A Spiritual Autobiography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Anew Page Delivering

I am
Subject too
The very inquisition
Wanting too a void
Axing the quest in
Who would halve me
Believe
Know
One
Wrote
The book
In my heart
Anything but stone
Nothing accept
Throwing multifarious dirt
At clay feat
As sum
Call me
A fool
Of epic portions
Too big to swallow
That is, whole
Left only
With unspeakable meanings
In awe weighs wanting
A wisdom that mounts to nothing
Right only
In a captivating holey warship
Without bail
In a nature without nurture
A watered down
Whirled view
That reigns on know won
With nothing too win
Oar lose
In awe awash
The impotent lored
Unable
Too even
No udder abandon
Wholly sown
Borne of the wind
Mysteriously yielding
Earthy harvests
Wile holy unaccounted for
As only seer
What ex-specter
Bared without
A shroud
Of evidence
Leaving no witnesses
And subjects unknown
To know a veil
Having awl ready
Punching holes in the heavens
The sores of professorial cosmo-logical blood
Shedding rare light
At least
Enough
Too read God’s will
In a towering Babel on
Like stairing into the sun
And skywriting in Braille
Counting on Cain
To objectify truth
Like a bat out of hell
Holy out
Of our census
Destined to be committed too
The most minimal theories passable
In firm in the phase of
Ever unfolding realty
Having
The tome of your life
As if
Sum man you script
Published in determination
As know more than a mirror leaflet
To fig you’re sufficient to cover
Such immaterial shame
And random glory
Whole to pass on
Such immanent domain
That writ largesse
Wading
One’s hole life
Fore a single letter
Soul ward
Incomprehensible sentences
Terminally de-composing
The tree of know ledge
Turned too
Pulp
Fiction
For just
A taste of a lie berry
A free offering
For every scion ’tis
Enough
Too make blue bloods
Turn read
Anew page delivering
Awe that is novel
In the art of hearts

This somewhat epic poem is a playful romp and survey of epistemology, in the philosophical field of study of knowledge and justified belief.  How dreadful the truth can be when there is no hope in the truth. Sophocles quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI am fascinated by the sores and limits of knowledge.  I am a skeptic of skepticism, delver into intuition, and humble admirer of profound inner experience that cannot be fully shared in words (even in poetry). I find the most profound truths to reek more of playfulness than dogmatism.  I find humor both a scrumptious tool and irresistible outcome in hanging out in the neighborhood of truth which is paradox.  If any of your well-worn beliefs or weighs of being feel skewered by my poetry, then welcome to the heart of my unifying theory of sheesh kabob.  May your hopes outpace your skepticism, and may your dreams root for truth.

Feel free to browse positive attitude and optimism designs.

Hope Trumps Despair PEACE BUTTONEverything that is done in the world is done by hope -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONGot Dreams SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POEM: Rousing Fresh Fortune

To no what is possible
Sum look too the passed
To undertake certainties
Too due dreams untested
Some are moved
Bye this present
Liberating futures seized
And undo
The knot tied
And never tried
How
Ever prospecting possibilities in awe that is mine
From now on in
Rousing fresh fortune
Or die
Try in

The past is the best predictor of the future, except that will always be wrong.  Unpredictability is an essential aspect of the future.  Like Yogi Berra noted: predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future.  It's kind of fun to do the impossible. Walt Disney quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI am fascinated by existential possibilities, trying something and seeing what happens.  This is perhaps the truest life science: taking action and paying attention to what happens. Somewhere between overanalyzing the past and dreaming about what things could come the present unwraps the future.  Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONAs Kierkegaard observed, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” And as Homer Simpson might say: “Mmmmmm…the present.”  Dreaming with your eyes open is not merely realism, but the basis for enlightened action. Surfing the future is at least as much an art as a science.  Of course, this present reality is not meant to be some exacting, and perhaps depressing, data collection in a notebook, but rather the experience of rousing fresh fortune.  May you discover much joyful anticipation and spirit rousing serendipities as your present unwraps the future.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s many spiritual and life philosophy designs:

Make Peace With The Future PEACE BUTTONBe willing to give up what you are for what you can become SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 Don't let your victories go to your head, or your failures go to your heart. SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't Look So Hard At My Past, I Don't Live There Anymore SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 If you are in control, then you are going too slow. SPIRITUAL BUTTONAnd in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Find Your Own Way -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONHe who never walks except where he sees other men's tracks will make no discoveries. J.G. Holland quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhy not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is? Mark Twain quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway. SPIRITUAL BUTTONExperience is what you get when you don't get what you want SPIRITUAL BUTTONBe daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers. Sir Cecil Beaton quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The Beginning is Near SPIRITUAL BUTTONThere Is No Gift Like The Present SPIRITUAL BUTTONExpect Miracles SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The cure for boredom is curiosity - There is no cure for curiosity --Dorothy Parker quote SPIRITUAL  	 Life Isn't About Finding Yourself, Life Is About Creating Yourself SPIRITUAL BUTTONEver Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Got Awe SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Anti-Trump AND Anti-Hillary: What’s a Voter To Do?

Anti-Trump AND anti-Hillary: What’s a voter to do?  This seems to be an endemic quandary in the current presidential campaign.  I have my own views, which I have blogged, ranted and wrote poems about.  My views are considered too radical and too scary by many, and perhaps even somewhat crazy by more than a few.  What might professional philosophers, trained in the rigors of logic and systematic thought, think about this palpable, contemporary quandary?  One famous philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, gives his esteemed analysis in Can’t stand Hillary or Trump? Here’s what you must do, an article from Intellectual Takeout, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to feed minds, foster discussion, and inspire action:

I can’t recall an election in which the two leading candidates were more reviled in both breadth and depth. The rejoinder I keep hearing is that 2016 is the Lesser of Two Evils Election.

The data bears this out. A poll conducted in May by the Washington Post found that 57 percent of people had an unfavorable view of Donald Trump; 45 percent of those polled had a highly favorable view of him. Hillary Clinton, believe it or not, had even higher unfavorables.

Both candidates, of course, somehow were officially nominated by their respective parties last month.

Thus, many Americans find themselves in an ethical quandary. Finding both candidate X and candidate Y utterly repellent, they are left with the following choice: 1) Vote for the candidate they find less repellent. 2) Vote for neither candidate (by either not voting or voting for a third party candidate who has essentially no chance of winning).

What should one do?

Alasdair MacIntyre, an Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, is on the record on what voters should do in such a situation. He is unequivocal: Voters should reject both candidates.

Here is what he wrote:

When offered a choice between two politically intolerable alternatives, it is important to choose neither. And when that choice is presented in rival arguments and debates that exclude from public consideration any other set of possibilities, it becomes a duty to withdraw from those arguments and debates, so as to resist the imposition of this false choice by those who have arrogated to themselves the power of framing the alternatives.

Such a suggestion—coming from a moral philosopher no less—might seem jarring to the civic-minded citizen. MacIntyre concedes this, noting that it has been ingrained in our fiber to view not voting as irresponsible.

So how does he justify not voting in an important election? In MacIntyre’s view, voting for “the lesser of two evils” is a tacit vote for the system that put the two candidates in place, a system that “presents us only with unacceptable alternatives.” By not casting a ballot, voters are, in effect, casting a vote against the system.

“The way to vote against the system is not to vote,” he writes.

Do you find MacIntyre’s argument persuasive? Will it persuade you to not vote or vote for one of the also-rans?

I agree wholeheartedly that the logical and sensible solution is to withdraw from the boundaries of a seemingly forced false choice.  This would simply be healthy boundary setting from a healthy electorate. However, positing the only other touted alternative as not voting at all seems to me like just another false choice, or, perhaps even more egregiously, a non-choice.  Shame on you, terribly uncreative moral philosopher (or reporter?).  There are third, and fourth, and fifth party presidential candidates running, for whom you can cast your ballot, that will profoundly more clearly register one’s rejection of the two-party duopoly and rigged choices of candidates.  The amorphous category of nonvoter is especially un-instructive since longstanding low voter turnout is comprised of a large portion of apathy not well characterized as politically enlightened or active.  With our purported democracy in crisis, voting may be of limited importance.  Nonetheless, voting does have importance.  Voting is a relatively easy, and I believe cost-effective, way to move democracy forward.  However, in the end, electoral politics alone will not be enough to forge a positive political revolution.  Let US reject false and rigged choices foisted upon US and vote for a candidate outside the two-party duopoly.  Then, immediately — that is even before the election — join in non-electoral, movement political actions to change the larger system not worthy of our vote.

Feel free to check out Top Pun’s election and third party politics designs.

POEM: Mirror Winning In a Close Shave

That mine-blowing moment finally came
Where he saw his enemy
Face to efface
That fateful mourning
Infinitely more dangerous
And dreadfully more thorny
Than blood drawn in a close shave
Like a glance to the heart
None other
Then his own
Awe creation in a singular drop
An art rendering
Sow profoundly more
Than mirror winning

This poem reflects quiet literally those moments of epiphany when we see ourselves and our enemy as one.  I am deeply intrigued by the psychological truth of projection, seeing the world as we are rather than simply as the world happens to be.  The face of the enemy frightens me only when I see how much it resembles mine. Stanislaw J. Lec quote PEACE BUTTONThis egocentric lens distorts larger truths but can serve as a powerful tool for self-discovery.  Focusing on one’s self as an instrument of perception can offer valuable incites into how we navigate the world, often through a fun house mirror or speculative shadowy glances.  Such reflection can be mighty humbling.  I have been struck often enough by the philosophical and cosmological truth that wee are won by recognizing the sundry losses and fallings short that we each experience and bring to the world.  I have found that reflecting on the oneness of humanity and creation has led me to be a better person in my peace of the whirled.  Plus, the deep satisfaction of the experience of one has proven to me sow profoundly more than mirror winning.  May you find countless moments that help you transcend mine-blowing ours.

POEM: Enlightenment Not Worth Beings

Conversing in the street
At a protest
We had a very enlightening pow wow
As too in form me
He stated with qualm assurance
“Protest before enlightenment, protest after enlightenment”
A parity of action
Like I had never seen
To which I yack knowledged
You mean like
“Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment”
And parently flailing attest
Of means
And states not worth beings
As well as dis coarse
With know end incite

This poem was inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester on the street.  As not subject to small talk, we touched upon the nature of enlightenment.  The undiscerning tautology of “[insert action] before enlightenment, [repeat same action] after enlightenment,” struck me as a perfect representation of New Age gobbledygook.  Hopefully, the palpable absurdity felt in one’s soul with my succinct parody: “Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment,” should be enough to dismiss such nonsense.

New Age philosophy and other forms of “immaterialism” view life as simply a spiritual process where specific ends literally don’t matter, and one meaning is as good or bad as the next meaning — and what meanings might follow from such inanity and insanity!  While such a whirled view may seem an intriguing balance, or even antidote, to postmodern materialism, the reactionary amoral forces of materialism are mirrorly replaced with eerily similar nonreactionary amoral farces, conveniently well-suited to First-World privilege and god-like individualism.  Such absurd amorality rejects any set of collected knowledge about good and evil, leaving society with no landmarks to navigate progress in manifesting goodness over and above evil. There is no right and wrong, only differences.  And while this may lead to a certain profoundly uncommitted form of tolerance, it leaves human rights awash, and human wrongs unaccounted for.  Such a perverse viewpoint is only inviting inasmuch as we trust in our own godness alone.  New Age spirituality’s OCD lock on “life as process” does reflect an incomplete truth related to the redemptive nature of essentially every world religion or perennial philosophy; that is, good can emerge from evil.  Fortunately, these esteemed traditions do not collapse good into evil.  These age-old spiritual traditions value transformation in society and of society, not simply the fate of one soul divorced from all others — a lonely god fore better or worse.  In fact, if personal transformation means nothing in particular, then such spiritual progress is limited to oxymorons, and no one else.  Further, if there is no accountability to others, no legitimate demand of others on us, then even the sparsest just us is untenable and unattainable.  I have long been intrigued by Buddha’s choice to remain present in this world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana, as he was do.  The good news of a social gospel should not be tossed into a fiery dustbin from which nothing is retrievable — leaving only nothing as retrievable.  The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict MLK BUTTONWhile there is much wile in discerning good and evil, to reject such efforts out of hand is far more dangerous.  I will gladly give a pass to my fellow protester, who may have simply been a victim of fuzzy thinking.  Of course, we can meditate on such unprophetable ruminations until the cows come home.  Still, it is passable to do the right thing for the wrong reason; just as doing the wrong thing for the right reason is culpable of mends to the othercide of a fence.  Intentions and actions are two sides of the same flipping coin.  Means and ends are inseparable as attested to by anyone subject to any given mean or any fatal end.  To harmonize is the objective, not to monotonize the subjective. May we all benefit from both good intentions and right action.

POEM — His Whole: Life

His whole
Life
Flashed before his ayes
Too living
In singular moments
And unrepeatable joys
Awe the more
In whatever may
A peer
As extra ordinary

Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage --Anais Nin quote POLITICAL BUTTONThis 26 word poem is an example of one of my short poems crammed to overflowing with philosophy and theology.  This poem represents well the wholeness sought in life, ever more full life.  What is sought is a fleshy and flashy process encompassing both the ordinary and extraordinary.  Life is sensuously palpable and profoundly effervescent.  The experience of full life is unique and unrepeatable; there is little room for contrivance or artifice.  Rich inner experience gilds apparently mundane and routine happenings with a freshness and newness.  This whole life opens up before us when we answer our quest in the affirmative: YES!  And to complicate matters, this process is squared round other people presenting their own sinewy inner experience.  Life is messy!

Fear does not prevent death; it prevents life --Nagub Mahfouz quote POLITICAL BUTTONIf the messiness of life is not parlayed into awe the more, then certain inescapable lessens must be confronted.  Inconveniently complicated people (and life itself) are demoted to manageable factions of who they are.  Fear and control creeps, into a dominating existence, relegate living in the shadows of all that matters.  In such abated breath, the nemesis or antagonist of life enters the stage.  But, alas, that is another poem and another blog entry.  May it suffice to say: may your whole life flash before your ayes, and that life be yours.

WALK Around Like You Own Yourself, It's YOUR Life, Take Control Of It POLITICAL BUTTONDon't take life too serious. You'll never escape it alive anyway. Elbert Hubbard quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONLife is what happens while your making other plans. John Lennon quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

What Conservative Came Up With The Ridiculous Notion That Life Begins At Incorporation?! POLITICAL BUTTONThe Best Things in Life are Not Things - Faith, Joy, Mercy, etc around border-POLITICAL BUTTONPeace n. the whole of life ANTI-WAR BUTTON

 

POEM: Chains of Command

A juggernaut of freedom
He proudly served
As the weakest link
In the chain of command
And above
Awe
Due no harm

This poem juxtaposes the contrasting notions of freedom achieved through tight, even militaristic, ventures versus embodying freedom through default nonviolence and decentralized decision-making.  This is a command and control model versus fostering non-hierarchical and autonomous action.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONMy experience is that directly practicing freedom and modeling this for others is the best means for manifesting increasing freedom.  Most succinctly put, this is a matter of means and ends — or rather a madder of means and end for the militarist or militant fundamentalist.  Subcontracting out freedom by wholesale consenting to others’ directives strikes me as a fundamental bastardization of freedom, particularly in large militaristic bureaucracies dedicated to the end of freedom — through ever-escalating means.  This is part and parcel to anarchist practice and philosophy.   Anarchists value direct, unmediated experience as both a way to live and learn, in contrast to imputing authority (via consent, and ultimately responsibility) into impersonal human organizations or other impersonal social arrangements.  Humanity is best experienced and served through smaller-scale, personal relationships, where the creative expressions of voluntary association and the personally uplifting experiences of mutual aid flourish.  The most common way people give up power is by thinking they don't have any -- Alice Walker quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe title of this poem, “Chains of command,”  is a pun — a double meaning — directly linking the shackling of freedom to systems of command and control.  Anarchists are renown for their issues with authority.  Less well appreciated is their fundamental critique of large, impersonal ventures which are viewed as the primary threat to our individual and collective humanity.  Anarchists seek to live on what is considered a human scale, which is necessarily smaller-scale — you can only relate personally to a finite number of people — and decentralized in that your set of relationships is an organic, even alive, entity that is guided by free association and mutual aid.  While anarchists are often portrayed as dangerous (perhaps to many forms of social order) and cavalier (perhaps revealing how foreboding freedom can be), there is a certain humility built into the anarchist worldview; there is a profound lack of ambition to control others (and be controlled) through the bulk of social arrangements in modern, so-called civilization.  The hubris necessary for violence is for me the best example.  Now, the brand of anarchist practice that I would ascribe to might be referred to as green anarchism, where violence is not understood to be an integral and necessary part of being human.  So-called black anarchists might view the violence inherent in the present social order as necessitating violent responses.  My view of freedom does not consider violence as necessary to being human, though the choice to be subject to violence as opposed to inflicting it remains a difficult and necessarily challenging one.  Clearly the current world order considers violence as merely the order of the day, a necessity, outside the realm of free choice. The last lines of the poem are a tribute to a pacifist green anarchism, and the deep humility it engenders: And above/Awe/Due no harm.  Of course, this is a take on the Hippocratic Oath: Above all, do no harm.  Plus, the “Due no harm” alludes to the vision of a world where the cycles of violence are broken and there is no longer the cruel divide of victim and perpetrator.  To go full circle, we must cast off the chains of command.  May you find the freedom and courage to pay the cost of boldly adding your beautiful human life to the mix of humanity where fear and misunderstandings and inertial privilege stand in the way of our individual and collective humanity.

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POEM: More Than Just, A Tinkle In The Pants

Sum people say
Show me the money
Only taking
That folding
Money
Maid of paper
Illegal to ink for won self
You’re money or you’re life
Weather helled up
Or razing heaven
Our soles speak
As bodies of evidence
And life stiles of the rich and famous
Calling out
Be the change
Beholden to common cents
More than just
A tinkle in the pants
Pissing off the powers that be

In my book, any poem that can incorporate wetting won’s pants and pissing off the powers that be can’t be all bad.  This poem taps perhaps the most fundamental divide in moral life: do we serve God or mammon, the worldly powers, the powers that be.  In this poem, I don’t mention God per se, but instead referred to “you’re life.”  I’ll give a tip of the hat to those uncomfortable with any notion of God.  “Life” or “love” is a synonym-spiced confection more palatable to some.

In this crazy postmodern milieu that we live in, the revered field of of science, with its deep commitment to smoking out causality, has mysteriously led to widespread convictions of randomness.  This perhaps began its accelerative phase with the genius of Darwin pinning his monumental theory of evolution to the notion of randomness.  Concrete evidence has proven the theory of evolution as a powerful scientific tool for accounting for the origin of species.  Of course, explaining things backwards is much easier than predicting the nature of future evolution, other than predicting that we will evolve in some random (sic) way.  Randomness is a notion at least as resistant to a coherent cosmology and worldview as the notion of God.  More troubling, randomness, that which has neither antecedent or predictability/causality is exactly the mythology that science is designed to debunk.  While inserting a “miracle” that cannot be measured by science by either observation or in principle may be irresistible if you can convince others to go along with it, but it is not science.  Randomness is no more a scientific principle than God.  Randomness is not a scientific principle — as God is not.  This facet of the philosophy of science can only be ignored at our own peril.  Quite telling, the field of mathematics has failed to identify any form of mathematics that gives adequate support for the unproven assertion of randomness.  Randomness can rightly be pursued as a hypothesis within metaphysics, the realm in which God is explored.  Still, randomness strikes me as antimatter in the matter of coherency.  We do know that any complete coherence MUST contain more true statements than ANY possible logical system can contain within itself.  This is a space that is in principle incompletely accessible by science and mathematics.  This is a space big enough and unknown enough for God and free will to reside or originate.  Is such a neighborhood the zip code for randomness?  At best, it can not be proven by science or mathematics.

Here is a little more on Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, the mathematical proof under-girding such thoughts:

“In 1931, the Czech-born mathematician Kurt Gödel demonstrated that within any given branch of mathematics, there would always be some propositions that couldn’t be proven either true or false using the rules and axioms… of that mathematical branch itself. You might be able to prove every conceivable statement about numbers within a system by going outside the system in order to come up with new rules and axioms, but by doing so you’ll only create a larger system with its own unprovable statements. The implication is that all logical system of any complexity are, by definition, incomplete; each of them contains, at any given time, more true statements than it can possibly prove according to its own defining set of rules.

Moving to a cultural level, the affection for randomness has brought us to an infection with randomness in everyday life, reflecting both some nihilistic sense of life and sense of humor: “That was so random.”  Our sense of life and humor has been moving from being centered in an elegantly interconnected system to a severed existence plagued by events “coming out of nowhere” — the antithesis of both scientific and religious worldviews.  Is it any wonder that we are possessed by notions of a zombie apocalypse, a world populated by those who are both dead and alive — or is that neither dead nor alive?

I think that Bob Dylan may have stated it about as bluntly and poetically as anyone, in his song, Gotta Serve Somebody (full lyrics below).  “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord/But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”  Of course, the popularity of the devil or the Lord seems to be in decline.  So, for many, the love triangle between self, neighbor, and the mystery of mysteries is reduced to self and neighbor — and perhaps nature (creation).

Well enough, such truth is still great enough to fill many lifetimes. Wee fight for one another to a void being reduced to a mirror monetizable entity.  Most have a palpable sense of what money is, what worldly power looks like, and the rules into which it invites us into its service.  And still, what is the opposite of serving money?  Is serving money just a vain vocation for the terminally unimaginative?  Perhaps the opposite of serving money involves living a life free of attachments to material security or cultural status.  Whatever there is in life that money cannot buy, I see as that which is truly valuable — able to bring a present with authentic integrity and a future that cannot be bought, only given to one another.

To me, money seems to be one of the least interesting things in life.  Personally, I am in wonder at both the abundant curiosities present in scientific discoveries to date and beyond any imagined horizon AND the mysteries of the heart, my own and others, which inspire countless souls to risk life for more life, and to go where no mere scientist dares.  Can we serve awe and give that which can only be proven to exist by giving it.  Life and love awe weighs fine a way. Serve it up!

Gotta Serve Somebody (by Bob Dylan)

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
They may call you doctor or they may call you chief

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome
You might own guns and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

You may call me Terry, you may call me Timmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything but no matter what you say

Still, you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

POEM: A Blinding Faith

Hers was a blinding faith
Sow bright
That it often left her without peer
Few could fathom such countenance
As she left them smiles behind
A grate number are partial
To glean faint moonlight
Mirror dim reflections
Of their dreary world
Rather than stare into one such bright star
Of such undifferentiated light
In discriminate hope
From celestial furnaces
Most believe
Better to be leery
Anywhere near foreboding
Inclement whether
Shoes dropping
On roads paved with good intentions
Or easy devotion to cynical amasses
Having it made
In the shade
Or even to a void in certitude
More at home groping in the dark
Than by a blinding faith

This poem is an ode to faith.  Faith is metaphysical optimism, the blood that beats through wholehearted living.  Faith is only manifest in the mettle of life fully lived, put to the test.  Such a way of life is akin to the scientific method, but its subject is subjectivity, metaphysics, a life lived to discover or confirm how metaphysical optimism can transform living.  Bold testing is the natural course of faith.  Where and how far can faith take us?  Empirical skepticism, the fuel that powers the engine of science, is analogous to this bold testing.  Yet, scientists, who are subjects themselves, often project their own hubris onto subjective matters, leveling “spirituality” for putting forth bold — unfortunately, sometimes bald — faith assumptions for good living.  All the while, there is a nagging tendency to conveniently overlook that there is no such thing as an assumptionless philosophy, even by those subjects operating in scientific endeavors. Yep, as quantum physicists know awe to well, the experimenter changes the experimental results.  In “real world” terms this is simply recognizing that what questions we ask determine the answers.  We, subjects awe, deeply participate in whatever answers will come our way. Look for the answer inside your question --Rumi quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON I, for one, am much more fascinated by the questions of how we transform our lives through the science of living matters, than simply nailing down the science of dead matter, fixated on predictability and control.  Of course, nailing down stuff plagues the human condition in both scientific and metaphysical endeavors.  As Alfred, Lord Tennyson, wrote “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”  The question still remains: in which half of the creeds does faith live?  This can only be tested and confirmed by personal discovery, in our living.  While there is a lot of truth in the truism that misery loves company, I would venture to say that passionate optimism is far more attractive than life-sucking cynicism.  This poem is intended to capture the reactions of living in the wake of bold metaphysical optimism, often through an irresistible pull to live fuller lives, and sometimes by shrinking into the seeming security of smaller certitudes.  May you find yourself putting your deepest faith to the test, and in this mettle may you discover many bright and beautiful alloys along the way.

POEM: Kindness 1.618 — Owed To The Goaled In Proportion

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

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

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

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: Be Riffed of Life

He said
“The world is inert.”
I said
“You mean
Dead?”
He re-plied
That it is
Assure thing
Beyond doubt
I queeried
“On your incite
Or the out?”
By all means
Necessary
As you must
And arbitrary mold
No higher power
Showing favor
To indistinguishable accidents
Through grub
And poorly aimed reproductions
Equally fluked
Know matter
How ever wondrous fits
Due too survivalists
All ready
Be rift of life

This poem is inspired by many encounters that I have had with people who pose a materialist philosophy or perspective on “life” — that inexplicably animated portion of our “inert” universe.  I have to chuckle a little, and mourn a bit, as this view that the universe is dead matter strikes me as a surpassingly surreal projection of one’s inner experience, as either incurious, blind, or in denial about the mysterious nature of nature.  A striking feature of subjectivity is that we tend to see the world as we are, not as the world is.  That anyone would argue that we are dead seems to preclude any lively conversation!  Fortunately, I often don’t listen to what people say.  I generally assume that if someone’s lips are moving that they are alive, despite their best arguments against it.  While anti-evolutionists manage to embody their arguments with their epic failure to evolve, materialists betray themselves with every movement, especially the ones that claim deep self-reflection.  Nonetheless, I strongly suspect that it is better to be riffed of life than bereft of life.  Pay no attention to the dummies behind the curtain, moving their lips but to know a veil.

POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

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: Evolution of a Writer

Evolution of a Writer

You have evolved into quite a writer
Could you write something for my company?
He solicited
Presumably thinking
I was still into monkey business
Not even grasping
I was clearly out of my tree

This poem is a playful way to address some tensions between creating art and the business of selling art, in this case writing.  Many artists struggle with having the creative process compromised based on market or business realities at any given moment.  The need to materially survive can draw in sharp relief — or deep depression — the vocational viabilities of the higher creative processes and the lower needs for material survival or comfort.  Fortunately, this can actually be a great source of inspiration of one of the many tensions in life — that of surviving versus thriving.  There are good reasons for the portrait of a starving artist.  This reality speaks both to the passion and value many artists place on their work, and the relative lack of value others may derive from the artist’s products of their work.  I separate the process of creating art from the created “product.”  I have little doubt that I derive much more joy from writing poetry than any other one individual can derive from my work.  Of course, the social and commercial nature of an artistic work product can leverage its overall value much higher because many people may experience it and derive some benefit.  The artist’s tendency to value the creative process makes sense — though perhaps not cents — since the creative process itself is typically what drives even further passion and creativity.  Selling stuff is typically secondary. Of course, the relatively few artists which can make a decent living selling their art may leapfrog to another level of freedom in their creativity and expression — assuming selling stuff doesn’t compromise the height of creativity.  Many view artists as “clearly out of their tree” if their valuing of commercial viability or success doesn’t match societal expectations.  Ironically, this may be one of the main purposes that artists serve in society: to expand society’s limits and depth of experience beyond that which can be relatively easily bottled for commercial success.  Yes, life is about much more than money.  This is the nexus with evolution.

In this poem I play around and push the limits of our current understanding of evolution.  Let me be clear, I am not claiming or even insinuating that the facts of Darwin’s theory of evolution are missing or wrong; nor that the theory is inconsistent with the scientific facts.  What I am saying is that sheer survival to sexually reproduce is too narrow a framework to explain human experience or predict human behavior.  Humans have evolved to such an incredible level of flexibility and adaptability that transcendent experiences (that would include subjectivity) outside of scientific reductionism present is difficult to ignore — if we want a more complete account of humanity.  Of course, this debate and tension between “spirituality” and reductionistic “science” are not new.  In the philosophy of science, there are understood to be limits to human knowledge.  In the case of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it does a powerful job of explaining how life evolves, but it (nor the rest of science) cannot explain how life itself came to be.  Plus, it leaves open the question of meaning or purpose in life or for life — NO SMALL QUESTION!  The theory of evolution uses “random” as a convenient assumption or framework to build an explanatory theory of how life evolves.  I consider the nature of “random” the great unanswered (and unanswerable) question within Darwin’s theory.  While reductionistic science, in proper accord with its assumptions and arising precepts, denies subjectivity as an area of investigation which science can legitimately explore.  Of course, accepting this assumption, though powerful in explaining some stuff, leaves the greatest questions in human life off-limits, and by improper cultural convenience and over-simplicity, simply ignores this aspect of reality (subjectivity), or worse yet denies it altogether.   It is no logical surprise, that the gaping hole of “random” leaves much to be desired in a more fully coherent account of human life and experience.  We need to evolve beyond this disability or maladaptation.  The sheer physical survival of a purely materialist worldview strikes me as our past, not our future.  This deterministic survival instinct, while part of our reality, becomes mere monkey business if taken as the whole truth.  So who is it in the human species that is not grasping this next level of evolution?  Maybe it will take some folks who appear “clearly out of their tree” to get us there…

POEM: An Answer to the Problem of Evil

An Answer to the Problem of Evil

One morning God woke up
Before there was such a thing as morning
God was well pleased with God’s self
“I know that I am all that!”
In fact, the only thing better
Than knowing I’m all that
Is to not know I’m all that and then find out I’m all that!
So God got lost
And it’s been mourning since
Good morning

The epic title of this poem is somewhat ambitious, since this poem, no matter how optimistic or hopeful, obviously doesn’t bring an end to the problem of evil.  Of course, the title begs some humility in suggesting “an” answer, not “the” answer.  What I hope this title and poem offer is a positive perspective on the intractable problem of evil.  This poem addresses one of the deepest and thorniest philosophical and theological issues that exists: how can evil exist alongside a powerful, loving God?  Nonetheless, my hope is that this poem’s playful tone elucidates something about the nature of God in the face of such a mournful human problem.

My understanding of salvation is deeply rooted in a transcendent perspective which ever moves me toward that which is larger, more all-encompassing, and more whole — some would call this spiritual perspective as seeking a higher power or God.  I see this process of salvation or enlightenment as a continual trading up to something better.  In the process of trading up, one must give up the current or old to make room for the new and better.  This is a mournful process.  Losing things of value is difficult  This is especially true when things of value are taken away from us without any choice on our part.  These events and processes of loss seem to capture our attention quite effectively.  Somewhat ironically, the process of gaining things of value, especially when due to no choice or action of our own, generally receives little complaint, and often scant attention.  Exhibit A: the gift of life, your very existence.  Unearned gains, the stuff of grace, is the companion of the problem of evil: the problem of good.  Of course, few people demand a solution to the problem of good, not seeing a need to address it as a problem.  Still the philosophical and theological issues are exactly parallel.  To be fair and balanced, these issues should be addressed as the problem of good/evil.  No doubt, some have aspired to amorality as a deeply ironic and banal way of “transcending” such a problem.  If we can’t do any better than this, then we certainly can’t do any worse!  Such a desperate, nihilistic approach seems to me like destroying the question to avoid having to answer the question.  But back to the question at hand!  The process of mourning loss (and celebrating gain) are inextricably linked.  My definition of sacrifice is this: giving up something of value for something of greater value — “trading up.”  When loss is put in perspective of gain, then loss can “gain” positive meaning.  This is certainly no justification for evil, but it opens the process of redemption.  My favorite example of this is getting hit in the face with a two-by-four.  It is possible to learn/gain wisdom from such a situation, whether it was at the hands of another’s cruel intent or an “accident.”  However, just because it is possible to learn/gain from such a situation, does not mean that it is good to hit people in the face with two-by-fours.  It means that such bad situations can be redeemed, placed in a larger, “transcendent” perspective, where wisdom can be gained.  No doubt there are better and worse ways to learn/gain wisdom, but every situation offers raw material for learning.  So, let’s redeem those worthless coupons of loss, whose face value is meaningless, into something greater, something with meaning and value.

This poem sets up this process as God getting lost to us, so the even cooler prospect of discovering God is opened up.  The implied calculus of this deal is that the pain and loss of not knowing God is worth the coolness of (re-)discovering God. The playful tone of this poem emphasizes the creative and playful aspect of God.  Hopefully, this lighthearted aspect of God can be manifest in us enough to make up for the heavy-heartedness of all the pain, loss, and grief that we experience.  So, let’s carry on with the longing and groaning of such discovery.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “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.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘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 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: God is Love

God is love
And everything else
If there were anything else

The classic formulation of “God is love” is attractive to many people of good will; perhaps, because of its implicit assertion of nurturing life as a primary characteristic of reality, and of its tension with much of religion’s failings in human history in regards to its parochial quests for power, status, and control.  Nonetheless, in our post-modern world, there is much disagreement over the theology, philosophy, and worldview related to theism and the nature of ultimate reality.  Many question whether there is a God transcendent, “separate” from creation [God and everything else].  These arguments are very dry and often harsh, in contrast to love.  Personally, I find such arguments intellectually interesting but a poor meal for my hungry heart.  In this short poem, I play with the ideas of theism, leaving them unresolved, unsolved…and yet, love stands — and my heart cheers!  Poetry is both an art and a science, provoking beautiful methods to our madness, soothing our savageness without spoiling our untamed hearts.  I consider writing poetry as the mind making love with the heart — two faculties united in producing a mystical yet palpable world.  As Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.”  May your reason serve love, and when you come to the end of reason, may you find love there waiting for you.