HOPE POEM: Why God Invented Dark

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Human Beans In A Chili World

What’s too like
To be
Human beans
In a chili world
Offering ourselves
As nourishing fare
In the face of
Ingrate full consumers
Somehow besting
Our pre-sumptuous purpose
Of going to seed
And razing our own
Only to be
Food agin and agin
As brood over
What incite us
And what has meaning
At the end of your daze
Is the same
What’s eating you
Those unpleasant spitting images

This poem is an ode to one of the deepest paradoxes in life: that you must lose your life in order to gain it.  No one really knows why they are alive until they know what they'd die for. MLK QUOTE BUTTONSuch a paradox is replete with metaphors of seeds, death and resurrection, of sacrificing that of great value for that of greater value.  Plus, in life there is no dress rehearsal: we won’t be food again!  Of course, that perplexing aspect of human life which is infinitely complicated is humans: ungrateful, self-centered, and irreducibly exasperating.  In my view, the best way to see more clearly in the fun-house mirror that is human life is to cultivate self-awareness of psychological projection, the powerful and cunning tendency to attribute to others what is subconscious in ourselves, particularly the bad stuff.  In laymen’s terms: spot it you got it!  Of course, such cultivation is mirror reflection if there isn’t any skin in the game — little is harvested with simply good intentions.  Pacifism - A Way of Life - Man Does Not Die By Bled Alone -- PEACE BUTTONSelf-sacrifice is inescapable if we are to unearth enduring meaning rather than perpetual mean-ings on earth.  The ubiquity of iniquity, the proclivity to project our own evil onto others (“Those unpleasant spitting images”) is the tragic root of writing people off as chaff rather than cultivating seed.  Would You Die For Common Ground PEACE BUTTONThe paradoxical solution is that by becoming food for others, and — as in vice versa — by becoming food for ourselves, we are awe saved.  Such wonderment eternally returns me to loving my enemy, a journey that can only be made within one’s self and never without others.  I find this mysterious process at the heart of social action — the nexus of the inner and outer journeys, joined at the hip — perhaps most succinctly described in the social activist creed and Mexican  Zapatista proverb: “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”  Or, in an earlier version, from the Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos:  “What didn’t you do to bury me / but you forgot that I was a seed.”  The counterculture reality embodied by Mr. Christianopoulos was as a homoerotic poet in the 1950’s, accompanied by its commensurately dangerous seed.  Whatever you may offer as a human bean in this chili world, may it be nourishing fare.

Old Hippies Never Die We Just Flower Year After Year POLITICAL BUTTON

Double Oh No: The Name’s Cadabra, Abra Cadabra

God’s
Name is knot
Abracadabra
Too be unloosed
Unwhirled
As owed man
Putting on
Some kind
Of spectacle
Who’s genesis
Giving
No quarter
To years
Behind
In a sense
Out right hostility
And udder a version
Sow called
Crater of the whirled
And awe wanting
Clear too see
Not a wood be casket
Drowning in a box
That must
Not hold water
As wee might reckon
Only too be
Delivered
In the final seeing
As figure out
By no means
Self evident
Pulling rabid
From won’s hat
Empty
Sored in passable caskets
Wee suspect
As a parent harms
As sure as there are no teeth
In taking
A bullet to the head
Wear the art
Matter’s not
And yet
Who is
The one
Cutting people in
Have
Awe that is given
Taking it
To the blank
As grater than
A loathe of bred
From nothing
Excepting freely
Wile rooting fore the nix
In a New York minute
As some goaled in goose egg
In disposed
Of whatever
Ladder day judge meant
Too due no wrung
As diff a cult
To under stand
As re-bounding
Back to the show
Is caping
Behind curtains
For the wrest of us
Only too be duped
In mere images
Peering real
Mirrorly a muse
Meant for inspiration
Knot too be swallowed
Hole in won
Or fish tails sow bred
Subject to
Dis tract
As divine accessory
And slight offhand
In vane miss direction
On the eve of knowledge
As simply a trick
Convinced one no’s
How it is
Done
Nothing
Too see
Hear
More than wee in vision
In blinding silence fallow
In a tacit urn hoarse
And yack knowledge
A bit fancy
Meager too please
As inn sufficient
Comforted buy con jury
In the worst kind
Of source err he
As if
Got hour
Back
To slots plain
As abettor
Be helled
No good
For make believe
When cloaked in daggers

This poem strikes a familiar theme of mine, the parent elusiveness of God and the unsophisticated ways of even daring to speak of such things from most any perspective brought to bear.  The dark side of religion has wreaked hellish trauma, bludgeoning both real people and tender hope for sublime understanding.  Militants, that is fundamentalists, from both theist and atheist perspectives routinely bash each other.  Religionists often infantalize atheists, and atheists are often eager to throw the baby out with the bathwater.   My guess is that if theists and atheists got together and compiled all of the gods they don’t believe in, that there would be a pantheon of common ground.  I view militancy, that is fundamentalism, as the primary divide, not theism and atheism.  There are plenty of poor intentions and chronic misunderstandings to go around.  As I see it, militancy bespeaks violence, that is a commitment to winning by creating losers, forever separated buy uncrossable divides in human life, terminally fighting over uncommon ground.  Fundamentalism of all types reduces perpetual paradoxes and the centrality of metaphorical ways of seeing the higher aspects of life to small-minded literalism stuck arguing facts rather than truth and stiff-hearted relationships valuing right ideology over harmonious community.  The siblings of truth and harmony, which are deep quests of theists and atheists, religion and science, or of anyone seeking to work out the seems of their worldview, knead less judgment and a sober patience unwilling to bury others in uncommon ground.

As in most conflicts, power and trust are the ultimate issues, or perhaps more to the point, abuses of power and trust.  Personally, I am increasingly convinced that absolute power absolutely corrupts.  Hell, I even believe God shares power in order to create a better overall world, that is not merely more benevolent and fair, but creates the very foundations for the highest human aspirations and shatters the ceiling of cosmological and worldly puppetry (and the inevitable puppet tiers).  I experience my most human living on a small-scale, in community, where direct accountability to one another breeds well proportioned living.  This brings humanity to power and builds trust seamlessly into the process.  Such human-scaled enterprises are far more sane, represented by the encouraging movements to local — not loco.  Large-scale enterprises are typically suited and tied in hubris, albeit the the finest hubris civilization can offer.  Only such large-scale undertakings can globalize insanity alongside the endemic learned helplessness paralyzed in the reality of “how did we get here?!”  In human community, power resides in people.  Power in human community requires consent.  Complicated — often called “civilized” — nonhuman mechanisms to consolidate power, typically under the auspices of creating “bigger and better” things, ultimately rely on people’s consent.  This often does succeed in producing bigger things; though the better part, our humanity, commensurately suffers in the accelerating smallness and relative unimportance of people in such enterprises.  Not surprisingly, people, not built for such inhumanity, become viewed as the problem, gumming up the efficient workings of the machine.  Depressingly sow, our views of human nature are then tempted to align with the misanthropic view that people are less important than things — see corporate personhood.  Withdraw consent and these nonhuman and inhuman structures and mechanism whither.  This speaks to the importance of protest and noncooperation/resistance to appointed authorities of all unkinds.  Opting out of institutional and corporate enterprises starves the beast and  frees up time and life energies for building alternative human communities.  Active noncooperation and resistance naturally arise as the dominant and dominating culture (sic) inevitably will clash with any growing culture (hopefully viral) that questions the sick assumptions and unearned trust of its immeasurable victims.  In such a project, Jesus radicals, atheist anarchists, and sordid kinds of others can find common ground, fertile for reclaiming our humanity in a whirled of profit tiers.  Let us not be distracted by our differences, but rather unite  in disavowing all things undermining the human heart.

POEM: Car Less

One moment I have a car
The next moment I don’t
The universe conspires
To nourish my feral body and sole
Not with the twisted steal of civilization
But as a carrot
In a field of vision
Meting its purpose at crunch time
And the growing realization
Consummated by that instant in sight
That know one was hurt
A mist the scarred land marks
Mother Earth will breathe a little easier now
As I will
Walk and bike her paved surface
In treating me to go deeper
Ever-seeking serendipitous lifts
In tangling with the care less
And the car less
I am
Feted to join
The bus people in the world

This poem is an ode to my car being totaled in a wreck yesterday when a woman turned her car in front of me as I was going through an intersection.  Gracefully, no one was hurt.  To make a long story short, my beloved car will unlikely be resurrected, and I am not really in a position to buy and maintain another car (even if I get some modest settlement for my beater car in this instance).  Over the last couple of years, I have contemplated the notion of living without owning a car.  I figured that this would become a reality at some point in the coming years.  Due to two seconds yesterday, this reality has manifest much sooner, without warning.  Like they say: if you want to make God laugh, tell God your plans!  Of course, I want to make God laugh.  Fortunately, God persistently has better plans for me than I can implement through my well-planned connivings.  I find these junctures in life as fascinating paradoxes of the worst possible timing and perfect timing.  As a die-hard metaphysical optimist, I am going to go with the perfect timing.  Yep, that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it!

So, I took the bus today.  This was the first time in a long time.  Most assuredly, this bus ride will be the first of many.  I asked the bus driver if he had a schedule for the 20/24 line and he said, with a seasoned blend of acceptance and resignation,”We haven’t had those schedules for months.”  I fully expect my busing experiences to be rife with poetic inspiration.  Look out, folks, my feral trajectory is coming to fruition, fraught with unworn deliciousness…

 

POEM: Seriously?!

The Zen master was nearly
Finished with his instruction
When he got to non-seriousness
I was greatly relieved
For I was taking nothing
He was saying
Seriously

This short poem gets at one of the great paradoxes of enlightened spirituality: serious playfulness.  Zen Buddhists have a rare reputation among spiritual-religious folks as having a sense of humor inherent in their spiritual practice.  They refer to this as nonseriousness.  Theologians and philosophers are poorly equipped to adequately describe humor in their systems of thought.  This is not an accident.  First of all, there is a seemingly built in seriousness and rigorousness in philosophy and theology that doesn’t play well with humor.  Trying to capture humor in a system of thought leads to our own imprisonment in humor-free zones.  This is analogous to the self-limiting trap of trying to capture spirituality through materialistic methods.  Materialism is literally no joke.  Taking things literally is the limit of science and the beginning of theft, stealing from ourselves as well as others.  Fundamentalism is a disease that routinely infects any ideological project, whether claiming a materialist or spiritual aim.  I have a great respect for the brevity and poetry of the Tao Te Ching as a sacred text. Taoists and Zen Buddhists have a lot in common.  First, the Tao Te Ching begins by stating its fundamental limit — and, in some sense, its blessed futility — by stating that any way which can be described is not the Way, the Tao.  Then, quite laughably, and with utter seriousness, gives its best shot at manifesting the Tao through words.  The Tao Te Ching’s singularly poetic approach to the sacred is unparalleled among major faith traditions.  Surely, other faith traditions have poetic elements, but poetry or obvious metaphor are often relegated to “mystic” subcultures within a dominant and domineering tradition.  The powerful drift toward fundamentalism or militant ideology makes a cruel joke of mystics.  Through the centuries, fundamentalists have taken the lives of mystics literally.

I view mysticism as the heart of spirituality.  Mysticism is simply a view of transcendence, seeing beyond what can be merely grasped by our hands or minds.  This is inherently dangerous to fundamentalism, and virtually any ideology.  That is, dangerous to anything which tries to put the human heart or God in a box and declare “I’ve got it!”  Humor and nonseriousness is perhaps the best way the deflate such puffed up claims.  Of course, humor is infinitely more useful than merely deflating another’s unrightful claims; humor is fun!  Fun is good in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that a life devoid of humor is a life far from fully lived. Humor is a fundamental spiritual experience, playing off the oft experienced reality that paradoxes, apparent contradictions, coexist in everyday human life.  We can wring our hands, rack our brains, and even cry at the vexing nature of this reality; or, we can laugh, recognizing that oneness underlies such fractious appearances.  This lightness of being is consonant with enlightenment and peace or wholeness of mind.  Seemingly paradoxical with such peace is its unmatched counter-cultural power.  The experience and recognition of oneness stirs into any given culture, with its myriad of rules and customs, something that it cannot fully take in.  This is mind-busting and heart expanding.  A sense of arbitrariness of any given culture’s rules can trigger a new-found freedom to exist both within and beyond those rules without being bound by those rules.  This nonseriousness about any given set of rules sets up any culture at any given moment as the “but” of a joke.  What such a transcendent attitude infuses into any human culture at any given time is nothing but life itself, the Tao if you will.

As a student of human culture, I see widespread contradictions and hypocrisy, even amidst our more sane enterprises.  I find an ability to laugh at such realities profoundly therapeutic, especially given that the leading alternative is crying.  In a tip of the hat to seriousness, crying can be a profound emotional manifestation of compassion in a broken world.  Yet, there are other ways.  Freedom is not trapped by seriousness.  Non-seriousness offers a form of salvation to both redeem our experience into something more whole, and to manifest this more whole being attained into the workings of the everyday world.

My poetry is driven by a passionate exploration of human contradictions and unfulfilled humanity.  While the veneer of my poems may seem strikingly cynical at moments, relentlessly pointing out weak spots in humanity, my intent is to juxtapose apparent hopelessness with authentic hopefulness.  To survive such an epic project, I try to remember that we are already won, a wholly laughable proposition!

POEM: Confused

If you are confused, you are well on your way

Life can be complicated.  If you delve into the intricacies of most any situation or topic, you will find many shades of gray, and undoubtedly some paradoxes or contradictions.  If you find this confusing, then consider that a sign that you are well on your way.  Another version of this is: “If you are confused, then you are beginning to understand the problem.”  Certainly, having a deep and nuanced understanding of any situation or topic can offer great benefits.  Knowing the facts about reality can be much better than not knowing the facts about reality.  However, sheer knowledge has its limits and can bring diminishing returns with increasing effort exerted.  At some point it may even bring negative returns.  This brink or end of knowledge can be the beginning of wisdom.  The learned add something each day; the wise let go of something each day.  A key facet of wisdom is unlearning, letting go of ways that no longer work well.  Increasing complexity is not the strength that wisdom offers, but rather simplicity.  Organizing one’s life around a few things that one is confident about is much wiser than building an increasingly complex, teetering pile of less certain and less valued stuff.  In the wise words of Lao-tse: “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.”  Of course, in modern, capitalistic, Western civilization, complexity, impatience, and unadulterated self-interest are virtues cultivated.  Complexity overwhelms simplicity in a juggernaut of competing interests meeting shallow needs.  Impatience serves as a superficial imposter of the eternal now.  Greed trumps compassion.  If you find these clashing values confusing, take simplicity, patience, and compassion for a test drive. Still, don’t be surprised if many around you find your new ways increasingly confusing.  Knowing the world is knowledge.  Knowing others is wisdom.  Knowing oneself is enlightenment.  And many get stuck on knowledge.

POEM: Unemployable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Wading for Gödel

Wading for Gödel

A play of mathematical imprecision
Fraught with everlasting interpretations
Malingering, idoling away the ours
For a character whose reputation must impossibly precede him
Like the brutal distinction of jealousy and envoy
More afraid of the unknown than vacant certainties
Hanging around
Where oddly even suicide guarantees no relief
Fearing that nothing can’t save you
You continue with your undertaking
However uneasy your stay of execution
Every certainty begs a certain vagrancy
To wander into a place transcending recognized laws
Leading only to recognizing more laws
And evermore places transcending those laws
Somehow forgetting
Too right your cycle
Hungering for certitude
We become backwards
Taking on some medieval Buridan
Like some starving ass equidistant between two bails of
Hey! That direction doesn’t feed me at all!
How can I drink it all in
This rarified and singularly absurd dox
I’m pailing in the face of a pair!
Grown instantly by the experience
Making bail
A boat
Time
In a whirled that is
“Now,
50% more axiomatic!”
Barely con fronting reason cruelly deductive
The take away message
Be aware of the trip
It’s juxtaposition
The present
The eternal
Borne in mind
Your out
Look!
And if you find yourself
With an accent on the Kurt
Go d’ell
Or waiting for some “go dough”
To get the hell out of there
Don’t for get
Consider it
In completeness

This poem requires you to be highly alliterate!  The title “Wading fo Gödel” is both a tribute to Kurt Gödel and his Incompleteness Theorem and a pun, and tribute, to the absurdist play, “Waiting for Godot” written by Samuel Beckett.  There is also a tip of the hat to the medieval philosopher Buridan’s Ass Paradox.  Please don’t sweat the everlasting interpretations!  Though I will offer one tip to increase your reading pleasure: the line “Go d’ell” should be read with an Austrian accent (Kurt Gödel was Austrian) — that is, give it your most dramatic Arnold Schwarzenegger accent, with attitude!  Enjoy the passage…

POEM: Sound of One Hand Clapping

What is the sound of one hand clapping?
For many, it is a slap of the forehead in exasperation
For some, it is a slap in the face of the asker
Could someone lend a hand on this one
Without doubling the trouble?

This poem is based on the infamous koan.  A koan, such as “what is the sound of one hand clapping,” is a paradox to be meditated upon that is used to train Zen Buddhists to abandon ultimate dependence on reason and to force them into gaining sudden intuitive enlightenment.  I am inspired by Buddhist koans because they help free us from convergent thinking, the belief that there is a single best answer to any question.  Perceiving reality requires holding paradoxes within our consciousness.  A well-lived life requires balance and that balance is dynamic and always in flux.  This flux and movement is well captured by the question: which is more important, breathing in or breathing out?  The answer: It depends on what you have done last.  May you find balance in your life.  Surf the paradox!

Reality Television: Poverty Grows

Reality Television: Poverty Grows – POLITICAL BUTTON

Reality Television: Poverty Grows--POLITICAL BUTTON

Reality Television: Poverty Grows – POLITICAL BUTTON

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

View more Political Buttons.

While many seem obsessed with reality television, it seems that many more important realities are being overlooked.  I’m amazed by Western civilization’s capacity to distract.  I would hope that the chasm between reality television and reality would be something that most people could discern; though my optimism may be showing through.  While this is disturbing enough, I find myself increasingly surreal state when we propose one thing and live truly do the opposite, and then had the audacity to call these opposite the same.  Now I’m a fan of paradoxes as much, probably even more, than the next guy, but holding fast to literal contradictions seem to be an unnecessary grasping of the absurd.  Let me offer an example.  The above design references the reality that poverty grows.  This can be taken as one half of the proverbial the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.  However, poverty is not something that we can discuss in polite company in America.  For instance, Pres. Obama in his State of the Union address this year was the first president since Harry Truman to not even use the word poverty in his State of the Union address.  Now, this might not be so unusual if we were in a period of expansive economic growth and poverty was receiving, but, alas, we are in the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, and poverty is growing.  But, let’s back up to our most recent period of apparent untrammeled economic growth.  Democrats like to call them the Clinton years.  I can’t help but notice that the same Clinton cronies that Obama hired to get us out of the most recent economic crisis are exactly the same people who led us into the crisis.  But back to Clinton.  One of the so-called crowning achievements of the William Jefferson Clinton presidency was his so-called welfare reform, which I prefer to call welfare deform.  Here is where holding fast to a literal contradiction comes into play.  President Clinton used the language of reducing poverty as the ultimate goal of his proposed welfare reform.  In other words, the ultimate success of this policy was supposed to be measured by how much it lifted people out of poverty.  However, virtually every analysis of the policy from left to right, governmental and nongovernmental, concluded that Clinton’s welfare reform legislation would result in more poor people, more poverty.  And sure enough, more people were pushed into poverty.  Unfortunately, a new measure, perhaps actually the original measure, was how many people were on welfare rolls.  This actually went down.  Surprise, surprise!  When poor people received less help, they became more poor.  Oh yeah, that idea that generous Americans and the church folk would feed, house, transport, tutor, and provide jobs for poor Americans without government involvement turned out to be a pipe dream. Wow, and I didn’t have to mention the Bush administration, one or two, Papa or Junior.

Silence Will Not Protect You

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

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

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

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

View more Gay Political Buttons.

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

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

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

POEM: To Un-Jar Your Thinking

My point is not to jar your thinking.

My point is to un-jar your thinking.

This two-line poem, with a simple wordplay, addresses a fundamental dichotomy that is present in much of our life that may appear so subtle that it is oftentimes missed.  To jar one’s thinking is almost the opposite of un-jarring one’s thinking, yet, they also strike us as being very similar.  They both imply a significant movement, even an epiphany.  Eliciting such a significant movement in one’s thinking and/or perspective is exactly what I try to achieve with my wordplay and perpetual twists.  Still, the act of jarring one’s thinking connotes something more forceful, even violent.  While the act of un-jarring one’s thinking is akin to a release or letting go.  The act of letting go can easily be mistaken for some inaction or some passivity, when, in fact, it can be a very profound act.  Simply reflect on the difference between giving up and letting go.  If this is not immediately evident to you, then just wait a few years, life is bound to teach you this.

Jarring one’s thinking is more narrowly focused and implies a more specific intent of where to lead someone.  Jarring one’s thinking is more directive.  Un-jarring one’s thinking connotes a more nonspecific and open-ended beginning with an indeterminate number of possibilities.  This strikes me as an approach more appropriate to the complexities and infinite possibilities of life.  There’s no question that I have a particular perspective.  I am definitely not shy in trying to jar other people’s thinking into a particular way that I think is better.  However, an infinitely better purpose of mine would be to un-jar your thinking, creating a way of thinking that is not bound by my own particular perspective, but transcends it.  While I would like to take credit for helping create a launching place for another’s freedom, I truly relish another’s original thinking, un-jarred by my particular mode of thinking, and hopefully reflecting back to me something original that I can add to my experiences.  This is infinitely better for myself and the other than having another parrot back my own prepackaged thoughts, even when they are thoughts of genius.  In this case the point is probably simply to think outside the jar, because that’s where most everything is; and certainly the most interesting stuff.

A final note, for those really wanting to delve into the meaning of particular words, is on the word “point.”  The word “purpose” could have just as well been used in this poem would’ve lost very little of its meaning.  However, I chose “point” for a specific reason.  A point in a mathematical context is a singularity in space denoted by three coordinates XYZ.  In mathematics, a point does not actually exist in two or three dimensions, where humans inhabit — that would require two or three points.  In the context of meaning, rather than simply denoting a place in space, a point is the confluence between multiple concepts that most clearly represents those multiple concepts.  If unclear when speaking about a multitude of ideas, someone may say “get to the point.”  Thus, the word “point” is a conceptual pun that captures both the particularity of jarring one’s thinking and the transcendence of un-jarring one’s thinking.  The paradoxes of life seem to reside in this mystical place where both the oneness and the myriad things meet.  Conceptual puns are not surprising, are very common, and, in fact, unavoidable, since language is basically symbols representing or referring to something else, i.e., this is that.  My point being, that language is inherently metaphorical and will be rife with metaphors.  Consequently, the power of the pun is inescapable!

POEM: I will not insist that you misunderstand me in a certain way

POEM:

I will not insist
That you misunderstand me
In a certain way

This short poem is a mere dozen words, yet, it touches on many themes.  The primary theme of the short poem is about understanding and misunderstanding.  The secondary themes are about not insisting on one’s own way, and letting go of how others perceive you, and as the case may be, mis-perceive you.

It may seem that there are few certainties in life, but you should be able to chalk off being misunderstood as one of those eventualities.  I believe that being misunderstood is a certainty because there is an intrinsically private nature to our inner life of who we are.  In fact, I don’t believe that complete self-knowledge is even possible, so we are stuck with the least a certain amount of misunderstanding of who we really are.  The trick I suppose is to recognize this and accept it.  The poem focuses on being misunderstood by others because this is a common and palpable source of pain and confusion in our lives.  Also, from a psychological perspective, I think that there is a tendency for humans to focus on other people’s’ deficiencies and limitations, rather than to do the oftentimes difficult task of recognizing our own deficiencies and limitations and dealing directly with them.  The “not insisting” part of this poem is intended to lead the reader to let go of focusing on others.

The mention of “a certain way”, hopefully, elicits in the reader a certain sense of foolishness in our frequently vain attempts to be understood, when actually the best we may be able to do is to be misunderstood in a particular way.  Again, this foolishness is a result of not accepting the irreducible reality that some misunderstanding is inevitable.

This poem is not intended to be discouraging. It touches on an awareness of a theme that I’ve noticed in my life in recent years.  That is, that disillusionment is actually a good thing.  After all, shouldn’t we be shedding our illusions?  The negative connotation of disillusionment is pervasive.  Accepting the reality for what it is, not simply what we would like it to be, is a sign of maturity and health.  I love paradoxes!  I believe that truth lives in the neighborhood of paradox.  Paradoxically, learning to accept our own limitations and deficiencies, and the limitations and deficiencies of others, is necessary to experience and live truly free.  Just because I can’t run 100 miles an hour, doesn’t mean that I’m not free.  We should let go of illusions that distract us from actually accomplishing and living the magnificently great things that actually are within our own power.  This may not be easy, but I find it helpful.  And it gives me something to do, to pass the time with.

POEM: What Does One Say After An Hour of Meditation?

What does one say after an hour of meditation?

How about, “What’s for breakfast?”

I like this two-line poem for many reasons.  First, the poem contrasts the rather ethereal subject of meditation with the eminently practical need to eat and the everyday routine of meals.  I love these apparent paradoxes, which drive much of my poetry and thinking.  While I believe that meditation and eating meals are both basic needs, most would agree that they are basic needs in very very different ways.  I also like this poem because its two-lines mirror the classical set up for a joke, misleading the reader or hearer with the first line, and then hitting them with something very different, unexpected.  And as in good joke telling, timing is important.  By tying the hour of meditation to before breakfast, it stresses the foundational nature of meditation in one’s day, and, especially for people like myself, who don’t like getting up early in the morning, it suggests that meditation is perhaps appropriate and important enough to rise early for.  Certainly, the practice of meditation is very difficult, even for short times.  The mention of an hour of meditation is probably scary for most of us.  Given the mystical nature that one might ascribed to meditation, one might expect something very grand, epic, perhaps even some miraculous revelation, after such a long endeavor.  Nonetheless, meditation may be less about achieving some temporary, mystical experience, than enriching our regular everyday experience, such as eating a meal.  I have to laugh at myself that trying to explain even some of what is behind such a simple, short poem, takes much much longer been reading it and giving it a simple meditation for oneself.  Of course, that’s the power of poetry, to say something seemingly simple, yet realize that it is much richer than it first appears.  Please feel free to read my short poems without the long commentary, especially if your simple meditations upon these poems give you a better, power-packed experience.

“PUNS NOT GUNS” Manifesto by Top Pun

“PUNS NOT GUNS” Manifesto

“Some claim that puns are the lowest form of comedy. Dan, rather, says, “Guns are the lowest form of community.” Choose your weepin’! I prefer to hit ’em in the groan. Though puns and untrained minds can produce a “Not see,” puns and arms go hand in hand when used as a righting instrument. Mixing puns with peacework puts you in the dis’armament business; and though rhyme doesn’t pay, the prophets are good. With puns, and sharing a little peace of mine, we can realize that one side fits all. In truth, it’s guns that have too “meanings” for the price of won. Sometimes it takes everything we’ve got to see the blight (as they say, “sinner takes all”). While some may feel it’s an impossible play on wars (a mortality play for sure), all it takes is a sick sense (no relation to paranormal parents). Let’s have some serious fun (a free for all). Justice is no yoke. Think good that the pun is mightier than the sword!”

I wrote this manifesto early on in my career as Top Pun.  I have been a terrible punster as long as I can remember, and I have been interested in a wide range of social justice issues since I was a young adult.  I remember that my parents, recognizing my propensity towards puns, gave me a dictionary of puns as a present one year for my birthday.  In this pun dictionary, it was stated that there are an infinite number of puns.  At first, and actually for a very long time, I thought that this could not be possible.  Now, after cementing my vocation as the best punster for peace in the English-speaking world, I have little difficulty recognizing that there aren’t infinite number of puns.  I am a little surprised that this “Puns Not Guns” manifesto has held up so well for me over the years. I think that maybe I’m onto something with this punning thing.

As you can tell from the manifesto, much of my early inspiration comes from involvement in the peace movement.  Nonviolence seems to be the thread that ties together all of the many issues that I’m interested in.  Of course, perhaps conveniently, I define nonviolence very broadly (that’s non-broadly if you’re a woman).  Actually, while my first foray into nonviolence was in the late 70s when my mom took me to a peace conference at our church, Central United Methodist Church in Detroit.  This is the most salient event that I can identify as far as my consciousness raising around peace issues.  Back to the whole issue of nonviolence, I defined world hunger and extreme poverty as violence.  World hunger has continued to be the defining issue for me in relation to the world.  The interface between great affluence and extreme poverty has always challenged and perplexed me.  It is very difficult for me to reconcile these cruel and destructive differences in a world with so much.  The fact that such issues are deep and central to me really comes as no surprise.  In fact, I was literally born into it.  I was born in Haiti while my parents were serving as medical missionaries with the Mennonite Central Committee.  My father was a physician at the time, and my mother was a nurse at the time.  Mennonites have a tradition of encouraging their young folks after high school or college to perform some service to others.  Also, while I have been a lifelong United Methodist, I come from a very long line of Mennonites.  This Mennonite influence has been very strong, with predictable outcomes, in the sense, that peace and justice and simple living are powerful themes in my life.  Little did I realize early in my life that I was a good candidate for being a hippie.  My parents never really spoke that much about their experiences in Haiti, and when they did speak of their experiences in Haiti, they spoke rather nonchalantly.  Perhaps paradoxically, this more casual exceptions of what is hardly typical service, instilled in me that such commitment and service should be normal; and for me it was normal.

View Top Pun’s PUNS DESIGNS

Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Celebration

Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day Unity Celebration

I just got back from the Toledo Martin Luther King Jr. Day unity celebration. I was delighted to see thousands oMLK T-shirtf people celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Toledo once again. I’m not sure there were quite as many people as there has been in recent years’ MLK unity celebrations in Toledo. Nonetheless, it is nearly impossible to have an event honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. without being inspired in some way. I particularly enjoyed the keynote address by Hari Jones, Curator of the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum. He spoke quite eloquently about the tension between empirical skepticism and metaphysical optimism in the creation of this nation and the American dream, which includes and is perhaps typified by Martin Luther King’s dream. I like the quote from Art Tatum, a native Toledoan and celebrated jazz artist, who said that in jazz often all that there is a “there is no such thing as a wrong note.” This elicits a great concept about unity. Dr. Jones spoke at some length about how everyone must play notes and in this apparent discordance harmony paradoxically can arise. I wonder at times though, given our cultural value of conflict avoidance, that we focus on and perhaps vainly hope for an authentic unity that is forged somehow without conflict. If there is anything that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, it surely would be something to do with dealing with conflict and authentic manner that is loving, respectful, and challenging — very challenging! While there is certainly merit in promoting community service, if we are truly to understand, appreciate, and embody the life and work of Martin Luther King, then we need to recognize and honor that his unique contribution to American society and the world was about successfully organizing masses of regular people to challenge and overthrow an unjust status quo. This is hard work. This is work that divides people as far apart as justice and injustice. Like Jesus was misunderstood in saying that he came to bring not peace but a sword, MLK is often misunderstood or idealized as some peacemaker who doesn’t understand the true nature of conflict and what it takes to bring justice in the world that can be cruel and apathetic to those suffering injustices. This misunderstanding often leads to acceptance, even if reluctant acceptance, of violence, as a necessary evil. The division that Jesus was referring to was not the division of flesh by a sword, but the division of people by those who would stand for justice and those who would let injustice stand. Pacifists like Dr. King and Jesus understand that there is no real way to get around conflict in life and its injustices, that we need to go through conflict. The trick is to go through that conflict with a humane measure of dignity and respect, a big dose of discipline, and an undying commitment to the fact that humanity and creation is one. This task is so large that it escapes mere human grasp and relies on grace from God, a power greater than ourselves, our family, our community, and even creation. Pacifism has historically been rooted in people with a deep relationship with the creator not simply the created, whether that be other people or the material world and all its bounty. In our modern or postmodern secular world many people may feel uncomfortable with the obvious, undeniable fact that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the reverend, was a deeply religious man. Because MLK was so successful at providing a model for dealing with practical and large-scale injustices in our society, he is accessible to many who would like to claim him as their own. Unfortunately, to not delve to understand the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a religious pacifist is perhaps the miss the main point of his life, and death. At this point, I will stop babbling on and asks simply read or listen to some of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings or speeches. Equipping ourselves with a greater depth of understanding of MLK is a good start to honoring and celebrating his legacy.

Poem: Wordless Dancing

Wordless Dancing

by Top Pun

If I told you that I’ve figured it out
You probably shouldn’t believe me
But, if by chance, you find me dancing
You need not ask me why
Simply discover what makes you dance
And dance!
Then, if our paths shall cross again
We may dance together
In that place where there are no words


I wrote this mystical poem, Wordless Dancing, first as an attempt to describe a parting of ways; but, in writing this poem, I discovered that in a deeper mystical way, that living authentically could very well lead to joining up again, if it is meant to be; and if it is meant to be, that joining up again with the good, that is, what is meant to be.  This poem represents part of the common everyday struggle to “figure out” the world, other people, and what they may need.  However, it dawned on me that by discovering and living that which makes one dance, the rest doesn’t really matter that much, or at least is out of one’s control.  In the end, or perhaps along the journey, if two or more people come together dancing, then getting caught up in what the other person is doing or needs is not so important, and dancing together need not be described (or may not even be describable) but merely experienced.  And as much as we influence one another, our own ability to dance freely and authentically is perhaps the best hope to bring about dancing freely and authentically and others.  I find this theme of differentiating oneself, finding oneself, and relating to others, creating authentic community, a rich theme.  It strikes me that a great part of wisdom is being able to dance both while alone and with others.  I am attracted to the mystical and wordless nature of poetic strivings, meditating upon that which is paradoxical, at least apparently paradoxical, and finding some synchronicity or synthesis.  It seems that such meditations are infinite and unending, in the sense that life is a journey and not resolved once and for all, except perhaps in death, which of course is not normally seen as life.  I like the image of dancing because it connotes freedom in a process that is flowing and beautiful, and least that is when some people dance; or least it can be beautiful to the one dancing even if it doesn’t appear beautiful to someone observing the dancer.  Dancing also seems to connote joy and engagement in the world as opposed to an outwardly motionless type of meditation.  This seems to embody a more naturally contagious way of being.  Hopefully, in this short poem, you will find rich meditations that will help you articulate better in words that which you feel and experience, and bring you mystical experiences, in that place where words are not only inadequate but unnecessary.  Well, that ends the rather lengthy, wordy dissertation on a short poem that perhaps should be allowed to stand on its own two feet; or better yet, dance.