
As God sees us
As children sew sew proud
We’d break out
In stitches
Rather than
Go bust
At the seems
Making awe
The deference
In the whirled

This poem is about living largely into the grandiosity and wonder in which our souls are made.  I have been accused on occasion of being full of myself.  I just see this as being me — albeit really me!  I see one of the major forms of social control in modern, so-call civilization as keeping people small.  This oftentimes passes for humility.  I suspect that as many times as not, the offense people commit against God and their nature is living much smaller than for which they were designed.   I suspect that as many times as not, when someone expects someone else to stay “in their place,” it is less out of a desire for high morality than maintaining a predictable and unintimidating (also read uninspiring) environment that conveniently benefits their own status quo.  Fully alive human beings are going to have an overflowing and even overwhelming quality that can be intimidating to those trying to hang onto a tightly ordered, small piece of real estate.  Well, the real state of being fully human involves a perpetual freshness and a range of freedom that should be challenging and hopefully inspiring to others.  Such newness incarnated in the world reveals the irrepressibly of hope, curiosity, playfulness, and creativity.  Such free range humans inescapably reflect a certain lightheartedness in the face of seemingly serious social boundaries, recognizing the often arbitrary and inhumane nature of substituting abstract rules for face-to-face human relationship.  Any dimension of newness present in humans can serve as a reminder and invitation for a fresh look into the soul of another.  Such fresh looking can help us step out of the constricting algorithms of triangulating rules and compounding conventional wisdom into a jazzy rhythm that can only be experienced by playing with a band of eccentric souls.  Such playing can cure the oh so lame and the hardening of the attitudes.  When the overwhelming awesomeness of life bumps into the brick walls and lines in the sand of any given culture, that culture better get ready to change as purveyors of life dance over purported lines and occasionally take time out to break down a brick wall.  Giving deference to awe invites a certain boldness in this whirled of ours.  And if you should find hurt in this world, may you also find a way to break out of your stitches.

POEM: Albatross Necklace Futures

I stared at the world
I could have built
Had I
Grasped more
Farce fully
A stock pile
Awe but reaching
Heaven
Falling short
Of mature stature
Leaving behind
Child’s play
The ripe now
And not trading in
Futures
Of albatross necklaces
Adorned by all

This poem is a tip of the hat to the story of the Tower of Babel, where mankind tries quite literally to build a stairway to heaven.  This ancient tale of vanity is perhaps even more true now than when it was first told.  With advances in science and technology the notion of building a socialist paradise that saves humanity from its own perennial moral dilemmas seems all the more possible, and therefore, tempting.  Of course, knowledge is no sin; but, the hubris to think that you can cheat reality is.  There are no technological means to bypass courage, faith, and compassion or love.  Humans are the proper instrument for courage, faith, and love.  Any worldview that negates humanity by pretending that humanity can somehow be bypassed, along with its unavoidable moral responsibility, is idolatrous.  Idolatry is simply constructing the foundation of one’s life (whatever you consider authoritative) on images of reality rather than reality itself.  Simply put, humans cannot create a world where they no longer need to be good, that is make moral choices, with their commensurate values or “costs”, which include courage, faith, and love

Any ideology or social system can function idolatrously, if it is considered an end not the means to something greater.  Such rigid, graven images impair proper human functioning, which is relational, not simply a “thing” to be better sculpted.  The something greater is dynamic living relationships.  In religious terms, the great commandments are relational as loving God and loving neighbor.  Unfortunately, humans are quite adept at over-concretizing spiritual truths and settling for worshiping the stone images (e.g., ten commandments) printed word (e.g., Bible), or any system of thought, rather than the reality to which they point: God and neighbor.  Inasmuch as we stop and settle for an image of what our relationships should be, we actually step outside of that living relationship and kill it.  In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (the “People of the Book”), God keeps it very simple by declaring to Moses to tell the people only “I am who I am” (or, “I will be what I will be.”)  The rest involves having a relationship with the “I am who I am.”  Of course, in modern secularism, this is epically avoided by denying even the existence of “I am who I am.”  Not surprisingly, the “I am who I am” residing within us all gets short shrift and humanity is left to define itself simply by its material aspects, limiting it’s nature to “I am what I am” — which I call the Popeye fallacy.  The Popeye fallacy omits a dimension of our being, leaving us a mirror caricature.  Much alienation in modern Western civilization is rooted in mistaking humans as “what” not “who.”  People are not things, at least not things alone.  To add to the irony and epic misdirection, legal fictions like corporate “personhood” are considered “human,” while humans have difficulty mustering such status.  Such battles over what a person is, a who or a what, may very well define our age.  May we have the wisdom to know the difference!

Of course, this poem frames the epic theme of idolatrous hubris on a more modest, individual level.  Hubris often hides in the “humble” context of the individual, with a built in rationalization that one person cannot make the difference.  This itself is an amoral or immoral act.  Morality always plays out among individual moral agents.  This is the very point of what is often avoided by shifting agency onto society, deflecting moral agency altogether, or claiming that “the devil made me do it” (insert ‘terrorist’ for ‘devil’ to upgrade to “modern” worldview).

Lastly, moral agency is played out in real time, the now.  Respecting the relational process of being human, which is inherently subjective, must favor the present over some conception or image of a future end.  More simply put, humans are ends in themselves, not to be subjugated to another’s systems of images of the future.  Keeping it real means honoring humans as sacred participants in this process, always valuing who people are more than what they are, or even what they may be.  I suspect that faith in God, the “I am who I am,” is trusting that the greater is lived out by focusing on who, not what.  This may very well be the inseparable nature of loving God and loving neighbor, each reinforcing one another in blessed mutuality.  May it be so.

POEM: In Jesting Another Triple Crown

America’s quest for monarchy
Failed again
A triple crown thwarted
The quest for total domination
Foundering
Another cracker jack faux
A for-see-able sir prize
Californian gold transmuted
Into chrome
Bronzed
A tanned hide
Soon forgotten
A hoarse race
A poorer proxy
Of true human feat
Ruled by what is
Less swift
Needing powerful spectacles
To not see
Over and over
Hour consolation prize
Ever settling for the gaming
Of plutocracy
The royal fleecing
Of sheep
Buy domesticated wolves
For equestrian
Riding
To the end of the world
In minutes
Flat
Re-lying on vain hopes
Our ambitions
Running around in circles
An opulent haunt
Of who most dashing
How ever a ware
It is US

The 2014 odds on favorite to with horse racing’s triple crown, California Chrome, finished an unmemorable third place, leaving it’s legacy bronzed and lifeless.

It’s difficult to watch the spectacle of horse racing without at least some class consciousness.  Perhaps this is a good thing.  In this poem, I use the fodder of this most apparent “gentleman’s” sport as an opportunity to expose it’s more seedy underpinnings.  Whether horse racing or NASCAR racing, sport is big business and a necessary distraction from less sporting, and even less gentlemanly, enterprises.

Americans love a winner.  More so, Americans love domination.  For Americans, there is something that resonates with one “competitor” so dominating others that it is scarcely a competition.  This strikes me as something to do with America’s love affair with “exceptionalism,” specifically American exceptionalism.  The shock and awe of being so much superior than any and all other competitors under-girds a dark morality where might makes right and vulnerability is banished from human, or at least American, or at least elite American, experience.  And while not all of US may be playing on the super-achieving Team America, we can all at least root for the home team.  In it’s most blatant form, this is killing all of our enemies, “terrorists,” who would dare challenge, or daresay “compete,” with the American weigh of life.

Since monarchy itself is déclassé, we have to repackage it into the monarchy of plutocrats and the aristocracy of celebrity.  The plutocrats sell us celebrity, and the increasingly hollow American dream of becoming rich ourselves.  Plenty buy such pablum.  Any one of us running head to head or fighting toe to toe with the plutocrats may not even be in a horse race, but together we need not re-lie on singular saviors.

Our salvation rests in the masses standing against the few, the plutocratic oligarchs, and building communities based on egalitarianism, not exceptionalism.  We need less spectating and more participating.  We need less fans and more teammates.  We need less co-opting and more cooperation.  We need less jockeying and more mutual aid.  Let’s make it so.

POEM: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

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

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

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

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

POEM: A Ghastly Alchemy

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

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

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

POEM: Farcical Optimism

He said to me
“Your optimism is farcical.”
I said
“You may be right.”
Of course
Wisdom may just be
Realizing that
Farcical optimism
Is ever so slightly preferable
To farcical pessimism

If you gathered all of the information together to make a determination of whether or not it is justified to be an optimist, it may very well be a close call.  There is plenty in this world to be pessimistic about.  The more edgy, less centered pessimists may even consider all a farce.  If this seemingly even-matching of evidence to justify optimism or pessimism, throws you off-balance, then consider balance.  Just because Pollyannishness exists does not negate optimism or hope.  Just as because nihilistic thoughts and behavior exists doesn’t mean that all is lost.  Walking this seemingly fine line between optimism and pessimism sets up one’s own basic attitude about life: which side of reality do you want to face, live into?  While the line may be fine, this most fundamental existential choice of attitude, direction, is the profound difference between good and evil.  This is how freedom plows meaning into reality and how our spirits are incarnate into the world.  Some with nihilistic orientations would prefer less meaning full terms — good and bad, useful and not useful, painful and pleasurable.  I find a deep irony in folks who are too nihilistic to even drum up a belief in evil!  This is what I would call farcical pessimism.  Unfortunately, you can’t escape this existential choice, conundrum if you will, by not answering the question.  Amorality falls solidly into the immoral category.  Amorality amounts to bad faith.  If you don’t like free will, maybe you don’t deserve to wield it.  If you don’t think that the world is about deserving and undeserving, then welcome to the world of grace…

POEM: By No Means Necessary

By No Means Necessary

When the strident are
Up in arms
Staking their claims
By any means necessary
May such a battlefield
Arouse patience strewn
A bout
Of faith
Inciting our most gratuitous hopes
By any kinds possible
The prison door of necessity
Leaving us
Unhinged
Taking liberties
Only in dependence
On open hearts
In tact
In our chest
No longer hoard
Soles in a circle unbroken
Vaulting us
To claims unstaked
In arms above
Scaling untrodden heights
With such generous helping
Hands down
The best
Giving rise
By no means necessary

This poem is about hope and the possibilities that kindness open up to create a new and better reality.  Claiming a need to reach an end “by any means necessary” is precarious moral ground.  In common political parlance, the phrase might be “we are leaving all options open.”  At best this is a casual amorality, at worst a cruel compulsion or “necessary” evil.  I’m not big on “necessary” evil.  Militancy focuses on a “you forced me to” mentality, fixating on our most base needs and instincts alone.  No doubt, certain actions lead to likely reactions.  Nonetheless, we can do better.  Acting in hope with open hearts is an invitation to escape from closed-sum thinking and hurt feelings, and join together in something greater than the sum of its parts.  Hope is a vulnerable invitation in that it may be rejected.  If rejected, in retrospect, it may appear to have been better to have not made an invitation.  I think that this is why humans have learned a certain reactionary approach in life.  This makes sense, but such a reactionary approach does not represent all that is possible, or even all that is probable.  Leaders make invitations.  Leaders offer hope.  Leaders make themselves vulnerable and put some actual skin in the game, in order to walk the walk not just talk the talk.  We can make excuses by saying, “He made me do it,” but this denies our most basic freedom, to do something differently, that is our greatest asset in human progress.   Not surprisingly, hope is by its very nature a community project.  Only by joining together, with mutual invitations and mutual aid, can our highest hopes become real.  And the highest hope is a circle unbroken, everyone in and nobody out.  The cynical acts of confederates to “get ours” at the expense of others is ultimately self-defeating, degrading the vitality of human community of which we are inescapably a part.  Of course, the hope that springs from the faith that humanity is ultimately one is like all other faith: something not fully realized but believed to be present.  Such faith and hope cannot become fully realized “by any means necessary,” being by no means necessary; still it may be realized “by any kinds possible.”  Do not rise to every occasion in kind, rather, in kindness rise to every occasion.

POEM: A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse

A Lousy Take on Lao-Tse (Tao Te Ching 38)

When Tao is lost
There is virtue
When virtue is lost
There is morality
When morality is lost
There is propriety
Yet oddly
Even when
Awe is lost
Tao remains
The eternal rest
Giving rise to awe

The Tao Te Ching is the ancient Chinese sacred text of Taoism.  The authorship is attributed to Lao-Tse, which may have been an individual or a group.  There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching, which seem to differ greatly.  The above poem is my take on chapter 38, which seems to have stuck in my mind.  I was struck by the truth of the progression, or deterioration, from the ineffable unity of Tao to virtue, then morality, then propriety, which is the beginning of chaos, with propriety being the shallowest foundation for life.  While the Tao Te Ching is necessarily perplexing, “the Tao that can be described is not the Tao,” this foundation which escapes our grasp is the very foundation which secures our hope.  No machinations, cruelty, nor any power on earth can overturn it or control it.  This irreducible hope persists as an untouchable in a world bent on holding and controlling way more than called for.  This irreducible hope gives rise to awe!

The Tao Te Ching is more of a comprehensive series of hints than a textbook.  I view it as an essential companion for any mystic. Of course, I see mysticism as the heart of any true religion.  The Tao Te Ching is very short read, especially when compared to the Christian Bible, the Muslim Qur’an, or especially the Hindu Vedas!  Plus, unlike perhaps most other religions and their sacred texts, a devoted Taoist would probably suggest burning your sacred text at some point!  This speaks of a truer reverence than the all-too-familiar Bibliolatry of Western civilization.  As a child of Western civilization, I would heartily recommend the Tao Te Ching as an antidote for many of the imbalances acutely present in modern society.  Western civilization’s addiction to scientific reductionism makes us hellbent on focusing on one thing in isolation, pressuring us to ever narrower contexts and ever greater specialization.  Central in the practice of Taoists is complimentariness, Yin and Yang, that the myriad of things that comprise our world, though arising from the unity of Tao, can only be comprehended by their opposites.  Perhaps the greatest formulation of this in Christianity is Jesus’ command to love our enemies.  Only by reconciliation with our enemies can we become whole.  Any demonization of the other necessarily degrades our own humanity.  We are defined by our enemies.  If our enemies don’t define us, then we are free, and in accord with Tao.  May it be so…because it is so…

POEM: Tracing Humanity

Tracing Humanity

They say that
You can tell
A lot
About a person
By what they do
This, of course, is on track
Still, there is a better weigh
The difference between animals and humans
That which earthly scales can’t fathom
Consider what someone won’t do
To trace their humanity
The difference between can’t and won’t
That sacred space
Where freedom occupies
And character reins
Cryptic secrets contain
Not in the telling
By lyings in the sand
But outlined simply in chalk
After words fly
And beings are grounded
You can judge one’s humanity
By where they stand
And where they won’t

Many folks assert that you are what you do.  This may be correct, but it is not the complete story of who we are.  All ethics and morality implies some restraint of power, refusing to do something that we have the power to do.  If we have no choice in the matter, no power to choose anything differently, then you are no more bound by ethics than a billiard ball.  Certainly there are aspects of our lives that are out of our control and these aspects define us to a certain extent.  In addition, our lives are defined by the choices we make, sculpting a positive manifestation of who we are, an example to others.  However, to fully trace our humanity beyond the motion of molecular physics and merely measuring external behaviors, we need to ascertain that which we will not do.  This will more fully complete the outline of our integrity and character, defining our humanity.  Because ethics and morality imply restraint, there is an irreducible type of rebellion at the heart of spirituality — the refusal to do something simply because one can.  In popular psychology, such limits are called boundaries, and boundaries are considered essential to our well being.  These boundaries, the outlines of our humanity, are marked not by words, but by our very selves, whatever skin we have in the game.  What we are willing to die for fleshes out what we are willing to live for.

Nevertheless, many “heady” folks get lost in the puzzling reality that we must voluntarily limit our freedom, in the face of questionable authority, in defining ourselves.  While capturing the rebellion at the heart of spirituality, many are extremely uncomfortable claiming any authority.  They get lost in a related conundrum: by what authority do we question authority?  I believe that the truth that is contained in this conundrum is that an irreducible amount of faith is present in skepticism.  Faith is unavoidable!  What we choose, and refuse to choose, manifests our faith to the world.  I believe that the uncertainty, or tentativeness, that pervades the human condition, is evidence that remaining open is a fundamental way of of being congruent with reality.  Of course, an irreducible amount of tentativeness need not result in perpetual indecisiveness, just openness.  This openness also speaks to a dynamism in life where we adapt and grow in response to changing conditions — may we not settle for less!

Every great spiritual tradition is aimed at openly moving beyond our self, nurturing that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism, and not settling for a “self” contained logic or worldview.  This process can lead to greater harmony within our own experience and within the world we live in.

When I see people caught up in recursive conundrums, cursing over and over in frustration, I find this perfectly captured by the French word “oubliette,” which is a little place of forgetting, a small, windowless room where someone is locked away, forgotten, left to go mad.  May you not forget to nurture that irreducible amount of faith present even in skepticism.  Denying that you have any faith is maddening, and the surest route to a room without a view.  Faith is unavoidable; enjoy the view.

Sometimes believing is seeing.  Changing our perspective allows to see more of reality.  Plus, how we view a situation helps form that situation.  Like I used to say to my kids, with the not uncommon reluctance to go to school, “You don’t have to go to school, you get to go to school.”  The same situation with a different attitude changes that situation.  May you find that glorious balance of serenely accepting that which you have no choice about, wholeheartedly jumping into that which you may, and stubbornly resisting that which you cannot take with serenity and a whole heart.

 

POEM: Incompetent Evil

I don’t care much for evil
I don’t care much for incompetence
Though when present together
Incompetence becomes a blessing

As in math, sometimes in morality, multiplying two negatives can produce some positive results.  There is at times some hope to be taken at the all too frequent observation that many stupid things happen in the world.  Specifically, there is hope to be drawn from evil actions accompanied by incompetence.  In this case, incompetence is an ally of the good, truncating evil, preventing it from manifesting its complete intent.  If you are an optimist such as I, you might even dare call this a blessing.

I like this short poem mostly because it illuminates perhaps the most fundamental division in human reality — physics and metaphysics, the mundane and the transcendent.  Physics is basically the realm of modern science, the sometimes uber-successful reductionistic approach characteristic of Western civilization.  Great advances have been made in understanding how the physical world works, the means of controlling the “outer” world, the so-called objectively real.  Modern science breaks things down to understand each of its constituent parts behaves (cause and effect) and how they interact with one another. Unfortunately, this is only the crudest form of how things work, and only “half” of the picture (in the sense of balance, not quantitatively).  At its worst scientific reductionism kills the whole to study the dead parts.  Dissecting a frog may produce a lot of knowledge but it does kill the frog.  Similarly, our quest for knowledge can kill life to study its lesser constituent parts.  Metaphysics is the opposite, the complement to reductionism, which studies life from the perspective of the relationship of the whole to the part, not the relationship of parts to each other.  Most people recognize that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts — due to humans’ metaphysical faculties.  Sadly, an overfocus on scientific reductionism has allowed our higher faculties to atrophy (use it or lose it!), and we literally cannot tell apart life from death.  My favorite example of the manifestation of this is our apparent inability to distinguish between human persons and corporate persons (which are famously said to be made up of human persons — well they got the “made up” part correct!).  When we can’t differentiate a human worker from a brick — reducing them both to “expenses” — we are in deep trouble as a human race!  We seem to be able to produce a lot of things, and cool stuff, but the art of human happiness seems resistant to such machinations — perhaps because we are not machines.  We need to strike a healthier, life-affirming balance between physics and metaphysics.  As often happens, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has said much of this much more succinctly:

“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.  The two are not rivals. They are complementary.  Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”

SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER: A Christian Perspective on Justice

Here is a portion of a document that I drafted a couple of years ago while I was a board member of Toledo Area Ministries (TAM).  It was never adopted in any form, but I put a lot of work into, so I wanted to make this work available to others. If you are interested in a Christian perspective on justice, try this one on for size:

Speaking Truth to Power

Power, Truth, Accountability, and Politics

What is Power?

All power and glory is God’s.  Power originates in God’s sovereignty.  From God’s sovereignty, comes TAM’s core value of the Church as “the most powerful certainty on the planet.”  God will work God’s will in God’s own way:

“My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.

‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 We are called to exercise power responsibly, and not lord over one another:

“You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.  And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

“But Gideon told them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you.  The LORD will rule over you.’” (Judges 8:23)

Whatever power we possess is a gift from God.  However, with power comes the temptation to use it for our own purposes instead of God’s purposes.

Responsibility and accountability are proportional to the amount of power possessed:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38)

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b)

Power and power differentials are an inescapable fact of human life.  Power and power differentials exist within families.  Power and power differentials exist within community and governmental organizations.  Power and power differentials exist within faith communities.  Power and power differentials exist between nations.  Power and power differentials exist between all of these.  In fact, power and power differentials exist within any form of community.

The engagement of political powers transcends individual people:

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12, King James 21st Century Version)

God in Christ, shares power and authority with us through authentic community:

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

Truth and Accountability

Injustice is rooted in evading accountability to God and one another.  “What is truth?” (John 18:38)  This rhetorical question as posed by Pilate to Jesus is the classical evasion of accountability made by the “powers that be.”  Of course, this evasiveness is not restricted to powerful political leaders.  Cain, while his brother’s blood cries to God from the ground, attempts to evade God’s accountability by saying, “I don’t know…Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9-10).  Nor is evasiveness of accountability restricted to murderers.  An expert in religious law, in testing Jesus, himself confirmed that loving your neighbor as one’s self is necessary to inherit eternal life: “But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ ” (Luke 10:29). Of course, this leads to the parable of the good Samaritan, where the hated enemy is judged righteous because he took effort and risk to help one in need.

“Distracting and conquering” is the conventional first line of defense in evading accountability.  What these three Biblical accounts have in common, besides a big dose of simple denial, are questions implying doubt that the truth can ascertained.  In attempts to deflect accountability, we have all encountered many versions of, “I don’t know.  Who can really say?  It’s all so complicated.” or “This is so important that we should study it (to no end).”  The key problem this raises when dealing with power differentials, is that this takes the “powers that be” off the hook, so they can maintain their power without being called into accountability, and injustice can reign.

“Distracting and conquering” results from being trapped within a misunderstanding of Truth.  As already noted, the evasive “What is truth?” question by Pilate was used to evade accountability to the Truth incarnate right in front of him.  The assumption implied in this question is rooted in the belief that ultimate truth cannot be determined by objectively studying all the facts in the world — which is a fact, though not the truth.  Believing this state of affairs to be the ultimate truth is relativism.  Unfortunately, relativism is only half of the dualistic confusion called materialism, brought about by worshipping creation rather than the Creator.  In fact, many secularists believe that you can determine ultimate truth from the many facts of the scientific world.  This form of idolatry employs the vain hope that if we only look at all the facts, Truth will be determined.  This is the conundrum of modern science without God.  In fact, secularists inevitably must vacillate between these two facets of materialism simply because each is inadequate to answer life’s deepest and most important questions.  Not surprisingly, when this confused world view can’t bring peace, violence is employed.  Ironically, this conundrum leads to both Pilate’s “tolerance” of Jesus and the brutal Pax Romana he ruled within.

The living God offers a way out of the dualistic confusion of materialism:

“For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

and Jesus’ words eliciting Pilate’s evasion: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

“Make sure no one captures you. They will try to capture you by using false reasoning that has no meaning. Their ideas depend on human teachings. They also depend on the basic things the people of this world believe. They don’t depend on Christ.”  (Colossians 2:8, NIV Reader’s Version)

“Objectively” studying all the facts from all of the different views of the world cannot reveal the One Subject, the great “I am.”  There is more than Nature, the created world.  There is a Creator.  God reveals truth to us through the Holy Spirit, the person of Jesus Christ, Scripture, the traditions of the Church, and peoples’ experiences.  Reason confirms these means of grace, but cannot access life’s deepest truths alone.  Conventional wisdom is not enough:

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.  Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

The living God offers a way to out of life taking a beating with a “dead” philosophy where “the powers that be” can “manage” avoiding accountability to their unjust benefit.  The living God offers a way beyond the false neutrality of the secular world which declares God’s Lordship over all as off-limits, or irrelevant at best.

Of course, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), humans have an innate conscience, inescapable sense of morality, and desire to have a relationship with God.  So, distracting and conquering will eventually reach its limits.

“Dividing and conquering” is the next line of defense in politics in evading accountability. 

When the “powers that be” cannot quell or manage the moral demands made upon them, they turn to what they know best: self-interests.  Welcome to the world of “divide and conquer.”  When you can’t “distract and conquer,” pit the self-interests of individuals and groups against one another.  Again, this serves the purpose of reinforcing and maintaining the status quo and the power differentials enjoyed by the “powers that be.”

Pilate’s moral reasoning was reduced to managing self-interests [“…he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover.  Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (John 18:38-39)].  Pacifying constituent interests to meet one’s own interests falls far short of accountability to God and one another.  Beyond Pilate’s ill-equipped moral reasoning, Cain and the expert in religious law sought to evade accountability to “my brother” or “my neighbor” by questioning the great commandments to love God and the second, like unto the first, love your neighbor as yourself, from which all the Law and the Prophets hang (Matthew 22:37-40).  Beyond obvious self-interest which short-circuits right relationships, in the end, we can no more focus on just our neighbor — to the exclusion of God — than we can focus only on God –to the exclusion of our neighbor.  Neighbor without God results in secular interest-based politics, an endless clashing of unfulfilled interests. God without neighbor results in a vain search for piety unsullied by engagement of worldly politics and transforming “the powers that be.”  

Injustice ultimately rests on violence, the end result of worldly politics, relying on simply conquering when other more “civilized” means fail.

Eventually, God’s justice must be confronted, and violence remains the only option left to maintain or force injustice upon others. This can take brazen forms such as the Roman Empire crucifying Jesus or waging war.  Though simply conquering often takes less brutish forms such as power grabs and punishing of political enemies. 

What is Politics?

Speaking truth to power deals with politics.

The Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines “politics” as:

1) the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy;

2) competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership; and

3) the total complex of relations between people living in society.

The first definition is “Politics with a capital P.”  The second and third definitions are “politics with a small p.”

God, as the Lord of all, is also the Lord of politics, of all varieties.  This includes legislative and policy issues.  This includes advocacy with community groups, including churches.  Ultimately, this is about how we work out our common life together as God’s children.

Our primary concern is where power differentials exist and the potential for “Lording over” one another is greatest.

Worldly Politics versus Jesus’ Politics

The “Powers that be” and Domination

The “powers that be” has been the subject of study of Walter Wink, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, and author of a seminal trilogy of books addressing the issues of power.  Dr. Wink defines the “powers” as “the impersonal spiritual realities at the center of institutional life” (Wink, p. 28), “… the ‘corporate personality’ or ethos of an institution or epoch…” (Wink, p. 27), and “… the soul of systems…” (Wink, p. 29).  As such, the powers are not necessarily evil.  This “ethos” or “soul” of an institution, system, nation or epoch can move us positively or negatively.  It can motivate us to extraordinary unselfishness and service for good or it can be manipulated in the service of evil.   The powers are at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.  In any institution, we need awareness of its goodness, fallenness and redeemability to discern effective steps towards change.

In working for justice, we often confront the powers as one of the many “-isms,” such as racism, sexism, materialism, consumerism, militarism, nationalism, or patriotism.  As Dr. Wink puts it, “This overarching network of Powers is what we are calling the Domination System.  It is characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all…from the ancient Near Eastern states to the Pax Romana to feudal Europe to communist state capitalism to modern market capitalism” (Wink, p. 39).

from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998):

Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just occasional expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ time:

“Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum, but his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System.  Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination.  God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”

Wink contrasts Godly versus worldly values:

“Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23).  He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.”  Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”

Wink notes Jesus’ pivotal call to end economic exploitation and nonviolently overthrow evil:

“Economic inequalities are the basis of domination.  Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth.  Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice.  Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few.  His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice.  It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land.  It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people…An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”

DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong.  Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children.  We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”

SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

A. “Follow the money” versus Biblical economics

Follow God or Money

“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)

“All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

“Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’ ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15)

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions and give to the poor.  Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 18-32-34)

Surely, budgets are moral documents revealing where our treasure, and our hearts, are found.

God decreed the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) to prevent large concentrations of wealth and persons from being permanently dispossessed from their land and/or forced into servitude.

B. Servant Leadership versus Status

Not Lord over others

Hierarchy reinforced by “shaming” – false moralism, enslaving us to legalistic categories, using unjust social norms to reinforce an unjust status quo

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

C. Authority versus Control

Jesus ran no formal organization, had little money, and no great worldly titles

In the world closely related to status (which is closely related to money),

“Who is this man who speaks with such authority?  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18)

“The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.” (Mark 1:22)

Prophets commonly criticized kings:

In 1 and 2 Kings alone, prophets proclaimed that no less than two dozen kings “did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 11:6, Solomon; 15:26, Nadab; 15:34, Baasha and Jeroboam;  16:25, Omri;  22:52, Ahaziah;  2 Kings 8:18, Jehoram; 3:2, Joram; 8:27, Ahaziah and Ahaz; 13:2, Jehoahaz; 13:11, Jehoash; 14:24, Amaziah; 15:9, Zechariah;  15:18, Menahem; 15:24, Pekahiah; 15:28, Pekah; 17:2, Hoshea; 21:2, Manasseh; 21:20, Amon; 23:32, Jehoahaz; 23:37, Jehoiakim; 24:9, Jehoichin; 24:19, Zedekiah).  Also, the Bible records judgment on the entire nations of Israel and Judah (e.g., Judges 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1, 10:6, 13:1, 2 Chronicles 29:6, Isaiah 65:12, 66:4 and 1 Kings 14:22).

D. Obeying God’s Laws versus Human Laws

“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!  As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ ” (Acts 4:18-20).  And later in Acts, Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! (Acts 5:29)  The daughter of the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah pointedly violated the Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male Hebrew children (Exodus 1:17). Even after he was ordered to be silent, Jeremiah continued to preach that Jerusalem was doomed unless its leaders repented and submitted to the Babylonians.  Jesus broke Sabbath laws (John 5:16-18) and carried out a public witness by cleansing the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15–19, Matthew 21:12, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13–16) for which the authorities crucified him.

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

God commanded Israel not to treat widows, orphans, and foreigners the way the Egyptians had treated them (Ex. 22:21–24).

E. Expecting persecution

Persecution is a natural consequence of challenging the “powers that be” — in fact, it is a sign of success, a blessing!

“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult youand reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.  Woe to you who are well fed now,  for you will go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22-26)

“Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22)

 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.  Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.  If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

“Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?  They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One.  And now you have betrayed and murdered him.” (Acts 7:52)

Prophets are invariably infuriating to their own people, and God often turns to outsiders to do God’s work:

“ ‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land.  Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” (Luke 4:24-28)

 Jesus was a prophet, killed because he challenged powerful religious and political elites.  The seductive logic of the world is to save our church, our people, our nation — which means giving up Christ:

” ‘If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.’ ” (John 11:48-50)

 Our church, our people, our nation already have a Savior who has shown us the way:

 “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26)

 In prophetic witness, we are in good company, a “great cloud of witnesses”:

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Is it any wonder that complicity with the “powers that be,” which offers rewards of money and control, greater status, and ‘security,’ is such a tempting alternative to guaranteed persecution?

The Vision/God’s Dream

The God of all, including the future, holds for us blessings greater than we dare imagine.  Nonetheless, the prophet Isaiah boldly declares this vision:

“ ‘Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years; the one who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere child; the one who fails to reach a hundred will be considered accursed.  They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.  No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.  For as the days of a tree, so will be the days of my people; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands.  They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.  Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.  The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD.” (Isaiah 65:20-25)

God’s vision for his children is real and powerful, calling out to be manifest in the world, to transform the world.

TAM’s Mission

To help the Church meet God’s vision, TAM’s mission encompasses three broad areas: meeting human need, creating community and working for justice.

Meeting Human Need

Primary TAM Core Value: Value the Vulnerable

The greatest commandments are hinged by connecting love of neighbor as self with loving God:

” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

 Meeting basic human needs is part of loving God and neighbor:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

” ‘The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’  ‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.  John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’ ” (Luke 3:9-11)

 ” ‘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.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40)

God’s mercy to us is the model for our behavior toward others.  Relying upon ‘deserving’ is ultimately a denial of God’s basic character, unconditional love.  “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45b)  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), yet God is merciful.  We are on the short end of this fundamental power differential and God shows us mercy:

“I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’  I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” (Hosea 2:23)

God reminds us often of where we have been and what God has already done for us, that which we could not do ourselves:

“I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt” (Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:42, 25:55, 26;13, 26:45; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 4:37, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 6:21, 7:8, 8:14, 13:10, 20:1: Judges 2:1, 2:12, 6:9; 1 Samuel 10:18, 12:16;  1 Kings 9:9; 2 Kings 17:36; 2 Chronicles 7:22; Nehemiah 9:18; Psalm 81:10; Jeremiah 16:14; Daniel 9:15)

Humility is the opposite of self-sufficiency.  Expecting God to provide for us and forgive us undeservedly while insisting that only ‘deserving’ neighbors have their human needs met is unjust and denies our complete dependency on God for forgiveness and ‘our daily bread’:

“Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13b)

“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46-48)

Creating Community

Primary TAM Core Value: Value Reconciliation

Our reconciliation with God makes us new creations, ambassadors of reconciliation to our neighbors:

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-20a)

Love leads us to live as a community of equals:

“Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:11-14)

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

We can engage in respectful conversation with those with whom we differ.  We can humbly explore the sources of our differences.  We can honor the sacred worth of all persons.  In prayerfully seeking the mind of Christ, we can work out our life together in love.

The way of Jesus is one of radical hospitality.  Radical hospitality is a sacred process of transforming a stranger into a guest, or even family.  It witnesses to the reality that God entered the “world” to reconcile us to God and neighbor.  Jesus was the incarnation of radical hospitality: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34)

Where radical hospitality is practiced God’s realm flourishes.  Examples of these include:  Abraham receiving the three strangers — angels (Genesis 18), the Midian priest taking in Moses (Exodus 2), Rahab allowing Joshua’s spies to stay with her (Joshua 2), the widow at Zarephath offering Elijah her last bit of food (1 Kings 17:8-24), and the Samaritan woman inviting Jesus the stranger to stay with her community, which he does (John 4).

Where radical hospitality is not practiced, God’s judgment waits:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.  Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

Beyond Civility

The golden rule provides guidance in how to live in community with one another: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31)  Nonetheless, God requires even more than human love that returns its own:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.  Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.  Do not be conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

Jesus did not avoid harsh words for those in positions of authority.  In fact, Jesus saved his harshest words for religious elites who avoided accountability to those they were to serve.  After calling the teachers of the law and Pharisees “hypocrites” (Matthew 23:23, 25, 27, 29) and “whitewashed tombs” (v. 27), Jesus says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v. 33) (see also Luke 11:37-54)  Jesus boldly overturned tables in the temple, declaring “but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ ” (Matthew 21:13b) in response to an affront of the religious establishment to the Lord’s declaration that “my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7b)

True worship in authentic community produces justice.  God despises religious practices that do not produce justice:

 “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)

“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)

Calling one another into account with God and one another, i.e., working for justice, is an essential part of creating authentic community.

Working for Justice

Primary TAM Core Values: Value leadership and creativity.

Love leading us to live as a community of equals starkly highlights the many injustices in the world.

Doing Justice

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)

“The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” (Proverbs 29:7)

“Learn to do right; seek justice.  Defend the oppressed.  Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.  He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’  So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.  Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?  Did not your father have food and drink?  He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.  He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well.  Is that not what it means to know me?  declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 22:13-16

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” (Isaiah 10:1-2)

Advocacy, prophetic witness, social witness are all related expressions dealing with working for justice

Persistence and boldness are characteristics of leadership.

Persistence:

“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.  He said: In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought.  And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’  For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’  And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?  Will he keep putting them off?  I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’” (Luke 18:1-7)

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’  And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.” (Luke 11:5-8)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

Boldness:

[In response to rulers conspiring against Jesus…] “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.” (Acts 4: 29)

“Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelations 3:16-17)

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent” (Acts 18:9)

“Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” ( 2 Tim 1:7)

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:14-15)

Leadership requires a balanced view of the “powers that be” as being at the same time good, fallen, and redeemable.  In viewing an institution only as good blinds us to injustice and we reinforce an unjust status quo.  In viewing an institution only as fallen sinks us into despair or rage where we see no hope for change.  In viewing only an institution’s redeemability we end up just tinkering around the edges.

ESTABLISHING POLICY

What are the issues?

Our Biblical values manifest themselves in the world in many ways; many of these issues are encompassed by these categories:

1.  Being stewards of the natural world that sustains life on earth.

2.  Building up families and our nurturing communities, which underlie the

potential for each to live into the fullness of their humanity.

3.  Support our social communities and human rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes.

4.  Upholding an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread.”

5.  Engaging the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society.

6.  Recognizing the oneness of God’s world and world community and seeking our particular role in it.

Reflections on Power, Leadership, and Decision-making

The status quo is.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

Money.  Status.  Control.  These are the ways of the world.  Falling back into these ways offers many temptations, for the world rewards these ways, and punishes those who challenge these ways.

God judges us as nations according to how we treat “the least of these.”

Areas of privilege:

God has given us all variety of gifts.

In what areas do I have advantage over others?

Servant leadership

Areas of vulnerability:

Intimacy

In what areas do I depend upon the mercy of God and others?

What am I afraid of losing?

compassion

From a spiritual perspective, we are all indigent.  We cannot be made whole by ourselves.  We depend upon God and others for our very life.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Offering all to God:

God makes us whole.  God works through our areas of giftedness and advantage and our areas of vulnerability

Taking a stand.

Prophetic voice in tension with consensus and majority rule

Cost of Discipleship

One of the costs of discipleship is enduring this persecution.

cost high but the reward much greater than the cost

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Recommended reading:

The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium, by Walter Wink, Doubleday, 4/98, ISBN: 0-385-48740-1

POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

Decision-making Around Issues

What factors should be considered in addressing an issue?

How important is the issue?

How significant is the impact on human need, justice, and authentic community? (importance test)

Does the issue impact meeting human need?

Will people be deprived of meeting a human need that will directly and significantly harm individuals or families (human suffering test)

Does the issue impact creating community?

Is a partner organization or local faith community involved and/or affected? (good neighbor test).

Does an issue affect our local community (the local test)

Do many Christian faith traditions have statements supporting such advocacy and/or very few, if any, faith traditions have statements that may contradict such advocacy? (tradition test).

Does dealing positively with a controversial issue offers an opportunity to model a Biblical alternative of authentic community to worldly politics (Biblical alternative test).

Are families and/or our nurturing communities undercut in a way that threatens community members in living into the fullness of their humanity (nurturing communities test).

Is “civility’ violated and/or opponents are demonized and offering a faith-based perspective could be of substantial benefit (civility test)

Is the common good threatened or diminished, where short term gain creates long term loss (seven generations test)

Does the issue impact working for justice?

Does an issue threaten the poor and vulnerable (“least of these” test)

Does an issue weaken an economic community that benefits all people and provides our “daily bread” (shared benefits test)

Does an issue threaten human rights/civil rights that affirm our equal value in God’s eyes (children of God test)

Does an issue threaten the ability of people to engage the political community and government to assure a just ordering of the larger society (fair representation test).

Does an issue threaten public safety, peace and non-violence (non-violence test)

Are power differentials so large that it precludes a fair hearing of the issues (fair hearing test)

Does an issue threaten stewardship of God’s creation (creation stewardship test)

Does an issue deny the oneness of God’s world and world community (one world test).

Is there no other local faith body addressing an issue of Biblical justice (voice in the wilderness test)

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